Sustainability Ultra-marathon

If you want go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

But what to do when you need to go far, fast? This is the question before conservationists and the sustainability community in general. It is clear to all who are paying attention that our voracious consumer desires and prodigious growth are quickly outpacing the rate at which resources can be renewed. Ocean stocks are dwindling as demand increases, forests are being leveled to make way for ranches and mono-crop plantations. Ask anyone who is paying attention, and they will tell you that we need to get far and we need to get there fast.

The conflict comes not in the if but in the how – a tension succinctly captured by World Wildlife Fund vice-president Jason Clay in his TED talk, where he lays out his vision of a sustainable economy. One where sustainability is not a consumer choice but an industry standard:

When you listen to him speak, it is easy to agree that we need to corral the 100 dominant businesses controlling the food system into making better choices. But maybe it makes you, like me, wonder if this just perpetuates a food system where 100 companies control the profits. We have seen what this model has to offer – and despite efficiencies – it’s not good.

Many would argue that we need to remake the food system – that we need to divest our dollars from McDonalds and Sysco, Cargill and Tyson; investing them in our local food economies instead. That we should be spending them directly on home-baked and family farm-grown. Indeed, regional food economies are growing at a rapid and inspirational rate.

And so you have to choose. Do you support McDonald’s in their promises to move toward ‘sustainable beef production’ and laude Pepsi’s commitments to end agricultural land grabs for sugar cane plantations in Brazil? Or do you advocate for local growers, family farmers, alternative agriculture and small-scale production? Do you get behind impact or authenticity? If you are Jason Clay, you have to choose. If you are an educator, an activist, a grower, a producer – you have to choose. But maybe as a society, we might not have to choose. In our growing, ever-shifting dynamic society we can push McDonald’s to adopt better practices and work to decrease their market share. Which is lucky for us – because we need to get far, and we need to get there fast.