An Inspiring New Grand Strategy for America’s Future

In November, several of our Natural Investments team attended the Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing in Colorado. In the wake of the Trump’s victory, many of us felt initially devastated and depressed but we quickly found ourselves galvanized and inspired by each other and the recognition that our work as social and environmental activists will be all the more important in the coming years. One of the most inspiring presentations at the conference was a talk given by the authors of The New Grand Strategy—a powerful economic and investment plan for America’s future that identifies sustainability as the organizing logic for the nation. Remarkably, this vision came out of the Pentagon and is expected to be an important influence on America’s future under the Trump administration and beyond.

The story of the New Grand Strategy began in 2008, when Admiral Eric Olson, the Commander of U.S. Special Operations, was frustrated that the military was engaged in seemingly endless wars. The U.S. first crafted a so-called Grand Strategy during World War II, with fascism being identified as the primary global threat; it was adapted later in response to the Russia and the rise of communism. Olson recognized that the old Grand Strategy was no longer working to America’s advantage and wanting to get U.S. soldiers “out from under the sound of the guns”, he directed Colonel Mark “Puck” Mckleby and Navy Captain Wayne Porter to develop a proposal or “narrative” for a fresh guiding strategy for US global operations.

Through their lens as military officers it was clear that national security is no longer simply about threats from other countries and maintaining our primacy over these threatening forces via force and power. They realized that the world actually operates more as an ecology in an open system, and that the “big wicked problem” of our times is the widespread lack of sustainability within that system.

Theirs was a purely pragmatic understanding that many of the global conflicts today are centered on resources and that widespread food insecurity, economic disruption, mass human migrations, and regional wars are likely to occur as ecological systems continue to degrade. In their assessment, diversity and resilience are what define national security in the 21st century; it would be a disaster for America’s future to spend all our effort enforcing global security based on 20th century challenges. Their proposal outlines a strategy that integrates prosperity and security, aiming to ensure American global leadership in the 21st century world by focusing on smart growth at home.

The officers quickly discovered that using the word sustainability in the Pentagon was, as Mykleby put it, like dropping the f-bomb in church, and yet they got traction. Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supported their narrative and helped get it in front of the Obama Administration in December of 2012, which responded positively. They were told to flesh out their insights with implementation strategies, and prepare it for presentation to the next incoming administration. Trump’s! We can only hope that the Donald’s penchant for trusting generals might open his mind to this important and timely big-picture viewpoint that emerged from the Pentagon.

The New Grand Strategy is now ready to roll, and its themes are familiar to all of us. It starts by addressing four key realms needing dedicated attention: economic inclusion in the rapidly growing global middle class, resource depletion as rising global standards of living double or triple our resource consumption, the current lack of resilience of today’s economic and social structures in the face of inevitable stresses and shocks, and the insidious effects of today’s contained economic depression that is in part a result of clinging to an outdated set of economic priorities instead of focusing on the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.

The authors recommend that the US focus its efforts on pioneering more sustainable, resilient systems, and the areas they emphasize are once again music to my ears: Walkable Communities, Regenerative Agriculture, and Resource Efficiency. These core needs represent over $1Trillion of economic opportunity and can be the driver for US smart growth going forward. The New Grand Strategy places business aligned with sustainable goals and practices as the driving force to activate the country’s economic engine. Multiple sectors of the economy—transportation, food and farming, energy, retail and materials—need new business models that will meet the sustainability, regenerative, and resiliency imperatives for America’s future.

The sustainable business and investment community is well poised to lead these changes. The New Grand Strategy offers a hopeful path forward for the US to shift from a position of control and never-ending struggle for dominance, toward becoming a credible global leader by demonstrating sustainable prosperity.

The full conference presentation can be viewed at

This article first appeared in the Winter 201y edition of the Natural Investment News


Malaika Maphalala

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