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Our Insights 29 Dec 2010

All or Nothing

By Mark Lee

While this has no basis in numerology, I predict (and hope) that the key numbers for 2011 will be zero and 100%. From a sustainability perspective – where the implication is zero waste and 100% renewable energy – these ‘extremes’ come not a moment too soon (and perhaps too late). 2011 needs to be the year, and the start of a decade, of absolutes.

California Dreamin’

There is no evidence that The Mamas & the Papas were thinking about sustainability when they released California Dreamin’. But as we ended 2010, Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Franciso and Lieutenant Governor-elect of California, mapped an ambition to have 100% of San Francisco’s power supplied by renewables by 2020. With just 20% of the city’s energy coming from renewable sources (including hydropower) now, applause was accompanied by gasps and even snickers.

Is Newsom’s goal audacious? Certainly. But if he’s dreaming big, it’s likely because San Francisco’s track record of progress against aggressive environmental targets is such that he can put faith in this reverie proving real. Right now, the city is sitting pretty in terms of its effort to divert 75% of waste to recycling by the close of this year. Scoffed at when established, the diversion rate is now 77%.

Good Company(ies)

Whether you love them or would rather leave them, San Francisco and California have been consistent trend setters on social, environmental and economic matters. But if California is too loopy-lefty for you, what about the corporations jumping on the ‘absolutes’ bandwagon?

Dupont began using the slogan ‘The Goal is Zero’ to frame its sustainability objectives more than decade ago and enshrined this thinking in its 2015 Sustainability Goals. Subaru is presently reminding potential customers listening to their ads on radio that their Indiana assembly plant was “…the first automotive plant in the US to achieve zero landfill status”. Walmart’s big three goals commit the company to be supplied by 100% renewable energy, to create zero waste and to sell products that sustain people and the environment, while Target, chasing but determined, announced new targets in December 2010 outlining intentions regarding “…using resources responsibly, eliminating waste, and minimizing its carbon footprint”.

From Endemic to Pandemic

Stemming respectively from Delaware, Indiana (not to mention Japan), Arkansas and Minnesota, these commitments and others like them around the globe (think Marks & Spencer’s Plan A for just one of many examples across the Atlantic) demonstrate that dreamin’, California or otherwise, is infectious and spreading. Like my colleague Geoff Lye’s recent call in a post to this blog for Unreasonable CEOs, all that can really be said is: It’s about time.

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