The term “Scorched Earth” has been used widely as a military term for removing potentially useful things away from a withdrawing or advancing enemy in the field of battle. However, I would also like to use this as a metaphor for just destroying anything rapidly, without a great deal of thought.
If we take stock of the new US administration and its view on environmental policy we could liken it to a scorched earth policy. There was a detailed report last week from the Carbon Trust, which detailed the rapid shift in US policy and its potential impact on the US and the world. The list of environmental reversals is endless, including allowing coal waste to be dumped into rivers, which is the opposite of the way the developed world is going. As an example, China is actively trying to reduce its dependency on coal by 2020. The UK has also launched its “zero landfill” policy by 2020 Although the President has put himself under huge pressure to deliver on his election policies, he must think beyond the short term, and not turn the technological clock back. Investing in “Space” with greater budgets for NASA is a good thing, but the majority of sustainable innovation is either driven by a distinct need (famine or war) or adversity (lack of physical resources). As pressure grows on the worlds resources, we need to use what we have efficiently and wisely. The parallels between the environment and manufacturing are clear. Within industry, we have been using “Lean” thinking to eliminate process waste and improve efficiency. It is clear we need to do the same with the environment, and use long term thinking to sustain improved performance. Taking the short term decision, i.e. ignoring pollution will give no long term performance gains and arguably nothing tangible in the short term either, with the exception of possibly cash flow. Winding the technological and sustainability clock back, for even 3 or 4 years, will in reality turn it back by 20 years or more due to the lost opportunity and lack of momentum.
In short, and away from any political affiliations, a scorched earth type approach makes no business sense in the medium to long term, and will certainly not edify those who deploy it. It will not provide a winning position. Encouraging the world to think “Lean” is the only tangible way forward. We need to get everyone to act as “Waste Hunters” and “Waste Destroyers”, not “Earth Destroyers”.