Pissing from the mountaintop at Oracle OpenWorld

Wouldn’t you know it. Follow BI around long enough and you come across family—if only the kind of family you see at funerals and weddings. Oracle finally brought us together again with its sustainability theme at last week’s OpenWorld.

The Sierra Club and I used to be close. My mother led San Francisco Bay Chapter hikes, and much later I found myself deep in greenhood as an editor and organizer. So imagine my surprise, having left “home” so long ago, to witness one-time Sierra Club president Adam Werbach on a panel of environmentalists on a stage. They debated “the economy or the environment?”

The three of them—Werbach plus natural-capitalism advocate Hunter Lovins and Rainforest Action Network founder Randy Hayes—faced off with four business people, representing the supposed monolith once known at my house as the enemy.

I’d never noticed Werbach’s wide mouth. I noticed it as he smiled, which he did often up there hunched over at the table, making little jokes with Hayes and Lovins as the event began. All three seem accustomed to the stage. After all, public speaking is their lifeblood, their source. Their bodies and faces, all graying now, also signal certitude. They can joke because they are forgiven, like reconciled Catholics. Science is on their side, and so are most audiences, and they love it all.

I had to wonder, then, about the way Werbach blasted the guy from Fiji Water, purveyors of bottled water shipped to North America by tanker. Rob Six, VP of corporate communications, had dared to tout Fiji’s reduced carbon footprint as part of the solution. Werbach called that a “lie” because he felt it was actually a small reduction of extravagant waste.

Werbach is of the David Brower school of shooting for the stars. Brower, of course, was a great Sierra Club leader. As the club’s first executive director, he launched the book publishing operation. Make people see the natural wonders, he argued, and they’ll fight for them. So—the story goes—he grabbed a vast “fire fund” accrued over decades by leaders of the club’s rustic Clair Tappaan Lodge and used it for capital. The club never restored the fund, but business is business when you’re shooting for the stars.

If Werbach’s “lie” charge reminds you of Dick Cheney’s pooh-poohing of individual Californian’s ability to reduce power consumption significantly during the 2001 crisis, you’d be wrong. Cheney was just cynical. Werbach is just out to promote himself with noise.

Business is finally catching on. Green is going secular. You can thank Al Gore, Hunter Lovins, her ex Amory Lovins, Katrina or more likely writer Paul Hawken and others. You can turn away from Werbach and his fellow Dark Green leaders.

Fiji Water is not a poster child for sustainability, I know. But let’s appreciate what they’ve done. What else do you suppose they’re going to do, shut it all down? Sure, have the PR people draft one last letter to shareholders: “Here’s your money. Go invest in Green.”

We shoot for the stars because it’s inspiring. But while we’re at it, we wander among the street lights and shoot for the targets we can hit. So, Adam, don’t look down from your mountain and piss on those who try.

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