For a while now, it seems that there have been two sides of sustainability. There's the business side and the consumer side. For the most part, these two sides of the sandbox have not really crossed. There are legitimate reasons why they don't.
However, there is starting to be an emergence and dialogue about how sustainability in the workplace is truly a human issue beyond the bottom line. In other words, the famous three-legged stool of sustainability: people, profit, and planet have now collided. At the beginning, of the nascent sustainability movement there was an amazing amount of focus on profit and planet. One of the reasons this happened is because the easiest way to motivate companies was not necessarily thinking about staff but thinking about the almighty dollar. Dealing with human resources while measurable is not necessarily tangible. Dealing with profits, it's pretty darn easy to understand and let's face it doing the right thing making more money makes everyone happy.
The planet argument also was pretty easy to make. Between numerous documentaries, industry leaders, overtaxed infrastructure, and images from environmental groups, it is clear that we needed to be kinder to the planet.
Making the connection between people and profit and planet has been more challenging. Many entities in the environmental community who are working on environmental justice issues which involves disadvantaged communities will tell you that polar bears are not a compelling enough argument with people trying to put food on the table and that would be correct.
What is happening now as we have progressed somewhat on energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, and transportation, is that the conversation is shifting back to the people. The easiest place to start this conversation is with health. Health seems to be the new focus on the consumer side of sustainability.
This is great. Everyone understands health. So we can put away the cute pictures of the polar bears and bring out the cute pictures of our kids. What parent doesn't see a connection between health and well-being for their child? Additionally, if your child falls in to the rapidly increasing health challenges part of the population as a parent you are even more compelled to make this change. Whether its asthma, obesity, food allergies, or the more nebulous Autism scale, parents are beginning to understand there is a direct connection between health, food, and environmental causes.
I recently attended the Georgia Organics Annual conference. This year's theme was FarmRx: A Prescription for Better Health. With the focus on health, national speakers were brought in to discuss the connection between healthy people, productivity, and well-being. What struck me was how large the conference had grown and therefore the conversation. The business opportunity was clear. Many companies now understand unhealthy workers equals an unhealthy bottom-line. As keynote speaker, Robyn O’Brien, the author of The Unhealthy Truth told attendees, 17% of every dollar spent in America is now spent on healthcare. Obviously, it's not all about toxin-free organic food but the connection is real. The other keynote speaker, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN, stood before the standing room only crowd saying “I want to be a part of your movement”. When recognized leaders say that you know a change is on its way.
What better place to have the sustainability conversation than around our dinner tables. This is where the conversation really gets interesting. There is a burgeoning slow and local food movement that is creating real jobs, real health benefits, and economic diversity in a way we've never seen before. Move over agribusiness, organic farming and local food is about to take over.
The growth for real American jobs in this emerging industry of healthy food is upon us. There are many opportunities for all of us to gain from this shift in ideology. I am looking forward to see how they grow.