Believing Cassandra - An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World 
A Review by George Thabault

Hockey great Wayne Gretsky once described the secret of his goal-scoring exploits this way: "I don't go where the puck is; I go where it's going to be." 

Business consultant and trends researcher Alan AtKisson says business must think like Gretsky, and understand where the economy and society are headed if they are going to win in the 21st century. 

Where is business going, then? AtKisson says it's "toward sustainability," which he describes as "a source of hope that is also a business opportunity, a hot investment that is also intensely idealistic."

"To protect our planetary environment which is currently in deep crisis, we need to transform the way we do business without polarizing society or fomenting revolution," AtKisson, of New York City, says. 

Sustainability is the notion that the economy must be designed not to rob future generations of the ability to satisfy their material needs and to realize people's individual human potential.

In his new book, Believing Cassandra - An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World (Chelsea Green Publishing Co.), AtKisson makes the case for sustainability, highlights some firms moving quickly in that direction, and says that business and society must "accelerate to survive."

He says, "The world needs an enormous number of new innovators, change agents and transformers, all dedicated to turning development in the direction of sustainability. That certainly includes the managers and leaders of any company."

Companies that transform themselves by embracing "rapid diffusion of innovations, new ideas that can effectively and speedily replace the status quo with better approaches," will be in the best position to gain. 

The advice to "green up your company" is becoming much more common in business circles. In August, for example, Australian merchant banker Linley Edwards predicted that investing in cleaning up the environment is set to become more profitable than Internet stocks. 

But don't confuse environmentalism with sustainability, warns AtKisson. They are very different causes now, he says.

Environmentalism is often thought of as activism to protect Nature from the ravages of the economy. Sustainability is about redesigning the economy itself.

Other key points from AtKisson's book:

Sustainability requires business leaders to think long-term, to understand systems, to recognize limits, to protect nature, to practice fairness and to embrace creativity. The business mantra used to be "grow or die." From now on, it will be "get creative or collapse."

Thus, sustainability is hardly business-as-usual. "To call something sustainable doesn't make it so. Sustainability is business-as-unusual, but looked at correctly, it offers the biggest business opportunity since the invention of money."

Sustainability is not against economic growth. Society's challenge is to unchain the economy from the shackles of "growth by consumption and pollution" and set it to work on "development by learning, improving, rebuilding."

Sustainability is neither a religion nor an ideology. Embracing sustainability does not require a vow of poverty or a promise to shop only in second-hand stores. Sustainability, as a lifestyle choice or a business opportunity, is the most practical choice for solving some rather disquieting problems on planet Earth. 

Prominent companies are leading the way toward a new way of doing business, says AtKisson, including carpet giant Interface and Ikea of Sweden. Now it's time for others to learn and lead in their respective industries.
Believing Cassandra
- An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World
Chelsea Green Publishing Company
PO Box 428, White River Junction, 
Vermont USA 05001-0428, 1999.

Alan AtKisson is president of AtKisson & Associates, Inc., consultants to business and municipalities on sustainability issues. He is a Senior Fellow with the policy institute Redefining Progress in San Francisco, and a founding member of Sustainable Seattle. His book Believing Cassandra - An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World can be previewed at Alan can be reached directly at or 1-800-404-4208 (voice mail).

George Thabault is a freelance writer from Colchester, Vermont, a correspondent for the Burlington Free Press, and former communications director for The Center for a New American Dream of Takoma Park, Maryland, a non-profit organization. e-mail: or 802-654-7560.


Copyright 1999 by George Thabault. All rights reserved.

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