Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Peter Madden's Posts

Comments

Smile! You’re on constant camera: What does the end of privacy mean for green causes?

Photo by Shutterstock.

In the future, don't expect any privacy. Every move, every purchase, even every thought -- as personality profiling becomes more sophisticated -- will be observed, logged, and analyzed. Big Brother will certainly be watching us.

We might expect our shopping and showering behaviors to be tracked as part of our individual carbon budgets. As you drive around a city, your combined congestion and pollution charge could vary depending on which route you take, on the time of day, and on how much you add to local air pollution. Globally, important conservation sites might be guarded, not by fences or rangers, but by remote sensors and cameras, monitored by teams of volunteers on the other side of the planet.

On current trends, this surveillance society seems bound to happen. In some ways, it is already with us. The U.K. already has more CCTV cameras per capita than any European country -- an estimated 4 million in total -- and the government recently announced plans for radically increased internet surveillance in the Queen's Speech.

The cost of monitoring devices is tumbling, while the amount of data generated is exploding. Many of us carry location-aware devices around with us, leaving a digital trail of our movements. And nobody seems to care too much about the implications. While there was a fierce argument in the U.K. about the introduction of identity cards, most people seem happy to hand data about their daily lives to Google and Facebook, to transport authorities through travel cards like London's Oyster, or to retailers through loyalty schemes.

Given that more people want to catalogue the minutiae of their personal lives online -- that they actively want to be watched -- we may eventually see the disappearance of privacy as a concept …

What does this mean for sustainability? Will this monitoring capacity be used to improve stewardship of natural resources? Or to prompt more responsible lifestyle choices? Or will it result in a more passive population, for whom daily decisions are made by algorithms based on past personal preferences and current resource efficiency?

Comments

Six insights on the business trend toward sustainability

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 …

Comments

How do U.K. cities stack up in terms of sustainability?

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 …

Read more: Cities, Living

Comments

Envisioning possible green futures helps create a greener future

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 …

Comments

New book by Porritt argues that we need to reshape capitalism to deliver a sustainable future

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 …

Comments

Other enviro issues are getting less attention

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 …

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

How to talk about the future without depressing everyone

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 …

Read more: Uncategorized

Comments

A glimpse of environmental policies to come from Gordon Brown

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. …

Comments

Can a bag of potato chips point the way to saving the planet?

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 …

Comments

Happy birthday!

Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. "Sustainable development" is 20 years old this week. On April 27, 1987, after four years of deliberation, the World Commission on Environment and Development released its report. The inquiry -- also known as the Brundtland Commission -- was led by the prime minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland. I was at university then, and devoured the contents of the report, which was later published as the book Our Common Future. Here, at last, was someone tying together the …

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy