The Great Law of the Iroquois: Lessons in Sustainability from the Six Nations

A guest blog from Tom Goddard, current student of the MSc Environmental Technology at Imperial College London. 

In this consumerist world we have become addicted to instant gratification and satisfaction. Fast food, same day or next day delivery, online video streaming, contactless EPOS, mobile phone apps for dating and transport, online grocery shopping, all cater to our desires for short-term satisfaction. Aspiration for short-term gain extends into the business world. Returns on investments are demanded instantly; the ‘low hanging fruit’ are preferred. Long‐term capital investments in employee training, on‐site childcare, pollution controls, and pleasant working facilities are all negatives on the short‐term ledger. Decisions and choices in business and wider society are often made with eyes blinkered to the long-term impacts of our actions. Instant gratification limits our ability to act in a sustainable way.

What would happen if the blinkers were removed?

Seven generation stewardship is a concept that urges the current generation of humans to live and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. The concept originated with the Iroquois, a confederacy of six great Native American nations. The Great Law of the Iroquois holds appropriate to think seven generations ahead and decide whether the choices they make today, would benefit their children seven generations into the future. In the context of the Iroquois seven generation stewardship has broad and far reaching implications – however, where applied to business it has been used to promote social and environmental sustainability. The concept has found popular support with firms such as Patagonia.


Patagonia is a producer of outdoor clothing that is not only highly effective for skiers, climbers and the like but is also among the most stylish of its type. Patagonia’s mission statement typifies their commitment to sustainable business: ‘build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’. Founder Yvon Chouinard has instilled within the company a greater sense of self that goes beyond the traditional bottom line. Patagonia powers all activities using renewable energies, sources materials from local responsible suppliers, provides on-site childcare for employees, and imposes a voluntary ‘Earth Tax’ to fund actions that aim to protect and restore the environment. By implementing The Great Law of the Iroquois, Patagonia has found success in achieving a positive triple bottom line. As well as achieving environmental and social innovation/change Patagonia are also a highly profitable company. Perhaps more companies should take lessons from the Iroquois.


6heads believe that positive change happens when people meet and share ideas.  We’d like to invite you to join us on 20th November for an event to explore and co-create this theme – to see if together we can #unlocktheimpossible.

Places are limited – please do register here.


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