Ecocentricity Blog: Proof of the Pudding

By: John A. Lanier
Sep 29, 2021 2:30 PM ET
Campaign: Ecocentricity Blog

Ecocentricity Blog: Proof of the Pudding

Fun fact for you right out of the gate - the “proof is in the pudding” idiom is wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, whether someone was talking about food or otherwise. People use the idiom to mean that you can’t know if something is good until you try it. But on its face, the idiom is clumsy and imprecise. The proof is in the pudding? Should I go dig it out with my fingers? That seems unsanitary.

As Merriam-Webster describes, the English use of the phrase can be traced back to the early 17th century in its correct form: “The proof of the pudding is in its tasting” (or sometimes “in its eating”). Makes way more sense, right?

As is usually the case with idioms, it’s generally true. Of course you can’t know for sure how good or bad something is until you’ve tried it. That’s a constant point of frustration when we buy clementine oranges from the grocery store. You get some amazing bags and some terrible ones, but it's only evident after you peel the first orange. But isn’t it also true that, sometimes, you can look at a food and be pretty dang sure if it’s good or not?

Take chocolate chip cookies. If you saw a plateful, all from different bakers, I bet you’d make a lot of preliminary decisions. One might look undercooked and too gooey. Another might look a bit stale, or perhaps would have a poor distribution of chocolate chips. If someone slapped a pre-packaged grocery store cookie on that plate, I bet you could spot it and avoid it. Then sometimes you see a chocolate chip cookie and you know, before ever taking a bite, that it’s going to be absolutely amazing. You have plenty of proof even before the tasting.

Or before the reading, in the case of a book. And it’s in that spirit that I want to make a book recommendation before I’ve even read it! The book is Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive By Giving More Than They Take, written by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston. My regular readers might feel like they’ve heard of it before, because Jeff Gowdy mentioned it in his guest post about being net positive last month. I just pre-ordered it, and it will go immediately to the top of my stack of books when it arrives in a few weeks.

There are several reasons why I know it will be good before I read it. One is that Andrew Winston is one of the corporate sustainability experts I look up to the most. Ever since co-writing Green to Gold 15 years ago, Winston has been fully immersed in the world of sustainable business, advising companies on how to authentically embrace environmental responsibility and use it to create value. I was lucky enough to interview him three years ago for my own book, and one of my biggest takeaways from that conversation was how his ideas are firmly grounded in both reality and ethics. Few people know better than he does how business operates, and how it should operate.

Another reason is who Winston’s co-author is. Paul Polman served as Unilever’s CEO for 10 years, and in that time he became a green-business icon. He worked to embed sustainability in every aspect of the company, and along the way Unilever outperformed its competitors environmentally and economically. Just as my grandfather did with Interface, Polman proved the business case for sustainability with Unilever.

But the biggest reason I know it will be good is because in Net Positive, Polman and Winston are asking the most important question facing the world of business: Is the world better off because your business is in it?

Sit with that question for a moment. Do you see how simple, yet critical, it is? In the face of so many social and environmental challenges, our species is beginning to face a reckoning on planet Earth. We need businesses to lean in and solve those challenges, rather than hide behind the excuse of returning economic gain to shareholders. Only those who rise to the challenge of becoming net positive will retain their social license to operate.

It’s a heck of a topic to explore, and I know Net Positive will do a tremendous job of it. If you’re as intrigued as I am, go ahead and pre-order your own copy and read along with me.

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