Good Will Hunter
As Natural Capitalism Solutions celebrates its tenth anniversary, Hunter Lovins reflects on what has changed in the sustainability world over the past decade, how companies have woken up to the profitability of sustainability, why things are going to get worse before they get better, and how small businesses and cities may hold the key to climate protection. Ilana Lipsett and Zach Sharpe of Sustainable Industries spoke with Lovins, and invite you to continue the conversation. Lovins will be answering reader questions through Friday, December 21, and we will publish her answers on this site. Please submit any questions or comments in the comments section below.
Sustainable Industries: In your opinion, what is the most pressing sustainability challenge we are facing right now?
Hunter Lovins: Bill McKibben is right: It’s climate. We solve this one or we lose life as we know it on this planet. Three of the earth’s ecosystems are tipping into collapse: coral reefs, oceans, and the Amazon. If we continue business as usual, by the end of the century there will be no coral reefs because of warming water. The oceans are acidifying, and the Amazon is warming and drying. We could lose the earth’s lungs.
There are many challenges facing us. All of the worse ones tend to be tied to climate change. And it’s frustrating because as my recent book, The Way Out: Kick-starting Capitalism to Save Our Economic Ass, has shown, we have all the solutions. Implementing them would make us a great deal of money. ... And at the end of the day, if climate change is a hoax we’ll just make a lot of money.
SI: How have you seen behaviors toward sustainability change in the last 10 years?
Lovins: We help companies understand the business case [for sustainability] and this is almost no longer a debate. We’ve gone from…arguing that there is a business case. Now it’s been proven. We have a report called Sustainability Pays. It’s a study of studies: 45 studies that show leaders in ESG have 25% higher stock value than less sustainable competitors, have the fastest growing stock value. They are well protected from value erosion even in a down economy. When those wild-eyed environmentalists from Goldman Sachs tell you that sustainable leaders are outperforming less sustainable peers, it’s a business case.
All the big academic business journals are talking about it. In the Harvard Business Review a study concluded that sustainability is not the burden on the bottom line it always was thought to be. It’s the touchstone of all of innovation. In the future, only companies that make it a goal will achieve a competitive advantage. MIT Sloan said much the same thing. When there are 45 [studies], the argument is over. There is a business case for sustainability.
Now the question is how do you implement it? That’s the work Natural Capitalism does. We work in 30 countries, in companies, and in communities around the world helping them implement more sustainability practices in ways that are profitable.