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Aug 17, 2011 Berit Anderson

Gifford Pinchot: Climate Change is Real, So Innovate


By Berit Anderson

Imgres-1 Gifford Pinchot III probably isn’t the typical speaker at Seattle’s downtown Morgan Stanley boardroom. But the lesson he taught a group of Chinese undergraduate students gathered in the audience last week couldn’t have been delivered by your average wealth manager.

Pinchot’s presentation, bolstered by his powerful skill as a storyteller, spanned not just the importance of sustainable business and the tenets and successes of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute – the sustainable MBA program he pioneered on Washington’s Bainbridge Island – but his own realization that human relationships and doing good in the world was more likely to make him happy than money.

Pinchot achieved overnight financial success when his first sustainable business book became a bestseller and companies began knocking on his door for consultancies. But even with this sudden financial windfall, he found he wasn’t any happier than he had been just weeks earlier, when he was still struggling to make ends meet. The same few things still mattered most and were most likely to make him happy – the development and maintenance of personal relationships.

Why does Pinchot espouse sustainable business??

He’s a man of science. Along with slides documenting the monumental loss of old-growth forest between now and 2090 and the direct connection between fresh water scarcity and a U.S. naval plan for international conflict (Yes, we PLAN international conflict.), Pinchot shared this telling pair from a recent National Center for Atmospheric Research study:

First, the average worldwide drought conditions today (Blue and green being hospitable living environments with enough food and water for human survival and red being truly inhospitable.)

Screen shot 2011-08-15 at 5.27.37 PM

Now pick your favorite part of the world in the above picture, and compare it to the next image: World drought conditions 100 years later, given current trends in climate change.

Screen shot 2011-08-15 at 5.27.52 PM

As you can see, we’re screwed. By the year 2090 about eighty percent of the world will be inhospitable due to drought and the resulting fires and famine.

So how does this translate to business and sustainability? The trick is, the two HAVE to merge.

Pinchot has used an unusual metric to measure the success of his business endeavors: A scale that takes into account not just financials, but the happiness a business brings to its users and consumers and the damage it does to the earth.

The happiness to damage ratio:  The ratio of happiness a business creates for its customers and users to the amount of damage or harm done to the world is the guideline Pinchot uses to measure the success of a business.

Obviously it’s not easy using the happiness to damage ratio as a measure of success in a world full of corporate profiteers, but Pinchot laid out two groups of people who are already doing it.   


  1. Ecopreneurs: Those who create new, eco-friendly businesses that take only renewable resources from the earth or improve the integration of sustainability into existing systems are known as ecopreneurs.
  2. Intrapreneurs: Those who are working from within existing companies to integrate sustainability into business practices.  


These folks exist in leading companies around the world. They are pioneering businesspeople, not afraid to advocate for ethics and values as well as the bottom line. Through their hard work and innovation, their companies are at the cutting edge of sustainability and they're reaping the financial and market share rewards. The only question is, which will you be?

Berit Anderson develops and executes strategy to encourage the spread of responsible business. Berit manages CSRHUB's social media outreach and develops business and community relationships. Her background in media and community relations runs the gamut from non-profit sustainability magazines to 24-hour corporate news operations and forward-looking tech publishers. When she isn't busy building bridges with language, Berit studies Arabic, explores the great outdoors, or takes to the garden, where she merges her loves of local food, urban agriculture and education. Weaknesses include large, fluffy canines and Reeses peanut butter cups. 

Inset images courtesy of Bainbridge Graduate Institute and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, respectively. 

Published by Berit Anderson August 17, 2011