Here is the first page of Chapter 4 from (the current draft of) the manuscript for my upcoming book, Applying Systems Thinking to Business Practices for Sustainability. I’d love your feedback (and I’ll take suggestions for revising the title, too!!):
As with most terms, commerce has a variety of definitions. From the individual to the multi-national, and from the sharing of ideas and opinions and, of course, goods and services, commerce denotes and exchange of something between parties. Commerce is usually considered as a process in which a means is utilized to achieve an end such as enriching oneself, one’s company or state through trade. Examining commerce more closely, though, much of its benefit occurs during the process rather than as a result of it. There is often engaging and broadening social interaction between individuals and groups during an exchange. The buyer gets satisfaction from getting a need filled and the seller experiences the same in filling that need through recognition of the value of what is sold or exchanged.
Beyond this, though, commerce can be viewed through a wider systemic lens. Although we may think of commerce as a uniquely human activity, exchange is the most fundamental of activities within any living system. Even single celled organisms exchange gases for the purposes of respiration, trading the carbon dioxide their metabolism produces for oxygen in the air that passes through their membranes, their sub-cellular structures break down carbohydrates and fats for needed energy.
Economic commerce, then, is the reflection of a much larger system within which it operates. Materials are extracted, processed, converted, and exchanged. In the larger system, one entity’s waste is another’s resource. Existence is assured only if certain conditions are met. The materials to be extracted must continue to be available, and without more labor than the entity can afford to exert. The processing function must operate adequately and in concert with the entity’s purpose. There must be entities with which/whom to exchange all byproducts, and these entities must be viable enough to accept the exchange. The ecosystem of the entity must be stable enough to support its function, and the functions of its exchanging entities over time.
From an environmental perspective, these ecosystems have developed over hundreds of thousands of years, producing a wide variety entities that allows the ecosystem to attain a dynamic equilibrium. Gradual change, over thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, allows individual species time to adjust, if conditions support enough of them to maintain a viable population. Sudden change puts intense pressure on ecosystems to adapt or die. Such rapid change may result in conditions that allow some entities to prosper while others wither and disappear if they cannot adapt, but there is always an interdependence of entities upon one another. Just as an ecosystem cannot survive if there are too few adequately functioning entities to allow it to survive, a business must have:
• adequate, appropriate, and affordable materials
• willing and able suppliers
• effective processes
• a productive and healthy labor force
• customers who want and can afford their products
• viable channels through which to reach their customers for communications and distribution
• vendors or processes to accept or convert waste and by-products