THE BLOG
09/20/2011 04:35 pm ET | Updated Nov 20, 2011

Observations This Fine Morning

Driving to work this morning, I wondered at the morning light, golden in the fields, Mont Blanc poking its head above the clouds, the Jura Mountains and the forests that blanket them bathed in radiance. I'd just dropped my youngsters at school, life's good.

I was listening to my local radio when the "World Business Report" came on.

Three news items caught my attention.

The first was that S&P had downgraded Italy's debt, confirming further that Europe's economy was in the poo; getting worse and with global ramifications.

Then there was news that both Airbus and Boeing had released forecasts for the next few years -- 27,000 planes in the Airbus pipeline alone with Boeing seeing similar bullish times; Asian demand the key driver.

And finally, Prada's forecasts, up, up an away; despite the gloom in Europe, the fashion house (and all of its peers) sees roaring trade ahead.

An interesting mix of items; economic gloom and broken systems, bullish forecasts from luxury brands, airplane makers.

I'd spent the weekend pondering how to make green products truly responsible. A Tweet about the environmental joy of Prius cars had prompted me to reflect that the car itself, once made, might be better than others, but building a thwacking great nickel mine in an environmentally sensitive part of Indonesia to supply battery makers raised questions as to just how responsible electric cars are. Then there was an article about Chinese families protesting outside a solar panel factory, angry at the pollution pouring from the factory, poisoning them and their children, another instance of a "green" product causing its own environmental issues.

My take, as always, is that we have to look at the whole product life-cycle. This isn't revolutionary thinking; many have gone down this path before me but it certainly is the basis for our work at TFT. Whilst others contort themselves to work out formula for calculating a component's footprint let alone a whole car's, solar panel's or other whole product's, we like to get into factories, farms and forests and take a quick swipe at working out the social and environmental issues created along a supply chain. For us, it's about making products responsible - we shun the "sustainability" scene - which means ensuring they respect the environment and improve people's lives throughout their entire life-cycle. Ambitious and we'll fall short at the start, but over time we can truly build responsible supply chains. By that measure, how do we rate a Prius, a solar panel? I know the folk at Toyota do indeed look at these things and are at the forefront of environmental innovation - hats off to those guys, we desperately need such thinkers. They're not alone either; some fashion houses are highly cognizant of their responsibilities and have excellent programs to reduce their impact. Solar panel manufacturers, others too.

Yet, it tells me we're only at the start of our journey to set things right to find the balance we need to live on this single planet of ours. As an aside on that, another wonderful Tweet over the weekend had mentioned folk's joy at the possibility that there might be habitable planets out there somewhere; @SustainableMBA pointed out the need to keep this one habitable first before pondering jumping ship. Hear, hear!

But with Asia booming and luxury brands and planes etc with it, I'm reminded of just how far we have to go. People want luxury products and they want them now. Despite years of effort by big NGOs to make people think before they buy, it just hasn't worked. The majority of folk, everywhere in the world buy, buy, buy and don't consider environmental or social impact; desire trumps responsibility every transaction.

Any product involves digging a hole somewhere and using scarce resources somehow so we ought to forget about "sustainable" as if it truly embraces the "cradle-to-cradle" concept because it doesn't. Instead, let's work out how to minimize damage; yes, it's a "less bad" agenda but going from death and destruction to cradle-to-cradle in a single step is dreamland too.

So our job on this fine morning is to continue to put our noses to the grindstone and work, product by product, to bring change. We should lift our head to the horizon - to Mont Blanc and those beautiful Jura Mountains - to understand the destination, but on the first light of this day, that first glimpse of our destination must only force us to focus more strongly and with ever more resilience on the task at hand. We must bring change to the way we live and to the nature of our interaction with the environment that makes our lives possible.

If we don't change at some point - and things are going to get a lot worse before they get better - we just might need to start planning that plane ride elsewhere. At least Airbus and Boeing will do a roaring trade.