Monday, January 5, 2009

Wanted: Moles at ExxonMobil

Here's a little more support for the idea of pursuing a just livelihood--regardless of where you work or what you do, even if that means whistleblowing or footdragging. The author, Auden Schendler, a sustainability officer at a ski resort, noted the following in Orion Magazine recently:

"To someone who asks, “I want to establish a relationship with the divine. Can I come to your monastery?” Keating might reply, “You can have that relationship anywhere, and should.” My conversation with Keating reminded me of the many phone calls I get from eager, young, well-educated college graduates who desperately want to get into the “sustainability field.” My response is that given the scale of the problems, every job must become a sustainability job. So one approach is to look for ways to turn your own position into one that addresses climate change. If every job doesn’t become a climate job, we’re not going to solve the problem. Even if you work for the worst of the worst—let’s say it’s ExxonMobil—we need people inside the beast. We need moles. And there isn’t a job in the world that doesn’t somehow influence the changing climate."

Now, he doesn't mention footdragging but he said we need moles. What does that mean? Ideally, in his context, the worker is pressuring his colleagues, superiors and subordinates to focus more on sustainability. But how overtly? In some companies--ExxonMobil is Auden's example--how openly can you be a mole (and by definition a mole is an animal that lives underground, quietly tearing things up)? When one can't overtly change a system without risk to oneself, then whistleblowing or footdragging become justifiable. Final question: shouldn't one just leave the job, assuming one can find another job? There are arguments on both side: If you do and find a job working for a company that is receptive to becoming more sustainable, then you might be doing a more useful service in the world, helping that company grow and grow greener. But that means someone that is probably less interested in sustainability would replace you at ExxonMobil. And thus the company continues on destroying the planet with a workforce even less concerned about the consequences. But really, the world isn't this straightforward. Jobs aren't infinite and neither are workers' skills. So sometimes one can't just easily switch jobs. The big point is that if you are concerned about the long-term state of the planet (which will determine the ability of humanity to thrive in the future), then you must use your job--wherever and whatever it is--to push for sustainable business practices: whether out front in a supportive business environment, or at worst, as a mole, a whistleblower, or a footdragger.

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