When General Motors recently announced it would only sell zero-emission cars and trucks by 2035, Jay Friedlander, a professor of sustainable business at the College of the Atlantic who consults with businesses all over the world on sustainability practices, understood the impact.
“When GM is talking about an all-electric fleet of cars,” Friedlander observes, “the world has changed.”
According to Friedlander, successful businesses will take a new approach to sustainability.
“The old way of thinking about sustainability is that someone wins (society and the planet) and someone loses (the business),” says Friedlander. “It isn’t a zero-sum game. You can benefit society, and at the same time lower costs, grow sales, and open new markets – all the things that businesses want to do. It’s why I talk about abundance instead of sustainability.”
That shift in perspective, which Friedlander calls the Abundance Cycle, allows businesses to look at how they operate in a new way, which often unleashes innovation.
“In a lot of organizations, it starts with why are we throwing things out? Why are we wasting electricity and materials? Shouldn’t we be doing something with that? Why do we want to produce things we can’t sell? And then you go from there,” explains Friedlander. “You discover a multitude of other opportunities you hadn’t even thought about.”
Friedlander, who has consulted with companies in 15 different countries, emphasizes if you do business internationally you have to be thinking about sustainability now.
“More and more companies are going to be demanding to know what you are doing on sustainability,” notes Friedlander. “It is becoming the price of entry, a license to operate.”
While large companies like General Motors, Unilever, and Microsoft have already made large commitments to sustainability, Friedlander says small companies can also have an impact, including here in Maine.
“If you look at the history of industrial revolution in Maine and good old Yankee values – let’s not waste anything, let’s find new ways of doing things – sustainability and abundance are well aligned,” explains Friedlander.
The first step for any Maine company is often a change in how you view sustainability. According to Friedlander, those who don’t make this shift are putting their long-term viability and profitability at risk.
“If you are thinking of sustainability as a sacrifice, you have missed the boat,” cautions Friedlander. “This is about reinvention, finding new ways of doing business, and running your business better. If you don’t do it, someone else will, and they will eat your lunch.”