Innovation - for love of planet or profits?
Creating illusions of love
I've noticed a trend lately. A groundswell of attention happens for a particular thing (like the planet), a people group, or a thing (insert latest news headline). Then organizations rush to create a product, service, marketing campaign, or PR strategy that creates the illusion of love (aka a lot of hype) around said thing. But the concern was never about love for the planet, the people, or the latest headline. The true love (which is becoming visible to many) is the love for profits. In today's post, I want to give you three examples of innovation touted for the love of the planet but most likely were more about a deeper love of profits. But first, let me set the record straight on my thoughts about profits and the planet.
For the record
I am not a hater of profits. Profits are not an enemy but an elevator. I expect to make my fair share in my lifetime. And I hope my legacy reveals the positive impact of the purposes that I focus it towards. I believe in capitalism, the greatest system invented to date. As a design thinker and innovation advocate, I believe there could be some design improvements. Innovation is iterative, and the human capacity is for greatness and expansion. However, I don't believe in the cannibalism that current systems have turned our beloved philosophy into, which I wrote about here. And above all, I believe in people over profits. People (who I feel are a part of the planet) are our legacy. Not profits. Profits are here today and gone tomorrow. Any CEO will tell you - you are only as great as your latest quarterly earnings. Perhaps in the scheme of an organization, but not in the scheme of your life legacy.
And for the record, in regard to the planet. I see the earth as everything that existed before a single invention or innovation occurred. Before a bowl for water, a wheel to grind wheat, or a house was built, the planet existed.
P - people
L - land (both the dry land and the land that contains bodies of water)
A - air and the atmosphere beyond the land
N - nature (every living creature beyond people), from the smallest organism to insects, to animals
E - Every Energy source (electricity, coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, solar energy, hydropower, and wind energy)
T - Tofu to Tall trees (in other words, every plant species)
People are a part of the planet. An intricate part. One that we seem to have forgotten. Neither survives without the other. A very small example is the exchange of carbon dioxide between humans and trees. This is one of many examples, but this is a blog about innovation, and my knowledge of such fields of science could fit in a Petri dish. 🤦🏼♀️ Ancient text says humans were given dominion over nature. Science touts our supremacy because of our "reasoning" skills. I've questioned that a lot recently "Is our ability to reason really our greatest asset?" So far, the evidence is absolutely not, but I'll save that discussion for another blog. In the meantime, let's get to three examples that have crossed my mind and my path recently where innovation was pitched as love for the planet, but my sneaky suspension is that it was for the love of profits. I'm sure there are many others. Do share any that you've become aware of in the comments.
#1 - Plastic Grocery Bags
I'm old enough to remember when plastic bags were introduced in grocery stores. They weren't touted as a way for Grocery Stores to reduce costs and increase profits. No, they were introduced as a way shoppers could help stores SAVE THE TREES - SAVE THE PLANET. Hmmm 🤔 I don't think that has worked out too well for the planet thus far. From its mass implementation in the US in 1982 to the discovery of the great Pacific garbage patch in 1997, this love of profits disguised as the love of the planet has done quite a bit of damage. In 2011 someone decided to count plastic bag use - worldwide, one million plastic bags are consumed every minute. Did we not know in 1982 how many paper bags were being used? Could we not calculate, based on population growth and potential economic growth, what that number could rise to? Perhaps the powers that be did. But were they counting the impact of that growth on the planet or to their profits?
#2 - Floursent Lights
This one comes with a back story. During the pandemic, I was able to turn my black thumb green with the help of the Planta app. My newfound ability turned into an obsession when I went from zero plants I could keep alive to a house full (about 24 plants). After Hurricane Ian, my husband and I (and my beloved plants) were displaced to temporary living quarters. We were very fortunate to move into an apartment above where my husband works. When the original owners built the building in the 80s, they built an apartment upstairs so they wouldn't have to pay for a hotel when they visited the SWFL location from the company headquarters in Miami. Since the apartment was built for the occasional few nights' stay, it lacked a lot of the usual apartment comforts. One such comfort is windows. As part of an industrial steel building, it had no windows. Needless to say, I was not only concerned about my own well-being. Humans need sunlight. I was even more concerned about my plant babies. Were they all destined to die despite my plant care transformation? 😩 In total, we were in the apartment for 6 months. For 6 months, the plants received absolutely no sunlight. The only light they got was fluorescent lights for 8+ hours a day. So how did they do? They THRIVED! They grew just as well as in my previous window-filled home. Depending on the species, some grew even better! If I had known I'd be writing this post, I would have taken before and after pictures as proof. This begs the question, was "better for us" the true motive behind the replacement of fluorescent lighting? Hmmm... 🤔
#3 Metal Roof
After Hurricane Ian, I was fortunate enough to escape the chaos of no internet, no traffic lights, and what can best be described as a war zone to our cabin in the mountains. Leaving my husband behind for his business and to care for my plant babies (another reason #2 is so miraculous!) Able to work from anywhere, with no need or desire to rush back to FL, I began looking into some projects that were needed. One such project was a new roof. I wanted a metal roof. Growing up in the south and with a metal roof, I just loved the sound of rain on the roof. Take a drive thru the south, and you'll see metal roofs outlasting the homes that have rotted out from under them. Knowing of this longevity as well as the beauty of the latest designs, I knew I might pay a little more.
What I didn't expect was the honesty of the local roofers and why they no longer recommend metal roofs. Not one roofer but all three I accepted bids from said, "Ma'am, I'll be happy to install a metal roof but let me tell you why you won't be happy 10 years from now." As it turns out, the companies that produce the materials for metal roofs have switched from metal washers to rubber washers. According to the roofers, it's been spun to be more "environmentally friendly." Each rolled their eyes as they made that statement. They weren't buying the environmentally friendly pitch. Why? because what happens to rubber after sun, rain, snow, and heat fluctuations from below freezing to upwards of 90? It deteriorates. And depending on the size of the home, there could be thousands of washers on a single roof. This means homeowners could have equal numbers of leaks with no way to figure out where it's coming from. Needless to say, I'm a little ticked that my dreams of a metal roof have been smashed. But it just doesn't seem to be a wise choice. But was it the wise choice for the planet or for the profits of the manufacturer? Is it better for the environment for a metal roof to be ripped off and discarded every 10 years because rubber washers have gone bad, OR is it better for the environment for a metal roof that lasts a lifetime?
For the love of the planet
So as we celebrate #earthmonth this month of April, perhaps it's important that we redesign what it means to innovate for the love of the planet, including the people who are a part of it.
L - Long-term impact
As companies consider which innovations to proceed with, it's important that they look beyond the short-term profit gains to the long-term impact.
O - Objective
Ask what our objective is for this innovation. But use the same 5 whys you used for solving a problem to help you discover the real motive behind an innovation. Can you, with integrity, say it's for the love of the planet? What evidence is there that says otherwise....because eventually, it will come out.
V - Value
What value does the innovation bring beyond profits? Not just in the short term but in the long term. Are you adding value to the lives of people and the longevity of the planet?
E - Economies of scale
Short-term cost-cutting efforts done in a vacuum can quickly become a cost killer (not to mention planet-killing) in the long term.