Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Responsibility Pyramid

This a post I have been wanting to put up for a while, but hadn't gotten around to composing. I want to be able to refer back to it for my next post, though so, in the immortal words of Elvis Presley, It's Now or Never.

I want to introduce you to a way of looking at your purchases (some other decisions too, but mostly purchases) from an overall responsibility standpoint. It is a sort of shorthand notation, handy for looking at the “Big Picture” without actually having to take the time to look at the actual Big Picture. (It is a big picture, after all, so it takes some time to look at all of it.) The concept is known as the Triple Bottom Line, or "3BL" for short, but I have three-dimensionalized it, and call my version...

The Responsibility Pyramid*!

(*actually it's a Responsibility Tetrahedron, but who's counting?)

The Responsibility Pyramid works like this. Imagine a solid made of four regular triangles. (For You D+D Gamers -and you know who you are- yes, that's a four-sided die.) Or Better Yet, Imagine a tripod of three sticks, coming together at a single point, over a triangular base. Or Better Yet, Don't imagine it at all!

My Pyramid. Let me show you it.

  • The Red Stick in my crude little illustration, is Money, or the purely Economic decision. This is quite often the starting point for a purchasing decision. “Can I afford it?”, or “Is it a good bargain?” are the questions we often ask ourselves after we calm down from drooling over whatever it is we want to buy. We have a Responsibility to ourselves, to our families, and to society at large, to use our money wisely, so that we end up able to help others, rather than needing help from others.
  • The Blue Stick represents People, or the Social aspect of the decision. After all, like I learned in Mr. Haley's 11th grade economics class, you vote with your dollars every time you make a purchase. I, for one, want to vote for companies that are treating people well. You can't always know whether a company is good or not (and your notion of “good” may not line up with mine precisely), but we have a Responsibility to make ourselves reasonably informed, so that we don't end up helping companies exploit people. If you want a worst-case scenario, just do a web search for “Mariana Islands Sweatshop”

  • The Green Stick is for this Planet that we live on, or the Ecological decision we make when we buy something. How much packaging, and of what type, does it come wrapped in? How far did it have to travel to get to me? Is it reusable, or recyclable? Was it made from petroleum? And on, and on, and on... There are 1000 or more questions you can ask on this one, and you may not be confident of the answers, but we have a Responsibility to at least ask, and to pass over products we know to be harmful.

If you make a decision to buy something, like... A pair of Starbury® Athletic Shoes, simply because they are dirt cheap, Your "Purchase Point" is on the point where the red "money" line touches the base of the triangle. This is unfortunately where the vast majority of our decisions get made. If plastic junk made with slave labor in Vietnam is buy one, get one half off, we buy two, even if we weren't sure we needed one! At this point on the pyramid, we are farthest away from our Responsibilities to People and the Planet.

A decision to buy a gas-guzzling SUV made right here in the USA, by Unionized Auto Workers, may have a "Purchase Point" located on the black baseline halfway between "Money" and "People", if it is a really good bargain, but then again... a gas guzzler is always going to end up being expensive, so it is probably over in "People" corner, far from being a smart choice for your wallet or the Earth.

Are you starting to get this? A Toyota Prius, when it first came out, was a great decision, planetwise. But they were certainly no bargain! How many Anti-Malarial Bed Nets could you have provided African Children with for that price?
Organic "Fair Trade" Coffee at the grocery store can cost a pretty penny more than the stuff next to it, but is it worth a few more cents a cup to have supported a farmer sweating a living out of the soil in Central America?

If you make it to (in your judgement) a Win-Win-Win situation, then congratulations, you have made it to the top (and center) of the pyramid! Look down on us all from your lofty perch, and start helping us to climb up there with you!

1 comment:

Art said...

I bought my sports car only to benefit my poor friends in those Japanese auto factories.

Nah... seriously, the pyramid is a good way to look at purchases. Like you said most people only consider one or two aspects of a purchase decision before they buy. We all should give these things much more thought.