Wake Up and “Screw Business as Usual”

Basil Chen Sustainability

It would not surprise me if you are taken aback by the title of this blog – it certainly captured my attention when I first encountered this statement. In 2005, Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group established Virgin Unite – a non-profit foundation, that works to encourage entrepreneurial approaches to some of the tough challenges the world is facing. In Branson’s new book, Screw Business as Usual (see YouTube clip below), he outlines a business that values both the traditional profit-focused model and promotes a philosophy of caring for people, communities and planet.   
You are cordially invited to join the “wake-up-choir” of  business leaders, academics and philanthropists who are attempting to wake us from our slumber and follow the path of sustainability a path that says it is possible to do good and do well at the same time.
Most of us live relatively unconscious lives following our routines.We tend to say and do things without much conscious reason, andwe tend to do the same thing repeatedly expecting a different result. The first step in the journey of sustainability is awareness. The unorthodox tittle of Branson’s book Screw Business as Usual wakes us up.Beside Branson’s voice, I will use four more voices to help us stay awake: John Ehrenfeld; Chris Lazlo, Nadya Zhexembayeva; and the late Ray Anderson.
John Ehrenfeld (2008), an intellectual giant in the field of sustainability, defines sustainability distinctively: “the possibility that human and other life will flourish on the planet forever.”According to Ehrenfeld, flourishing can only occur if we pay close attention to three critical domains that the forces of modernity have dimmed:

  • The human domain – sense of ourselves as human beings
  • The natural domain – sense of ourselves in the natural world
  • The ethical domain – sense of doing the right thing
These three domains form a set of overlapping fields; sustainability can emerge if we address all three domains simultaneously.
Professors Chris Lazlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva in their book, Embedded Sustainability the Next Big Competitive Advantage  make a compelling case for how business can do good and do well simultaneously – without tradeoffs. They posit the notion of embedded sustainability, where business strategies and practices become part of the DNA of the company, thus deeply transforming their strategy and operations for enduring value creation. They noticed three distinct and interconnected trends that are redefining the way business creates value through sustainability.
1.      Declining Resources– refers to the overuse or exhaustion of natural resources.     

2.      Radical Transparency– is the ability to accurately obtain complete information about a company or product at any stage of its life cycle, from material extraction to product end-of-life. 

3.      Increasing Expectation– by consumers, investors, employees, and other stakeholders are transforming market demand by introducing new performance parameters such as quiet, healthy, socially equitable, or environmentally friendly product and service in every sector the economy.     

In 1994, while preparing remarks on Interface’s environmental vision for a company task force meeting, Interface Founder and Chairman, Ray Anderson, experienced a fundamental perspective change. Seeking inspiration for his speech, Ray read Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” and was deeply moved — an experience he has described as an epiphany. It awakened Ray to the urgent need to set a new course for Interface toward sustainability.

Branson, Lazlo, Zhexembayeva , and Anderson  point to the challenge and struggle we all face to see the possibilities that come with an awakened spirit. The planet and the market are demanding a new response. I say we ring the bell, celebrate the magnanimity of the human spirit, and stay AWAKE. Will you join me?

Basil Chen, M.B.A., is a certified management accountant who has held various leadership positions in public and private Canadian companies. He currently teaches at Centennial College’s School of Business and is a Ph.D. student with the Center for Values-Driven Leadership

1.      Ehrenfeld, J.R. (2008). Sustainability by Design. Yale University Press

  2.      Lazlo, C., Zhexembayeva (2010). Embedded Sustainability The Next Big Competitive Advantage. Stanford University Press

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