At a business school in New York City with my Freshman candidate son, I suddenly felt very strongly on the offer of forming “a club” that he should call it, “Students Who Do Nothing.”
When I said it out loud, he grins. For me, it was a Grameen Bank moment because I recalled a statement made by its founder (Muhammad Yunus) that to do what the bank did, it was necessary to unlearn everything.
My overwhelming, yet the wishful feeling was that it would be a highly oversubscribed and that it would not implode in its own popularity. You see we need a new generation of business leaders willing to unlearn everything and to do so as rapidly as possible. The greatest business problem we face is not misusing the resources of planet earth, it is about the good people who believe they can do nothing. As a faculty member of a private university I never met, nor did I expect to meet a bad young person or one who would be harmful to others. Universities don’t teach “badness.” They entertain discussions of existential threats and offer course work on ethical conduct. I decided on a mission, “reverse the I can do nothing” pattern.
I’ll admit to the influence of several other factors for wanting my son to start this club. Just prior to the “admitted student’s event,” I came across John Elkington’s pitch for restating and rethinking the goals embedded in the triple bottom line. (3BL). As an accounting framework, it measures social and environmental impacts as economic costs. A June 2018 HBR article (here) sums his experience up in one sentence, “Clearly, the Triple Bottom Line has failed to bury the single bottom line paradigm.”
In the quarter-century since the idea of 3BL was established a pitiful number of corporations have adopted the holistic vision of the “B Certified” corporations throughout the world (UK example). Not quite the maximum well-being solution promised by minimizing consumption, but a step closer to solving the many difficult problems a solution such as that creates in implementation. The “B” corporations are different, unlike the typical “C” or “S” or other corporate forms found in the subchapters of the IRS code and those of other developed countries. The “B” describes a business that has adopted a mission to promote the public good in certain ways but remains vague and still demands a lot of uphill law to organize nationally.
In 2018, single bottom line entities focused on increasing profits using the tax act passed (12/2017). I believe Elkington’s radar was also observing strength in the gradients of support for ideas that became bundled into Resolutions such as the Green New Deal (GND) (here). That it touched on another time in American history when people became desperate, hungry, and isolated positioned the GND Resolution less as a prescriptive remedy than a clear warning of science. Warnings do not come from the balance sheets and income statements. They do seem to be busy emptying the store shelves of an era in human development that is rapidly coming to an end. The quality of that end is why the creation of “Students Who Do Nothing” clubs in every business school in the world is needed. To move this idea forward I offer the following facts for inclusion in the independent charters of these university-based organizations.
The reason for the SWDN is it meets a need. It offers a very strong filter through which only a few ideas, events, investments, and inventions can pass through successfully. Doing nothing is a very high bar against which all the “somethings” we must do stand if we are to provide for ourselves and the many communities of which we are members.
The challenge the SWDN puts forth is stressful as the failures it will reveal along the way will be many. Great thinkers since the Club of Rome have already conceded the failure of sustainability. Harm will be inflicted on future generations. They all speak of resilience to policymakers throughout the world and urge them to prepare as rapidly as possible. In the simplest possible terms, the global ocean will take whatever and wherever it wants, the drylands will burn with fury, and the “city”, while still a vague notion in the mind the earth’s vast array of human settlers is the best way forward. The following elements of the charter are offered for start-ups.
Throughout the world SWDN organizations do nothing that will:
1. cause mass migration from regions most affected by climate change
2. contribute to the $500 billion in lost economic output or risk $1 trillion or more in damage to coastal infrastructure and real estate in the U.S. by 2100.
3. destroy the earth’s coral reefs
4. increase GHGs from human sources to achieve net-zero by 2050.
The members of the SWDN do nothing that hides or conceals:
1. declines in the provision of basic needs in the form of clean air and water, or the cause of inaccessibility to affordable and healthy food, wellness care, housing, transportation, and education.
2. stagnation of wages, reduction in social and economic mobility leading to harmful reductions in earning and bargaining power
3. continuous and ongoing increases in income inequality seen only in the decade prior to the Great Depression and defined in 2018 by the top one percent who accrued 91 percent of gains in the recovery from the 2008 Great Recession.
4. the racial wealth divide that amounts to a difference of 20 times more wealth of the average and largely white family than the average black family, and further exacerbated by the earnings gender gap resulting in women earning approximately 80% as mean at the median income.
The global responsibility of the SWDN is to do nothing that sustains systematic injustices that:
- disproportionately harm indigenous people, people of color, war, and climate refugees, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities
- isolate rural and suburban communities, the working low-income poor, people with disabilities, and the simply impoverished wherever they reside or work.
- hurt the elderly, the young, and the unhoused found in all other communities.
4. establish threat multipliers to the economic, environmental and social stability of communities
The SWDN will do nothing that inhibits system change opportunities that:
1. establishes continuous efforts to produce social and economic diversity in the U.S. in fulfilling the goals of the Constitution of the United States.
2. creates new, good quality, high wage employment opportunities for all
3. maximize investment in net-zero innovations
4. establishes ongoing foundations for resilience in the path to sustainability.
“Man’s desire for the approval of his fellows is so strong, his dread of their censure so violent, that he himself has brought his enemy (conscience) within his gates; and it keeps watch over him, vigilant always in the interests of its master to crush any half-formed desire to break away from the herd.”
– W. Somerset Maugham, 1874-1965