Visionary Science, Ethics, Law and Action in the Public Interest

The Grandchildren Standard

By Nancy Myers

I’m an expectant grandmother. I feel the joy of this  in my heart region, just about six inches above where I feel the pain of the ongoing hemorrhage of oil into the Gulf. Heart joy vs. sick feeling in the pit of the stomach. Contradictory but related.

Warren Levy puts these together in an essay for CSRWire, a publication on corporate social responsibility, titled “We Need a Grandchildren Standard.”

“Sustainability requires changing business and political decision-making to the ‘grandchildren’ standard from today’s pervasive ‘no tomorrow’ standard,” he writes. “BP and Goldman Sachs epitomize ‘no tomorrow’ thinking. When it counted most, key actors in BP and Goldman Sachs optimized for immediate return, putting local and global economies and their firms at risk.”

The “Grandchildren” standard asks, “What would we do if grandchildren were our principal stakeholders?”  Levy points out that most investors want sustained returns, labor wants secure jobs, and customers prefer continuous competition not only in price but also in quality. The Grandchildren standard, like the No Tomorrow standard, seeks to optimize a company’s performance—but over a longer timeframe. Time is the principal variable.

I’ve been calling this the long-term bottom line. I wrote about it a while ago in an essay on the economy of wisdom, “The Owl Economy”:

The owl economy would be green, fair, and diversified. It would emphasize the long-term bottom line—prosperity now that can be carried into the future. It would measure wealth by the wellbeing of communities as well as individuals. It would grow social and natural capital as well as material capital. It would be grounded in the biological reality of a generous but limited planet. It would protect, restore, and enrich the commons—air, water, soil, wildlife, and lands, and the shared wealth of human knowledge, cooperation, and infrastructure. Its goals would be to create jobs and beauty.

This vision seemed wildly idealistic when i sketched it out four years ago. But suddenly, with the oil gushing into the Gulf as my grandbaby heads down toward the birth canal, the Owl Economy and the Grandchildren Standard look wildly practical—and urgent.


  1. molly arthur says:

    Dear Nancy,

    Thank you so much for guiding me to your blog. I have found that becoming a grandmother is terribly emotional and I am not sure if it is having to do with my EcoBirth consciousness or the reality that I am no longer the central mother in our family drama. So not only do I have a new role, but my family has changed around me. And I feel an anxiety about wanting to get to know them as individuals, now they are just sleeping and eating and I cannot relate to them as themselves yet. There seems to be a overlarge sense of anticipation and waiting and holding space for them. And I am tired too!
    You are so right on about a grandchildren standard and I will love to use this in my work, thank you again for your mentorship. Love, Molly

  2. Sylvia says:

    Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for your essay on the grandchildren standard and the oil spill. It pains me to watch the news on the oil spill and to see neighbors in the Gulf experience such devastation. But then, there are grandchildren to make me smile. While they are oblivious to the pain and the hurt in the world, I pray that others are making informed and caring decisions for the present and the future.