Joe Jordan

the geek of hearts

Sustainability: the lazy option

In software development, it is sometimes said that the lazy developer is the best developer. She knows when to code longer in order to reduce future work – making systems that fix themselves, at slightly larger initial cost, saves her time (and therefore money) in the long run. It also reduces “firefighting,” or sloppy fixes made in a rush when a system is noticed to be down at a critical time.

She avoids the effort, and the stress, for her future self: future her is lazy, so present her must be proactive. This is the very definition of sustainability; building things to last, not just for the present, quick buck.

Sustainable = Lazy

The same strategy could work for most businesses. If you train your staff well, early on, and foster/maintain a thinking, pro-active atmosphere in your office, you’ll need to spend less on management and other overheads going forward, and have less HR headaches. And your customers will be happier because, compared to your rivals, you’ll provide faster, better customer service.

The same could be said for most other aspects of a business. An initial investment of time/money/effort can improve time/money/effort situations further down the line. There’s a strong business case for sustainable business practise in almost every situation.

So, why are most businesses not lazy enough?

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a sustainable business culture. And this has a lot to do with an irritating piece of economic theory: the comparison of present and future worth via accumulation functions.

Basically, this means that people value Jam Today more than Jam Tomorrow – putting the Jam in your cupboard* until tomorrow means it loses economic value. This means that you have to make a certain amount of return on your Jam (typically more than you’d get out of investing the Jam somewhere and getting a return) in order for economists to think there’s any point to your having the Jam.

Their logic is perhaps clearer when thinking about a business – there’s no point to doing business if you could make more money by selling it and putting the money in a savings account.

However, the logic is ridiculous by any sustainability measure. We made Jam with our strawberries so that they would last.

Economics needs to start properly accounting for the rocking increase in efficiency obtained by spending half an hour last week thinking about the problem – building a model of economics that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels for growth but grows out of better analysis, technique, information sharing and quality.

We need to stop powering our economies with finite resources and start powering them with brains. By being lazy.


* or fridge, if you’re insane and don’t understand the point of jam.

originally appeared here