There is No Away

I was inspired at the recent San Francisco Businesswomen’s Conference by a session led by Gary Hirschberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farms, and Diane MacEachern, CEO of Big Green Purse.  You might think it strange to have a “green” session in a business conference, but my company, Sun Microsystems, has been paying attention to the relationship between business and the environment for a while.  

Sun’s website has dozens of stories about how our power-friendly servers are saving customers money, and we even have a vice president of eco-responsibility.   I think it’s great that we have people thinking about the environment, especially reducing power consumption and what goes into the waste stream.   Of course, Sun isn’t the only one:

  • Hybrid cars get great gas mileage and have low emissions, but what about those batteries?   Fortunately, Toyota and Honda have a recycling program, akin to Sun’s.
  • Fluorescent light bulbs have all kinds of energy-saving benefits, but what about the mercury they contain?  Not a problem.  There’s a website for that, too, pointing to companies who will make money selling the heavy metals they extract our hazardous waste.

Recycling is good, but Gary Hirschberg reminded us at the conference, “There is no away.”   How simple, and how profound!   (I googled the phrase, it turns out it’s a fairly common phrase in environmental circles. Dr. Dean Andersen’s speech from 2000 is a great exploration of that theme related to the biblical concept of dominion over the earth.)

For days after the conference, everytime I threw something in the trash, his words would echo, “There is no away,” and I began to think about the rest of the environmental mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.”  The plastic packaging for my family’s lunch meat and hotdogs and cheese will be in the landfill for how long?  Suddenly the deli counter with its paper-wrapped meats and cheeses seemed more than people-friendly, but planet-friendly, too.   Downloading electronic music from iTunes seemed like a smarter choice, compared to collecting yet another plastic-wrapped CD.   My passion for software upgrades that work suddenly took on a halo of environmental consciousness.

Who would have guessed that a business conference seminar would do all that?  So next time your boss offers to send you to a conference, or a colleague recommends one,  even if it doesn’t have well-known speakers, make the time to go.   What you learn might surprise you.

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