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Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a multi-part series that examines the pitfalls of sustainability measurements while drawing on lessons learned from outside the business world. For additional context, see Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.
Recent events in Egypt have cast doubt on the belief that a democracy-felling coup never could be justified. As of this writing, it’s hard to tell if the Egyptian Army’s move to bring down President Morsi is for the better or worse.
This has us thinking about the faith the sustainable business world places on metrics. We think we know which direction is better and which is not, but how sure should we be and how could we enhance our confidence?
Over the course of this series, we’ve described pitfalls where steps that look like the right course sometimes backfire. Life cycle analysis, for instance, may lead to a surprise about the assumed high priority of recycling for every item.
Further, neglecting the possible outcomes from non-linear systems, as we showed in Part IV, can lead to nasty unexpected outcomes. A current example is the proposal to take down the last green space in a park in Turkey, which spurred a nationwide revolt.
We’ve also noticed an undeclared and fascinating debate on GreenBiz about whether to keep things simple or to think big (the systems thinking camp).
We think you really need to do both. In part, this offers the best prospects that our actions really are moving us forward. On one hand, plan to do the incremental: the basic things that in good faith appear to improve sustainability — and simultaneously, give some thought to the systems-informed pitfalls in this series. The latter provides a perspective for the former, including possibly providing an alert about one of those non-obviously wrong incremental steps.
But systems thinking is hard. So in this piece, while we continue to provide additional reasons why it’s essential, we add some “practically idealistic” ideas to make it more feasible.