Responsible Impact

How Long Should Environmental Responsibility Wait?

There are many pressures on a startup. It’s a fragile time for a business and the outsized impact of decisions feels daunting. The ramifications of the pandemic only compound matters. COVID-19’s effect on every aspect of our lives has brought this need to reassess our thinking into stark relief.

In the face of these pressures, it’s common to develop a kind of target-fixation on success. But we did this crazy thing where we set an intention in January to be Zero Impact for 2020, and it forced our hand on a few things. We realized we needed to take our drinking water seriously. Composting. Carbon offsets. Air quality. Our commuting patterns. Underneath all this was the realization that business priorities and social priorities are closely linked. Which means if our society is evolving, business is going to have to, as well.

Many companies say they hope to shift towards environmental responsibility once they achieve a kind of success which translates to insane valuation. That anything beyond the cheapest option will have to wait until the company is rolling in money. We get that thinking. It feels like guarding your resources and being very responsible. It’s also a socially acceptable way to prioritize in a culture which places convenience and status above all else.

If something is environmentally costly but socially sanctioned, and if it makes things easier or grants higher status in the process, there is little motivation to change.

We’d like to politely suggest another approach.

Anything worth doing is worth doing now. There is no switch that activates a core value because an IPO is on the horizon. There is room to exercise ethical values in a business of any size. Our values, like our value, scale with us.

Even more to the point, there is a narrow understanding of the balance sheet if financial metrics are the only metrics gauged. Doing something in a less capital-intensive way is not always the same thing as being a good steward of resources. For instance, the water bottle we throw away today feels paid-for. After all, we paid to buy it in the first place. Isn’t it ours to do with what we want? Who’s to stop us if we throw away as many away as we can afford?

But there is a cost to those discarded water bottles, and because we don’t pay for it with our personal money we tend to think that the cost doesn’t exist. If water bottles hung in the air the same way plastics litter the oceans for marine life, would we still think there was no cost to tearing through them? If we could see the credit card’s amount of microplastics we ingest every week, would we still ignore plastic? In other words, would realizing the actual cost still make us think that the cheaper, convenient choice is the winner?

Lastly, waiting to incorporate core values until we’re awash in profit tells us something very valuable: If money always comes first, then money is our core value. And if we say something matters but our actions don’t reflect that, we risk cognitive dissonance. Or worse, hypocrisy.

So we figured we could start small, try hard, and hopefully avoid these traps as best we can. It doesn’t make sense to take credit for our profits but not for our impact. We are responsible for both, intrinsically.

We aren’t the only ones growing our thinking in this way. Really, please let us know what your thoughts are and join us at the table. And stay tuned as we update you on our progress.

Saving you a seat,
The MagicLinks Team

*cover image courtesy Eberhard Grossgasteiger (via Pexels)

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