Forward Thinking Blog
Move FORWARD: explore the issues. Learn about the latest in innovation, design, and philosophy here. From high-tech possibilities, to no-tech solutions, to exciting new ways of living… we’ve the bases covered. Got a topic you would like to see explored? Get in touch with us and send the details. And of course, feel free to leave us your thoughts.
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"Right now, in the Arab world, it has been suggested that hikes in food prices have encouraged populations to challenge their regimes, to date leading to two changes of governments and widespread unrest in other countries. If it is true that food price hikes provided the spark for the demonstrations, and if changes in the climate have had a role in those food price rises, wouldn’t that make recent events the Middle East a case of “good” climate change destabilisation?"
Rachel Godfrey Wood via The Guardian
We've been toying around (again!) with drivers for consumerism, and delving (again!) into the subject of happiness. What we're starting to see the outline of-- in a very rough theoretical way-- is that at the crux of it, people seek happy experiences. Buying something can deliver that, perhaps in a short-term way. But it isn't necessarily the object bought that makes the person happy. The experience of buying something new, perhaps the packaging, or who the person went shopping with all have an impact.
What we're driving towards was neatly described on the Bobulate blog by designer and educator Liz Danzico: "Investing in experiences over objects amplifies happiness. Money, as it turns out, can’t buy happiness."
She gives mention of Walmart actively offering "staycation" products as a complete package in their stores after the onset of the economic downturn. Clever idea to sell more stuff, but we're wondering if the same idea can be applied with product-as-service models that are starting to emerge.
Take a big company like Interface for example. In many parts of the world, their products are more of a service: the company still "owns" the carpet tiles, they merely lease them to the user for a set period of time, at the end of which the worn tile can be reclaimed and recycled, and the user gets a new tile for a new set period. Big generalization of a complex process, but you get the idea.
Well, what if every product were viewed as not just a service (which we think is a good step), but also an experience, aimed at providing maximum happiness? What if the whole experience of this service were carefully managed and delivered to provide an end user not only a good feeling, but also take into account product life-cycle and supply chain issues, maximizing the business' positive impact on the communities it operates in, etc.? Could the whole value-chain be maximised for a positive "happy" experience? How could brands create and capitalise on this feel-good factor as a key point of differentiation?
Especially if you go to market with such a strategy at a time when many consumers are depressed and looking to improve their disposition, wouldn't such an approach make some great business sense-- in addition to making the world a better place if the right considerations were met (e.g. social outputs, sustainable supply chain, good company governance, etc.)?
More from Jem Bendell:
"...Economic fairness, about the ethics of the use of power, and we will see increasing cynicism about how business behaves, and a growing spirit of critique. Consequently, there will be more calls for corporate accountability, and a clearer understanding that a responsible business is one that seeks more systematic transparency and accountability from business as a whole. We will also see ISO26000 becoming referenced as the definition of CSR, for good or ill. The implications of Web2.0 for business-society relations will unfold further, with particular implications for fashion brands. We will begin to realise that these new communications tools mean that everything in commerce has an alternative. Even the currencies we use."
... and other interesting trends/musings on a similar thread here.
"Most companies try to be innovative, but the enemy of innovation is the mandate to “prove it.” You cannot prove a new idea in advance…" - Roger Martin, Dean of Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
A very true quote indeed. You might find the rest of this (slightly older, yet very relevant) article useful. Written by Jem Bendell and Ian Doyle, it explores Design Thinking and how it might be applied to CSR and responsible business. Useful in definining not only the trend and how it can be applied, but also some of the typical pitfalls an organisation can face when embracing a creative process like Design Thinking.
"How long can we go on and safely pretend that the environment is not the economy, is not health, is not the prerequisite to development, is not recreation? Is it realistic to see ourselves as managers of an entity out there called the environment, extraneous to us, an alternative to the economy, too expensive a value to protect in difficult economic times? When we organize ourselves starting from this premise, we do so with dangerous consequences to our economy, health, and industrial growth.
We are now just beginning to realize that we must find an alternative to our ingrained behaviour of burdening future generations resulting from our misplaced belief that there is a choice between economy and the environment. That choice, in the long term, turns out to be an illusion with awesome consequences for humanity."
Member of Parliament, House of Commons
WCED Public Hearing
Ottawa, 26-27 May 1986
There's a fascinating article over on Earth Policy Institute detailing significant trends in carbon emissions. Definitely worth a read. Among the most shocking bits in the piece:
"The carbon dioxide that is not absorbed by these natural sinks remains in the atmosphere, where it traps heat. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which stood between 260 and 285 parts per million (ppm) from the beginning of agriculture until the Industrial Revolution, has risen rapidly in the last two-and-a-half centuries, to over 387 ppm today. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high was roughly 15 million years ago, when sea level was 25–40 meters (80–130 feet) higher and global temperatures were 3–6 degrees Celsius (5–11 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer." [emph FT]
Shocking to think about... consider that natural systems are going to face some dramatic changes in the years ahead. How would such a sea rise or temperature shift affect the area where you live?
Over on Orion Magazine, Eric Zency gives some thought provoking discussion to our favourite "S" word, sustainability. Noting both its potentials and drawbacks, he gives 18 points for consideration... it's a damn good read. Our favourite? Number 5:
"ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY describes the point at which a less-developed economy no longer needs infusions of capital or aid in order to generate wealth. This definition is misleading: for many of those who use it (including traditional economists and many economic aid agencies), “economic sustainability” means “sustainable within the general industrial program of using fossil fuels to generate wealth and produce economic growth,” a program that is, of course, not sustainable."
“How dare they claim the right to block the sun? To colour the clouds? To change the chemistry of the ocean? Look at the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. If we learn one lesson from this disaster, let it be that we cannot control the effects of our technology, nor is our technology capable of fixing the Earth disruptions that we unleash. It’s time for some collective humility in the face of awesome natural forces, not more eco-hubris.”
Naomi Klein, author The Shock Doctrine
Word up Naomi. To anyone who agrees, please take a moment to join the Hands Off Mother Earth Campaign to stop geoengineering.
Trying to stop the destruction of the world’s remaining forests is a complicated affair. One proposed mechanism to help in the battle is a clean development mechanism for developing countries called REDD
, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. The general idea behind it is to give developing nations an incentive to maintain intact forests by assigning them value and finding alternatives to industries like logging or slash and burn farming.
On the ground, it works like this: a set area of land with tree canopy cover is assigned a value for the ecological service of carbon absorption. Polluting companies can purchase a credit for this value as a means of offsetting their carbon emissions elsewhere in the world. Whoever owns the land benefits from the financial transaction.
The upcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen have highlighted an interesting dilemma. Nations worldwide are trying to shirk their responsibilities around emissions and their economies.
So called “developed” nations like the U.S., U.K., and Australia are having a difficult political time getting industries to swallow the fact that big changes need to happen. Industry needs to clean up its act. Of course, then the political dance begins:
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a critical issue across Asia. From local companies to multi-national conglomerates, how successfully business interacts with its environs and community is of supreme importance. The CSR-Asia Conference held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia gave some worthwhile perspectives in a region home to roughly 60% of the world’s population.
But how many of the case studies demonstrated a genuine portrayal of companies doing good work, and how much was at best blatant greenwash? What countries, industries, and companies are emerging as leaders? What are they key issues facing the region?
According to Peter Senge (from Environmental Leader):
Using the term “sustainability” does not spur society on to an ultimately better solution. Rather, it is a “negative vision,” said MIT Sloan’s Peter Senge, founder of the Society for Organizational Learning.
“It’s just a bad word. It’s technically what we would call a ‘negative vision,’” said Senge, in an interview at MIT Sloan Management Review.
To Senge, Senior Lecturer in Behavioral and Policy Sciences at the MIT Sloan School of Management, sustainability is about recognizing that global commerce tends to put most of the wealth in few hands, with devastating results in consumption patterns and resulting environmental and societal damage.
“We don’t want the unsustainable, we don’t want civilization to collapse, we don’t want the human species to fail. Well, of course we don’t want that, but those images don’t move people. ‘Survival’ is not the most inspiring vision. It motivates out of fear, but it only motivates for as long as people feel the issues are pressing on them. Soon as the fear recedes, so does the motivation,” he told MIT Sloan Management Review.
Instead of considering sustainability, society must look at reinventing its way of living, because population growth and commerce will render today’s version of sustainability unsustainable. He said a preferred term may be “All about the future.”
Senge has noticed a trend of companies going from being “less bad” to “more good,” the interview notes.
"... you always seem to hear from successful people that "one thing led to another". Perhaps that's not just a truism but actually the killer app! Encourage one thing to lead to another and beneficial mutations are more likely to occur. Streamline the process of change and change will be more likely to happen."
- Jill Caldwell
Regarding this post on PSFK "Is 'Planet Earth' The Key To Our Eco Failure?":
I don’t think we call the place that we live as our planet. We don’t use the term ‘Earth’ as the familiar name of the place we live. We live in our ‘world’, we see the ‘world’ around us and we travel across the ‘world’ sometimes to the other side of the globe.
Could the use of the words ‘planet’ and ‘Earth’ by environmentalists of all strips have a negative impact on the public’s perception and relationship to important issues?
Maybe ‘Planet’ and ‘Earth’ are too connected in our minds to science and not to our daily lives, maybe the use of those words sounds a little Sci-Fi for the rest of us to really digest and take seriously. It’s interesting to note that there is no mention of ‘planet’ or ‘Earth’ in Obama’s Agenda for the Environment either.
I’m not saying that these words aren’t used by enviornmentalists. It’s just that their use of words that don’t relate to the world around us, might psychologically obstruct our support for international solutions to combat environmental damage around the globe.
I'd like to agree with Piers' comments and draw the line a bit further. I think that when we use "the environment" in a description of the world around us, we have a similar disconnect as what he describes here. The environment? Don't we live here, breathe air, drink water? Is "the environment" over there ---> somewhere? Definitely part of the issue in getting people's heads around important environmental and planetary issues is finding the right language to reach them. Something we all have to work on is connecting people to the reality of the challenges facing the world in a meaningful way, one that inspires understanding and action.
From John Bielenberg:
“All along the way, people were inspired not just by the act itself, but by how this grassroots effort was conceived and executed. It’s an example of how the process of thinking wrong can lead to something that doesn’t feel wrong at all.”
Not only does thinking wrong often not feel wrong, contends Bielenberg, it may just be the most effective means of doing right.
“The more diverse minds you have working on something, the more opportunity there is to make connections that one individual or one discipline wouldn’t make. In the activity of problem-solving on these big issues of sustainability and climate change, I think you need that diverse expertise in the room. Getting out of your comfort zone is where the really cool ideas come from.”
And designers have an important seat at the table.
“This is where we are very different from a think tank or an institute that considers the issues and writes white papers. Designers like to make stuff. It’s not just the idea generation, it’s the rapid prototyping, the execution, the bringing these ideas to life.”
H. Thomas Johnson, Portland State University, USA; extract
from closing remarks to a conference 2nd November 2007:
“…..I find it troubling that this definition and virtually all
references to sustainability since the Brundtland Report make
no reference to LIFE. Instead of life, the subject under
discussion is the human economy. The key word in the
Brundtland definition is development – a word drawn from the
literature of neo-classical economics where it generally take to
be a synonym for growth – economic growth. …..
“… Perhaps some humility is in order, I believe that
sustainability will not emerge in human affairs until we begin to
conduct economic activity in harmony with the principles that
shape all living systems on earth. Then we will view a
business as a natural living system that thrives in a context of
cooperation, restraint, and quality, not in a context of
competition, growth and accumulation. That will be
(thanks to Ray at Sustainability Matters for passing this along)
"Mysteriously enough it is worth noting, that the words ecology and economy
share the same root – from the ancient Greek word Ecos, which translates
to meaning house or habitat. Economy refers to how to manage our house and
Ecology how to know or understand it. They are two sides of the same
coin, and one day soon I trust we will have politicians and business
people, embrace this knowledge and take appropriate and urgent action to
bring about a new understanding of our relationship to this living planet
that loans us bodies in which to live."
-Tim Lynch, Greenplanet FM
"I reject the idea that humans are superior to other life forms. . . Man is just an ape with an overly developed sense of superiority."
-- Paul Watson, director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a founder of Greenpeace
Borrowed from Nick Rosen, www.Off-grid.net:
"I can’t stand the word “green,” says actress and biofuel campaigner Daryl Hannah. And she’s not the only one. All over the environmental movement we’ re sick of Greenwash, and we’re not going to take it any more.
“It’s become a pedantic, smug, judgmental word that is unrelated to the rest of one’s life,” she tells The Guardian newspaper. The word ‘green’ “is being so overused as a marketing tool that it has no credibility,” says Hannah.
She is right, of course. Advertising people love the word Green – they have rendered it almost meaningless – reduced it to a mix of lifestyle choices, expensive organic whimsies, unaffordable building codes and ridiculous gadgets such as an over-designed composter for your marble kitchen counter-top.
Their shade of Green is the color of Astroturf – synthetic, ugly and potentially damaging.
Porter Novelli, the global public relations firm, says, “even the tardiest marketers are scrambling to make green attributes and launch new products and services positioned as more responsible alternatives.”
Its time that environmentalists re-appropriated the language of ecology – seized it back from the new army of marketers and consultants who are reassuring us that we can all go “green” while we continue to consume as much as before – grow the economy as much as before, just so long as we do it in a new “green” way.
This time we need something the marketers will never want to appropriate – and that’s why Brown may be the new Green. It’s the color of the Earth, of dirt – it reminds us that things smell as they compost, it reassures us that we do not necessarily need to put on a clean white shirt to go to work. But Madison Avenue does not like stains. Try saying “Brown Huggies.” It will never take off.
The Green Party could change it s name to the Brown Party and Greenpeace become Brownpeace.
Hannah is proud of growing her own food (not all of it surely?). But as she says:”we’re in the midst of a massive population explosion, a credit crisis, there’s climate chaos, poverty, unprecedented loss of species, loss of open wild space, resource depletion and growing dead zones and yet we still act slowly, if at all. What’s wrong with us?”
And what would she save, apart from her family and friends, come the floods?
“My critters, seeds, eggs, medicinal spores and worms.”
Brown eggs, I hope, Daryl.
"Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."
-- William Jennings Bryan
"If you aren't part of the solution, you are a part of the problem."
"The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral confict."
-- Martin Luthar King Jr.
"The scourge of our modern cities, in my view, isn't crime or work related stress, it is lonliness. So many problems of moden life would be solved if we lived in a more integrated way." - John Grant
"No matter where we live, the biggest defect we have as human beings is short-sightedness. We don’t see what we could be. We should be looking at our potential, stretching ourselves into everything we can become." - Morrie Schwartz
”To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing.” Raymond Williams
"In a changing world, the learners will inherit the earth while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists" - Eric Hoffer
(Thanks to Carl Chenery)
What does progress mean to you? If you had to sum it up concisely in a sentence, what would it mean to you in the context of your own life and experience? Recently I participated in a workshop sponsored by Anew NZ and Statistics New Zealand. The workshop, entitled “What Matters Most to New Zealanders”, aimed to explore measurements of sustainable development. (continues)