So, five days before the US presidential election and finally...finally...someone (a sometime Republican no less) has dared mention climate change. On Thursday the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, endorsed President Barack Obama for re-election and cited Mitt Romney's stance on climate change as one of the reasons.
Here in New York we're not quite at the epicentre of the hurricane damage, but we're near enough for our liking. The building that Forum works from is closed due to lack of power, meaning we're all working from home – going stir crazy but mainly productive. Friends in New Jersey - where the hurricane hit - have it worse: they’re on their fifth day without power and trying to keep kids warm, entertained and fed, with the schools closed. My friend did an hour's work today from the car, laptop on the steering wheel while she charged her phone in the cigarette lighter.
Do you pretty much ‘get’ sustainability, but still struggle to know what the implications are for your business, and how to make it part of normal business planning? You’re far from alone. If you’ve followed our work with the Technology Strategy Board and Aviva, you’ll be familiar with the Sustainable Economy Framework (SEF for short) – a tool that sets out planetary boundaries and social conditions for a sustainable economy.
‘Ignore bankers; engineers can solve problems.’ So said Keith Clarke, ex-Chief Exec of Atkins, speaking at our Engineers of the 21st Century (E21C) event last week. He stressed that engineers shouldn’t rely on financial engineering, nor on carbon trading to mature, but simply to start solving problems now. It was a fitting message to deliver at our event, which showcased three projects attempting to solve some tricky problems.
One evening last week, I donned my ‘little black dress’ and made my way to a glamorous environmental awards ceremony. Walking through the doors to the event, little did I know I’d entered a very different world of ‘environmentalism’ to the one I’m immersed in every day at Forum for the Future. After watching some, frankly, underwhelming case studies of projects that received awards (more a ‘90s approach to CSR than inspiring innovations for the future), we then moved into The Land Sustainability Forgot.
Much fuss was made of the fact that the contemporary dance duo who performed for us had been flown in especially for the occasion. As had the guest speaker. And multiple award winners. And the awards patron.
In a single week I have been discussing community energy at the White House with members of President Obama’s administration (more on that in a week or so – watch this space…) and in Westminster with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey MP. Please note however, that this says more about the rise of community energy up the political agenda, than it does about the spread of my own political influence…
It is amazing how much sustainable innovation is going on in India. We saw just a small segment of it when we hosted a CEO roundtable in Delhi last week.
For the formal kick off of our India: Innovation Nation project with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), we gathered 20 Country CEOs and Chairmen round an August board table to discuss innovation for sustainability. Dr Pachauri, TERI’s Director General, started with a quote from Ghandi himself: “The world is enough for everybody’s needs but not everybody’s greed.” Rousing words for business to respond to the earth’s challenges. Jonathon Porritt followed, stressing the need for the innovation pipeline to mature faster and scale to respond to the inevitable convergence of food, energy and water stresses.
Once upon a time, a group of people got together and decided to change the world…
You’ve probably heard a few stories that start like this. But I bet they didn’t involve a building society.
In 1981 at a Green Party conference, a member complained of the difficulty he had in finding a mortgage to renovate a derelict house. Someone asked 'Why don't we start a building society?' and Ecology was formed. Ten people clubbed together, put in £500 each, and started something special. Where the conventional lenders saw risk, Ecology saw the potential for environmental gain.
We’ve seen the decouplers, those businesses who are making great strides in growing their business, but not their environmental footprint. There are then the zero-noughts, a term coined by John Elkington for those businesses who are going for zero - zero waste, zero carbon and so on. In other words, no net impact. And then, pushing the bar even higher, there are the net positives [see 'The new adventurers of the business world' by Dax Lovegrove]. This is currently a very exclusive group, with Interface probably being the longest standing member. This group is characterised by a stated, public desire to be a restorative business. Today, in publicly launching Net Positive, the multinational home improvement retailer Kingfisher plc swells the ranks of the restorative sustainability pioneers.
So here I am, writing this on a flight out to join Forum for the Future colleagues in New York (I know, I know…), pondering, as always, how to manage the advocacy challenge that lies ahead.
I’m leaving on the day the British media went into overdrive on the latest data from the Arctic on the extent of melting in the summer sea ice. Superlatives abound: ‘worst ever’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘no known comparison in at least three million years’ etc. But the thing that really grabbed me in all the coverage was the personal testimony of some of the scientists involved: shocked, horrified and astonished as they clearly are at the prospect of an ice-free summer Arctic by 2030 – decades earlier than the same scientists were predicting just a few years ago.
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