Chaco Culture National Historic Park: A wonder and a warning
In a quiet, peaceful setting about 160 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico, is Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Formerly inhabited by the Anasazi (or “ancient ones,” as so named by the later arriving Navajos), the ruins at Chaco today are impressive enough for structures built 1,000 years ago. In its prime, Chaco boasted “condos” with as many as 800 rooms, and the Anasazi road structure fanned out from Chaco in multiple directions for hundreds of miles—evidence of which can be seen from space even today.
Chaco didn’t grow from fewer than 100 basket makers and farmers in the 5th century CE to thousands by the 11th century without astounding social, cultural, and technological inventions. The area around Chaco during the Anasazi era was never wet enough to support farming that relied heavily on water. But the Anasazi developed dry farming techniques and prospered as a civilization. A fairly wet year would be followed by a few dry years, but their ability to store food and harvest as much as possible during wet years carried them through the dry years.
What they didn’t factor in was a dry period that didn’t last a few years, didn’t last a decade or two, but a dry period that lasted 50 years. From 1130 to 1180 CE, so little rain fell that alluvial springs dried up, crops died before producing a harvest, and the Anasazi were exposed to severe environmental distress. In a little more than 50 years, Chaco was transformed from perhaps the most advanced aboriginal society in North America to an abandoned ruin.
It wasn’t as though the Anasazi were unskilled in the face of a challenging ecosystem. They had developed methods and techniques to overcome years of drought. What they couldn’t imagine and therefore did not plan for was the actual depletion of a critical resource— water—for 50 years. In human scale, 50 years is effectively forever for a resource as critical as water. Was there something they might have done differently had they known? Could they have maintained their civilization despite a 50-year drought if they had used different approaches? Or was it all inevitable?
We’ll probably never know. But the Anasazi, along with a number of other cultures documented by Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, are our endowment. They represent lessons learned the hard way, lessons our societies are increasingly paying attention to. And because companies are embedded in societies, they are increasingly subject to laws, regulations, and market forces that in essence represent concerns about societal survival and sustainability.
And as Jared Diamond describes in Collapse, human societies can, with the right governance structures, establish a sustainable relationship with the resources they rely upon. Japan’s Edo period (1603–1867) is one example of forest restoration and management— Japan is one of the few regions in the world that is more forested today than it was in 1500.
How did it happen? New policies that approved the private ownership of trees prompted individual villagers to plant trees, so they could sell the trees for income. Over time and with increasing participation, the practice evolved to the creation of forest plantations. The outcome was a cycle where the act of replenishing the forest was part and parcel of the act of consuming the forest for economic activity.
What does this all have to do with IT and emerging technologies—the usual target of the Technology Forecast? Our research indicates that companies are increasingly being measured in terms of the sustainability impact of the manufacturing, distribution, and use of their products and services, not just the consumer and financial value they create.
We find that the real opportunity for IT is to facilitate an informationdriven transformation of enterprise and value chain operations, so that sustainability considerations are embedded in ongoing operations. Sustainability is embedded when every part of the business makes decisions that intelligently weigh the economic, environmental, and social impacts on the long-term ability to sustain the business. This represents a major new enterprise domain for IT to help with information, data architectures, analytics and modeling, and support for innovation systems focused on making sustainability strategic.
This issue of the Technology Forecast explores how sustainability can become an integral part of doing business and contribute to corporate reputation and financial results. The first article, “Sustainability: Moving from compliance to leadership,” on page 06, examines sustainability as an embedded enterprise process, driven by metrics and the technology to collect and share them. The second article, “Closing the loop on sustainability information,” on page 32, looks at software available now to collect and distribute data to help employees make decisions that weigh the environmental, social, and economic impacts of operations. The third article, “The CIO’s next leadership opportunity: Sustainability,” on page 56, examines steps the IT executive can take to move the enterprise forward.
This issue also includes interviews with executives at enterprises that are leading the practice of embedding sustainability or creating the next generation of solutions necessary to do so:
At PwC, we embrace a broad definition of sustainability, which is aligned with our business strategy and embodies our commitment to be a responsible leader in the marketplace, with our people, for our communities, and to the environment.1
Please visit pwc.com/techforecast to find these articles and other issues of the Technology Forecast online. If you would like to receive future issues of this quarterly publication as a PDF attachment, you can sign up at pwc.com/techforecast/subscribe. As always, we welcome your feedback and your ideas for future research and analysis topics to cover.
1 Details about PwC’s efforts on sustainability are available at http://www.pwc.com/us/en/about-us/corporate-responsibility/index.jhtml