By Curtis Tuden
Global markets throughout history have demonstrated unique characteristics that help distinguish one era from another. For those who are unfamiliar with economic trends, these characteristics are often broadly seen as recessions, depressions, and bull or bear markets, none of which do anything to explain why market fluctuations in one decade are different from those we experience today or even a hundred years ago. To provide context, it is useful to compare the specifics that define different eras. As it relates to energy, environment, and the Medford Energy Committee, the current trend towards sustainable business practices is something both local and international business leaders will benefit from knowing more about.
While it is early in the development of sustainable business, a comparison to the quality movement in the 1980s is helpful to help realize that each relates to market inefficiencies and the potential for growth. In the late 1980s and early 1990s innovative businesses took actions to try to prosper by focusing on maximizing product quality assurance. At the time, many businesses felt that maximizing product quality and consumer trust were secondary to minimizing production cost and maximizing consumer purchase price. It may seem obvious now, but building reliable and trustworthy products turned out to be a useful business practice. Specifically, Japanese and American auto workers lead the way in developing quality assurance techniques that realized positive brand awareness helped business. Markets grew and products improved. Those who doubted quality assurance was necessary were forced to adapt or fail.
The same can be said for our current sustainable business movement. Private industry used to scoff at the idea that sustainable business practices could be employed without hurting the bottom line. Only recently have innovative companies changed their development and sales techniques to take advantage of a global economy that now recognizes old habits will lead to economic collapse. Much like those who tried and succeeded in taking advantage of quality market inefficiency, today’s businesses need to realize that any actions which compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs in order to meet present needs are unsustainable and inefficient.
Where this may lead both small and large economies over the coming decades is hard to say, but examples of success are real. For helpful insight from an experienced leader in sustainable business, please follow this link to a speech by Ray Anderson, who innovated his family carpeting business with sustainable ideology and is now a leader in his field: http://www.ted.com/talks/ray_anderson_on_the_business_logic_of_sustainability.html. With this in mind, it is not unrealistic to think that sustainability may one day be as synonymous with successful business as quality is now.
For information about sustainable business practices in Medford, see our post on the Medford Green Awards.
Curtis Tuden is a teacher at Medford High School and a member of the Medford Energy Committee.