As I’m writing this, yet another Earth Day has rolled around – but I must admit that this year I’m seeing things from a somewhat different perspective. That is to say, I’ve come to the conclusion that merely focusing on “pure” sustainability efforts is currently the wrong approach to preserving the planet. While it has been increasingly evident for years, I am just now realizing that having so many people engaged in a struggle for daily survival is seriously detracting from the issues involved in saving the environment. So today, I have begun putting my energies into innovation and entrepreneurship that will help create new economic opportunities while curtailing the waste of our resources that is a key aspect of the sustainability challenge. This shift in direction reflects my conviction that relieving social stress will become more and more intertwined with sustainability, and, like that old song said about love and marriage, “You can’t have one without the other.”
Recently I was asked to speak at the Middle East Growth Conference, where representatives of various countries in the region will assemble in an effort to promote entrepreneurship. One of the main motivating factors of the so-called “Arab Spring,” in fact, was the need to put millions of destitute and economically forsaken citizens of those countries to work. But while this is going on, millions of once middle class Americans are also unemployed, many of them facing eviction and depending on food pantries – and they’re hardly in a position right now to give much thought to saving the Earth. Yet if we abandon all our environmental concerns, the threats to people’s existence will grow exponentially.
So this year, I am changing my focus to developing enterprises that will create jobs while filling fundamental social needs and reducing or eliminating waste in the process – goals that I think will address both the long-term survival of the planet and the immediate needs of its inhabitants. Our team will be starting with a company called Food Star Partners, which will intercept food that would ordinarily go to waste and sell at deep discounts to the roughly 44 million Americans who are currently food-security-challenged, and a reclamation business that will start putting such resources as used products and electronics back into use here in the U.S., rather than being shipped off to China.
In short, “sustainability” isn’t something that can be sustained unless people’s lives are also made sustainable.