The Business of Integrating Head and Heart

Question: Should businesses be responsible for promoting \r\nhealthy lifestyles?

Joel Makower: I think it’s the \r\nresponsibility of business to make products in a green way and make \r\nproducts that are perceived to be responsible both in terms of the \r\nproducts themselves and how the companies behind them operate.  \r\nCompanies can only go so far in terms of getting people to eat well, or \r\nexercise, or not abuse their bodies in any number of different ways and \r\nnot abuse the planet, as well.  But there’s a lot that companies can \r\ndo.  Companies have a tremendous communications cloud.  And a lot of \r\ncompanies I talk to say, "Well, customers aren’t demanding that.  We’re \r\nnot hearing that from the consumer."  Well, consumers buy lots of things\r\n they didn’t demand.  It’s things that we make available tot hem that we\r\n convince them that they want.  And so there’s an opportunity here to \r\nhelp promote a lifestyle that’s more environmentally responsible.  \r\nProbably healthier for families and communities as well. But they have \r\nto, as I said, be better products, or perceived to have some value \r\nbeyond that. 

People want to change without changing.  When it \r\ncomes to change, people love the noun, hate the verb.  Right?  So, it’s \r\nvery hard for people to really, you know, want to make dramatic changes \r\nin their life unless they see some specific improvement for themselves. \r\n

So the unfortunate part, but it is the reality, is that when it\r\n comes to "saving the planet" it’s really about, what’s in it for me?  \r\nMe first, and then the planet, so I’m not going to make the big change \r\nin my life.  I’m not going to switch brands, I’m not going to go out of \r\nmy way; pretty much I’m not going to pay any more for the privilege of \r\ndoing the right thing.  I have to get something out of that.  And maybe \r\nit’s just pride, it maybe that people just do that, maybe it’s a badge \r\nof honor, maybe it’s just self-satisfaction.  But in more cases than \r\nnot, it has to be some financial or performance or other kind of \r\nbenefit. 

So I think to the extent that companies can help us \r\nunderstand what those benefits are and can, in fact, design products and\r\n services that aren’t just greener, but better, there will be \r\nopportunities here. 

One of the other realities is that \r\ncompanies aren’t very good at storytelling around this stuff.  Companies\r\n are really good at storytelling in general, but when it comes to the \r\nenvironment, storytelling takes on a particularly important part of \r\nthis. When you think about what we’re talking about here.  On one hand \r\nwe’re talking about incredible complex, geeky, scientific, technical \r\nissues about which even the experts don’t always agree.  And on the \r\nother hand, we’re talking about our bodies and our families and our kids\r\n and our community and our future and our planet.  So, it’s head and \r\nheart.  Right?  And if you ever spent any time talking to anyone about \r\nthis, you know, that if you go one millimeter too far in either \r\ndirection you lose your audience.  You’re either too over-you-head, I \r\ndon’t know what you’re talking about.  This is too complex for me. Or \r\nyou’re too sort of California woo-woo around this and you lose your \r\naudience in either case. 

And so storytelling is how we \r\nintegrate head and heart.  It’s how we take complex things and make them\r\n accessible, and companies haven’t done a very good job of doing that.  \r\nYou know, there’s this line that’s just, you know... if I just say \r\nKermit, you’ll know exactly what the line is.  "It’s not easy being \r\ngreen," is the song lyric that Kermit sang.  You know how long ago that \r\nwas?  Forty-one years ago, in 1969.  It’s older than Earth Day.  And \r\nthat still represent the state of the art of green marketing. 

I\r\n get press releases every day, come-ons, pitches, advertising slicks, \r\nall kinds of things from copywriters, advertising agencies, PR firms, \r\nand the like.  And I know that the person... they contain that Kermit \r\nline and some version of it, "It isn’t that easy"—and I know the \r\ncopywriter that wrote that thinks the she or he is the most clever \r\nperson for having come up with that.  And the fact is, it’s tired, it’s \r\nhackneyed, and it’s not even true.  It’s not that easy being green.  It \r\nactually takes some work.  So we need to find better ways to communicate\r\n and tell those stories.

What’s a \r\nbetter way to tell these stories?

Joel Makower: You \r\nknow, in the 1990's, during the dot-com boom of the late '90s, there was\r\n this, this axiom that "content is king."  That those companies that had\r\n content would be the ones that ruled the universe in the new connected \r\ndigital internet world.  And a lot of those companies, most of them went\r\n away.  And it turns out that it wasn’t content that was king, it was \r\ncontext.  Context is king.  And if you look at the companies that \r\nsurvived, the eBays and Googles and Yahoos, and others, those are the \r\nones that... Craig’s List, and those are the firms that made sense in \r\nall that massive information out there that give it some kind of \r\ncontext.  Some ability to organize and find things and have things \r\nelevate to... things that are the most important of all and relative to \r\nyour interests or relative to your friends.  And so context is what's \r\nmissing here in terms of company storytelling.  They want to know that \r\nsomething is good or better for the environment.  They want to know the \r\ncontext.  Because if you say this is green and don’t know if you should \r\nbuy it, well how green, or is it really green, or how is it... is it the\r\n only issue that product as.  Is the company trying to say you're green \r\nas a result of that? 

So I think people want to know that you \r\nunderstand as a company, what your environmental issues are.  They want \r\nto know that you know your problems, that you’ve done your homework.  \r\nAnd then they want to know that you’re on the case; that you’re doing \r\nsomething about that, that you’ve got some plan and some kind of \r\ncommitment. And that you have some... and that you’re talking about this\r\n openly and authentically and not just waving your arms and quoting \r\nKermit and saying, hey aren't we green.  But actually putting it into \r\ncontext and giving it some, some sense of this is what we’re doing right\r\n now, but this is part of a journey that we’re on.  This is a part of a \r\nlong-term proposition.  We’re not claiming that by doing this that we’re\r\n a green company. 

I think that people who... the companies that\r\n can demonstrate that they understand their problems from an \r\nenvironmental perspective, have a plan in place to do something about \r\nit—even if it’s long-term and imperfect and never gets them to be \r\nperfectly good, which no company really ever will be—and are talking \r\nabout that openly and authentically will be in... will have laid a \r\nfoundation for being able to make specific environmental claims and put \r\nout environmental products and talk about environmental issues in a \r\ncredible way and even to innovate and fail and still land on their feet \r\nand not be charged as green washers, or as phonies, or just ignored.  \r\nAnd I think that companies don’t lay that foundation, they don’t create \r\nthat context that the need in order to make that specific environmental \r\nclaims. 

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica \r\nLiebman

Companies need to get better at explaining the benefits of their sustainable products.

Scientists discover how to trap mysterious dark matter

A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
  • Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
  • The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less