The Ecosystem of Environmental Metaphors

February 26, 2018

The hot air produced by eco-babbling consultants, activists and corporate executives has likely depleted more carbon than all of Chinese industry.

Use of environmental metaphors does not make a company environmentally friendly, green or sustainable, but, as the Paris Accord demonstrated, talking about the environment without actually doing anything can boost your image.

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

Among the most-abused environmental terms are “ecosystem,” “ecology” and the term “environment” itself. Blame these environmental metaphors on consultant James F. Moore, who won a McKinsey Award for his 1993 article in Harvard Business Review, “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition.”

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. Who else would consider your cubicle to be part of an ecosystem?

Environmentalism has also the latest generation of efficiency experts, as businesses have stopped trying to be efficient and are instead seeking to be “sustainable.”

“Sustainable” business practices may be beneficial, reducing both waste and environmental damage, but the only way for a business to be truly sustainable is to unplug every machine and prevent employees from breathing.

Let’s continue to make businesses more efficient while reducing their impact on the environment, but the environmental metaphors are no longer sustainable.


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