From 1990 onwards the ecological issues got a partner which had until that time lived a bit in the shadow: health issues. More and more adults and even more children appeared to suffer from ailments which were known before, but were not widespread. To name just three amongst them: food intolerance, allergies and ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). What they have in common is that their diagnosis is not easy, their causes uncertain and their healing difficult. One could ask oneself if they are not symptoms of an increasing inability of the human immune system to react properly on external stimuli. When so, there must be a link with an environment which is increasingly hostile to the human being: pollution of soil, water, air, light as well as climate disturbances and their multiple dysfunctionalities, and our hectic and hasty way of living.
As a consequence the public attention shifted slowly from just ecological issues onto a twinhood: the interdependence between ecology and human health. At the same time, quite a number of companies that had on their own initiative upgraded their products or services to a more sustainable status tried to consolidate their businesses and keep them viable. That was not an easy task, as was ultimately shown in the financial crisis of 2008.
Offering sustainable products or services in the spirit of the Brundtland report, and proactively working on a sustainable company profile, is not a simple task either. I often compared it to sailing, while at the same time building the boat on which you sail. You need an open mind, creativity, a strong societal engagement – and a lot of courage. And perhaps the most important element: say what you do and do what you say, or: walk the talk.
In those years I was concept manager for one of the most successful companies in sustainable detergents worldwide and I had the luxury to work along these ideas every day. The company had earned a high credibility and was well respected by the private customers. Not only by them: the suppliers, NGO’s and even many competitors looked with admiration upon its achievements. That was kind of a showcase which gave me the possibility later on to assist other companies in re-profiling their concepts. What is needed to turn a company in a future proof one is a change of paradigm. A paradigm is a distinct set of concepts and standards which are acceptable to the largest part of humanity. The actual economical paradigm is – to put it brutally – that a company is there to make money and that in doing so, it should grow forever. It’s obvious that neither Planet Earth, nor human health and well being are a substantial part of this paradigm. When we want to be future proof we need to act in a sustainable way in each and any of the activities we engage in. We cannot just grab any earthly substance without hindsight; we cannot let a chemical hell loose to transform it; we cannot neglect the precarious status of our customers’s health; we cannot dump a product in the market without taking responsibility for it; this customer cannot wish to buy good products for peanuts; we cannot altogether generate mountains of waste that will hamper our descendants for a long time, or deprive them from energy and raw materials.
All this has to be part of a new paradigm that we will have to develop, not by revolution, but by evolution. Inevitably this will ask for compromises, which many deep green people will not like; however, there is no other possibility to get there. For too long we have omitted to put effort and money in sustainable innovation; roughly spoken, hardly anything has been done after WW1, which was a century ago. The era of fossil raw materials (coal, oil, uranium) has ended already, what we experience today are just its last convulsions. We have to catch up and explore once more all of the many interesting and challenging possibilities we have put aside as not viable. Let’s join forces, researchers, producers and users of products and services and let’s try in common effort to create a situation, to make a future in which our children and grandchildren will still have the possibility to live.