Sustainability 2.0 doesn’t add up

Posted on March 31, 2009


Sustainability =  a good thing that requires a radicial shift in thinking

Enterprise 2.0  = a good thing that requires a radical shift in thinking.

Unfortunately, as every Year 9 student knows, these two statements do not necessarily prove that 

Enterprise 2.0 = Sustainability.

This elementary mistake in logic undermines the value of the otherwise promising Sustainability 2.0 by Ernesto van Pedro and the Odiseo team (free download). 

It is a shame as the promise is compelling.  Unfortunately it takes Ernesto van Pedro and the Odiseo team 161 pages to get to this position (and only then in the epilogue).  And they fail to provide evidence for their assertion. 

Instead there’s a very long introduction to Web 2.0 (which would be a useful primer if you had been living under a rock for 15 years).  They successfully argue that Web 2.0 has had a major impact on how we think and how we communicate, and that to be successful, businesses should adopt an Enterprise 2.0 mindset.

Sustainability is introduced as a wide concept:

Until the beginning of the 1990s, the notion of “sustainability” had basically been applied to the environmental field. But over the course of that decade, its use began to extend to social, political and business issues. Little by little, such questions as inequality in the distribution of wealth and diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, nutrition, health, access to information and security began to be incorporated into the debate.

and as a “change in the cosmovision”:

In the end, it is about producing a change in the cosmovision: from the anthropocentric vision that Mankind began to build in the Modern Era —centered exclusively on human and individual interests and conceiving of the Earth as nothing more than a raw materials warehouse that is at Man’s disposal — to a biocentric cosmovision, which conceives of Nature as a combination of interdependent organisms and in which life itself is at the centre of everything and Man forms part of this, as one of its intelligent manifestations.

and (thankfully), more simply as 

all rally today around this new paradigm, that is the incarnation of the need to integrate human beings into their environment once more.

I think this is worth noting:

And in spite of the multiple definitions, variations and meanings that simultaneously coexist, there can be no doubt that sustainability has gained almost universal acceptance as a good thing. (Few people indeed could find a defense for non-sustainability).

and they seem to be agreeing with our discipline based approach to sustainable practitioner: it’s OK for each discipline to have a different conception:

Science, ecology, civil society, business…each group or individual promoter of sustainable development stimulates construction of the new paradigm from  the field of action in which it/he/she operates. This gives rise to the different dimensions of sustainable development, with each of these being characterized by a variety of issues or areas of debate.

There is extensive argument that sustainability is about real change:

Adopting corporate social responsibility policies with the aim of “cleaning up” their images and repositioning themselves on the market as “environmentally friendly” by adopting a “green” outward appearance (greenwashing).  But when thesepolicies are not the result of the values that the company actually maintains, their positive impact is nil.

Businesses began to talk for the first time ever about creating such concepts as the creation of economic, social and environmental value for their “stakeholders” (workers, shareholders, customers, civil and government organisations) and to process re-designing with a view to the long term.

The book recognises the importance of thinking beyond your own footprint, citing the case of Walmart, arguing that even if Walmart’s actions were considered greenwashing, the benefits would still be strong: 

Whether this is a real change of values or another case of “greenwashing”, the fact that 100 million people a week are being invited to consume responsible products, and more than 60,000 suppliers to manufacture them, makes the impact of doing business in this way clearly predictable on a worldwide scale.

The book (re?)introduces several concepts relevant to sustainable business

John Elkington:  Triple Bottom Line in Canabalism with forks

Stephan Schmidheiny:  “Today there are 2.8 billion people —nearly half of Mankind— that live on less than 2 dollars a day. It is these people that we must include in a true and radical development process.”

Ray Anderson

Global warming is coming like a runaway freight train. Time is against us, given Humankind’s tendency to deny and cling to the opiate of the status quo. Biodiversity is plummeting. Our human footprint is growing and the planet’s carrying capacity is shrinking, consumed by our unsustainable appetite for stuff.

and the crucial title of the book: mid-course correction and his consequent radical change in business models

Yvon Chouinard

“Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet, going up the stairs two steps at a time.  We needed to be surrounded by friends who could dress whatever way they wanted, even barefoot.  We needed to have flex time to surf the waves when they were good, or ski the powder after a big snowstorm., or stay home and take care of a sick child.



Then the authors shift tack and introduce Web 2.0 as a “series of disruptions”.  They argue that the behaviour change – to a participative media – is more important that the technology itself.

They present the Net Gen, borrowing heavily from Tapscott: 

a generation of networked individuals who learn, think, buy, believe and relate in ways that are different from those of their parents. While the previous generation grew up reading newspapers, listening to radio and watching television, they sit in front of their computers, interacting and participating

This, they quickly relate to business, quoting Searls and co’s cluetrain manifesto “markets are conversations”, “secret appears to be dead”, “end goal of brand communication is no longer to convince the customer, but to build relationships”.  The intelligence of swarms gets an airing, folksonmy gets a definition, as does intercreativity:

Interaction, at first glance, isn’t interesting in itself. What is interesting is the use of interaction for collective creation, what I call ‘intercreativity’. In it, one is no longer connected to the Internet, but rather, connected through the Internet: It is the brains that are behind it and it is this mutual creativity that can – or not – be expressed (Joel de Rosnay)

The collective intelligence relies on individual contributions:

Crowds tend to be wise only if individual members act responsibly and make their own decisions. A group won’t be smart if its members imitate one another, slavishly follow fads, or wait for someone to tell them what to do. When a group is being intelligent, whether it’s made up of ants or attorneys, it relies on its members to do their own part (Peter Miller)


So we get to Chapter 10.  Maybe now they’ll link web 2.0 and sustainability.   Nope.  They do give a good explanation of responsible consumption: justifying choices on the basis of two main criteria – the history of the product and the conduct (ethical, social, and environmental) or the company that makes it.


A new type of consumer has emerged, “the most distinctive trait of whom was an awareness of the impact of his/her actions on the environment and society”.  This raises the problem of consumer skepticism and greenwash  – and the best quote in the book:

 if a company wants to avoid being accused of greenwashing and wishes to make its green marketing truly effective, it is of vital importance that every area of the firm adopt a philosophy and an active attitude in favor of sustainable development. In other words, in order for the consumer to be able to believe in the company’s good intentions, the company itself must first believe in its own good intentions.

They get close, with this figure, which links on and off line needs in a Maslow hierarchy, but it’s not really used in the text.




In chapter 11, the authors discuss Andrew McAfee’s “emergent collaboration”.   This is changing business:

“The medium, or process, of our time… is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life…Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to ‘the others’.  And they’re changing dramatically”. 


So, if there’s any doubt.  Enterprise 2.0 is a big change.  So is sustainability.  This book misses the opportunity to convincingly link the two.  

Towards the end of the book, a crisis in the third millennium” is presented.    There are  some very weak associative arguments: Google is presented (presumably as example of Enterprise 2.0, and it has an energy management plan).  Dell opened up (to get out of “hell”) and Dell has, well actually they don’t even try to make the link.   Several businesses are similarly presented: Starbucks, Ben and Jerry, Patagonia, Home Depot and so on.   None of them present a convincing argument for a strong relationship between Enterprise 2.0 and sustainability (they are even bizarrely presented in two unconnected lists).

The authors seem confused themselves, on page 163, NetGen is a problem, not a solution:

The questions multiply like the signals that point to a transformation toward Sustainability 2.0. Adapting no longer signifes a mere corporate decision: Now, what it means to companies is their possibility for surviving in the future. 

Change, then, is no longer an option. It is a need.  And change implies redefining corporate culture and readapting productive processes, bearing in mind their social and environmental impact, while taking into account, too, their economic results and the values imposed by the Net Gen.

The best we get is on page 158: there is a global crisis; this needs a new paradigm; we’re not sure what this is; NetGen and Enterprise 2.0 has some useful characteristics for whatever this new paradigm might be.

Indeed these characteristics (being, respect, openness, creativity, new technologies) do align with some of the characteristics desirable in sustainability.  This though is not enough to justify the title of the book: Sustainability 2.0