May 25th, 2011
04:51 AM GMT
(CNN) – We all know that superheroes save the world, but maybe we need to reassess what they look like. Imagine a superhero wearing a suit - a business suit that is, rather than the caped variety.
At St James's Palace in London this week, Prince Charles gave an interesting and provocative speech as he received an honorary degree from London Business School. He is a champion of sustainable business, and practices what he preaches with his own line of food products. He is not the superhero in this story but he thinks business leaders could be our saviors.
His Royal Highness warns, rather gloomily, that the threat of environmental collapse risks causing an economic crash "which is far more dramatic and far harder to recover from than anything we have experienced over the past few years." He says we need to rethink the very economic model that Brits, and the West, take for granted.
Prince Charles points to current levels of consumption and growth: "Fewer than two billion people can live the way we do and fewer than six billion at the income levels such as in Brazil and China. And yet we fondly expect to be nine billion people by mid-century. Now I would suggest the sums don't add up. Capitalism depends on capital but our capital ultimately depends on the health of nature's capital and, whether we like it or not, the two are in fact inseparable."
His Royal Highness said it's not simply a question of business ethics and doing the right thing on so called green issues: "This is actually about the very survival of our economic system and all that it has done to promote wealth, development and comfort for so many millions of people for so many years."
He's not saying the west should ditch capitalism altogether but that capitalism needs to adapt. He wants the private sector to work with governments, NGOs and local communities and recognize its overriding responsibility for the maintenance of natural capital and not taking it for granted. The free market reigns supreme, says Prince Charles, and business needs to rise to the challenge. More than that he says the challenge can only be addressed by business.
To ecology and beyond! But is he right to say business needs to take the lead in saving us from environmental disaster?
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