I was at a conference that largely centered on green business last week. This was a gathering of wonderful people--social entrepreneurs--who cared about the environment and various social causes. They wanted to advance their values and express their care for the world through business.
It was wonderful and inspiring. But here's the funny thing. I had so many conversations with people from whom I sensed a yearning for meaning. It was paradoxical. Here were a bunch of people trying to do business meaningfully but still, some of them, feeling as the meaning wasn't there.
I think I might have a clue about the problem. Everybody was frenetically networking and Blackberrying and iPhoning just as they would at any business conference. Everyone was tired. Increased revenue--at least for many--seemed to be the measure of success.
The difference between a regular business conference and this one was that the sense that something was out of kilter was palpable. Observing the conferences, a Martian might have decided that conventional businesses--where people aren't angsting about fulfillment--makes people happier.
Of course, the great thing about the conference I was at is that people were actually looking for something better. They just hadn't quite found it.
So-called "green business" probably is not going to offer people the satisfaction and meaning we all crave. Keeping the live-to-work paradigm while manufacturing everything with "sustainable" materials is not going to give us time to spend with the people we love for example. It's a good thing, but it's not going to offer real human satisfaction.
In the end, truly green business is not going to give soul satisfaction if it merely about doing everything the same with more renewable materials. For business to be truly green--meaning life sustaining--the advancement of genuine human values--things that do more good for human quality of life rather than simply doing less harm--will have to be embodied in the businesses themselves.
Look at the picture above. That's my little girl Isabella playing in the Washington Square fountain. That's where I get real satisfaction. That's where I feel at home in my life. And I'm not saying that everyone should have a kid and live the way I do.
I'm simply saying that if we are looking for meaning and satisfaction in green business, we are going to have to take it much further than sustainable materials. We are going to have to figure out what actually improves quality of life for ourselves and those around us and start propagating that.
An economy based on pushing more stuff--greenly made or not--probably isn't going to do the trick.
PS I can't resist letting you know what Isabella made us do after the fountain. She made us watch this sparrow take a bath in the puddle.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.