A fisheries professor of mine from years ago, Peter Larkin, wrote a prescient paper in the late 1970’s entitled “Maximum Sustained Yield – you can’t get there from here!” However, little attention was paid to his insight that we can only live on the knife-edge of economic optimization for so long. Failure is inevitable. You always fall off the edge. Too much money was at stake then, as now, for widespread behavior change to occur. But the fish stocks in our oceans are vastly depleted since then, many to the point of non-recovery. Pick any natural resource: water, air, space, timber, minerals, species diversity, and so on – and it quickly becomes clear that we are far superior at depleting than re-building. The industrialization of consumption has exceeded our commitment to stewardship and sustainability.

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However, the relentless pattern of abuse, rapidly accelerated by the economic rationalization and short-termism we chose to let guide business for the last 150+ years is being slowly but surely arrested. Consumers and employees alike are challenging the businesses where they shop and work to solve sustainability issues, not create them. Such demands grow more strident, and companies are beginning to respond.

 

In For Goodness’ Sake: Satisfy the hunger for meaningful business, we will explore the concept of panarchy, and this profound and hopeful shift in the role of business to clean up some of its mess and play a new role contributing to society.

Were he still with us, Professor Larkin might finally breathe a small sigh of relief!

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