In June I was invited to give the keynote speech at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam. The conference programme was so advanced it made me blink in disbelief – here were a bunch of corporate executives and sustainability managers from the world’s leading corporations all working to create real standards of sustainable growth and methods of measurement in order to comply with their corporate statements of principle. Stalwarts like Clearspring and Whole Foods were there, but the general tone was very mainstream. I spoke about taking an ethical brand mainstream later in the day but for my keynote I thought I’d give it to them with both barrels. Here’s my speech:
“Today I would like to take for my text the New Testament, Chapter 6: 1-8, the Book of Revelation of St. John the Evangelist (I’d give anything for a picture of the audience’s horrified faces as they prepared for the worst). You may recall it: it’s where Jesus opens the sealed scrolls and summons forth the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – War, Plague, Famine and their faithful follower, Death.To understand sustainability we must recognise that the world’s economy is still governed by legacy industries who have a massive vested interest in those 4 horsemen. Without them, or the fear of them, their shareholder value would collapse.War enjoys annual capital expenditure of $1.5 trillion. with the US leading the field, devoting 5% of GDP to military spending. As you’d expect with any capital expenditure, the return on investment is many times the value of the outlay – the cost of death and destruction of property in target nations is massive. Of course the at-home social damage is pretty high too as soldiers return home with attitudes to violence that lead to high domestic cost due to healthcare, suicides, crime and psychological problems.Plague enjoys good returns, too. The Avian Flu and Swine Flu panics exposed Big Pharma’s desperate quest for new disease threats. The side effects of medical intervention create a huge subsidiary industry and new diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol create an opportunities for profit. Death from medical errors in the US run at 200,000 a year, while correct intervention claims many more.Famine is perhaps most relevant to this conference. By destroying the natural fertility of the Earth with chemical fertilisers and killing off biodiversity with pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, GMOs and antibiotics agribusiness has created a global dependency on their chemicals to produce our food. ‘Feed the world’ is their mantra as they progressively starve the world. Now, except for organic farming, we are hooked on the drugs they sell to keep degraded land in production.We have to kick these bad habits but they are entrenched in our socioeconomic system and their proprietors will not give up without a fightSo how can sustainability triumph? It must be in all arenas, we must bring peace and prosperity, to all. It can be done, because things have changed.How have things changed?Debt – Wars, drugs and agribusiness have bankrupted our economies. First rule of a parasite is: don’t kill the host. If American taxpayers had to pay for war, medicine and farm subsidies they would never have happened. Instead the Chinese, and Arabs loaned the US the money so they could continue to buy cheap consumer goods and oil. Now that the debt is dragging down our economy we wrongly blame the bankers. The rot started because our governments subsidised war/drug/ag with borrowed money because they were too cowardly to pay for it out of increased taxation.Transparency – the days of the smoke-filled room where a handful of powerful men decide the fate of the rest of us is ending. We know what’s going on.There is no future if there is not a sustainable future. A handful of companies worldwide thrive on war, sickness and a famine. Our governments bow to them. Monsanto’s control of the USDA is the most obvious but it’s the same everywhere, from the EU to India to Africa and Latin America.It is undeniable that peace brings more prosperity than war and avoids the burden of debtThat the creation of health is better value than the treatment of diseaseThat organic and sustainable farming gives better and more reliable yields than unsustainable petrochemical dependencyWe’re right – we know we’re right – they know we’re right.But they won’t give up without a fightIn Britain our new prime minister speaks about The Big Society – people doing it for themselves. The top down model is disintegrating everywhere. When people start doing it for themselves then different choices will be made. Companies that are ready for this seismic change will prosper. There can only be on future and by definition it must be sustainable.