"Coping with the Economic Crisis"

Co-Op America Green Biz Conference, San Francisco, Nov. 12, 2008

©2008 Trish Riley

As we're all aware, we're at an amazing pinnacle of history.

The existing economic paradigm has fallen to its knees, the oil industry is rapidly burning itself out, our environment is screaming for that to happen sooner than later and the public worldwide finally understands the importance of protecting our environment. This confluence of events has brought us to a point of opportunity that those of us in the green business have been driving toward for decades. Yet we could never have imagined the beautiful way these pieces have come together at once. And, like manna from heaven, a leader has emerged to help us bring our dreams of a sustainable world to reality. As Obama said in his acceptance speech: "This is our moment, this is our time…to restore prosperity."

Yet even now what do we see?

Republicans tearing each other apart looking for a scapegoat to blame for their loss. Oil industry executives claiming renewable energy won't work, economists saying the only path is downward.

Ever been run off the road by an SUV? It's a mentality that became pervasive during the past eight years – greed, grab, push others out of the way. Courtesy went out the window as those in power dropped all pretense of civility in favor of their own profits. The government even lowered the economic value of life in order to allow greater profits for industries that posed potential health and safety threats.

Today's economic reality is the story of capitalism gone amok. But by pushing their advantage to the limits, the aggressors - the leaders of the so-called 'free' world - have served to wake up their sleeping servants – the working stiffs they've made into virtual slaves. Their beasts of burden - American voters and our friends around the world - have finally said, "Enough."

Make way for the new generation - epitomized by Barack Obama; people who choose the high road over the shortcut, who apply those 'feminine' values of cooperation and collaboration, peace and productivity. Together, we will achieve prosperity.

I remember attending the first Florida Summit for Climate Change in 2007, convened by republican governor Charlie Crist, with the California governator as guest. I'd been covering environmental events for years, and it was always the same, academics and hippies telling dire stories and wringing their hands. Yet here was an amazing scene. The usual suspects were joined by the suits, who suddenly saw Green Gold dollar signs. For the first time, powerbrokers were listening to the scientists, and progress stood on the horizon.

We have an opportunity here not to rush in and grab all the money - so much - but to show the world how to build a sustainable economy that stands not just on the one leg of profit, but that is rooted in our lives with stability, standing on the principles of people, planet and profit.

We, with our social concerns about fair wages and attentiveness to our children and families, our concern for the environment and our love of the earth; we may be lousy capitalists. So what? Their system has crumbled before our eyes and we have the opening now to show "them" what we've been espousing all these years.

Sometime ago I did a story on a small plant nursery in Miami, passed down from father to son. Dad had worked hard all his life, pushing the limits of his business, networking with the chamber and growers' organizations to increase sales and profits. He was pleased to sell his business to his son upon retirement. But Son didn't carry on in the same vein. Instead, he reduced sales to a point where he could leave the nursery each day at 2 in the afternoon, pick up his daughter after school and take her fishing in the Everglades. He was satisfied to earn a living that provided for his family and offered time to relax with them as well.

The conventional business model has become obsolete.

And now is the perfect time to focus on developing our intrinsic values instead of on our profit problems.

As Paul Hawken said in his address at the US Green Building Conference in Chicago last year - "It's not about the money. It's about meaning."

Just what Paul Ray disclosed years ago when he identified the Cultural Creatives - us. People who count honesty, good health, love and creativity among their priorities and for whom the environment is a more valuable commodity than money.

This is our chance. Let's hit the ground running. Business can pave the way into a healthy, sustainable future, and we are leading the charge.

Let's not allow ourselves to devolve into the ugly behaviors and attitudes that led our predecessors to ruin. Let's stick to the high road that Obama has shown us can be the path to success. Every one of us knows the difference between right and wrong. Hold yourselves to the highest standards, and choose to do business with like-minded individuals. When you see an opportunity to work with someone to achieve greater gains, don't be afraid to "do the Diana:" stick your hand out and say hello with a big, bright smile. Working together we can get ahead.

Michael Gannon, a history professor at the University of Florida, said it this way: "Several tectonic plates have shifted here, revealing an America that is increasingly race- and gender-neutral, immigrant friendly, social justice-committed, economy wary and war resistant. It appears that over the next four years a new chief executive will be matched by a new people."

We may be "new" to most of the world, but we've known about ourselves for a long time!

It's our turn to show the capitalists a thing or two. It's time to stop putting profits before health and safety. We can all choose to walk the high road - and it will take us to the top.

Yes we can. Carpe Diem.