Changemaker inspiration from Dr Seuss’ Lorax

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To tie in with its recent Lorax production, London’s Old Vic Theatre held a panel discussion on how entrepreneurialism and sustainability can co-exist. The panel of movers and shakers included renewables heavyweight Jeremy Leggett. But what can we learn from the Lorax? 

Dr Seuss’ Lorax, first a 1971 children’s book, then a movie, and more recently a production at London’s Old Vic theatre, has always had a clear call to action; it is a fervent warning that we must change our species’ approach to the planet which accommodates us. Long before ‘going green’ was mainstream, The Lorax spoke for the trees.

The Lorax is the story of a boy who wants to know why his town is ruined. The Once- ler tells the boy how the wise old Lorax tried to prevent him from destroying the land when he began to make Thneeds,‘a- fine-something-that-all-people-need’, out of the local ‘Truffula’ trees. The Once-ler explains to the boy that it was his own overproduction and disregard for the earth that caused the town to be ruined, forcing all the animals to leave and leading to the disappearance of the Lorax. Most importantly he gives the boy a seed to the very last Truffula tree and tells him what he can do to turn things around.

“I meant no harm. I most truly did not.”

Dr. Seuss personifies the excesses of business and industry through the character of the faceless Once-ler. Interestingly though, the Once-ler never set out to destroy the environment.

“I meant no harm. I most truly did not. But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got. I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads. I went right on biggering… selling more Thneeds. And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.” The Once-ler tries to excuse his environmental destruction by arguing that he was simply trying to make a living and grow his business. The Once- ler’s assumption that natural resources are inexhaustible is one that humanity has been mistakenly making since the industrial revolution.

The Once-ler is then, nothing more than a businessman of the traditional linear capitalist model. As changemakers, it is not for us to say that the Once-ler cannot go about his business – instead we must approach him with solutions-based strategies that steer him in the direction of positive business practices.

“I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

Speak for something you believe in, speak for those who don’t have a voice, and don’t become disheartened; ambitiously pursue the change you want to see. The Lorax’s tale will be one that is more than familiar with environmental groups and modern impactful businesses: He sounds the warning siren, but is ignored until it’s too late. The Once-ler constantly dismisses the arguments put forward by the Lorax and with each new effort the Lorax experiences nothing but belittlement. It is understandably easy to become disillusioned when we are consistently ignored. But just like the Lorax, as changemakers we must have strength in our convictions and belief in our arguments if we are to succeed in having a positive impact and protecting that which has no voice.

“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”

One of the resounding messages from the story is the importance of a long- term vision. The Lorax understood the threat that the Once-ler posed and had the foresight to see what the forest of Truffula trees would become without change. Within our businesses we too must have foresight and show long- termism. Short-term gains are often made at the expense of a negative social or environmental impact, while great business and leadership involves intention, clear goals and an enduring and purposeful direction.

“A tree falls the way it leans…be careful how you lean.”

When it comes to leadership, which way do you lean? What are the influences that guide your decision-making? As changemakers we must think long and hard about what we surround ourselves with and what decisions we make. The Lorax teaches us that it is beneficial to stop and take stock, and that change comes from cutting out negative influences and ‘leaning’ in a positive direction.

“Grow a forest,”

At the end of the tale, the Once-ler gives the boy the very last Truffula seed, encouraging him to plant it. “Grow a forest,” the Once-ler says. “Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.” The lesson here is obvious, it’s not too late for us to take action. It is not too late for us to plant a tree and then teach others how to ‘plant trees’. At the very heart of Dr Seuss’ story is the reminder that anyone can make a difference, and we are all essential to creating a greater, greener world. To be successful changemakers we must channel our inner Lorax; all we have to do is speak for the trees.

 

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Photo Credit: Doran from flickr.

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