Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sustainable Success

Our fudge has been doing brilliantly. Every time I turn around there is a new order or someone at the door or on the phone wanting more. It’s great. It is nice to know that we guessed right this time, that we jumped the right direction when the wheels started coming of the wagon. People seem to really like it. They also seem really interested in the farm story and in offering advise and opportunities. Hardly a day goes by anymore without someone asking about bulk sales, wholesale prices for this store or that, or letting me know about small business development ideas, loans, grants, schemes, etc that will help me grow the business and be successful. It’s exciting, it’s interesting, it’s tempting, but…
…the weird little man who sits on my shoulder screams “is it sustainable?” Fortunately (or un-), I have to listen to him. And listening, I have to ask my self the question. “Is it sustainable?” The answer seems to be dependant on two words and how we define them. The first is ‘sustainable’. I’ve already beaten this one to death. My definition is limited by the local resource clause. Local resources used locally and every bit, including waste, returned to the local resource pool in a way that it can be used again. If that isn’t happening then what you are doing isn’t sustainable. My fudge making already fails on that count. Half of the ingredients used come from somewhere well out side my local range. There is no way they will ever be produced here. However, everything else is produced locally and sustainably. It isn’t perfect, but I can live with it for now.
The second word in need of defining is ‘success‘. I thought ‘sustainable” was difficult to define. This one is impossible. I know what I mean, but I’m sure my idea wouldn’t meet most people’s expectations. So I asked a few friends how they would define a successful business enterprise. The first thing that comes back is profitable. Ya got to make money if ya want to be a success. The second thing (and it is linked to the first) is growing. The venture needs to be growing, vibrant, expanding, increasing market share and profits from year to year. They all went on to talk about ethics, community, environmental stance, yadda yadda yadda. The bottom line of our measure of success is ever increasing growth and accumulation of resources. This is where I start butting heads with civilization. (This definition of success is one of the driving forces of civilization. It is what nations, and empires are built on. It is the key to power. It is also the root of our destruction, but that’s a different discussion.)
So is there such a thing as sustainable success? I think it would require a different definition of success. One not built on ever increasing growth and resource accumulation. I don’t have an answer yet. We are doing this on the fly, defining and inventing as we go along.
Do you think there is a workable new definition of success that doesn‘t clash with sustainability? If so, what?
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