The Greenwash Brigade

Just like Wall St., the Earth is overdrawn (two weeks ahead of ’07)

Heidi Siegelbaum Sep 23, 2008

Today is Earth Overshoot Day. I’m not certain about the marketing savvy of this phrase as my immediate association is playing basketball at the YMCA and overshooting the basket and hitting some unwitting guy in the head. Perhaps Secretary Paulson will recommend a bailout of the planet, but hurry up because we only have a week to decide.

Just like AIG and a collection of Wall Street luminaries, we, as planetary citizens, are 140% overdrawn today. This means that if we measured all the resources that Mother Earth starts to produce on January 1st– such as oxygen, food, medicine, drinking water, forests, mineral ores, energy resources and acceptable climate,– well before Halloween is upon us, we are overdrawn, using more resources than have been generated. But “resources” is a very bad word — because its abstraction masks the fact that they are human lifelines.

The Earth Overshoot site is replete with resources and an astounding array of over 75 organizations as partners in its pursuit to measure our ecological footprints and collectively reduce them. It’s hard not to notice that there is not one business organization on that list. Go figure.

Three things come to mind when reading this: all are inextricably tied to almost every system problem I can think of:

1) Most of us have no direct feedback loops: If we directly, immediately and rudely experienced the outcomes of what it means to destroy or contaminate ecosystem gifts (water, food, air, medicines, livable climate) we would quickly correct our behavior. You don’t see Mountain Apes paving over their food supply!

2) Businesses and NGOs are siloed: Despite our best efforts at corporate social responsibility and stakeholder relations, we still tend to plan, execute and gossip in our own silos. This means our objectives are misaligned and we continue to pretend what we do at work doesn’t affect us at home, including our own children’s health and long-term future.

3) Marketing failure: As a behavioral junkie, I know that doom and gloom do not sell, period. Neither does spewing gigabytes of data. To change people, we need to become better storytellers, make the solutions easy, sexy and non-partisan and yes, we all have to go on a diet.

I can’t speak for other countries but on every count, America is overdrawn in a 50 year decline in self accountability, discipline and a deep and abiding recognition of what really matters in life. Wake up and smell the planet or you may not get your morning coffee next year.

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