As President of the Sustainable Business Network, I have been reflecting on our mission in the context of our current recession. Are local business owners fully aware of the new economic, environmental, and political realities? What does it mean that we are just coming out of 8 years of hypnotism and denial from the Bush administration? During tough times, it is important to cut back on business activities that are not destined to provide value in future years (although they may have in the past) and to start building some resiliency into the business model by developing products and services that are non-polluting, energy-efficient, healthy, and sourced from the local community.
Now is the time to make critical decisions. Which business models will thrive in the new economy and which legacy operations should be pruned now? Many business decision-makers assume that normalcy will return towards the end of 2009, or, at the latest, early 2010. But there are countervailing forces that will make it difficult, if not impossible for America to return to an economy based on infinite resources, unlimited transport,and blatant disregard for the environment.
For example, there is the issue of peak oil. Robert Hirsch, author of Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management (a.k.a. the Hirsch Report), has said that new technologies and new drilling won’t solve the peak oil problem, and that we should expect $12-15/gallon gasoline followed by rationing. If businesses are not waking up to the possibility that they cannot count on cheap energy prices, many American cities are. At least twenty-five American cities are creating contingency plans based on the possibility that oil prices will remain highly volatile. They recognize that we are heading into a time when both energy costs and pressure to lower CO2 emissions will be high. Public sentiment may turn against businesses heavily dependent on products sourced from halfway around the world.