Lessons from the whaling industry

The whaling industry was the very icon of American prosperity for over 100 years.  Its revenue drove jobs, homes, businesses and fortunes.  Then the whales were gone.  The decline in whale populations was evidently underway by 1840 when hunters ignored depleting stocks and continued to harpoon everything that swam.  The story stands as a lesson on how greed and the relentless thirst for profit without thoughtful planning, in the end consumes itself.  Humans are slow learners.  Habits are stubborn even when the painful end is vividly in view.  Fishing industries around the world are closing daily as reckless fishing practices have exploited countless species to extinction.  In North America alone over the past 10 years, commercial populations of cod, hake, haddock and flounder have fallen by up to 95 percent.  The fishing industry too will soon be a story from the past.  Oh well, onward ho, what else can we harvest for a profit?

The only way to succeed longer-term on this planet is to embrace “sustainable” planning of our resources.  Some encouraging stories on this front are discussed in Andrew Savitz's new book, “The Triple Bottom Line:  How Today's best-run companies are achieving economic, social, and environmental success-and how you can too.” (2006) Josey-Bass:

“Correctly understood and applied, sustainability is about strategy, management, and profits.  But in today's interconnected world, thinking about profits as if they were unrelated to the economic and social impacts of what you do to get them is shortsighted and counterproductive.  Social and environmental issues are creating risks and opportunities that fundamentally change the playing field for individual firms, industries, and business itself.  The best-run companies see this and are turning these trends to their advantage.”

One small thought for the day:  now that many of us are recycling paper at work, how many of us are also buying recycled paper as our product of choice? 

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