I finally got some time to put together a response to my first post (here)! I’ve been thinking about it a lot, so here goes.
The last thing I wrote in that first post was a question: How do tech and other non-product-based companies become “responsible”? My buddy Steven Case gave an insightful response, saying that companies that make computer chips could use 3-D printers instead of throwing excess away. That is partially what I’m talking about, but not exactly.
I’m more concerned with companies that produce the intangible. It’s easy to see that clothing-producing sweatshops employ underage children, or that beef cattle farts are contributing to global warming (it’s actually mostly their burps, I just read, but that’s not as amusing!), but what about a design company or, say, Twitter?
I’ll give my thoughts, and feel free to comment on them or add your own:
Step One: The Office
This goes along with what Steven was saying: If you do make any kind of product, make sure it creates as little waste as possible, even if that waste is just some scraps from making a processor. But, I would also include any impact the office itself has in here. Things like controlling your thermostat, using recycled paper, etc.
The details of how to have a “sustainable office” have been written/talked about endlessly, so I won’t get into them, but I do believe that, while these impacts may seem small for each company, they can cause serious damage if neglected.
Step Two: The Work
This is the meat of the subject.
It involves something more complicated and perhaps a bit philosophical. It means not creating something I’ll call “Excellence Waste” (EW).
EW won’t destroy the Earth, but does waste time, at least, and at worst, it pollutes the business world. The very worst of it, in my opinion (and it’s beginning to sound melodramatic here), even goes so far as to degrade us as a species.
The traits that set us apart from the other animals cause both our triumph and our downfall. Our intellectual traits cause triumph, but we learned to use this intellect for diversion, deceit, and damned lies. In the social world, these make you an asshole. In the business world, they cause EW.
I’ll give a couple examples: Housing market hedge funds. Pushy, over-aggressive sales tactics. “African Prince” scam emails. All of these involve companies that don’t have a physical product, and, all of them involve deceit for the sake of profit. It’s this violation of moral code that characterizes EW, as opposed to the violation of environmental issues that causes traditional waste.
The reason I think of it as waste is an interesting one. Unlike trash, EW is almost instantly “recycled”, in that a correct moral decision can be made immediately afterwards. Physical trash, obviously, has to decompose for years before it can be used again. The similarity comes in that what is sacrificed–time, respect, integrity–is lost forever. It is all about opportunity cost. If a company spends all it’s time sending spam Viagra emails, they have no legacy. They have taken the easy way out and made a quick buck, but as soon as better spam filters are developed, they have nothing. Where they could have produced excellence, they instead produced waste.
Instead, empires should be built. Excellence should be the norm. Companies would be founded on moral integrity and they will use honesty and hard work as their core competencies, not fly-by-night strategies and band-aids when things go wrong. And it doesn’t have to involve egregious wrong-doing. Something as simple as half-assing a report because you know the customer won’t know the difference is waste. The smallest lie is huge. While it may cause a short-term loss in revenue, implementing these strategies will envelop the company in an air of honor and respect, which will win in the long run. Not only will clients want to work with you because of your honesty, that kind of transparency will be a beacon to which everyone with a heart will be drawn.
Before I get too preachy (maybe it’s too late?), I’ll stop there.
I’ve uncovered a lot of opinions in my “research” for this post, both my own and of my friends, and I’ve found there is a lot to be said here. Thanks to JD and Rachel for their opinions and support, and to Steven for in depth philosophical discussions that help me digest these thoughts (and unfortunately make me a little disappointed in our political/economic systems, but that is a different discussion). I look forward to hearing anyone else’s opinion on the subject–this seems to be something anyone can have an opinion about, whether you are a business person or not.
In the coming weeks, I’ll try to pull out individual aspects of this and discuss them in depth. Examples would be: Honesty in the business world and how I hope it becomes less rare. The value of talented employees and how they should be treated. Maybe a bit about what the future holds for the internet and internet marketing. Who knows.
Thanks for reading, it means a lot.