The Eco Commander and the CEO

Once upon a time off the Block Island coast, a boating accident occurred between the CEO of a Fortune 500 company known for the quality of its effluents and a rabid environmentalist. Whether by accident, design, or the fact that the younger man was more concerned about unfurling a huge banner denouncing the corporation than seamanship, the smaller skiff cut across the larger craft’s bow, and both men found themselves clinging to the same piece of driftwood, awaiting rescue by the Coast Guard, a chancy proposition at best.

They’d been arguing back and forth for 20 minutes now; it wasn’t the first time they’d tangled. A year earlier, the younger man had shown up wearing sackcloth and carrying a “SHAME!” placard at an annual stockholder’s meeting. The year before that, he’d chained himself to the board room credenza and had to be extricated by the fire department, an episode which severely eroded shareholder confidence in the CEO’s leadership abilities.

“This stunt takes the cake, you could have gotten us both killed,” sputtered the older man.

A veteran of 60’s-style confrontations, the shaggy environmentalist grinned. “So what? Just think of what your chemicals are doing to the speckled bass in the Hudson. It’s the same difference.”

“Like hell it is,” replied the CEO testily, “The chemicals we produce allow farmers to ?feed the masses’ more efficiently. Something wrong with that?”

“If we change the compound,” he went on, “and the farmers doesn’t get the same yields they’ll go elsewhere. We’re not in the business of making agricultural chemicals for fish.”

“Why would you? You don’t see the planet as a unitary being, a living entity,” retorted the younger man.

“Give it a rest already, I’m sick and tired of hearing all that mystical crap, and you should be too. You’re going to blame me because the people who use my chemicals don’t read the directions? That’s the truth, you know, we looked into it.”

“You shouldn’t be manufacturing them if you know how they’re going to be abused,” replied the Eco Raider.

“Touché,” but now that I have your undivided attention let me tell you something. I am not a child murderer, nor do I sit in my office like some misshapen gnome spinning out ways to purposely hurt “the earth”. My company is not the enemy; we couldn’t stay in business if our products were harmful to the majority of our customers, if there wasn’t such a demand for them.”

“So now you’re a victim?”

“No, those are your terms. Everything’s so clear when you’ve got nothing of your own at stake, when all you have to serve yourself and the Cause.”

“And what’s wrong with that?”

“Not a damn thing with The Cause, but everything with you.” The CEO’s foot deftly deflected a sodden arm chair and a rosette of aluminum beer cans.” This isn’t the sixties. What once was, no longer is. Do you think your message is effective because you’re all wearing natural fiber and beads? You think some dizzy broad with hair down to her all out, singing about whales is going to impact my shareholders?”

“Of course it wouldn’t impact them. It’s a movement of the young against the old.”

“Balls,” exploded the CEO,” you’re 42, and all you’ve got on your side are a bunch of college kids playing grownup and a lot of old hippies acting like kids. No one’s going to take any of you seriously until you get your collective act together.”

“The issues far outweigh our appearance,” replied the environmentalist as he kicked vigorously towards the shore, redoubling his efforts to beach their improvised raft.

“That may be fine for you, but the board and the share holders don’t give a wet fig about your rhetoric. The bottom line is that they have the power and you don’t, and until you figure out how to impress their consciousness using language and symbols they can understand, all your protests and street theater won’t amount to a hill of beans.”

The younger man, his limbs aching from the unaccustomed physical exercise, was tiring. ” For an old geek,” he observed,” you’re in pretty good shape.”

“Thanks, it’s the fruits of my executive fitness program, but getting back to the question here. No one’s going to listen to some bearded lunatic, no matter how inspired; if he’s backed up by a phalanx of lawyers in power ties and red suspenders, maybe,” replied the CEO as they made landfall and walked onto the beach.

“Thanks for the advice, Dad, I’ll be seeing you around.”

“I hope so, son,” replied the CEO as he walked up the dunes to his retreat.

Six months later, at the following year’s annual shareholder meeting, just as the CEO was about to introduce a new product line, three hunter killers from a top flight Boston-based law concern appeared and served him with an Injunction to cease and desist on the grounds that a proper environmental impact statement was never filed with the EPA. Over his bifocals, the CEO watched bemused as his son, now clean-shaven and wearing a well-cut three-piece tweed suit, distributed copies of the injunction to the astonished board members.

Moral: If the cause is just, maybe it’s not so bad to get a haircut.


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