The Unbearable Scarcity of The World

“ Now the leaves are falling fast” — Auden

At this point we all know that we are on the verge of, or perhaps beyond the verge of, ecological catastrophe. And it’s not just people we are hurting, it’s every being that lives here.

I think we all know what we need to do, we just don’t want to do it. A full-scale global commitment to sharply reduced waste and many other sacrifices will be required.

The idea of sustainable product development has been around since at least the 80’s. And “product development is a particularly critical intervention point for the transformation of society towards sustainability.” (Sophie Hallstedt)

And yet, those of us working in software don’t often think of it. Yes, there are some signs of awareness, just too few. A scan of top Silicon Valley Startups reveals that “doing good” is at least on the radar for the new generation of companies. There are players in fitness, access to birth control, diabetes management, and better access to education. If you are looking for companies trying to save the world you will find some that are truly outstanding. For example, Patagonia reduces product footprints, recycles products, and funds environmental activists. Lean Orb provides eco-friendly utensils and containers to replace throwaway plastic and styrofoam.

We just need more. If you are in charge of product development, if you choose the vision and mission of your company, if you decide how to run operations: it is up to you. You may think that your little iPhone app has no intrinsic effect on the environment, and so this isn’t something to worry about. If so, you are wrong.

First and foremost, consider the entire lifecycle of your product and its context. A great example to consider is ride-sharing companies, whose products may have been intended to reduce traffic, but ended up making it worse. You can’t predict everything your product will cause, but I suggest that observation and adjustment to reduce bad consequences is good business practice. In the short term it can be less expensive and more profitable to hurt the environment, but hurting the environment hurts your customers. They know it, and eventually your business will suffer.

Second, insist that your company adopt green practices: recycling in the office, reduction of energy waste in your building, and monitoring of energy use by data centers. As a leader at your company, you should know that “companies that voluntarily adopt international ‘green’ practices and standards have employees who are 16 percent more productive than the average.” Green companies attract & retain the best employees — so find out what the international green standards are and how they apply to your business.

Don’t be deterred by those who think that good stewardship of the earth is at odds with good business, or those who think that environmentalism does not apply to your plans. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that we are all connected. Those who recognize this sooner have the advantage.

Product leader, artist, and early developer of intelligent systems. Contact me if you want to talk about art, good software, or cool product ideas.

Product leader, artist, and early developer of intelligent systems. Contact me if you want to talk about art, good software, or cool product ideas.