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Articles by Peter Madden

Peter Madden is the chief executive of Forum for the Future.

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Photo by Shutterstock.

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.

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  • 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 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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 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.