Why optimism trumps hope
The following Q&A originates from the Ideas Roadshow ebook, "Saving the World at Business School," which features a lengthy interview with Andrew J. Hoffman, the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and co-author of "Flourishing." Sustainable Industries previously published other excerpts of the Q&A:
• “Saving the world at business school,” July 2013
• “The dirty politics of climate change,” August 2013
• “Winning hearts and minds,” September 2013
A friend of mine has long argued that there is an inverse relationship between the popularity of a word and its meaning. The trendier a word has become, he says, the fuzzier it is, until eventually it’s used everywhere and means nothing.
“Sustainability” seems a perfect example for his theory. Once a word primarily associated with dour environmentalists, it’s hard to think of someone these days who does not avidly chatter away about its merits. Politicians of all stripes routinely vie to outdo one another to demonstrate their sustainability credentials. Corporations now have chief sustainability officers. We are all sustainability advocates now. But what are we actually talking about?
Into this yawning semantic void steps Andy Hoffman. A business school professor who regularly rubs shoulders with major players throughout America’s corporate landscape, Hoffman might seem an odd choice to be the driving force for a fundamental re-interpretation of the green lexicon.
– Howard Burton
Burton: I’ve heard President Obama talk on several occasions about the need to look at new and emerging technologies together with environmental issues as an opportunity upon which American innovation can flower. This strikes me as quite a reasonable thing to be thinking, because, like I said before, unquestionably one of the most impressive things about America is its ability to innovate, its ability to marry scientific thinking and entrepreneurship in a very substantial way.
Is this message getting through at all? It seems reasonable to me that there should be a kind of repositioning: 'We’re going to take this as an opportunity to innovate and create something new. There’s a lot of money to be made if you do environmentally creative, interesting things.' Is that spirit generally being adopted right now, or not so much?
Hoffman: At the risk of hyperbole, we’re in the midst of an energy renaissance. We’re shifting right now. It’s going to be so different 30 years from now.