Posts Tagged ‘green entrepreneurs’

Picking up where Nau left off

Sunday’s Oregonian attempts to explain what sustainable businesses might learn from the closure of apparel maker Nau early this month. The paper draws a conclusion similar to my immediate reaction when I heard the news: that Nau’s ambition got the best of it.

The Oregonian’s assessment is too brief to be of significant value to existing or would-be green entrepreneurs. For instance, the paper responds to one of its own questions, “Is a sustainable business unsustainable?”:

Nau wasn’t around long enough to tell. And certainly, organic food companies have profited as demand increases. And renewable energy ventures — biofuel, solar power — still attract investors’ bets. “There are a lot of sustainable plays that are more capital efficient and less risky,” said David Kirkpatrick, founder of SJF Ventures, a Durham, N.C.-based firm that invests in green companies.

I’m sure the paper felt compelled to ask this question because many who heard the news of Nau are probably asking it. It would be sad indeed if people concluded from Nau’s experience that operating a business with social, environmental and profit motivations equally in mind cannot be sustained long-term. Unfortunately, the paper’s response to its question doesn’t really get at the answer.

How about we flip the question: Is an unsustainable business sustainable? Or ask it from a macro view: Can our economy continue to run indefinitely on the backs of companies whose only measurement of success is financial return?

Throughout our history as a country that’s the way business has operated. And the American economy has flourished as a result. But for how much longer can this go on? Especially as China, India and other countries look to duplicate our success.

I hope people don’t see Nau’s failed attempt at “challenging the nature of capitalism” as evidence our economic system does not need serious repair. Yes, the company’s ambition exceeded its reach. But the folks at Nau knew there’s nothing sustainable about business as usual. And we all need to pick up where they left off.