“Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then will we realize that money cannot be eaten.”
– Alanis Obomsawin, Abenaki Nation
This quote hung on a poster in my room during my idealistic teen years. An image of clear-cut land, barren and pillaged underscored the message. It stirred a powerful emotion in me. I deeply desired for everyone to read it and recognize the wisdom of its warning. In my mind, we could rally together and assume a role of ecological stewardship, of ‘right relationship’ with nature as the Quakers call it.
Not surprisingly, the books most interesting to me as a girl featured strong young female characters who found themselves, for various reasons, alone in the wilderness forced to sustain themselves. They learned how to feed, clothe and shelter themselves with the materials of nature. It pleased me that there was neither waste nor pollution, as all the materials were biodegradable, supporting future life rather than endangering it. Money was also absent, informing me that it is just “a human tool exchanged for real things … edible plants and animals, useful objects such as containers and furniture, land and soil that can continue to produce real wealth in the future.” (Brown and Garver; Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, 2009)
It’s no surprise, then, how heartened I have been to see so many companies adopting a sustainable approach to running a business recognizing this often enhances their bottom line. This can manifest through a healthier, more engaged and productive workforce, reduced waste through efficiencies such as double sided photocopying or electronic documentation instead of printing, and using conferencing programs such as Skype in place of travel. Companies that ignite the imaginations of their employees stand to gain the most. Employee-driven projects tend to thrive and spark brainstorms leading to further environmental and economic gains. Enthusiasm is contagious and this can continue to drive up employee satisfaction and profits.
The variety of approaches is really quite astonishing; everything from providing bicycles or a fleet of electric cars for staff, or creating car-sharing programs, to producing green power such as solar or wind. Workplaces with abundant natural light, on site community gardens, and a lunchroom showcasing local farmers and food manufacturers all enhance the experience of being involved with such companies. The very simplest actions bring rewards. Wilco, a local construction company, reduces idling time of heavy equipment minimizing emissions and fuel consumption. IKEA, a very large company, has bought its own Alberta wind farms.
It was recently brought to my attention that the root of both economy and ecology, (eco) comes from the Greek word ‘oikos’ meaning ‘house. To paraphrase Brown and Garver: A sustainable economy will enable us to provision ourselves while ensuring our home (the ecological system) remains healthy and vital to support the complex biological relationships that ensure our access to true wealth: forests, land, clean water and nutrient rich soil.
I don’t know how it happened, but word got out about that poster on my wall. It’s so phenomenal what humans can do with a little bit of perspective and a lot of imagination.
Jill Cunningham grew up in St. Albert, has a Bachelor of Education from University of Alberta and is passionate about nature, the environment, and building community.