Abused Word of the Day - Ecosystem

June 18, 2014

Use of environmental metaphors does not make a company environmentally friendly, green or sustainable.  Yet they’ve been polluting corporate language since at least 1993, when consultant James F. Moore won a McKinsey Award for his 1993 article in Harvard Business Review, “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition.”

Since then, a whole industry has developed around the concept of “sustainable business.”  Sustainable business practices have helped businesses become more efficient, but too often businesses expend more effort on talking than they do on acting.

Remember Enron?  The company was talking green and fuzzy in a big way just before it imploded.

At the least, “sustainable” business practices can be beneficial, although the only way for a business to be truly sustainable is to unplug every machine and prevent employees from breathing.

More troubling is the term “ecosystem,” a word that should not exist in someone’s cubicle.  You can almost imagine Jacques Cousteau camped out in a Wall Street ecosystem, commenting on the predators and their prey.

If you consider the workplace to be part of an ecosystem of living organisms, formerly known as employees, you should find work as a consultant, because no one else will hire you.

The hot air produced by eco-babbling consultants has likely depleted more carbon than all of Chinese industry.  Two decades after Moore, the metaphors are no longer sustainable.

More recently, Moore has been studying the “economics of peace,” a phrase that inspires my gag reflex.


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