Opinion: A recent cartoon showed a boardroom scene where one director says to his colleagues, “Honesty is the best policy. OK! Now, what is the second best policy?” 

That made me chuckle given a somewhat cynical bent towards “corporate responsibility”. It reminded me of the old George Burns quote:

“The key to success is sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

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But not as good a chuckle as I got from a McKinsey newsletter this week highlighting as its “Quote of the Day” Senior Partner Steve Noble with the following absolute gem:

“If you believe in sustainability, you’ve got to build it into enough of your product portfolio that it shows up and resonates with consumers.”

No, Steve. If you “believe” in sustainability you don’t build it into “enough” of your products to “show up” and “resonate”. What you are advocating is the second best policy, the fake. Not the real commitment to be sustainable.

I’m not being “holier than you” here. My working life is littered with half-hearted attempts to comply with rules or even with professed aspirations or good intentions. While I’m dishing out quotes, Terry Pratchett comes to mind:

“Rules are there so that you think before you break them”.

Same so very often with good intentions.

This is something we all share to a greater or lesser extent but which we should all retain awareness of in ourselves and others.

It is worrying behaviour when the issues are existential as they are with, for example, the climate emergency we face. But even on what one might call “pathway” environmental issues we have a huge capacity to fool ourselves with our eyes open.

Recycling plastic is a widely accepted good practice, and it should be. But less than 10 percent of all plastic produced (over 8 billion tonnes) has ever been recycled. And when it is recycled, recent evidence appears to be that toxicity is intensified in the recycling process ie the danger to planet and people gets worse. Burying it and/or allowing it to degrade and spread less obviously is not a great option. Any genuine solution means finding genuine alternatives not pretending we are solving issues which we are not. 

I’m not saying it is easy. Like other extractive and damaging practices, it is damn hard and costly. But “believing” in sustainability and making others believe you are doing something is not the same as solving the issues.

Take our inadequately funded Environmental Protection Authority (disclosure: I briefly chaired this before falling foul of public service etiquette). It covers only a small range of potential harms, armed with slingshots against giants. It does a great job in what it is able to do but in terms of genuinely “protecting” our “environment” it is a very short stopbank against a very big flood.

So it is on climate emergency or “global warming” if that “resonates” better with you. Just a few years ago this was declared to be our “nuclear moment”. Those heady days in my youth when we effectively opposed nuclear bomb tests, nuclear armaments and power in our region. That was good – it was better than doing nothing or just building bomb shelters. It didn’t stop war or even nuclear power but staked out a real position for our little part of the planet.

I wonder if we are not currently doing the same. Even when we do act to cut emissions (NZ Steel) from manufacturing for ongoing economic growth or rebuild “resilient infrastructure” are these not really just the climate emergency version of bomb shelters? Doing “enough” to “resonate” but not really confronting the main issue. I don’t have answers to this but I can’t escape the thought that not just our corporations but our politicians and most of us are faking it. 

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