Don't Be So 1980's! Businesses Can Create Solutions Too!
By Annie Leonard /

Back in in the day, an activist colleague of mine liked to wisecrack that whenever corporations talked about environmental solutions everyone could live with, what they meant were "solutions" only a politically acceptable number of people would die from. That is so 1980s! Sure, some businesses haven't changed; they're still trashing the planet, wreaking havoc on the climate and endangering our health with toxic chemicals. But those tired old assumptions that pollution is the inevitable price of progress, or that we have to choose between good jobs and a healthy environment, are increasingly outdated.

A big part of the change is that many corporations have come to realize that most Americans believe a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand – you can't have one without the other. Many businesspeople today really don’t consider trashing the planet an acceptable cost of doing business and they want their companies to be on the side of solutions. As Ray Anderson, CEO and entrepreneurial champion of the business logic of sustainability, said: "There is no more strategic issue for a company, or any organization, than its ultimate purpose. For those who think business exists to make a profit, I suggest they think again. Business makes a profit to exist. Surely it must exist for some higher, nobler purpose than that." As (some) businesses have gotten more serious about solutions, those of us working to protect the environment are realizing that they can be – and often are – a partner in progress.

The late Ray Andson, a true visionary. Read our remembrance.

Today's changemakers know that there are real allies in the corporate world – smart, talented people who know how to get things done and have access to resources – and that the scale of the challenge before us demands that we must seek and find solutions not only in ourselves and in government but also in business. Not many companies have gone so far as Patagonia in declaring that they are in business "to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." But more and more forward-thinking companies realize they can be environmentally and socially responsible and still make money. They're staking their futures (and the planet's) on new technologies, new models for their relationships with workers and their communities, and new ways of defining success.

For example:

  • The Biomimicry movement is leading companies seeking innovative and sustainable products to look for designs inspired by nature, "the greatest invention machine in the universe." Companies in industries from beer to cleaning supplies have formed the Zero Waste Business Council, knowing that eliminating waste saves money and increases operating efficiency while reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. A startup called Phonebloks is working with Motorola to design and manufacture a mobile phone with interchangeable parts, eliminating the need to replace the entire phone if one feature breaks.
  • Recognizing that their success depends on their workers' well-being, more and more businesses – Ben & Jerry's, Trader Joe's, Costco and others – are committing to paying a living wage – how much workers need to provide an adequate amount of food, clothing and shelter in the place they live and work. In the UK, there's even an association of living wage employers, including such brands as Barclays Bank and KPMG business consultants. Others are not just paying their workers fairly but are sharing profits with their communities, through programs like 1% for the Planet.

  • Like Patagonia, a growing number of companies are redefining just what it means to be a successful business and who gets to share in that success. Feeling limited by conventional structures and cultures that prioritize short-term profits over values like a healthy environment and happy workers, almost a thousand corporations in 32 counties have joined B Corp, which certifies companies to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not about to cozy up to Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical or Monsanto. As Bill McKibben says, they're clinging to business models that are fundamentally at odds with the continued survival of life on this planet. Strong and unrelenting pressure – campaigns, protests, boycotts and legislation – must still be directed against them until they change. (And as the success of corporate and marketplace campaigns by organizations such as Rainforest Action Network or Corporate Accountability International shows, those tactics still work). But the trend is clear: Visionary companies that plan to stay in business are investing in a sustainable future. They know that the only way not to be part of the problem is to be part of the solution. They aren’t 100% there yet, but a good number are on the journey. Stay tuned and in the next installment, we’ll share strategies and actions that each of us can do to further support real solutions among our businesses today.

Annie Leonard is the founder of the The Story of Stuff Project and the newexecutive director of Greenpeace USA. She has dedicated nearly two decades to investigating and organizing on environmental health and justice issues. Her monthly podcast series, The Good Stuff, features interviews with inspiring activists, entrepreneurs, scientists and others who’ve succeeded in making change.

Read the entire Solutions series:
Solutions Series, Part 1: Babies in the River
Solutions Series, Part 2: Solutions in Our Communities
Solutions Series, Part 3: Dive In
Solutions Series, Part 4: Solutions in Business
Solutions Series, Part 5: coming soon 

4.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 34,320 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 12,117 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 9,465 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,451 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Why I Didn't Vote Trump or Hillary
Joe Brewer · 3,167 views today ·   This is my ballot. It arrived in the mail where I live in Washington state — and I’ve already sent it back to the elections committee. Note how I didn’t vote for either...
How Big Banks Launder Money and Get Away With It
9 min · 3,165 views today · 'I wrote about how money laundering was actually done... they spiked it.' Parliamentary Candidate David Malone was a popular second choice in the UK Green Party leadership...
Heartbreaking Animation Reveals Plight of Animals Under Threat of Extinction
3 min · 2,488 views today · This stunning and heartbreaking animation gives voice to animals under threat from human activity. Made as part of the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, it features a...
Three Massive Mergers - Millions for One Bank and a Disaster for Food, Water, and Climate
Wenonah Hauter · 2,411 views today · In addition to advising on all three mega-mergers, Credit Suisse is playing a big role behind the scenes of the Dakota Access pipeline.
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,693 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
A Beautiful Reflection on What It Means to Be Human
8 min · 1,626 views today · Hello! We are Oh Wonder, a musical duo from London. We believe that everyone is equal. We are all human. We all deserve the world. And we can build that equality by sharing...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 1,144 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 963 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 832 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 719 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 640 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 608 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
The Burden of the New Story
Adebayo Akomolafe · 483 views today · The 'new story' - that longed for milieu when all is right with the world and things are set straight - seems to be taking its sweet time coming. Why?
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 451 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 417 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 370 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Don't Be So 1980's! Businesses Can Create Solutions Too!