Let's face it: true sustainability may not make economic sense

Wouldn't it be nice if a company's best decision matched its best environmental decision? Some say that's often the case already, and that if companies would only wake up and realize that, the contrast between profit and planet would diminish. I had the conversation about this again last week, fortunately, we agreed. It really doesn't happen often, especially when you're surrounded by investors and ESG bankers out in the world.

The business case for sustainability rests on several core arguments. Green practices create positive brand associations with consumers, policymakers, and regulators. They also anticipate regulatory trends and position the company advantageously when such policies become law. The mindset that strives for greater material and waste efficiency carries over into other areas. Likewise, the innovation required to solve environmental problems encourages innovation in general. And employees have higher morale when they believe in what their company is doing. That's why we now see "purpose"-driven companies and those that tell themselves that what they're doing is saving the world. Screw it.

These considerations and actions support the idea that the three points of the famous "triple bottom line" - people, profit, and the planet - are not inherently contradictory.

Unfortunately, 90% of the time the interests of profit are in blatant conflict with the interests of people and the planet, at least by any reasonable calculation. What would happen to your company's bottom line if it switched to a green power provider that costs twice as much? What would happen if it insisted on using only fair-trade products - throughout its supply chain? We're not talking about cosmetic changes like a few solar panels and the bike rack in the parking lot.

We are restricting green practices to a very narrow subset that involves little expense, risk, or disruption to normal business operations by appealing to the business case for sustainability. Such claims have a second, negative effect: they mean that the proper basis for environmentally conscious decisions is what is profitable. They affirm that profit is the right motivation by saying, "Be green and you'll make more profit." As a result, it is common to hear that green companies will likely be the largest business opportunity and that the current pandemic presents opportunities that should be exploited.

Did You Know?

I would also like to address the issue of planting trees. In 90% of cases, we plant trees for forestry. In Germany, 33% of the land is forest and forest land and 90% of it is for the economy. The quality of our soils, plants, animals, and rivers is already suffering.

Native species forests hold up to 42 times more carbon than single-species plantation forests.

Let's take this a step further. What if I told you, "Live your life in service to the planet because you'll make more money that way," and then showed you a few of the rewarding jobs available in the environmental sector? I'd be encouraging a lie because, in general, cutting down trees, draining oceans, and building shopping malls are more profitable than protecting forests from development. "People should make choices based on financial benefits," I'd add. These points, in my opinion, would not convince many people to participate in environmental work.

Similarly, for profit-driven reasons, few companies will adopt important environmental ethics.

Naturally, many people – and even some companies – take important steps towards sustainable development. We need to appeal to the real reasons behind these decisions if we want to do more of the same thing. The real motives are clear: love, care, and a desire to serve other people. We want to help each other, I'm still convinced. However, we are increasingly preventing this with these damned structures and systems.

Let's stop pretending. Let's stop sugarcoating everything and lets God damn it stop ignoring things. It may not be business sense, at least not in a way that can be predicted or quantified, if your company is to make a major move towards sustainability. You will have anything but the numbers to trust. It's the same thing at a personal level. Therefore, I appeal to new capital forms.

Usually, anxiety, uncertainty, and a moment of self-definition are when we go deeper into service. Who's that I am and what's that I serve? What am I doing here, actually? The same questions arise, both inside and outside the business world.

The phrase "business case for sustainability" implies something true. When we take a step toward stewardship, the world eventually returns our generosity, albeit in an uncertain form and at an unpredictable time. A business "case" includes numbers and predictions, but the general principle it attempts to convey is that the gift moves in a circle. What you do to the world will eventually come back to haunt you.

Typically, such principles are found in the realms of spirituality or religion, distinct from and in opposition to the world of commerce. It is past time to put an end to this estrangement. Even the most jaded business leader, at some level, longs to align their productive life with their deepest concern. What we are currently witnessing is the polar opposite: a deep mental & health crisis that pervades all social classes and cultures of our time. This does not imply disregarding business realities or throwing caution to the wind. It entails taking the next, slightly frightening, slightly outrageous step. It is taking a risk for which no credible "business case" exists. It stems from a different motivation.

Taking the next step always takes some courage because it goes against conventional wisdom and predictable financial self-interest. We will one day, hopefully soon, have to change the economic environment to remove the dichotomy between profit and environmental well-being. Green taxes, that is, shift the taxation of sales and income to pollution and resource extraction. Which doesn't just mean introducing a CO2 tax, that's too easy and basically nonsense. Furthermore, we need anti-ecocide laws that promote the alignment of ecology and money, but we will never be able to rely on self-interest alone to enforce love. There will always be a next step that makes no logical sense by the numbers.

This is a very different type of sustainability management. It stems from questions like, "Who exactly are you?" "What is it that you are concerned about?" and "Who do you work for?" Courage emerges from a thorough examination of such issues.

The other business case, based on profit, is merely a tactical device, a means of granting the bean counters - and our own internal bean counter - permission to say yes to what we all truly desire. Is it naive to believe that sustainability statements include anything other than greenwashing, marketing, and so on? Perhaps it is, but it is no more naive than believing that anyone will sacrifice measurable self-interest in order to serve our beautiful world.

If you liked this, feel free to share it with a friend. If you disagree, feel free to share it with a friend or your thoughts with me.

Happy Saturday!


I did not want to write this

There have never been people who know but do not act. Those who are supposed to know but do not act simply do not yet know

This morning I practiced yoga again for the first time purely on intuition. It's different. For the past few years, I've primarily attended classes or taken online classes. But when we practice something out of ourselves, it feels different. We slowly begin to listen to our bodies, perceive the environment differently, and the practice feels different. Certainly, I am doing more wrong at that moment because no one is correcting me.

We should start again to open ourselves to all that is out there and trust our gut feeling and then evaluate it with a realistic view. When we truly open our hearts to each other, there is no burden too heavy to carry together, there is no pain too deep to hold in each other's arms. And it is in this place where we feel the hurts of the earth and feel them together that alchemy is born. In the cauldron where we share our grief with our community, contemplate it together, and do not look away, heartbreak is transformed into hope.

We have to listen again to what nature wants to tell us. Trust in the laws of nature and begin to merge our current possibilities with it. It is what our modern civilization needs to hear. I'm sure most of us share the feeling that our society has trampled on natural law; that we live in a world where indigenous knowledge, intuition, and the things that are most valuable to life are ignored, while those that are most destructive are valued most highly.

I am speaking here from Berlin and sharing with many others every day what happens when the law of nature is violated. We have reached a point where looking away is no longer an option. Every day new scenarios reach us. It was just over a year ago that we were all horrified by the images coming out of Australia of apocalyptic wildfires - fires that killed an estimated one billion animals in the outback. And it was also just a year ago that video calls with some friends of mine from the Bay Area became their own version of doomsday - a day without daylight, as smoke from millions of acres of raging wildfires in northwestern California billowed across the sky, leaving nothing but a blood-red glow through.

But of course, those of us here today don't need these harbingers of doom to know that something is terribly wrong with where our world is headed. We all know, despite what our media does to distract our attention, that our global society is heading toward the abyss at an ever-increasing rate. We know that people are suffering out there because of callous economic policies, that the coronavirus outbreak has added to that suffering - and that the increasing climate breakdown will only lead to a deepening of misery, with massive droughts and famines and hundreds of millions of climate refugees forced to leave their homes in despair because no one is willing to take them in.

We know that the natural world is suffering from relentless human exploitation. That the Amazon rainforest - the lungs of the earth - is disappearing at a rate of more than one hectare per second. The World Wildlife Fund recently reported that animal populations worldwide have declined by nearly 70% since 1970 - and by as much as 94% in Latin America. The richness of nature is being virtually wiped out in our lifetime. Sometimes it helps to listen to Luisa Neubauer's climate talk. She provides here very nicely the facts about it.

For me, it is impossible to face these realities without being heartbroken. When I thought about this man-made enormity, I sometimes felt like I was being swallowed by an infinite abyss of darkness. Is it any wonder that people turn away from facing these facts, that they see one of those scary headlines warning of climate collapse, and they click somewhere other than there, reading their Facebook feed, looking at the latest tweet, watching the report on the political scandal of the week? We live in a world designed to keep us numb - a culture peppered with incessant doses of mind-numbing, conditioning us to dull our emotions and conform to the daily grind. I meant that in the nicest way possible. Then we sit down and think the latest technologies can pull us out of the dilemma, but we don't understand the core of the problem.

Then perhaps in a moment when we go out into nature and feel connected to it for once. And then we realize that the deep purpose of our existence on Earth is to nurture her living system, to nurture Gaia, and participate fully in her ancient, sacred unfolding of living beauty. And when we see the relentless way this beauty is being eviscerated, Gaia's pain becomes our pain. It's not just happening in the forests and deep oceans, it's also happening to us - to our own ecological togetherness.

But this pain of the weeping earth is too much for any of us to bear alone. And that is where we must turn to another, an equally important dimension of our togetherness: our shared community of caring. When we truly open our hearts to one another, there is no burden too heavy for us to bear together, there is no pain too deep for us to embrace. In those moments, when I think of how we can get back there. I usually think only of escape. To another place that shelters this communion with nature.

There have never been people who know but do not act. Those who are supposed to know but do not act simply do not yet know.



A different City

Shared values no longer bind cities together. Cities are now just pure labor markets. Loneliness is malignant. People move to cities for work, hoping to find belonging online.

Today, we have a chance to redesign cities. Software engineers built the infrastructure to support the migration of the knowledge economy from the office to the cloud. A virus catalyzed this migration. Now we can live and work wherever we want, with whomever we want, and we have the choice to leave the metropolis. 

We can choose to build a society with those who share our values. Ancient Athens had 300,000 inhabitants. Renaissance Florence had 80,000. Countless forgotten cities were far larger. The size of a city has little to do with its population and everything to do with its population.

The Internet brings people together to share common passions in digital cities. Now we can use the Internet to bring people together in a city made of atoms. With the technology of 2020, we can build a city based on shared values, with talent and vitality that surpasses that of ancient Athens or Renaissance Florence.

Building a new city from the ground up is an opportunity for radical thinking based on first principles. Modern transportation. Modular building. Innovative management. Decentralized currency.

The next Tesla could be a city, okay Elon is already working on that too. Manhattan's land is worth more than Amazon. Tomorrow's cities will be organized around tribal warmth and growth driven by a unified vision for the future. We envision unleashed human potential, an unprecedented collection of talent, enabled by the global reach of the Internet - building the city we deserve.

Further Reading:


On Urgency


it was quiet for a long time and I had written two articles about sustainability. When I was writing the articles, I only became aware of the urgency of other issues again.

You could do me a big favor and share this newsletter with your best friends. Will help me a lot.

Let's start...


I describe my view that the paradigm of urgency, heroic effort, and struggle might itself be part of the problem; that it comes from the same place of scarcity and domination as the conquest of nature; that coming from that place we might blindly create more of the same. Instead, I often suggest, we might try to slow down, maybe even do nothing sometimes. Instead of holding ourselves to a high standard of revolutionary asceticism, we might approach life in a spirit of ease and play. Perhaps from this place, our creative energies can bring forth something truly new for civilization. This was also my thesis for the article Degrowth.

After reading some indigenous books, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that we are striving for this urgency. But perhaps don't need it. Most of the actions I see right now to solve the problems in the world are conceived out of effect. They are short-term actions that will not lead to long-term success.

Could it be that we have something crucial to learn from the indigenous people? Could it be that our only way out of this mess is to reclaim our own indigenous soul?

Again with the thought in mind that we are part of the whole and not a separate alien.

That is easier said than done. I am aware of that. If my house is on fire, I'm not going to sit in front of my Mac. The world is on fire! So why am I still sitting here? Because I don't have a fire extinguisher for the world and there is no global emergency number I can call.

Millions of people are starving, but I don't have enough food to give them all. And even if I did have it, you have to look at the economics of food aid or resource distribution and understand how it sometimes creates dependencies, fuels cronyism and warlordism, and destroys local food production, and the right response becomes less clear. A Marxist would say that alleviating hunger through food aid merely obscures the real cause of the problem and perpetuates the underlying injustice.

If we know the true cause of a problem and what to do about it, then everything society said is true. Then it is time to act, and perhaps to act urgently. But if we haven't gotten to the real cause, or if we don't know what to do about it, then it might be counterproductive to act immediately. Society´s words might actually apply to all of us: The appearance of frenetic action soothes the conscience and creates the illusion that one is part of the solution, but are these actions of any use at all.

Perhaps global warming is the asymptomatic fever of our hurrying.

Because why is global warming taking place? There are the immediate causes: the burning of fossil fuels and the assault on the forests and biodiversity that maintain climate homeostasis. And why is all this happening? It's all in the name of efficiency: labor efficiency (more labor per unit of labor) and economic efficiency (maximizing short-term return on capital). And efficiency is just another name for getting it done faster. Or the reason is that we no longer find meaning in this complex world. We have lost the ability to make sense.

You might think there's good haste (to save the planet) and bad haste (to use machines to get things done with less work), but perhaps the underlying mindset behind both types of haste is the problem.

There is a time to act and a time to wait, to listen, to observe. Then understanding and clarity can grow. From understanding comes action that is purposeful, decisive, and powerful.

There are so many battles, so many campaigns, so many calls to overcome the enemy with violence. No wonder we apply the same strategy to ourselves. It so happens that the internal devastation of the Western psyche corresponds exactly to the external devastation it has wrought on the planet. Wouldn't you like to be part of a different kind of revolution?



Book of the Week:

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America

What are you reading?

Live every single day individually

Hello my friend,

Bit of housekeeping, would you share the article with some of your friends?

Over the past few years, you've certainly learned a few things and drawn yourself an inner map that you use to navigate through your life. We all have or should have such a map and a north star that shows us the way.

For me, inner work and feedback from others are enormously important. Because that's the only way we can grow personally.

There is nothing outside of you that could ever enable you to become better, stronger, richer, faster, or smarter. Everything is inside. Everything exists. Do not look for anything outside of yourself.

Much of the work and ideas I offer have eternal value for the way we might think and live today. And I believe that the longer something has stood the test of time, the more likely it is to be reliable. That's why I value ancient philosophy, values, and writings so much.

What I observe a lot in the world today are behaviors that lead to conflict and unrest. We flee from ourselves and from the world we could have. We look at many things too simple and some things too complicated.

Here is a small selection of principles I strive for:

1. Accept everything as it is

I understood as a child that the way we deal with everything depends on our mind. What we see with our eyes is just that at first, but what we then think determines what it becomes. The way we react determines the course of history.

Have you felt lately that everything is getting on top of you or that everything seems to be going against you? It's stressful, and it feels like too much is happening all at once. But we can remedy that with the stoic reminder: the dichotomy of control.

Some things are within our power, others are not. In our power are opinion, motivation, desire, and, in a word, everything in our own power; not in our power are our body, our property, our reputation, our office, and, in a word, everything not in our power - Epictetus.

Instead of worrying about many things, even one thing we cannot control, we should shift our focus from these external events to internal motives and accomplishments. You cannot control the outcome of a tournament, but you can control how well you show up there.

2. Do not regret what you have done

Life is full of things that just "happen." We can't change them. Whether they are problems, setbacks, or great opportunities, this is up to you.

But remember: regret means being angry about what happened. It doesn't change anything, but it hurts you. Regret only adds stress to what we are already struggling with. Even if what we did was completely immoral or malicious, living with regret won't help.

That's not to say we shouldn't be responsible and accountable, but feeling regret, whether from external pressure or from yourself, won't change what happened. The change will only change what happened.

3. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.

As human beings, we spend too much time chasing pleasure - we have become part of a society obsessed with sexual pleasure, giving in to our cravings and constantly reaching for more. Live life at the moment. Also, pleasure should be enjoyed naturally rather than pursued.

The problem with pleasure and desire is that it leads to wanting more and yet more. We work hard to satisfy our desires in order to feel pleasure for a short time. Then we stop the whole cycle again. We want to keep up with the others. It's something Eckart Tolle taught me very early on. It is not easy to understand but unfolds its power over time.

Imagine getting a big gift, or a new romance, or an iphone notification. It's exciting for a short time, but it doesn't necessarily improve your daily happiness level. You achieve one thing, and you're already looking for the next. There will always be something you don't have at that moment.

Instead, question what you desire. Part with what you don't need and keep what is meaningful. Put less emphasis on so many things, and more emphasis on very few.

– Don’t want more than you have

4. Think of yourself lightly and of the world profoundly.

In competition training, it always happens that we lose many times, but when the day comes to win, we give everything we can and we will win.

Wisdom is the quality of good judgment, and the only way to understand good judgment is to first understand what bad judgment is. That requires asking questions and failing and failing often.

In personal life, it means knowing when to be social, how to be social, when to be alone, and how to enjoy being alone. In business, it's understanding what to improve, where to improve it, why this is the right decision, and how to make that change. Every question and failure improves your judgment.

But you can't take the time to understand this if you take yourself too seriously. You put too much pressure on yourself, forget what's important and waste time. Today's good artists make what they do look like a game. It looks like a game, and the output is incredible. And that's because they don't take themselves too seriously, because otherwise the tension they carry would exhaust them and slow them down.

5. Do not rely on a partial feeling under any circumstances.

If you don't want to say 100% yes to something, say no. If you ever have to decide to do something, and if your feelings don't include an inner 'Wow! That would be awesome! Absolutely! Hell yes!' - then say no," and that's it.

Our habits make up forty percent of what we do on any given day. That means that sixty percent of our decisions can potentially be influenced by the world. Often that leads to things we later regret or things that don't align with our values or our desires.

If you don't feel very optimistic about what you want to do, don't do it.

6. Resentment and complaints are not appropriate for yourself or others.

I don't focus on complaining or getting angry about what others are doing better. I focus on getting better with every mistake and learning at every opportunity.

As jealousy, resentment and complaints are two other toxic byproducts of status games. Being resentful and complaining are two deeply ingrained character traits. It's hard to accept what we don't like, like admitting when we're wrong, and it's hard to experience things we don't like without complaining or expressing our dissatisfaction to someone. As I said in one of my last articles, it always leads to a division of ourselves and others.

Instead, ask yourself, "For what good reason am I the way I am?" you won't have a good answer because there is no good answer.

A mindset that holds on to anger, resentment, or discontent is unhealthy and self-defeating. The way to eliminate resentment and discomfort is to first understand how it sounds when it comes from you, then stop yourself when it happens, and ask why it is necessary.

7. Do not act according to habitual beliefs.

Society is trained to think alike, like a herd. That is what keeps everyone and everything in order. In society, we are moldable; easily influenced by the pressures of what other people do and say to us. This leads us to develop beliefs that are not necessarily good for us but follow the status quo. I don't want to tell you to go against society, that would be inconsistent with all the other rules of mine.

It's easy for your boss to tell you to do something because "we've always done it that way," but who says that? Why do we do it this way when there is clearly a better way?

It's fear that makes everyone think the same way. Fear keeps us from having our own beliefs, processes, ideas, and opinions. We grow up being taught to conform, to be like everyone else, and be "normal", we are told not to take risks when in reality it is more dangerous not to take risks.

8. Never be jealous

Jealousy is a toxic byproduct of status games; a game society plays to place everyone in a hierarchy. Oh God, I could really write a lot about power and status. But it's very important to understand. Why are we jealous? Often to then say or do things that belittle others and make ourselves feel better. Jealousy is also deeply rooted in envy, we want something that others already have.

Most of us know that there is absolutely no good reason to be jealous of anything, and yet we are.

I was like that too, negative and jealous of others who had what I wanted. That's incredibly damaging. So I forced myself to change my attitude, whether I liked it or not.

Instead of coveting what someone has and being negative about it, I tell myself to say something good about that person and leave it at that. This is liberating. I remind myself of who I am, what I want, how I want to live, and none of it involves negativity.

There's no point in being jealous. This feeling is amplified in today's world to make us greedy - always wanting more than the other person. This drives you into a spiral of negativity.

But it makes perfect sense to think kindly about everything and everyone, whether it's selfless or not, it's a win-win. I'm happier and more peaceful, and I don't bring negativity onto others that I then have to deal with. And that's what I want.

9. Be Calm Where and How You Live

You should accept the life you are given for the sake of your mental health. Despair, stress, and anxiety are natural parts of your life, and you shouldn't attack them. The truth is that if you accept the most difficult aspects of life, it can make them stronger to their progress.

Indifference means being indifferent to the things that are happening around you. I could never have improved to the level I am at today if I had stayed where I was yesterday.

Instead of living around others caught up in news, drama, and emotion, take a step away from it and question what you are seeing. Often we stay in an environment that is not good for us simply because we don't know any better. That is why it is important to get out of our "comfort zone".

Stay away from all negative people, news, and unstable emotions. Find out who and what makes you happier and spend your time there.

10. Never deviate from the path

Health, love, and life itself need to be treasured above anything else in the world.

Never deviate from your purpose if you are convinced of it. If you want to combine what you love with what you are good at and strive to make a valuable contribution to your future and the world in which you live, then avoid anything that tries to dissuade you from your way of living and thinking if it does not bring you closer to the truth as you weigh it.

Others will try to dissuade you from your way because they are afraid of uncertainty. They don't understand it themselves, so they try to push you away from it.

But for me, life is about meaning. It's about creating your own mind, your own beliefs, based on experiences and information you've gathered and evaluated to become the person you want to be.


Malte J. Wagenbach

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