Posts Tagged ‘dotcom bubble’

Financial crisis tests sustainability commitment

I remember July 2001 well. It was the month someone pressed the dimmer switch on the high tech marketing business I co-owned. For the first six months of the year, our business soared. It was the best financial stretch in our eight years as a firm.

In July, it was as if the previous half year became an instant, distant memory. We’d become a victim of the tech implosion that followed the dotcom bubble burst. Virtually all of our clients slashed their marketing budgets in unison when it became apparent their revenues were falling far short of annual targets.

The summer outlook turned bleak. And then came 9/11. Suddenly any hope for a soft landing for the economy and our firm vanished. The next two and half years became little more than an exercise in survival. But eventually we got through it. And happily, by 2006 we had nearly grown back to our pre-recession peak.

I left my firm and high tech two years ago to work with companies on the sustainability path. Even so, memories of 2001 and after are still fresh. As bad as things became then, this moment is even more worrisome. Are we in for the Big One: the Category 5 hurricane, the 9.0 earthquake?

My rational voice reminds me my worst fears never materialize. They didn’t a half dozen years ago. My insecure voice replies, “Yes, but maybe this time they will.” And so it goes, back and forth.

You may have a method for keeping fears and insecurities at bay. Mine is to move outside myself, to become more aware of the needs of others. I have the good fortune of health, home, family, friends and financial savings. As this recession tightens its grip, more Americans are losing their jobs, homes and nest eggs. And it appears things will get worse before they get better.

A turn of events like this tests our commitments to sustainability. Are sustainability values only to be embraced during economic prosperity? The answer is obvious. There’s no escape clause from sustainable business practices when recessions hit. It’s true we may have less money to invest in environmental initiatives, employee benefits or community programs. But we can still make a difference through our time, ideas and creativity.

I’ve seen enough from the unrestrained capitalism of the last 25 years to conclude this: Humans acting in their own self-interest in free market economies do not produce a massive trickle-down flow of goodwill to those less fortunate. Nor do they automatically protect and preserve our natural resources. If they did, we’d have no need for a sustainability movement.

A recession teaches us the invisible hand of the market isn’t a helping hand. It’s incapable of caring about anyone or anything. A commitment to sustainability asks us to do the caring. Now would be a good time to renew our vows.