OK, a weird title but over the weekend I saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The whole film is seeped with a sense of 70s stagnation. And I thought: isn’t that how people in the future will think of the 2010s? And, won’t the emotional story that underpins how we engage people on sustainability – business leaders, investors, customers, policy wonks and so on – have to speak to that?
Having the right emotional hook is important. In 2004 Adam Werbach declared that “Environmentalism is dead in no small part because it could never match the right's power to narrate a compelling vision of America's future”. Forum for the Future was founded 15 years ago on having a positive view of what can be done (Werbach is a little parochial). Nevertheless, we have a constant struggle to express optimism while also showing what happens if the world fails to act.
Right now, in the developed world we face a decade of low growth and austerity, after a decade of wilfully-blind optimism – very similar to the stagflation 70s following the flower power 60s. And a time of unspoken dread. In the 70s, the unspoken dread of nuclear holocaust; now, the unspoken dread of climate chaos and more. The emotional hook which we use as change agents for sustainability will need to land – at least in developed economies – with this sense of stasis. The past had successes and the only thing certain about the future is relative failure compared to the thrusting youth of emerging nations.
Back to Tinker, Tailor, what happened next? President Regan had the most successful emotional narrative in recent political history – “It's morning in America”. He brought optimism, and renewal (and the rise of financial markets over the real economy but that’s a whole other story). The sustainability movement will need something similar: acknowledging the difficulties we’re in (that is, the need to renew), but concentrating on the prouder, stronger, better future to come – if we act for a sustainable future.
By the way, if you want to help Forum find that emotional hook, apply for Head of Communications and Marketing (by 9am Wed 12 October 2012). It is a rare opportunity to use marketing skills explicitly for significant change.