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Can Social Entrepreneurship Protect Us Against Future Climate Disasters?Contributing Authors
Even in the final sprint of one of the most hotly contested elections in recent memory, few politicians attempted to score political points from the death and destruction left in Hurricane Sandy’s wake.
In fact, quite the opposite happened as entrenched rivals reached across the aisle in a show of bipartisan support. Inspiring images of NJ Governor Christie and President Obama working together are great examples of the very collaborative action for which the electorate has long hungered.
More important than this cooperation, however, is the sudden spotlight Hurricane Sandy has thrust on environmental issues normally marginalized by a nation reluctant to join the international community. Media coverage like Bloomberg Businessweek’s It’s Global Warming, Stupid would have been unthinkable just a week ago. Now, such stories are firmly rooted in the public’s mind and will likely become more mainstream in the weeks and months to come.
The Tide Is Turning – But What Happens Next?
Note that this is not an outright defeat for climate change deniers. Resistance is still very much alive, even in the face of erratic weather patterns across the globe. But the naysayers are losing ground.
So what now?
Although the needle has certainly moved in our favor, it will be awhile before Americans are ready to embrace the broad sacrifices that some climate scientists have been recommending for decades. How do we bring those who were on the fence into the fold and marshal the requisite resources to prevent disasters like Hurricane Sandy (and worse) from happening again?
The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship and Profitable Public Good
In How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, David Bornstein defines social entrepreneurs as those who effect meaningful, positive change without having to compromise the basic tenets of good business. In other words, they provide direct public benefits while simultaneously generating sustainable profit for their ventures – money that they reinvest to produce even more societal value.
At Re-Nuble, we believe that the broad changes recommended by the global scientific community are absolutely necessaryif we’re serious about protecting the planet. However, we also subscribe to Bornstein’s belief that it’s possible to turn social and environmental challenges into opportunities by intelligently addressing unmet market needs.
- Problem 1: An alarming percentage of the crops cultivated worldwide use fossil fuel derivatives (i.e. petro-fertilizers, pesticides), making our food less healthy and environment more polluted.
- Problem 2: Of this food, nearly 33% (1.3 billion tons) never gets eaten. Instead it goes to landfills where it rots, producing methane and other toxic greenhouse gases.
Asking farmers to abandon fertilizers or grow less food requires a direct sacrifice to them, making such solutions economically unattractive despite the positive environmental impact such approaches might have.
We advocate a very different approach – one that confers benefits to all stakeholders instead of losses.
By recycling uneaten food into organic fertilizer and renewable energy, we can:
- help reduce reliance on fossil fuel
- encourage the cultivation of healthier food
- eliminate greenhouse gases
As an added benefit, this approach also creates more green jobs throughout the food, waste, and energy industries.
Abandoning a Model of Pure Linear Waste
There is no sacrifice in this closed, sustainable loop. No major modifications to our current lifestyles are necessary. The resources are already there, waiting to be used. And we can use those resources profitably to bring about positive changes that benefit all of us.
Between those demanding radical environmental action and those who place profit above all else, social entrepreneurial solutions like this create much-needed common ground. All that is required is that we as a country (and world) appreciate both the urgency of the environmental challenges we face and the economic viability of the solutions on the table.
In this regard, the political cooperation that emerged in Hurricane Sandy’s wake is very encouraging – disasters have a way of breaking down barriers (literally and figuratively). But will this cooperative spirit spill into the electorate before the next major disaster strikes?
We certainly hope so.