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  • Writer's pictureRobert Andrushko

Economics vs Environmental Ethics: Perspectives in the pursuit of economic growth and sustainability

The cost of business as usual may be too high. If we don't leverage our collective scientific knowledge, entrepreneurship and desire for a sustainable economy, we risk losing it all.

What sets us apart from our ancestors is our ever increasing technology and desire for consumer goods, it is also our desire for comfort. We spend an incredible amount of resources creating buildings that are more comfortable than any time in the past.

Comfort and our desire for consumer goods comes at a high cost to the environment. The population of our planet continues to grow and our resources, clean water and clean air are deteriorating due to our collective quest for more.

As a child, I grew up on a farm in Southern Ontario. I learned early on to appreciate and respect nature as I spent my free time wandering the forests or fishing for the next big catch on the great lakes with my Dad or the network of ponds down the road with my brothers. I also learned to respect the savage beauty of the natural environment as I often went hiking and camping on a seemingly never ending quest to earn my next Boy Scout badge.

Later in life I took a strong interest in scuba diving and witnessed first hand oceans teeming with life. Everything underwater seemed to be in such perfect balance with itself.

I developed an early recognition for the value of our natural world

Growing up on the farm and belonging to a family of farmers and greenhouse growers I quickly understood the delicate equilibrium within a controlled ecosystem. The almost surgical precision required in creating strong crops and the nonstop attention required in the careful nurturing of seedlings was the main focus of the operation. If something was out of balance, the yield could perish or under perform. I was bewildered by so many variables and so many possible outcomes. I recall early recognition of how the smallest impact of the sun, water, temperature, fertilizer or disease could result in so much change in a plants ability to grow. Even as a young child I had a strong appreciation of the environment because I could see first hand the negative impact of an unbalanced ecosystem.

My grandmother also instilled in me to never let anything go to waste. We spent countless days in her garden and our greenhouses. She grew everything and anything possible to grow in Southern Ontario. Fruits and vegetable shopping was seldom required. Her ability to grow continues to this day as she maintains the gardens at her residence at 97 yrs old. She more than anyone I have ever met in my life appreciated the natural beauty of this planet. Her delicate hand for nature grew on me also.

As I sprang forward from my youth into adulthood, I realized that I held a strong devotion towards environmental protection and awareness. I have always felt most at peace when in the natural environment. It was instilled within me at such an early age that it has become part of my very existence.

It has always been there, that undeniable realization; that we as a species need to do a better job of taking care of our planet.

During my university years I was introduced to Environmental Ethics while undertaking Philosophy studies. My mind has always been focused on the big issues of our time and the critical thought that a philosophical approach to environmental ethics provided was a benefit in further developing my understanding of why our advanced society continues to take our ecosystem and our natural world for granted.

One class and one professor stood out more than all the rest. He helped us realize that the environment will continue to suffer under modern consumerism until we can make the economic and business case on why things should be done differently. Economics will always seem to trump environmentalism.

Another factor is that many people and industries are short sighted in their approach. Our governments are elected for such a short period of time that they are only focused on the next election cycle. Big business is focused on the bottom line today and the stock price tomorrow. Few have a true vision for the future and even fewer take the time to study the longer term costs of decisions. In fact those with a vision for the future are the exception, not the rule. Green procurement processes forces one to analyze the life cycle costing of purchase decisions and often times the initial cost to buy or build something can be eclipsed by the long term costs. This is most relevant in housing.

I vividly recall studying the collapse of the Cod fishery on the East Coast during this program of study. Despite overwhelming evidence of an impending total collapse of the Cod fish stocks, the fishermen and politicians angrily and violently resisted attempts to curtail production quotas. They ignored the advise of the scientists. There is video of these honest and hard working Canadian fishermen breaking down the doors of the legislature in an attempt to stop the reduction in fish quotas and the weak politicians of the day obliged them. The end result was that within a few years a total collapse of the industry was upon them and a moratorium on Cod fishing was implemented in the East coast waters of Canada.

While the fisherman were in peril for their livelihoods and their financial futures (many had massive mortgages on fishing boats and equipment to compete in this aggressive high risk industry) they could not afford the reduction in quotas as it would result in bankruptcies and loss of their income. They fought a losing battle against nature and failed to conduct their industry in a sustainable manner. As technology advanced, they followed and bought bigger boats with more advanced netting systems and sonar technology, all which lead to the impeding collapse. Technology allowed them to make more short term revenue, but it had the unintended consequences of also causing more damage to the natural environment; all to their own shortsighted peril.

I believe that technology, environmental science and ethics all play a connected role in developing long term solutions for business that can create a sustainable future. Unchecked exploitation of resources will cause irreparable harm to our natural world and any business that supports this type of behavior needs to be regulated and avoided by consumers.

Even as individuals we are all guilty at times of finding the path of least resistance today. Taking the easy way out to improve our comfort at a small expense of the environment is easily justified as no "big deal" or "how much difference can one person impact". As consumerism has overtaken environmentalism, it is clear that short sighted decisions and behaviors are making an irreparable difference to our natural world each and every day.

The long term costs of failing to curb our consumerism in its current form will become untenable in the future.

We all know deep in our hearts that the planet is suffering.

Sir David Attenborough has attempted to educate us all of this fact as his life's work. His most recent, and hopefully not his last work he describes as his witness statement entitled : A Life on Our Planet It is a pragmatic look at the undeniable impact that modern society has created on our planet over the past few decades. It is almost terrifying to realize that the natural world, the lungs of our planet, is being overrun with human activity.

This film is important for all ages and is highly recommended. It is available on Netflix and provides real solutions to combating the degradation of nature.

Society is waking up and demanding change

Today, more than anytime in my lifetime, I am witnessing an awakening of social and environmental conscience. People are demanding change in a manner and number that business can no longer ignore.

But going "green" can't be nestled in a quest for profits. It should not be relegated to a marketing scheme or sales pitch. Going Green needs to mean something intrinsic. It needs to make an impact and that is something that good people will recognize, appreciate and support.

I believe most business does a poor job of educating consumers on the true environmental impact of their goods and services. If people could see the devastation that is caused by mass consumption of specific resources, they would demand alternatives, business would be forced to innovate new solutions or they would cease to exist and be replaced by the environmental superior option. Just look at the rise of Tesla over the past few years. They are quickly becoming the largest automotive manufacturer in the world. Why? Because people don't want to pollute with carbon fuels; its as simple as that. Other manufacturers are finally coming on board, but they are clearly late to the party as Tesla has eclipsed their corporate valuations and potential. That Elon Musk guy cares about the planet in my opinion and he risked it all to create positive change and it is working.

Electric car charging infrastructure has a long way to go still to become the mainstream option, but it is well on the way.

It has taken us over 100 years to go back to the beginning of automotive technology. That's right, the first cars produced were fully electric, the only reason gasoline became the fuel of choice is because the electric grid did not exist yet to allow for remote charging. So went the demise of the "greener" option for over a century. But as I always tell my staff; "Its never too late to do the right thing".

Short term cost savings vs long term efficiency

Buildings are often constructed with a short sighted economic calculation. Builders and owners are most focused on the initial cost to build as the driving factor in any construction project. Efficiency of the building envelope is rarely considered beyond minimum building code standards and builders are comfortable with the status quo. The result is often a building that will have an ongoing and increasingly costly energy addiction that will exponentially increase in the future as energy costs rise. By building to what often seems like the short term economically wise solution, many building owners are saddled with ongoing and increasing liability as they live in and maintain their buildings. The cost to the environment is significant as buildings consume up to 40% of global energy use and contribute up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions – they are a key piece of the puzzle towards a low-carbon future. Building what may seem like an affordable house, often results in long term costs that will continue and increase for the life of the structure, often eclipsing the initial build cost.

Living with the land, not on it

Historical Innovations was founded to revolutionize the housing industry by providing ecologically responsible and extraordinarily efficient, sustainable buildings as our manifest response to climate change. We recognize that in order to create viral demand for our houses and achieve the economies of scale required to make a meaningful impact on the environment, we need a business model that will beat the competition in every area; quality, speed of construction, longevity, efficiency, price and durability. In short our business case is strong enough to beat the competition on its merits. Our extraordinarily efficient, sustainable buildings have a measurable and significant benefit to the environment while reducing CO2 by up to 90% of the alternative building options.

No discussion of ethics would be complete without at least one quote from an influential thinker and I refer to Emmanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative:

"A person should act that the principles of one's acts could become a universal law of human action in a world in which one would hope to live".

In other words, if you ignore the environment and the rest of the world were to take its lead from your actions, is that something that would be sustainable and is that someplace you would want to live?

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