I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered my loads…
And for your information, you Lorax, I’m figgering on biggering.
- From Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution – if not before – companies have had an almost incessant desire to grow bigger. In many ways, it’s an inherent – and not necessarily bad, if handled appropriately – feature of capitalism.
Recently, companies have often attributed the pressure for growth to their shareholders – an apparently faceless group of greedy people bent on profits above all else. But, the reality is, shareholders are all of us – whether we own stock in our employer’s company or invest in a mutual fund for retirement. We have the power to affect a change.
Growth can certainly be healthy, but growing in the same way year after year is not sustainable over the long term. Think of Starbucks, who at one point was opening multiple new stores every day until CEO Howard Schultz stated outright that the fast pace meant the company was “losing its soul.”
At some point in our society, simply being profitable each year wasn’t enough – only those companies whose profits grew ever bigger were seen as winners. Yet, regardless of industry, there comes a market saturation point and profits must inevitably plateau – unless things change. No matter how tasty a latte is, each person in the country will realistically buy only so many.
The idea of growth and its limits has profound implications for building product companies and others seeking to be green. Producing more and more products can work against lowering one’s environmental impacts. Even if each product is made more efficiently than it was previously, the net impact can be greater. It’s not an impossible situation, though – business growth and being environmentally friendly are not necessarily at odds.
A change in thinking may be the solution according to Salvatore Gabola, Coca Cola’s European public affairs chief. “Part of the equation to get to a low carbon economy is a change in lifestyle of consumers. That does not need to be against business growth. It’s all about changing the system, changing industry behavior, changing consumer behavior.” (See remarks in article from ClimateBiz.)
The point is, to be truly sustainable, companies need to increasingly balance economic growth with environmental impact. Customers will increasingly expect it, and enlightened shareholders will also recognize that increased money in their pockets is of little value if the world they live in is in shambles. Rather than doing more of the same, successful companies will find ways to make money from products and services that have a net reduction in the adverse impacts from those they create today.