George Mitchell didn’t set out to build a better city or redefine the American suburb. Having made some money in the energy business, he began buying real estate to diversify his interests. But he also became increasingly aware of social challenges, especially the decay of America’s largest cities in the 1960s, and he decided to do something about it.
“I made the decision [that] we can do a better job in developing our cities,” he said.
He’d met the inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller at the Aspen Institute in 1959 and later, the economist E.F. Schumacher. As I write in George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet. Schumacher’s views in particular influenced Mitchell’s evolving thinking about sustainability.
Schumacher … advocated earth- and user-friendly technology that corresponded to the scale of communal life. Schumacher’s rational approach to economics and his view that people should matter most in economic theory appealed to George’s own pragmatism.(Schumacher also predicted the rise of OPEC, which may have caught George’s attention as well.) Listening to Schumacher and others in Aspen rounded out his views. He became more convinced than ever that government and business should work together to
develop sustainable societies. At the same time, he worried that politicians and business leaders were too shortsighted.
Instead of worrying about the next quarter’s financial results, business leaders had the power to shape the world in areas beyond their expertise, such as education, poverty, crime, transportation, and globalization. It was a realization that would redirect the course of his life. He began to see the focus of business as narrow and self-serving. Too many executives worried too much about short-term financial gain rather than long-term solutions. “Corporate America has the resources, but 90 out of 100 of my counterparts could care less,” he said. “Most never even expose themselves to major problems.” The realization would underpin a philosophy that would define his pursuit of both fracking and sustainable development.
Ironically, the Business Roundtable recently redefined its mission statement to reflect some of these same ideas. Mitchell, however, had a 50-year head start.
George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet is available for order online and will arrive in bookstores Oct. 11.