Life’s interesting moments happen in unexpected places.
Last week, I participated in Gartner’s European Supply Chain Executive Conference in Barcelona. It was an amazing event with more than 1,000 supply chain practitioners converging to network, learn and find inspiration. Remarkably, one of the experiences I’ll remember most happened on the sidelines, after the event concluded.
I was with a group of people unwinding post-conference when the conversation turned to climate change. More specifically, a discussion emerged on whether recent environmental changes were solely natural and cyclical or also influenced by human activity.
A member of the group started with, “OK, I am going to say something that’s not politically correct…” and proceeded to state that he didn’t believe human activities were, for instance, having a significant influence on the more volatile weather patterns we’ve experienced in recent times.
When prompted, he went on to say that those in power who do draw a link, often have political and economic motives. To be fair, his point can be made about the people and organizations on both sides. This issue has been politicized in many countries and the public discourse in most democracies has polarized to the point where we now simply shout past one another and amplify our views over social media.
What I loved about this particular group discussion, though, was that there were individuals with vastly different perspectives, but the tone remained thoughtful and in the spirit of seeking to understand one another.
Finding Common Ground … Air and Water
What if we started doing this on a grander scale? Regardless of where you stand on environmental issues, one thing we can agree on is that ultimately we’re all in the same boat (well, Earth ship, to be precise). Can you imagine a boat ride where the different rowers inside constantly paddled in opposite directions? Let’s rally around areas of agreement and start moving in a common direction!
Independent of the source, the headlines coming back from our natural environment are not positive in terms of sustaining healthy lives for us or our more than 8 million co-passenger species over the long haul. CO2 aside, we humans have not discriminated in leaving our fingerprints on the Earth. Here are just a few recent examples:
- 33% of the Earth’s soils are already degraded and over 90% could become degraded by 2050 (Global Symposium on Soil Erosion, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
- Evidence shows we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event in the history of the planet and that this time humans are the primary cause, driving extinction rates at about 1,000 times the likely background rate (Science, 5/30/14).
- Insect populations are in dramatic decline, and the consequences could be serious for everything from waste management to agriculture (The Bugs We Can’t Live Without, WSJ, 6/22/19)
- Major cities such as Chennai and Cape Town are facing major water shortages as their watersheds run dry. (Fox News, 6/19/19). The latter is considering towing an iceberg from Antarctica in response (Bloomberg, 6/6/19).
- Scientists have estimated the number of microplastic particles in the ocean in the tens of trillions. A recent deep sea study found that all organisms tested, from the surface to the sea floor (thousands of feet down) contained plastic debris in their digestive tracts (National Geographic, 6/6/19).
What Can We Do?
Observing this situation in its entirety can feel overwhelming, particularly for us as individuals. What can we do, with our relatively tiny footprints? A lot, actually!
On a personal level, we can walk lighter when we buy and clean up after our meals, tend to our yards and travel, for instance. My daughter recently started a vegetable garden in our backyard. It has strengthened our family’s connection with nature and, in turn, led us to start composting a lot more of our household’s organic waste. As we’ve spoken with friends and family about these changes, it’s inspired some of them to do the same. This is the flywheel effect, starting at a personal scale.
Beyond “walking lighter” as individuals and families, we also hold a uniquely outsized level of influence as supply chain leaders. We control sourcing, manufacturing, packaging and distribution on a global scale.
With great power comes great responsibility. Now is our moment to row forward!
Stan Aronow, VP Distinguished Analyst, Gartner Supply Chain