Stranded Assets

Our stockpile of valuable assets offers opportunities—and lessons.

When I was introduced to the term a few years ago it was generally applied to resources that were the targets of the fossil fuel and mining industries; minerals, ore deposits, oil, coal and so on.  At the time, certain assets were losing value mostly due to tightening environmental regulations and, to some extent, the emergence of new technologies and forms of renewable energy.

If you have any past experience in the sustainability arena you are familiar with what used to be called the “three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle.  More recently a fourth leg has been added to that stool and it’s known as “repurpose.”  The idea is to find legitimate uses for products and resources that have become obsolete or have otherwise lost their original market value for one reason or another.   

We have all seen images of clever projects made from repurposed gym floors and bowling lanes, for example, but there is actually an almost endless list of items from structural steel to vinyl billboards to containers of every imaginable shape and size, plus thousands more we could name, that are just waiting for a person or company with the right needs, and a little imagination, to come along. 

It makes absolute sense. Why should perfectly good items all end up in landfills when they still have value? It makes financial sense, environmental sense and just plain common sense to extend the usable life of the things we need.


Of course, there is another “R” that we haven’t mentioned so far. It was most eloquently, though quite facetiously, suggested on a sign mounted on the back end of a tractor trailer rig zooming down the highway that read “Don’t Like Trucks? Stop Buying Things.” I have long advocated for the “R” that is found in “refuse,” but it’s hard to get much traction with that one in an economic system driven by continuous and unlimited growth. I suppose we’re once again ahead of our time with that idea.

But there is another collection of stranded assets that has been on my mind a lot lately.  The ones that seem to have lost the most value in recent times are not natural resources, nor consumer or commercial products, and they’re not available in stores or online.  They are embedded in guiding principles, the kind that our society was originally based on—or at least that is what we have been led to believe and still hope to be the case in spite of increasing evidence to the contrary.

Somewhere along the way we have apparently agreed to devalue things like honesty, integrity, generosity and empathy. The truth was the first casualty. We are constantly bombarded with misinformation, disinformation and outright lies to the point that it has become almost impossible to believe anything we’re told no matter who’s speaking.

Common courtesy, decency, unity, responsibility, duty. These were common assets that we traditionally held dear and treasured. All of those were once prominent in our lexicon but our shared vocabulary has veered in other directions. At a time when our society is constantly reeling from uncertainty resulting from partisanship, greed and the aims of special interests, it is struggling to regain its footing as we are instead confronted by a bankruptcy of leadership, at many levels.

Together we possess a tremendous stockpile of valuable assets. They were earned at too high a price and they cannot be taken from us unless we give them away. It is up to us to muster the courage that will refuse to leave them stranded.