Peter Senge is at the forefront of waking people up to the aftershocks of a world gone flat. Through his position as a lecturer at MIT and founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning, Senge’s work frequently involves the promotion of sustainability. Senge and a team of coauthors wrote “The Necessary Revolution” as a rallying cry to lead organizations out of the era of denial and into a new dawn of environmental consciousness. Here are some recent thoughts from Senge on the subjects affecting companies of all sizes.
Perceptions of globalization
For most of us, (globalization) means global financial markets where capital moves at the speed that electrons move around the world. It means producing and shipping products all around the world.
However, I think there are a couple subtleties of globalization that we tend to feel more (internally) than (externally). The first is that globalization is about multiculturalism. As Americans, we’re especially blind to this because we have this history of the melting pot. It’s a bad metaphor because that’s not what’s happening in the world today. Despite the projection of American culture, the Chinese have every intention of remaining Chinese.
The second aspect is the contradictions between globalization and the larger natural world in which we live. The average pound of food travels more than 2,000 miles before it’s purchased by an American in a grocery store. We think nothing of getting our cantaloupes in the middle of winter from 4,000 miles away.
Unfortunately, one of the costs of this is the increased dependence on fossil fuels to do all this shipping, as well as carbon accumulating in the atmosphere, which is now starting to show up as significant instability in the climate around the world. ... Globalization at the subtlest level means how do we live in harmony with one another and with Mother Earth.
Making transformational changes
We hear the term all the time, and I sometimes think people use it to simply mean big change. I think that misses the point. Transformational change is a process of change that shifts us inside as well as outside. Transformational change is about deep, systemic change, and what’s most systemic is actually most personal.
It makes perfectly good sense for people to think about producing a product on one side of the planet and selling it on another side of the planet, because over the last several decades, we’ve all seen it happen.
But it’s happened in part because nobody has paid much attention to the cost and the byproducts of the energy used to do it.
The side effect of the energy we use in its impact on the climate is definitely something on people’s minds. Insurance companies are starting to pay the cost. Investors are starting to see it as a huge risk. Transformational change is a process where we have to question taken-for-granted assumptions. It is about changing the external systems, the arrangements, the procedures, the processes, maybe even the rules of the game. But all those are a reflection of our mental models, our taken-for-granted assumptions that we stopped questioning a long time ago. So, transformational change is always a process of reflection, of questioning, of challenging ourselves and challenging the way we do things.
to Create a
By Peter Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schley
DOUBLEDAY ©2008, 406 pages, $29.95
About the book: “The Necessary Revolution” seeks to upend the prevailing “take, make, waste” philosophy that has driven industry for the past century or more. In its place, a new initiative for sustainability and environmental conscience will drive the future of business.
The authors: Lead author Peter Senge is a senior lecturer at MIT and is the founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL). He authored the groundbreaking book “The Fifth Discipline.” Senge’s co-authors include Bryan Smith, a member of the faculty at York University’s Sustainable Enterprise Academy, Nina Kruschwitz, manager of the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook Project, and Joe Laur and Sara Schley, who co-founded the SoL Sustainability Consortium in 1998.
Why you should read it: Politics aside, the U.S. is beginning to hold businesses accountable for the level of resource consumption and pollution created in industry. In a world where even consumers are influenced by the green factor, companies need to quickly get on board. “The Necessary Revolution” helps businesses that are lagging slightly behind the times as well as those at the forefront of the movement. It does an excellent job of demonstrating the need for collaboration and that sustainability affects people at every level of industry.
Why it’s different: When it comes to business books on the green movement, the market is experiencing a flood of global warming proportions. “The Necessary Revolution” sets itself apart from the pack by avoiding farsighted theory and instead offers practical tools and concrete ways of thinking about sustainability. The book also doesn’t seek to shame big business, preferring to focus on the positives of companies such as Nike, GE and BP.
Can’t miss: “Getting People Engaged.”
Senge and company detail a variety of ways to
get people to shake the dust off the resource-wasting school of thought. Being a leader in the
fight for sustainability is tiring, if not lonely, work.
“The Necessary Revolution” offers environmental advocates the needed advice to make sure their efforts are not wasted. The chapter covers everything from opening a dialogue to building a team to get to the next level.
SPECIAL AUDIO CONFERENCE OFFER: Soundview Executive Book Summaries will host a 90-minute interactive audio conference with Peter Senge as part of the Beyond the Books series at 1 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday, March 17. To sign your company up for a live connection to this conference so your managers can hear Senge’s advice firsthand, call (800) 775-7654; mention Smart Business to earn a special discount or go to www.sbnonline.com/senge.