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?

3 comments:

Daphne said...

Success doesn't always have to be more more more. To me success is to make enough money for your needs (not necessarily immediate, it could also include saving for college or retirement) doing something you enjoy while leaving enough time for the rest of your life. Working 80 hours a week and earning well into the six figures is not success to me. To some people it might be.

our friend Ben said...

Daphne's definition is well said, Alan! Mine is simpler: Success is doing something you enjoy during the day that gives you enough contentment and peace of mind to sleep through the night. If what you're doing meets both criteria, it's a success! Way to go with the fudge!!! Beware of the "growth is success" mentality; it's how most entrepreneurs lose control of their own creations and end up stressed-out businessmen instead of enthusiastic proponents of their ideas. True sustainability is deciding exactly how much you need and then holding the line at that.

GrittyPretty said...

hey! i've got a weird little man on my shoulder too! He is usually satisfied with reasonable attempts to source locally and won't demand you do something like start growing cacao plants in a greenhouse. or something. right? =) Success is about pride in good craftsmanship with monetary rewards following. And good craftsmanship includes those ecological considerations, not "more more more" but "just enough".
Fudge. Yum.

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