John D. Rockefeller. Andrew Carnegie. J. P. Morgan. Cornelius Vanderbilt. Henry Ford. These are the men who, at least according to a recent History Channel series, built America. Whether or not you agree with that statement, there is no question that these were exceptional men who were the dominant players during an exceptional time period in our history. Endowed with vision, drive, intelligence, self-confidence and mighty goals, this handful of men believed that they, and they alone, were destined to forge a radically new America by whatever means it took.
They were also ruthless, hard-nosed businessmen who believed in the free enterprise system, without government restrictions or regulations. A system that existed for their own benefit as they created mega-monopolies of railroads, steel mills, oil refineries, and electric companies, that in concert built 20th century America. In so doing, they made themselves the wealthiest and most powerful men in America. As such, they were endowed (or so they thought) with the right to crush their competition, exploit their employees (Henry Ford did break with this and paid his men more than the going rate), and to ignore the environmental damage caused by their activities.
A whole century has passed and we have entered a new millennium, facing a world that has changed. Emerging technologies, along with the industrial model of mass production created by these five titans, propelled us into an age of advancement and consumerism unlike any other in the history of the world. The few voices that were warning us of the consequences of this strange new world never had a chance against the mob mentality that the earth’s resources were unlimited.
Resource reality is setting in, and we are now aware that there are consequences to ignoring the effects that our lifestyle has on the environment. So where are the titans of today that can overcome the challenges that are before us? This is not a job for a few (no matter how powerful), it is a job for all of us. We are all responsible for what happens to the world around us.
There are an ever-increasing number of companies that are producing more and more products and services with the environment in mind. We have options at every turn, be it food, clothing, building products, cars, houses, transportation, and on and on. We make the choice, and the future will depend on which options we choose. How we spend our dollars will decide which products and companies succeed and which ones do not. We are the titans and we can create a sustainable world.