Yin and Yang
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt” – Mark Twain
Tens of thousands of job cuts from the financial, transportation and other sectors in the past few weeks. A seemingly endless parade of bad news and pessimism in the markets. The economy under duress and the government working to stem the tide. What can these economic realities have to do with long-term strategic, tangible issues like strategy execution and intangibles like environmental sustainability and social responsibility? Well, it’s not to say that these considerations are directly responsible for this financial turmoil, but they do matter. They are not just polar opposites, but connected.
The reason, in essence, has to do with managing a company for the long-term, rather than short-sighted positioning. Dow Jones describes sustainability as “a business approach that creates long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing risks deriving from economic, environmental and social developments.” It’s like a three-legged stool. Without balance between the legs, the stool falls.
However, some judge environmental initiatives only through the lens of environment. They say that economic issues should be secondary to environmental considerations, if they matter at all. That business should undertake environmental initiatives simply for their own sake, whether or not they are material to a company. That can work…for a time. But, does that short-term thinking make sense in the current economic situation? Should we really exclude economic decisions in the name of environmental sustainability? Before answering, let me ask it another way – should we ignore environmental considerations simply because the economic crisis is raging? Frankly, I think the answer to both questions is no.
Why? Simply because green has to be green to stay green – or, environmental initiatives need to be economically viable if they are going to be sustainable into the future. Otherwise, a business can’t be sustainable over the long-term – translated: they or the environmental initiatives won’t be around. And, where is the benefit in that?
For FedEx, this issue has arisen in past. In fact, our Board of Directors addressed this in 2007: “Our environmental initiatives are designed to create and sustain long-term stockholder value by reducing our reliance on fuel and traditional energy sources and mitigating our exposure to potential price increases and supply shortages…Not only are our initiatives good for the environment, they are in the best interests of FedEx and our stockholders.”
But the reverse is also true. As this statement communicates, economic considerations need to value and include environmental stewardship as well. It’s like yin and yang. Together, they balance. Together, they sustain.
So, what in the world does Mark Twain’s quote have to do with this topic? Well, some still won’t agree that there should be balance between economy and environment. They will deny the need to focus upon the long-term, to balance between issues. Okay. Just keep in mind that denial may not be just a river – but, during difficult times and in troubled waters, denial can sure take you where you don’t wish to go.