Is privacy passe? And what does a surveillance society mean for green causes?
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. Forum for the Future recently asked a selection of top business and branding folk to give us the lowdown on the recent trend toward sustainable business. The gurus included Rita Clifton of Interbrand, Stuart Hart of Cornell University, William Kramer of the World Resources Institute, and Jonathon Porritt of Forum for the Future. I have distilled their wisdom into six insights. 1. A real sea change is underway. Looking at the current trends and recent announcements, there are signs of real progress and positive signals of change. In an arena that was once confined to the Body Shop and hippies, we're now seeing a major shift in more mainstream businesses. In the U.K., Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Topshop are all in on the act. 2. Progress is partial. Despite the advances, the size of the challenges we face in building a sustainable future means there is still a long way to go. Even the more progressive strategies, such as General Electric's "Ecomagination," do not fully acknowledge -- or live up to -- the scale of change required. Fundamental questions regarding unsustainable business models need to be addressed before strategies can be fully credible. 3. Business is in the driving seat, not consumers. Although consumer interest is increasing, it's not yet strong enough to drive these trends on its own or make up the entire business case. Business strategy can't completely rely on consumer insight or market research. Bold action and leadership is needed from business to drive this change through to the consumer.
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. Every year more and more people live in cities. Globally, we became a majority urban world for the first time last year, while here in the U.K., nine out of 10 of us live in towns and cities. Cities are clearly important for sustainability. Although the romantic green notion of us all living on small holdings with a goat, a vineyard, and a vegetable patch is seductive, the future is much more likely to be dominated by megacities such as Mumbai, Shanghai, and Sao Paulo. We will have to learn to make such cities liveable and sustainable. Concentrating people in urban centers does make it easier to provide some social and environmental services. But the big cities also have a huge environmental footprint. London, for example, has an ecological footprint 293 times its geographical area. Cities are also important as centres of dynamism. They are where social, cultural, and economic innovation and change happens. Yet despite the undoubted importance of cities, most of the environment movement in the U.K. is still predominantly rural- and wildlife-oriented. They defend and protect stuff most ordinary people will never see. The greens haven't been very good at doing green cities. Our big cities, on the other hand, haven't done a very good job of being sustainable either. Lots of our leading cities are making green claims. Manchester is determined to become "the Greenest City in Britain by 2010," Leicester calls itself "the environment city," Bristol wants to become a "Green Capital," and London is aiming for nothing less than the status of "most sustainable city in the world." But behind such claims there is very little objective measurement of what it means to be sustainable. We certainly don't have anywhere that really stands out as an example of overall good practice. So, we at Forum for the Future decided to get stuck into the debate on sustainable urbanism. We researched and published a table ranking our 20 biggest cities.
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. There has been much discussion lately of the need to turn the green agenda from a negative to a positive one. I think that an important part of this is developing some more positive visions of what living in a sustainable future might be like. My organization, Forum for the Future, has set itself this task. Partly because we think the green movement needs more credible and aspirational stories of the future if we are to take people with us. And partly because we become the future that we imagine -- it is to an extent a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, we are trying to take different parts of the future and imagine what they might look like. We now have a series of projects looking at different aspects of future living. Our recent report, "Low Carbon Living 2022," asks how might our lives be better if we get the response to climate change right. A low-carbon Britain doesn't have to mean cutbacks and sacrifice. Low Carbon Living 2022 looks forward 15 years and shows ways in which a low-carbon future could deliver: stronger communities, a cleaner local environment, more money, better transport, a healthier lifestyle, and a thriving economy.
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. ----- We have just published the American paperback version of Capitalism As If the World Matters. The book is written by Jonathon Porritt, one of the foremost environmentalists of his generation and cofounder of my organization, Forum for the Future. The foreword is by Amory Lovins. As well as working with us, Jonathon is chair of the U.K. Government's Sustainable Development Commission. Previously, he was director of Friends of the Earth. In the book, he tackles the most pressing question of the 21st century: Can capitalism, as the dominant economic system, be reshaped to deliver a sustainable future? He argues that it can be and it must be. He then lays out the framework for a more "sustainable capitalism." At the heart of the book are two theses: that capitalism is basically the only game in town, with the vast majority of the world's people content for it to remain so for the foreseeable future; and that learning to live sustainably on the planet is a non-negotiable imperative.
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. Are we too obsessed by climate change? Over here, climate change is coming to completely dominate the sustainability agenda. This is true in politics, business, the media, and civil society. I was talking to our new secretary of state for the environment, Hilary Benn, the other day, about his department's strategy. He argued that all the other issues -- such as air quality, waste, water, and so on -- could all be dealt with under the climate change umbrella; government action on climate change would deliver for the other issues, and vice versa. When we talk to companies or public authorities, it is the same. All they want is advice on going low-carbon. And since this is where the money and political attention are going, the NGO activity seems to follow, reinforcing the trend. Of course, this is a good thing in many ways. Climate change is the major challenge we face. Sir David King, the U.K. Government's chief scientific advisor, was right when he reminded his government colleagues that "climate change is a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism." For those of us who want to see green thinking integrated into other areas of life, climate change works well. It can't be thought of as peripheral. It will affect everything, including how we run the economy and how we live our lives.
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. We have a problem, we greens. It has to do with the way that we talk about the future. We do need to have a more plausible account of what the kind of world we are recommending would be like. However, our main narrative about the future talks of apocalypse and doom and gloom: the earth is dying; species are disappearing; the planet is overheating. If people want to do something about it, too often they're told they'll have to lead a life of sacrifice and constraint. And if they won't, we'll guilt-trip and scare them 'til they repent. And even if they do as we say, they also worry that it probably won't make much difference anyway because the Chinese, Indians, and North Americans are all busy ignoring the issues.
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. Britain has a new prime minister. After leading the country for 10 years, Tony Blair has stepped down. Gordon Brown, Blair's number two for the past decade, takes up the reins. Brown is viewed as solid and dependable, if a little dour. He is slightly to the left of Blair on most issues, though he has also pushed through a lot of business-friendly policies. Gordon Brown is notoriously difficult to read; he gives very little of himself away. So what can we expect on the environment from a Brown premiership?
Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. Can a bag of potato chips point the way to saving the planet? In the U.K., we have started down the path of putting "carbon labels" on products. Tesco, our biggest supermarket chain, has said they will label every product they sell. The Carbon Trust, a government agency, has already produced a prototype label and is trying it out on shampoo, a fruit juice, and a bag of potato chips. Clearly we do need to measure and manage carbon. A lot has been done to calculate and reduce the direct climate impacts of companies. Now attention is shifting to the wider climate-change footprint; businesses are looking up and down the supply chain. Labeling is a great idea in principle. We have seen labels like fair-trade, organic, energy-rating, and marine stewardship engage consumers, change production, and move markets. And on climate change, consumers tell us they want simple, straightforward choices that are guaranteed to make a difference.