Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Selfish Sustainability - Save or Starve pt 3

Selfish Sustainability - Save or Starve Series [ 1 - 2 - 3 ]

While our hotel was able to improve the situation for the local populace, as I mentioned towards the end of part 2, this acts only as a starting point for those who are concerned about the broadest picture:

Migration Patterns and Shared Responsibility
One of the challenges we face is that although individual countries try to protect what's in their waters, the migration and mating patterns of aquatic life are such that they often move from place to place. While 80% of every aquatic species in the world can be found in the "golden triangle" between Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, each location has different laws and different populaces. While you can protect species in one area, it does you no good if they are being over fished or otherwise destroyed in another. Therefore there is still some unmitigated risk exposure and protection must become a shared responsibility.

This is analogous to many other environmental cases (such as CO2 emissions) as these issues can propagate across geographies and therefore become shared responsibilities.

Market Failure - Dealing with the Black Market Space
The problem with protecting an endangered species is that because it is so rare, it also becomes valuable (think of an inelastic and weak 'supply' curve otherwise known as the species' population - supply push 'inflation'). As a prized fish suddenly becomes more rare, the market price for capturing and consuming one goes up. The incentive to find and catch one goes up as well. The only 'counter balance' is that they become harder to find, but that is hardly any real reconciliation.

When asked what was your definition of endangered, a colleague of mine remarked: "Anything that humans take out of the sea that they don't put back." This idea of a linear relationship with our natural resources won't hold because our population and consumption is growing exponentially. Linear relationships cannot support exponential ones without some form of crash as the inevitable conclusion.

Destroying - Much easier than creating
Destroying (or depleting) a natural resource is *much* easier than creating or renewing one. And there are *many* more people destroying than creating. It takes only moments of carelessness to destroy a coral bed, but years to have it grow back (even with modern technology).

Accelerating the systematic entropy and decay is a disaster. Externalizing the costs is a neat way to offset your responsibility, but it is an unstable model who's destiny is to collapse (with dire consequences).

Sustainability and competition for resources is one of those types of problems that will inevitably come up on the radar if it hasn't already. Basic science and economics dictate that it is coming and we need to pay attention to these issues.

Selfish Sustainability - Save or Starve Series [ 1 - 2 - 3 ]


Tim Albinson said...

I enjoyed reading this series. Companies worldwide are becoming increasingly aware of similar challenges regarding resource depletion, eco-awareness, linking sustainability to profitability and competitive advantage, etc. It’s clear that for businesses today, the definition of “success” is changing. As you say, it’s now much more complicated than "build hotel, make money." Thanks for giving us some detailed insights about how one company is rising to these new challenges.


Josh said...

Thanks Tim. Much appreciated. While business leaders are only starting to understand exactly what needs to be done, it's good to see your website on the leading edge of the curve.