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  • Writer's picturekarri winn

Sustainability, And Then What?

Imagine our world without meaning. It would be like a world without soil.

Fortunately, Ecology Action Director John Jeavons knows how to grow soil. His Grow Biointensive small-scale agriculture method yields a complete diet and grows soil up to 60 times faster than nature.

Soil is a growing medium. The quality of soil makes a world of difference. My business school mentor, Jane Lorand, used to say, “(c)ulture is a growing medium for change – what do you want to grow?”.

Imagine meaning is the soil, the life-blood, of human culture. Meaning makes life worth living.

Yet a United Nations special committee on Sustainable Development (1998) concluded: meaninglessness is the single greatest problem facing societies worldwide.

This is a profound business opportunity.

I surmise that like soil, meaning can be cultivated through enterprise and that meaning entrepreneurship is the emerging innovation arc for the business organization.

Once we have reengineered the way we make and deliver products and services and no longer operate beyond the carrying capacity of our biosphere, then what?

Sustainability alone cannot be the destination for global human culture; yet the sciences of sustainability – renewable energy, biomimicry, green chemistry, and so forth certainly should build our roads to get there.

Just as business can solve complex environmental challenges, business can grow vibrant human cultures by connecting people to their purpose and the purpose of their work realizing making meaning while making money.

Purpose is one of the most powerful ways human beings create meaning. It is a raison d’être - a kind of emotional nutrition filling an invisible need of the heart.

Unique to you, your purpose is like a north star guiding you on a trajectory that gives your life meaning.

Simon Sinek, author, Start with Why, describes how purpose directly correlates to business innovation, influence, customer loyalty and repeated success. This is because people guided by purpose are intrinsically motivated for the work.

Whereas sticks and carrots are expensive, intrinsic motivation is priceless.

Beyond making a product for a market need, business can create a larger trajectory - an invisible destination that inspires and galvanizes, insures employee retention and gives people more than just a job.

Moreover, connecting people to their purpose optimizes health.

National Geographic researched communities around the world they called Blue Zones where people commonly live over 100 years of age. Purpose, the study concluded, is a core determinant promoting happiness, health and longevity.

Happier people are healthier. They experience less toxic stress; stress is linked to stroke, heart disease, obesity, dementia and early mortality.

Creating purposeful work can reduce health care costs and increase human vitality resulting in a positive net impact on human culture.

Business grows culture by shaping the lives of the individuals who invest their life into the work. No matter how much you pay your employee, you are still renting part of that person’s finite life force energy. You can never pay a person enough to value the preciousness of life; you can give a person the gift of living into their purpose while working for you. This is a transcending gesture beyond sustainability and a worthy destination for global human culture.

I really like Idris Mootee’s idea – every company should have a Chief Meaning Officer bringing purpose to products and services. Growing organizations that are more profitable, innovative and happy places to work.

Make Meaning. Make money. Let’s grow the cultural soil of the future, our future where people in all societies live rich and meaningful lives.

This is the transcript for my 2013 Portland Ignite presentation.

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