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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This video takes a brief look at some of the issues surrounding a world built on fossil fuels, like environmental destruction and economic instability. Alternative energy sources have not been able to replace fossil fuel due to technology and existing infrastructures that were purposed to support fossil fuel consumption. It asked an important question regarding the sustainability of the current model of economic growth.
Here are a four points that were suggested:
-Learn to live without fossil fuel
-Relook at our current economic model of growth
-Stabilise human population to 7 billion
-Mitigating the negative human impact on the environment
Even with the technological advancements in the field of alternative energy, humans will still have to find a way to live within nature’s budget of renewable resources and at the rate at of natural replenishment for a more resilient future.
“Resilience – the ability to absorb shocks and keep going”
Check out other interesting videos on Post Carbon Instiute's YouTube channel too.
This month we're pleased to be featured in Singapore's Good Paper where we go further into the notion of thrivability. Check it out. Hard copy hits shelves around the island at the end of the month.
Forward's Chris Tobias discusses "The Next Step in Human Evolution" at TEDxNTU:
TedxNTU from Chris Tobias on Vimeo.
Why should we be "less bad" when we could be doing more good? Targeting a university audience using momentum and large doses of humour, Chris explores global challenges like climate change and resource security, and questions the notion of sustainability in this TEDx talk. Find out where humanity is headed in the future, and why the TEDx audience rated this talk the best of the event. Download available: PDF of presentation can be found here.
Keen to engage your crowd? From TEDx to Green Drinks, educational institutions to conferences-- we've helped raise awareness and motivate action. If you'd like us to inspire people at your event, please contact us.
Ever wanted a big picture snapshot of the world’s state-of-play? We got access to a spirited discussion between KS Jomo, the Asst. Secretary General for Economic Development at UNDESA, and Ambassador Burhan Gafoor, the Chief Negotiator of Singapore for Climate Change. You’re about to get the top level points on what’s afoot, how the issues relate, and where we need to move for the future: businesses, governments, and people. [Editor’s note: assume most snippets are attributed to KS Jomo, with some reformatted from Burhan Gafoor, and our commentary alongside.]
Right now our global society is facing numerous consecutive crises:
- economic meltdown following sub-prime mortgages that were sold on globally,
- food price spikes due to geographic and climate issues, and speculation,
- increased inequality in the global South brought on by decades of deregulation, trade imbalances and liberalization, and so-called “immeasurizing growth”
- onset of global climate change in the form of severe and erratic weather that is severely affecting conditions around the world (and will continue to do so)
Economically, how’d we get here?
In sum, the 1970’s began a transition era with Nixon sacking the Bretton Woods
System (read: no more gold reserves backing $$$). The 1980’s rolled on with less taxation and government involvement in financial structures. There was lower growth, higher inequalities, growing market instability, and trade liberalization; in general, trade terms moved against developing nations.
The 1990’s saw immeasurizing growth in many of these same countries, showing that more did not necessarily equate to better opportunities. There was a loss of tariff revenues, and shifts in production and export capacities. Many countries couldn’t afford the high costs of building competitive/new industries in this environment, and a backslide ensued.
Entering the new century, global money shifted from South to North, with hallmarks including higher volatility, lower growth, higher instability, and widespread “jobless growth”. Now, enter into this progression the era of cheap and easy money in countries like the U.S. and U.K. The big economies borrow themselves to the rafters, savings plummet while in Asian savings increase, and debt-fueled overconsumption ensues. Mega-multinationals use this cheap era to overinvest in capacity. You know what happens next: Lehman Bros. et al, catastrophic banking collapse, and the falling of financial dominoes around the world. Destruction of value. Not pretty.
Now the U.S. has dropped a lot into stimulating the economy again, Europe has done a bit but petered out, and in general--even though the money’s still cheap-- corporations have little incentive to invest. They still have far too much capacity available, and it’s underutilized already. Why buy more?
When the last fish is caught, only then will they learn money cannot be eaten
So, against this economic backdrop, many countries—both developed and especially developing—are not in good shape. With the global economy royally rooted by the turn of events, investors turn to “safe havens” like certain currencies and commodities including food stocks. Now food security comes into play, with speculation driving price spikes that reach all time highs in early 2011. Food stocks like grain go sky high for the average guy on the street.
Not only that, but production of first generation biofuels (e.g. certain ethanols) were already affecting prices of staples like maize, and spikes in the cost of crude oil (another commodity) also added to the transport cost of food. Chronic issues like environmental degradation, overfishing, loss of farmland, and deforestation further complicate the global situation. Big instability brews in developing countries and some riots ensue. According to the World Bank, some 44 million worldwide slip into poverty and go hungry from June 2010 through early 2011… and it’s not over yet.
Climate change another destabilizing factor
But wait, the food issue gets more complicated. Fires in Russia and Floods in Australia brought on by climate anomalies destroy large amounts of wheat and other essential food crops, further knocking up prices. So as intense weather episodes (and floods, fires, etc. come with it), we can expect more of this in the future with further food insecurity. Climate change isn’t happening “over there” anymore: it’s coming to a market shelf near you.
And what are we doing about it? While UN COP 16 in Cancun at the end of 2010 made some traction on consensus, there’s still a lot that needs sorting, and with an ever shortening time horizon. Even if consensus can be reached among the United Nations countries, the best result will be stabilizing greenhouse gasses like carbon around 450ppm—still not low enough to stem off a temperature shift of 3-6 degrees Celsius or so (read: major detrimental effects on environmental stability worldwide will still ensue)—and that’s if we’re lucky.
So what needs to happen, if even to get that far? Well, low emissions economic growth isn’t going to just come about from the market. A growing body of evidence (Economist, Financial Times, et al) is supporting the fact that carbon trading has not helped speed progress on mitigation (e.g. cutting emissions), nor helped solve financing issues towards mitigation and adaptation to climate change—as we’re already starting to experience.
The UN and others advocate that the world needs a radical shift from dirty fossil fuels to renewable energy, and helping developed nations to make this leap lest they follow the same old polluting industrial model. This is going to take big investment and mechanisms from governments and international organizations to get passed the initial costs and risks. Raising living standards while reducing climate change is no easy task, and markets alone won’t solve it.
So what’s it going to take to get out of this mess?
In short: political will, leadership, the ability to push back on the power of bond markets, investments in areas neglected before the economic crisis (especially renewable energy and small holder agriculture), increase in agricultural research, and a revamp of the global economic system—complete with better oversight and legislation. Gee, piece of cake.
Governments have their work cut out for them to make some tough decisions around their long term futures. Business as usual is gutting the global population from the bottom up. Sooner or later it will affect everyone. As individual governments make progress, collectively groups like the UN can take further action on these combined, intertwined global issues—speeding worldwide responsiveness as it has with other historic global threats like CFC’s on the ozone with the Montreal Protocol in 1989
. Global action can, and has, taken place successfully and it needs to happen again.
Business and industry has its part to play-- especially multinationals with their cross-border reach. Investing in new business models, cleantech, and renewable energy, as well as sustainable agriculture are good bets. Where there are risks, there are opportunities: if the crises we face don’t provide business with suitable impetus for action, they shouldn’t be in business.
The public sector likewise has its own role to play, and that is an active one politically and financially. Pressure needs continual application on governments and business to help drive recovery. Right now, the market conspires against recovery in every sense of the word—vocal and visible public action is needed to help change that.
Will we have the wherewithal to tackle these monumental challenges? Answer that question not with words and thoughts, but tangible actions.
(this article originally appeared on Ecopoint)
In January of this year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization
reported an all-time high in its Food Price Index. In early February, the index rose even higher, causing food related riots and global uneasiness that more dramatic surges were coming.
It was an ironic backdrop when Lunar New Year celebrations in many Asian countries focused on family gatherings, platefuls of food, and themes like abundance and prosperity. Could the Year of the Rabbit bring an increase in hunger and insecurity?
According to Earth Policy Institute’s Lester Brown
, our world is now heading into unchartered territory. As countries like Algeria have experienced recently, political instability has a close link with prices of basic commodities that people use on a daily basis.
While the poorest countries will bear the brunt of rising food prices, no country is immune. At Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies
based at NTU, numerous studies are underway to better understand food security in the ASEAN context, and how they can be better managed in countries, especially high-risk ones like Singapore. As a small island nation-state, the country imports some 97% of its food. With minimal hinterlands, farming currently takes place at roughly 275 sites around the island, taking up a total land area of about .75m hectares.
According to Dr. Wong Hon Mun, Director of Agri Establishment Regulation at Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA)
, Singapore’s key strategy to food resilience is diversification of the sources of supply. “Diversification enables us to hedge our risks and to import quality and safe food from as many sources as possible, at competitive prices,” he says. “Farmers can also apply to the Food Fund to enable R&D in agro-technology and for upgrading of their farms.” The government created this $10 million Food Fund to improving productivity on existing farms administered by AVA. Several local farms have successfully participated in this programme.
The Kranji Countryside Association (KCA)
, which represents some 20 larger farm businesses in the northwest of Singapore, supports the government’s actions to date but would like to see attention focused beyond the productivity issue. They feel planning hurdles and policy issues need urgent action, cultural shifts in motion, and also promising technology on the horizon.
Farmers urge more, broader support
KCA member Chelsea Wan’s family owns business Jurong Frog Farm in Kranji. She summarizes many of the obstacles facing local farmers currently operating around the country, and anyone who would want to follow into agriculture.
“Our biggest problems and also its solution is working with the government,” she says. “All our farmland is given out in 20 year leases, which makes it difficult for investment in expensive technology, improvements and training. Some regional farms now have their leases extended with three year options, so there’s the mentality to just wait it out and see if there's another extension, rather than improve farm productivity.”
Not surprisingly in this context, many of these businesses specialize in high value ornamental flowers and fish for export when they could be serving a valuable role as a long term hedge against food price spikes. It’s a classic trader mentality: get in under tight conditions, make big bucks, and move on.
Ms. Wan doesn’t believe the pace of development in suburban Singapore has been echoed in the infrastructure in place for the countryside. “There needs to be more representation for agriculture in the government, and better understanding of the issues.”
The marketplace also offers challenges. “It’s not an Asian characteristic to go for quality over cost. We can't compete with the prices from China and Malaysia, and presently it is cheaper for us to import livestock from overseas than raise ourselves,” Ms. Wan says. “The ideas popular in western counties like 'Food Miles', eating organic, and eating local haven't taken off here yet. We need to be able to produce more livestock and pass on savings to consumers. Consumers need awareness on how the food gets to their supermarkets and benefits of buying local. Then the issue of food security will start to be addressed.”
Local quail farmer William Ho agrees. “Locals need to be educated on the importance of food security
and also to appreciate the role local farmers can play,” he says. “Singaporeans are very lucky as we can enjoy every type of food the world can offer, but it’s very sad many children don't even know the difference between a cow and a goat, or where their eggs come from.”
Feedback reflects the existence of a robust agriculture industry in Singapore would depend on tackling underlying issues like these. But beyond policy and market conditions, is the culture starting to shift? Could a new era of urban agriculture be sprouting, and could it mean new business opportunities? Local sentiment seems to be shifting, and with the right combination of players, it’s possible a whole new industry could grow out of what would seem like a major threat.
Rethink the urban landscape
With food security as a key issue facing Singapore and other ASEAN countries, a lot of attention goes to productivity and conventional agriculture. Ivy Singh, owner of Bollywood Veggies and KCA President thinks that beyond traditional notions of farming, food production could be integrated into housing estates in the form of community gardens and small-scale agriculture.
“If every housing board estate is converted into a kampong
garden, people can actually add quite a bit more food production,” Ms. Singh says, referencing the community gardens that used to be commonplace in Singapore. “We need to get rid of the prim and proper landscaping, move away from concrete and bougainvillea which do nothing for us, and replace with an edible landscape.”
“The AVA acknowledges our role in engaging the farmers to raise productivity. We also actively promote local produce to improve business for the farmers, which in the long run will lead to sustainable agricultural practices,” she says. “Because of the presence of KCA, there is a movement in the country to start community gardens, and there is also a greater movement of ground-up initiatives by various groups who consult us,” she says.
She also notes lifestyle shifts starting to emerge, with an interest in sustainability and increased appreciation for food. “Because we are tied in with LOHAS [Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability], we have garnered a lot of interest in the countryside, and this will stimulate a strong ‘locavore’ [eating food raised locally] movement in Singaporeans who have not been previously exposed to such an idea.”
Public sector interest on the rise
But Singaporeans might be closer to this reality than many believe. A recent article on community gardening
indicated that some 390 projects had grown around the island in the last five years, and that interest is on the increase. National Parks even has a Community in Bloom programme
to connect people. Indeed, anecdotal observation on the ground in many housing estates and neighbourhoods would reveal a vibrant “backyard” culture still remains where plots and pots exist-- if only to grow a few kitchen seasonings. It’s not inconceivable this groundswell of interest could be harnessed in a bigger, collective push towards national food security.
To help reach out to this growing sector of the population, the KCA is planning a Go Local Campaign later in 2011, focusing on local production and champion food security.
New technologies, economic opportunities
While community involvement is promising, NUS student and researcher Heather Chi thinks the implications are deeper. With case studies ranging from London to Japan, Ms. Chi has looked into a wide range of urban applications addressing food security.
Her outlook goes beyond agriculture and community initiatives, to how food security can even catalyze new industries and economic opportunities. From composting and recycling of food and water wastes, to better utilizing small parcels of land, to having food production serve as a rehabilitative option for older age groups, or as a career choice for less conventionally-minded individuals—there are numerous ways that food security might be tackled in the urban context, while at the same time addressing other local issues and creating jobs.
In a land-strapped country like Singapore, this would mean a major rethink on how urban space is utilized as part of developing a value proposition for any business or emergent industry. One obvious application though, is to move up, not out with food production.
Championed overseas, vertical farming
technology is being explored to make use of high rise space and maximize what land area is available. According to Dr. Wong Hon Mun at the AVA, it’s an avenue already undergoing research and development.
“AVA collaborates with private companies in R&D to develop technology,” he says. “Our collaboration resulted in the development of an innovative vertical farm system prototype
. This prototype is suitable for intensive farming in the tropics, especially in land-scarce Singapore. It is expected to yield at least five times more leafy vegetables than that of a conventional soil-based farm.” It’s a promising new development in a country known for its engineering prowess.
In recent years, Singapore has begun to tackle other challenges like water security by developing advanced technology and infrastructure. Could food be the NEWater
? With agriculture industry urging action, the local population increasingly engaged, evolving concepts of land use in the works, and new opportunities coming to the surface, it wouldn’t take much to transform food security into another world-changing industry, and a major victory for the little Red Dot.(this article previously appeared in two part series on Ecopoint)
From Olympics to World Cups, COP15 to Coachella-- events worldwide are re-examining the role they can play in creating thriving economies, vibrant communities, and healthy environments. The notion of “sustainability” is a newer one in this space, but is gaining traction, especially with larger events.
What can be learned and applied regionally? How can businesses and destinations around APAC stay current in a global context?
Major summits picking up sustainability agenda, gleaning economic value
In 2009, driven by the UN and Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen were mammoth in scale. Bringing together some 34,000 participants from around the globe, there were 2500 official meetings to discuss how to deal with climate change. The Danish Government set out to run the proceedings as sustainably as possible
They focused on providing locally sourced organic meals (75% organic), eco-efficiency measures in hotels (53% hotels certified), getting participants on public transport (93% success rate), and offsetting carbon emissions (100% offset) from the event amongst other initiatives. They achieved British Standard (BS) 8901 certification, and won the IMEX Green Meetings Gold Award 2010. While COP15 cost the Danish government €41.2 million to stage, it resulted in €220 million (est.) in revenue and some positive international credibility for its efforts.
The Business for Environment (B4E) Summit in Seoul, hosted by the Korean Government with the UNEP, UNGC, WWF and Global Initiatives, attracted some 1000 global business and government leaders. The crux of the event raised awareness on issues like biodiversity and climate change, and gave South Korea an international stage to promote its leading green policies. While not as comprehensive as COP15, there were sustainability plans in place, including making the event as paperless as possible, and numerous video tie-ins for overseas speakers.
Green the goal in sporting events: governments and business big winners
In sporting events, the FIFA World Cup in Germany in 2006 was noteworthy for a number of reasons. With nearly 3.4 million attendees, it was staged at 12 locations across Germany. A variety of environmental initiatives were organized and executed by a wide range of stakeholder groups including the German government, UNEP, FIFA, as well as major corporations like Deutche Telecom.
Organizers met 13 of 16 “Green Goals
” in areas like energy savings and waste management. Overall, they shaved 89,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency measures, purchased 100,000 tonnes of Gold Standard offsets for projects in Africa and India, slashed packaging waste by 15%, and reduced water consumption by 20%. Businesses also helped raise their own profile with a number of interactive initiative including hydrogen powered delivery bikes and buses, reusable/refundable drink containers, and greenhouse gas emissions themed “penalty kick” competitions that equated to purchase of carbon offsets.
Subsequently, FIFA World Cup South Africa, Winter Olympics Vancouver, and 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou have taken action, covering everything from public transport to green buildings.
Organizers for London Olympics 2012 are calling it the “first sustainable Games”. Preparation by UK government agencies in concert with the IOC is aligned to the BS8901 standard. With a view to creating a “One Planet Olympics”, the London Olympics 2012 sustainability
policy covers five major themes: climate change, waste, biodiversity, inclusion, and healthy living. Updates to the plan are due for release in 2011/2012, and some criteria for inclusion are carbon footprint and reduction strategy, remediation and construction waste targets, waste management strategy, biodiversity strategy and key projects, and sustainable food strategy.
Taking strides beyond the World Cup events, London 2012 will serve as a catalyst for urban renewal, public engagement, enhancement of natural areas
, and to make the Olympic Park a long-standing blueprint for sustainable living. Major parts of economically depressed East-London are undergoing extensive refurbishment. There are strategies being developed to inspire and involve young people in volunteering, cultural and physical activities. The event will rejuvenate a number of rivers and wetlands, creating a “green corridor” from Lea Valley to River Thames. The upshot: rather than have outcomes of fringe spaces that become disused after the games, the area and its infrastructure, economy, environment, and culture will be greatly improved.
Arts and culture: engaging and educating for behavior change
Shifting into cultural festivals, in Singapore the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Smartlight Singapore (SLS) recently took a similar approach with 2010’s iLight Marina Bay Festival[full disclosure: the editor served a sustainability advisory role for this event]
. Similar to what London is planning for its 2012 festivities, the URA and SLS sought to activate the newly completed Marina Bay development with a light art festival, coined “Asia’s First Sustainable Light Art Festival”. The idea: get people out to explore the urban landscape of Marina Bay, draw attention to sustainability issues, and use of light in the urban environment.
Efforts included the majority of pieces used energy efficient LED technology, the largest art piece on the powered by locally sourced and processed biofuel, boat tours powered by renewable energy, an energy efficiency campaign with local property owners which saved 15 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and many points for public education—from event markers, website, and even an iPhone app. Utilizing the advanced urban planning and transport of Singapore, visitors could arrive at points around Marina Bay by bus or train. Key sustainability criteria were carefully planned, monitored, and reported on at the conclusion of the event. Beyond the successful environmental thrust, the event drew approximately 500,000 visitors and had an estimated economic value of some SG$22 million.
Like iLight Marina Bay Festival, the annual Coachella music festival in the U.S. has also taken many steps to engage attendees. The most recent event in 2010 had some 225,000 people attend. In partnership with an NGO called Global Inheritance, the event sustainability initiatives included
carpooling, recycling, and powering of numerous art pieces with renewable energy sources. There was also a “DJ at Coachella with Kinetic Energy” set, where 18 friends could power a sound system and DJ gear using exercise bikes.
Benefits for better events
Whether your destination is bidding for a major sporting event, host a major summit, or appealing to the ever growing breed of hip, socially conscious traveler, there are many benefits for bring sustainability into your event planning. Positive publicity, economic return, urban renewal, engaging stakeholders and participants, enhancing biodiversity, efficient/cost effective use of resources, and award opportunities are there for Asian Tigers to pounce on. Businesses likewise can capitalize in many of the same ways, and use sustainable event planning to reinforce their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes and commitments to tackling global issues like climate change. The benchmark to go for is BS8901 certification for sustainable event management until the new ISO 20121 comes online in 2012.
(this article previously appeared on Ecopoint)
John Elkington has been a one man tour de force. Approaching four decades working in the corporate world on numerous CSR, sustainability, innovation, and social change fronts, he’s had privileged access into the headspace of upper management, as well as the pulse of evolution of social movements in recent years. In a Forward Thinking exclusive, we caught up with Mr. Elkington to discuss developments globally, and progress on sustainability issues in Asia Pacific.
Globally, do you think we can wean ourselves off of our endless growth economic model and onto what many have dubbed a “steady state economy”, e.g. where population and consumption are stabilized within sustainable levels with the resources we have on Earth? What would enable this, or be holding us back?John Elkington: There has been much discussion in ‘deep ecology’, academic and related circles over the years about the prospects for a ‘steady state economy’. My view is that, while this may be – indeed has to be the ultimate long-term objective – demographic pressures mean that we will be forced to grow parts of the economy for quite some time. And breaking down the economic and business models we inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries and creating new ones fit for purpose in the new century will mean enormous, disruptive transformation processes that, I find, ‘steady state’ deflect the mind from.
FT: While many reference sustainability as a journey, with the global situation evolving as it is (from climate change to food security to economic crisis), one could wonder if we have enough time for such a leisure trip. Do you think businesses and countries across APAC especially are really geared up for the challenge, and recognize the true scale of the threats at hand?
JE: Recent surveys suggest that very high percentages of CEOs in major corporations worldwide think they are doing rather well on sustainability. A recent Accenture survey of 760 CEOs for the UN Global Compact showed that no less than 81% believed that they had already “embedded” sustainability. This is encouraging as we read this as a belief that they need to embed. But if they mean that having a chief sustainability officer or that they produce a series of annual sustainability reports is embedding sustainability, I am afraid that we can only conclude that they are deluded.
Corporate social responsibility and accountability are necessary conditions of what needs to happen next, but may even be misleading if they persuade corporate C-Suites that the sustainability agenda can be addressed by a few fractions of one percent of change in some areas of the business. Think of what happened to Communism in 1989 and some Arab dictatorships in 2011: these are small-scale convulsions compared to what we will need to cope with as climate change gets a grip – and we embark on the transition to low carbon economies.
What companies are or industries are bright spots on the horizon that might have emerged since the Volans Phoenix Economy
Business leaders are using the sustainability language with growing facility, but most do not understand the implications. Among other things, they should read ‘Vision 2050
’, a new study by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. It’s exciting that WBCSD is now talking about transformational change in markets and technologies, but most companies aren’t there yet, even at the level of understanding. So most of the encouraging developments we have seen since we launched ‘The Phoenix Economy’ have been happening elsewhere, in areas like clean technology and social innovation and social enterprise. We have also seen growing activity at the level of cities and city-states, which can be way more powerful in terms of driving market change than individual corporate initiatives, important though those may be.
FT: Have you come across any useful adaptation blueprints or guides that might help businesses and governments around the region anticipate and manage the changes ahead?
JE: I see the work of government agencies like Singapore’s Economic development Board as modeling what the public sector now needs to do, in terms of developing clusters of innovation and enterprise around areas like clean technology and social enterprise. There is no overarching blueprint that can guide any and all countries or regions, but there are a growing number of models that can be copied, at least in part.
FT: Some think that globally, we need some kind of wake-up call for action on any number of global issues— a tragedy or cataclysmic event that shakes humanity into action. Yet, from 9-11’s, to economic crisis, to catastrophic floods and fires, nothing seems to be providing the stimulus for a sustained turn. What do you think it would take to shake humanity from its slumber?
JE: Oh, I think young people increasingly understand that their future prospects are at risk, from climate change and from a range of other security issues, around food, water, energy and so on. The fact that their elders are still struggling to grasp the scale of what is happening could become a real cause of intergenerational tensions. This is something we are just beginning to explore at Volans alongside our partner, the ad agency JWT.
FT: You recently completed a whirlwind trip across Asia. With the many companies and organizations you engaged with in your travels, what were the high and low points? Any interesting realizations after you returned to the U.K.?
JE: The growth trajectory of so many Asian economies both blinds key decision-makers to some of the challenges that their counterparts in other parts of the world have been forced to face, but also the rapidly growing appetite for natural resources is likely to shock growing numbers of people awake. Think of the dispute between Canada and China on potash last year, or between China and Japan on rare earth minerals. Just wait until the peak oil challenge engages!
FT: In your “Cultural Revolution” 4x4 matrix, you illustrate how change progresses from individual mindsets, to behaviours, to collective cultural activity, to an overall paradigm shift. With the urgency of challenges we face, have you identified any specific pressure points in cultures across Asia Pacific that might help jump-start this progression?
JE: It’s clear that family-owned and operated businesses are even more important in Asia – and we are hoping to engage them increasingly in the coming years. The very fact that there is an intergenerational dimension to their ownership may help engage them on some aspects of the sustainability agenda.
FT: As a champion for social innovation in recent decades, you’ve highlighted the efforts of many social entrepreneurs trying to tackle global issues, and acknowledge the connection between economy, people, and planet. Many social innovators identify strongly with the former two categories, and omit environmental outcomes as outside their scope. Why do you think so many people, innovators included, are divorced from our environment in their thoughts and actions, when it is our environment that shapes our way of life?
JE: When I came up with the ‘triple bottom line’ in 1994, I was trying to say to business that beyond the conventional financial bottom line there are wider economic, social and environmental considerations that should be taken into account. The fact that some people then boiled that down into a ‘double bottom line’ was fine for social mission businesses and organisations, but very often they are blind to the environmental dimensions of what they do. I am all for concepts like ‘blended value’ and ‘integrated reporting’, but only if the environmental and natural capital aspects are strongly represented.
FT: Of your many board engagements, which do you find the most personally satisfying, and why?
JE: Insanely, I sit on 25 boards or advisory boards – and all the organisations have their ups and downs, but in a way what I like best is the ability to move between agendas and cultures and act as a cross-pollinator.
FT: What advice would you give young people, especially entrepreneurs and new graduates who seek to make a positive change in the world in the years ahead?
JE: Get out there and talk to people whose work interests you. Some of the busiest people in the world often also turn out to be among the most open – they’re always trying to learn. Don’t spook them by asking them to be a mentor - just see if you can get close enough into to start a conversation. Other than that, try to do things that you love doing – then when you find yourself having to do them 24 hours a day you’ll be better placed to survive, thrive and drive real change in the wider world.
From the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economies, check out some thought provoking reads on how to move away from endless growth economies while enhancing people's lives. Very thought provoking material!
Thanks to everyone who came out today and joined in our interesting discussion. Feedback welcome, and presentation available here. See you again later in the semester!
Some great facts from Lester Brown at Earth Policy Institute that can really help shape understanding of many global issues:
We are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. Can we think systemically and fashion policies accordingly? Can we change direction before we go over the edge? Here are a few of the many facts from the book to consider:
- There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last
night—-many of them with empty plates.
- If the 2010 heat wave centered in Moscow had instead been centered in Chicago, it
could easily have reduced the U.S. grain harvest of 400 million tons by 40 percent
and food prices would have soared.
- Winter temperatures in the Arctic, including Alaska, western Canada, and eastern
Russia, have climbed by 4–7 degrees Fahrenheit over the last half-century. This
record rise in temperature in the Arctic region could lead to changes in climate
patterns that will affect the entire planet.
- Half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling as
aquifers are being depleted. Since 70 percent of world water use is for irrigation,
water shortages translate into food shortages.
- In Sana’a, the capital of Yemen—-home to 2 million people-—water tables are
falling fast. Tap water is available only once every 4 days; in Taiz, a smaller city
to the south, it is once every 20 days.
- Virtually all of the top 20 countries considered to be “failing states” are
depleting their natural assets—-forests, grasslands, soils, and aquifers—-to sustain
their rapidly growing populations.
- The indirect costs of gasoline, including climate change, treatment of respiratory
illnesses, and military protection, add up to $12 per gallon. Adding this to the
U.S. average of $3 per gallon brings the true market price closer to $15 per gallon.
- Between 2007 and 2010, U.S. coal use dropped 8 percent. During the same period,
300 new wind farms came online, adding 21,000 megawatts of U.S. wind-generating
- Algeria has enough harnessable solar energy in its vast desert to power the entire
- One of the quickest ways to cut carbon emissions is to change light bulbs.
Switching to more-efficient lighting around the globe could save enough energy to
close more than 700 of the world’s 2,800 coal-fired power plants.
“We can get rid of hunger, illiteracy, disease, and poverty, and we can restore the
earth’s soils, forests, and fisheries. We can build a global community where the
basic needs of all people are satisfied—-a world that will allow us to think of
ourselves as civilized.” –Lester R. Brown
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.)?
This is a pretty amazing story of a family that's taken enormous strides towards self-sufficiency. They call their project Path to Freedom. We've come across other success stories out there, but these people do an amazing job of documenting each improvement they've made-- from growing 6000 lbs of produce on their 1/10 acre of land, to installing solar panels, and numerous other projects. Incredibly inspiring to see what can be done with a bit of quiet persistence and elbow grease.
... busy Q1 ahead with guest lectures planned.... stay tuned for more info.
We're pleased to announce the next Forward Thinking Thursday will be held on Thursday 11 November 2010 at Fou De Fa Fa from 7-9 p.m. The venue boasts a wide range of healthy food and drinks (wine too!) and is just steps off the Tanjong Pagar MRT. Please join us for an evening of making connections, progressing ideas, and being inspired. We try to keep the crowd small and meaningful, so please RSVP if you'd be so kind.
See you there!
Venue details are as follows:
Fou De Fa Fa - 168 Robinson Road - Phone 6327 9418
Restaurant reviews can be found here, in case you're wondering.
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The latest and greatest from around the web:
- Toxic fish- bad enough that many fisheries are in collapse (or near collapse around the world), but the catch you might be eating could be screwing your health. Are you eating something really unhealthy? Find out what to avoid.
- Myles Allen of Oxford University and his team have produced a new model that links natural disasters with man-made greenhouse gas emissions. This means that Russian heatwaves, Pakistani floods, and other weather anomalies can be traced back and analysed to see how much a role humans played in the occurence of these events.
- Non-profit Energy in Common has set up a dedicated facility to bring microcredit loans to bring green energy to people in need. This is yet another great application of microfinance in developing countries.
- Want to get the lay of the land on green companies, orgs, and associations in Singapore? Our colleague Eugene Tay has updated the Guide to the Green Landscape. Free to download.
We've had a flurry of research come our way recently. We'd like to take a quick moment to poke around some of it and point out some things that seem to be painfully missing. First, let's have a look at McKinsey Global Survey on Biodiversity.
Their survey asked respondents about what biodiversity means, how important it is to their businesses, and why, what specific risks their companies might face from reduced biodiversity, what actions they are taking to address issues related to it, and what kinds of regulations they would support to maintain biodiversity.
What we were particularly bemused by: that in spite of the UN and others highlighting some 30%+ of species will be extinct by 2030, and that an unprecedented human-caused destruction of the biosphere is taking place, 59 percent of companies responding to the McKinsey survey see biodiversity as more of an opportunity than a risk for their companies.
Not to go all gloom and doom, but how is this possible exactly? If the locale where a company operates is environmentally degraded, if its core ingredients and materials are compromised-- how exactly is this an opportunity?
An opportunity to change business operation and focus of the company operations, an opportunity for a dramatic paradigm shift away from business as usual? Sure.
An opportunity to sell more business as usual and be Polyanna optimistic? We think not. In fact, we think a lot of the businesses responding were pretty naive: 32% came back on the survey saying that biodiversity was not at all important, and 4% said they didn't know.
And getting back to that 59% of companies saying that biodiversity was more of an opportunity to their business-- the top reason why was "building, maintaining, or improving corporate reputation."
Sorry guys, we think you've missed the boat. If your entire supply chain is challenged, your operations threatened, and business model made obsolete by a degraded biosphere, you're pretty stuffed-- nevermind the reputation.
We'd also like to take issue with another piece of research put out by Accenture with the UN Global Compact on Sustainability and Perspectives from APAC CEOs. The study, as far as we can find, has one fundamental major flaw: they don't actually define what sustainability is before they go out to ask everyone about it and gauge the trends. As we've explored a lot on Forward Thinking, the word sustainability has a very fluid definition, and is an oft abused term. If we can't have a common definition of what we're actually talking about, how can we actually carry the conversation further to understand what it means and how it manifests in the real world?
As you might expect, both reports feature bold corporate language and try to show that business is taking issues seriously. (Side speculation: this might be to actually influence business to take the issues seriously!).
If our recent experience late last year at Business for Environment Summit, or on-the-ground observations in various markets across APAC are any judge: in reality, business is slow to change to critical issues like climate change, biodiversity, and sustainability. The reality is its more business as usual at a time when some critical shifts need to take place.
Ever since Singapore launched its Green Mark programme for green buildings five years ago, the city-state has experienced a concerted shift towards the development of green buildings.
The growing momentum for green buildings certified with the Green Mark has grown beyond Singapore’s shores into Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and China, noted Dr Gao Chun Ping, Senior Executive Development Officer, Green Mark Department, Building and Construction Authority.
Speaking at the National Sustainability Conference organised by the National University of Singapore and the University of Sydney, Dr Gao noted that the explosion of green buildings will also lead to 18,000 green collar jobs for building professionals in the Republic.
Dr Gao on Thursday spoke on Singapore’s green building movement as a case study of how a combination of legislation and government incentive helped to spur the industry.
As some 30 to 40 percent of global energy use and associated emissions comes from buildings, it was an imperative to drive a shift towards leaner, more efficient buildings, he said.
Recent legislation had required all new developments and refurbishments on buildings in Singapore to meet the minimum Green Mark standards since April 2008.
The Green Mark Certification for Non-Residential Buildings currently covers new and some existing buildings in Singapore. The assessment criteria include energy efficiency, water efficiency, environmental protection, indoor environmental quality, and other green features such as renewable energy. There are currently three levels in the programme: Certified, Gold, Gold Plus, and Platinum.
Uptake of the certification has been steady due to government mandate for green buildings. The Inter-Ministerial Council for Sustainable Development (IMCSD) has a target that 80 percent of local buildings should be green by 2030.
To increase certifications in the years ahead, the Government had launched a $20 million Green Mark Incentive Scheme for New Buildings. This scheme offers financial incentives per square meter to encourage high certification levels for development projects, explained Dr Gao.
Another carrot available to developers is the Green Mark Bonus GFA Incentive Scheme. This offers up to 2 percent additional gross floor area (GFA) for Platinum rated projects, and additional 1 percent GFA for Gold rated projects.
The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) also has an awards programme to recognise leaders in the industry. Called the Green Mark Champion Award for Developers, this accolade honours excellence in the area. It has previously been won by City Developments Limited (CDL), widely recognised as a local pioneer in green buildings.
Mr Lee Chuan Seng, President, Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC) also spoke at the conference on upcoming developments in the Green Mark Certification tool.
The ratings system will be upgraded to a higher standard, lifting the bar for green buildings in Singapore.
According to the BCA 2nd Green Building Masterplan, there is also an upcoming shift in focus from new buildings to include existing buildings. To that end, the Green Mark tool will be updated to Version 4. This new version will come into effect at end of 2010 with both residential and non-residential building criteria.
“Singapore has 210 million square meters of existing building stock, and approximately 2-4 percent new buildings developed every year,” Mr Lee said. “The main users of energy are commercial buildings.” As a result of this, the Singapore carbon intensity per dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) is a notable 0.35 tonnes. While this number has leveled out in recent years, Singapore’s greenhouse gas emissions are still an upward march.
Thankfully, changes made to the building industry locally in Singapore are sped along by an effective public-private-partnership, Mr Lee said, and this applies to the green building space. This close partnership ensures that regulatory changes can be implemented rapidly, and is advantageous compared to many other countries like Australia which are more fragmented.
Addressing the perceived additional cost of developing a green building, Mr Lee noted the latest statistics. Green Mark Platinum buildings may sustain an extra project cost of 1-2 percent, but have payback in approximately 2-4 years, demonstrating even faster payback than noted in recent years.
Several Green Mark Platinum rated buildings already are demonstrating large resource and operational cost savings. Some include Ocean Center, Goodwood Residences, and City Square Mall.
In one innovative example, Lend Lease created a Green Lease programme limiting the amount of energy used by mall tenants and measures to increase energy efficiency.
“We invest resources to develop a calculator to help determine the energy use and carbon footprint of every fixture, and the cost it poses to the tenant,” said Mann Young, Head of Sustainability, Lend Lease Asia. “We then work with collaboratively with tenants to optimise their store fit-outs and cut their energy use.”
Manufacturing industries in countries worldwide are steering towards cleaner technologies to stay competitive. For Singapore to maintain its competitiveness, its manufacturing sector must also take a low-carbon path, said Dr Song Bin, director of the Sustainable Manufacturing Centre, SIMTech.
Speaking at the National Sustainability Conference on Thursday, Dr Song noted that countries such as South Korea, China, Japan, Germany and the United States have already begun this move.
Global drivers for this shift include the raised awareness of environmental concerns, greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, and increased customer awareness.
Business considerations such as branding opportunities, energy and raw material prices, supply chain management, and cost savings are also some factors.
Across these areas, both public and industry awareness has been on the rise since 2007, said Dr Song. While awareness is increasing, there is a need for more successful business case studies to help highlight the gains made by pioneering projects.
Specifically in manufacturing, elimination of waste, a push for energy efficiency, and closed-loop processes were areas that needed attention. Some improvement measures include KPIs which centre on materials, processes, and the carbon footprint of these operations.
According to Dr Song, businesses increasingly understands that waste should be viewed as a resource. In this light, waste can be a value-add through resource recovery. Many companies in Singapore are beginning to awaken to this commercial opportunity, he said.
A case study of LHT Holdings demonstrated how a local company engaged in wood recycling from demolition turned out useful products from waste. Some of the company’s finished recycled wood products include flooring, doors, and shipping palettes, Dr Song highlighted.
He also flagged significant potential for energy efficiency, especially through heat insulation and heat recovery. He noted that real-time visualization systems exist to monitor the energy consumption and production volume of manufacturing. These systems allow manufacturers to adjust their processes, and optimise it for energy efficiency.
Securing new investment in technologies is often tricky especially if using traditional models. Dr Song questioned the typical calculations for return on investment (ROI) which are critical in swaying investment decisions.
“Is the ROI correct?” he asked, noting that assumptions should include potential for return from branding impact, long term strategic advantages, and operational cost savings. Taking a broad-level, strategic view of technology investments will help enable a shift towards cleaner manufacturing, he said.
Electronic waste (or E-Waste) is a big problem worldwide. All those used computers, monitors, mobiles have to go somewhere. Often enough, it is to a developing country where the dangerous components are broken down with the release of all sorts of toxic nasties. Thankfully, the process can be handled correctly. Here's a look inside how to properly recycle E-Waste:
Businesses often associate corporate social responsibility (CSR) with philanthropy. While charitable acts are noble, businesses might not only be missing out on making a bigger positive impact, but also on opportunities to build brand value. Entrepreneur, traveller, and founder of Buy1Give1 (B1G1) Masami Sato shares the logic behind her social enterprise, and the key to unlocking the business benefits of giving.
Forward Thinking: As an entrepreneur running a food manufacturing business, you and your business partner David believed quite strongly in philanthropy and “giving back.” Could you explain what that meant for you running the business, and where your thinking was at the time?
Masami Sato: As you know, the way business works in our world continuously evolves and that fascinates me and drives me to become ever more curious. There is no end to what we can learn in business. And I enjoy it the most when I see how a simple business idea can impact our life in a meaningful way.
We first went into the food business 10 years ago. I used to be a chef and I believed that everyone deserves to eat nutritious and wholesome food no matter how our lifestyles change. So running a business that could provide what we believed was one way for us to take an active role in creating a better world.
But there was something more. I traveled a lot when I was in my twenties and saw different realities of life. While there were people who had so much and were still feeling dissatisfied, there were people who had very little yet they were feeling more connected and contented. I’ve come to think that it’s not about how much we have or how much we get that make us feel fulfilled; it’s about how much we care and contribute that really nourishes our life.
By running a company that aimed to do more than just trading commodities and making money, we wanted to be part of creating a new movement – creating a giving culture in business and as a result, in our everyday activities. (article continues)
Pending international regulation and turbulent financial markets, carbon market development is likely to remain uncertain in the near future. According to industry expert Lukas Heer of First Climate, the ongoing financial crisis has jeopradised investor interest in many projects, and increased the volatility of carbon prices.
Big issues on the table include outcomes of the forthcoming Congress of Parties (COP) 16 held later this year in Mexico, and the next steps that will be taken there following Copenhagen late last year. The fundamental question it boils down to is which nation will take the lead?
At the centre of the attention is the United States. In the U.S., President Obama proposed a 17 percent emissions reduction by 2020, but it is subject to legislation that is currently still pending. National climate legislation in the U.S. has been sidelined due to numerous setbacks including healthcare reforms that have been highly contentious. Some question if any serious solution will be politically feasible given sharply divided camps, as well as extensive lobbying by vested fossil fuel interests.
Worth noting however is at state and local levels, a variety of climate focused initiatives, such as the Western Climate Initiative, are underway.
China has pledge a reduction of carbon intensity of 40-50 percent, but relative to GDP by 2020. The good news on the ground is that China is rolling out substantial amounts of non-fossil fuel energy projects, as well as making progress on reforesting many depleted areas. There is also potential for a Chinese market emissions trading scheme (ETS).
The European Union has taken a leadership role in emissions reductions and is likely to meet its 2012 Kyoto target of eight percent, in part due to slowed economic growth alongside concerted emissions reduction efforts. In terms of an international agreement, the EU has pledged 20 percent target by 2020 if no agreement is reached, and 30 percent reduction if there is an international consensus reached at Cancun and beyond.
The localised EU ETS has also been in operation and garnishing some interest, though prices remain deflated due to only localised, rather than international demand.
Surprising developments in recent months have been from South Korea. While South Korea is a non-Annex 1 country (e.g. one that is not considered historically responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions, and off the hook for Kyoto responsibilities), President Lee Myung-Bak has shaking the boat. He pledges that Korea will have a 30 percent reduction by 2020, and is working emphatically to make his country a cleantech capital through both legislation and industry incentives. It is the first time a “developing” country has taken a leadership position in such a manner.
Countries like Brazil and Indonesia are facing steep liability from emissions due to deforestation. The good news is that at Copenhagen, there was some progress made on clean development mechanisms (CDM), including some clarifications on Reductions in Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (or REDD for short). Tackling deforestation with a variety of incentives for leaving forests intact will be critical for Brazil and Indonesia both going forward to protect their remaining forested land area. It is anticipated further clarification and agreement on REDD will take place in Cancun later this year.
Given the internationally complex issues surrounding climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, it is easy to understand why progress has been so slow to date. When it comes to carbon markets and trading emissions credits, the financial uncertainty, as well as competing markets (such as between Kyoto related credits and localised initiatives such as the EU ETS) have driven the price of credits down.
Mr. Heer of First Climate sees the price for carbon credits hovering at €10-15 at least through 2012. Under such conditions, he anticipates that EU demand will be the key price driver. Prices would be more robust if there was one unified market for global trading, he said.
Currently, are 1.2 billion certified emission reductions (CERs) to be issued through 2012 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Of these credits, the majority of emissions reductions projects certified are in developing countries. China, India, and Brazil comprise some 72 percent of the projects, and primarily consist of renewable energy projects.
In an attempt to tackle the loss of creative young people, stimy economic development, and address some serious land planning issues, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has some bright ideas. Among them is to convert some 139 square miles of vacant urban land into urban farming developments and other uses. Check out more here.
Geothermal energy has enormous potential for meeting the energy needs of low-carbon economies. How much? According to MIT, an "estimated that tapping just 2% of the potential resource from so-called enhanced geothermal systems between 3km and 10km below the surface of continental USA could supply more than 2,500 times the country's total annual energy use."
Problem is, thusfar it has often been quite expensive to access and involves expensive drilling projects. Good news on the way however, as Guardian reports a new tool has been developed and tested by Potter Drilling. The tool has managed to reach a depth of 1000 feet deep in the earth, which is a good first step. The bulk of geothermal energy potential lies as much as 3-10km deep in the earths crust, so there is still some way to go. But the technology is proving very promising and it is likely this depth may eventually be reached. This would have a massive effect on lowering project costs and improving the potential for geothermal energy to be tapped worldwide. Something to watch in the years ahead.
Courtesy of Green Habitat Design, here's a quick primer on how geothermal works:
How will recent developments in Copenhagen and elsewhere affect progress on climate change?
Check out our interview -- Eco-business.com has an exclusive with Professor Tim Flannery, scientist, explorer, conservationist, and Chair of the Copenhagen Climate Council.
(Special thanks to SAVE at NUS for helping us get access)
Check out this interesting analysis (in very simple terms) explaining why energy is difficult to store and harness, and why there is no easy substitute for oil. (Thanks to John T. for passing along good stuff as always)
Scary: an 860-billion-tonne chunk of Antarctica's Mertz glacier broke off and is staying put in a precarious spot, one that is likely to upset the delicate flows of global ocean currents. Read the full story here.
... It is something we are continuing to explore with much enthusiasm. A really great new source of information on the topic recently came from WWF, entitled Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity. Touching on similar areas to George Lakoff's explorations of cognitive psychology, it looks into how environmental campaigns can avoid pitfalls and be more effective. Some pointers and highlights include:
- To combat the power of self-enhancing and materialistic values, encourage people to place greater priority on values such as self-acceptance/self-direction, affiliation, benevolence, and community feeling/universalism.
- By previously embracing self-enhancing, materialistic values and life goals (e.g. playing by the current rules and norms of society, such as trying to put a $ value on ecosystems), the environmental movement has actually served to reinforce the dominance of these values and goals. These are the very values and goals that lead to more negative environmental attitudes and damaging behaviour.
- Studies have shown that a more sustained, reflective meditation on the feelings aroused by thoughts of death can actually decrease material strivings, bringing a greater sense of meaning in life.
- Highlighting the scale and finality of an environmental threat may actually be counterproductive. It is important to spread the understanding of such impacts, but should not be done in a way that stimulates fear.
- Exaggerating environmental impacts of simple and painless steps might actually encourage people to deploy strategies for diversion (e.g. avoiding the topic, seeking pleasure, or blaming the problem on someone else), and also potentially leave people less inclined to adpt other more difficult and signficant behavioural changes.
- Blaming other groups or nationalities (such as SUV drivers around carbon emissions for instance) also is counterproductive in that these campaigns might heighten the sense of threat of those targeted, encourage them to dig in further into their damaging behaviour, and engage others outside the group to deny their own responsibility, instead projecting the problems onto the target group (e.g., the target group becomes the "bad guys").
- Behaviour is a strong determinant of opinion, which is why one cannot drive behaviour with information based on opinion. People adopt views which explain or are consistant with their their behaviours.
- In terms of wider social/environmental movements, it has been commonly noted that "Any oppression helps to support other forms of domination." Basically then, wars that dominate one group over another, abusive treatment of animals, and oppression of women all have some common causes. Working systematically and connecting these dots shows promise to changing the bigger picture for social and environmental issues of global importance.
Check out the WWF study, and also a related post here on Forward Thinking.
Like many countries, Thailand has an issue with waste. From buildings, to manufacturing and agriculture, to consumer goods and tourism leftovers, mountains of garbage go to landfill each year. Agriculture alone in Thailand churns out 58,190,000 tons of refuse annually
(Land Development Department, Government of Thailand). Think about that the next time you frolic on a Thai beach.
Throughput of industrial system today, from source to end consumer ends up in landfills or incinerator. For every truckload of product with lasting value, 32 truckloads of waste are produced. On a finite planet, it doesn’t take a genius to realize this sort of system is totally unsustainable.
Singh Intrachooto is an unlikely hero in this pile of waste. Closing the loop on society’s byproducts has become Singh’s claim to fame. On one sunny afternoon just outside Bangkok, on the campus of Kasetsart University, we caught up with Singh for an intimate look at his work. (article continues)
In many developing countries, eco-tourism projects are heralded as one way to bring money into communities and create economic benefits for local people. The premise is simple: showcase the local culture and natural heritage and gain the tourist dollar. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple business idea gets messy when implemented.
Small communities are often overrun with waste from materials brought in for or by tourists. Mountains of plastic water bottles and other refuse are the usual suspects. Too, communities often lack sufficient water and sanitation infrastructure, which leads to sewerage issues. Local natural attractions can be overrun and degraded by unscrupulous tour guides and their groups. Culturally too, it is far too easy for communities to be culturally overrun by outsiders and lose the very elements that make them unique to begin with.
Thankfully, in the Spiti Valley of northern India, one social enterprise is taking these concerns into consideration. Ecosphere
got started in 2002 with the premise to take a holistic view on ecotourism and what it could provide the local community. The crux of the organization’s work is to couple economic empowerment, development, and conservation efforts so that no area goes lacking.
Slammed by the economic crisis? Been laid off? Hating your job and wishing you were? Yearning for something more meaningful? Congratulations, you’re not alone. If you’ve been pounding your brain and the pavement in search of alternatives, look no further as there is something perfect for you.
Called “Half Farmer/Half X
”, it’s a concept created by a rather astute Japanese man named Naoki Shiomi
. The idea is simple: roughly half your time you devote to raising food and connecting with nature-- be it in a backyard garden, veggie patch, window box, or on a farm. The other half of the time, you spend developing your “X”— that is, your bigger purpose in life.
Shiomi got the idea after being a “salaryman” (Japanese corporate hack) for nearly a decade in Japan. Back in 1995, he got tired of his day job and found himself wondering how else he might spend his time. Around that same time, he also became conscious of a number of environmental issues, as well as thousands of hectares of abandon rural land in the Japanese countryside.
In exploring the issues and his own desire for change, he realized that most environmental problems are connected with people’s often misguided attempts at finding their identity. They consume to satisfy deeper emotional needs to the point it becomes addictive, an unquestioned pattern of behavior. (article continues)
As the keynote speaker at the Singapore Energy Lecture, Dr. Daniel Yergin
was toeing his usual line of optimism on the subject of oil and energy. As the Founder and Chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associate (CERA
), Dr. Yergin has a long career in the energy industry, though one some challenge
as upholding the status quo of business and industry.
“The century ahead of us will be defined by energy innovation,” he said in his keynote address. “We need availability and security of energy, and a depth and diversification of energy sources.”
He spoke of the odd timing of the Copenhagen
agenda of lowering carbon emissions (of which fossil fuel energy sources are a key contributor) by 2050, as well as projections that by 2030, there would be a substantial growth of energy needs worldwide. Some 80% of which these energy demands are to be met by hydrocarbon sources. Indeed, humanity faces some difficult decisions and conflict in the years ahead: development at what cost?
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.
One of the keys to keeping carbon emissions, and therefore climate change, in check is getting reductions in place. One of the easiest and most palatable ways to sell this to business is through energy efficiency measures.
Energy efficiency in business is considered low-hanging fruit, something that can be easily achieved in many cases, with both environmental and economic savings. They have one of the highest internal rates of returns (IRR) and companies can usually see the business case to do it. However, Frederic Crampe, Managing Director of ReEx Capital Asia
stumbled onto difficulty with one of his case studies.
In discussing a client project in the Philippines, Crampe mentioned that some simple steps were taken to conserve energy in one of the properties of a shopping mall developer. The net operation savings were in the vicinity of US$1 million in the first year, and likely to be similar going forward.
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:
Don’t expect climate change to get fixed by the governments of the world. Don’t expect that, however noble in intention, the efforts of Gore, McKibben, Stern, and their many cohorts will succeed either. Not on any large scale. It won’t be clean tech or green products saving the day either.
Climate change, like energy scarcity, water pollution, and other serious global issues is merely one symptom of a larger global problem. Tackle the symptoms individually, and at best you might get lackluster results. Tackle the source of the problem, and everything attached to it will be positively affected.
That problem is consumerism. Too many people want too many things on a finite planet with limited resources. The process of obtaining and manufacturing those things is what has gotten us into trouble: carbon emissions, resource depletion, deforestation, species extinction, etc.
The consumer economy is the cornerstone of “democratic” governments worldwide. As a result, governments have no genuine interest in changing the status quo. It would be too problematic, too chaotic, and mean transcending too many vested interests. Don’t count on Copenhagen to come to much.
And while Al Gore and company have some good ideas and rational arguments, the problem is that the arguments are rational, while the roots of consumerism are not.
For decades, the worldwide public both in the U.S. and any country that has emulated the American formula for “success” has had their minds absorbed by consumerism, and their emotions compromised by its advertised promises. At this point, the average consumer is largely driven by irrational motives, advertisers tugging at the heart strings, making promises that products will solve “problems”.
In this emotional landscape and this mindset, at best you might get a few people to change to energy efficient light bulbs. You might get their attention just long enough for a few token actions. As for significant lifestyle shifts, they will be few and far between. Any significant shift will come from reaching people on an emotional, and likely irrational level—just as advertisers have been doing for decades.
What we need is a shift to a new model—for our lifestyle, for our economies, for our livelihoods, for our planet.
A rational argument is not going to bring those about. What will?
Not clean tech, not green products, nor any other model that looks similar to the one we already have. Merely re-positioning “stuff that is less bad” for consumers to consume is just shifting the nature of the problem. As Buckminster Fuller advised, to make an existing model obsolete, one must create a new model worth aspiring to.
Or as Einstein so elegantly put it, “We cannot solve problems using the same logic we used to create them in the first place.”
There needs to be a shift in people’s values and behaviors on a wide scale.
The terrain is there for exploration. Here is a well documented series from the BBC tracing the origins of consumer behavior and how they got us to where we are today. It’s a long series to watch, but incredibly detailed and insightful. If you are serious about wanting to change the way things are, study and reflect on these videos.
As the old adage goes, “Turn the problem into the solution.” In this case, the answer is getting consumerism to quickly consume and snuff itself out. Will it be another banking crisis that does it? Some other social movement rooted in the masses? Some other driver yet undetermined? Who knows, perhaps you will be the one coming up with the next golden idea on that one.
The Century of the Self Part 1
The Century of the Self Part 2
The Century of the Self Part 3
The Century of the Self Part 4
Yup, it can be done. Living without money for a year was an ambition of Mark Boyle, and he succeeded. Check out this fantastic article on one person's journey.
Jack Sim’s mind is in the toilet. Or rather on the toilet. In face, he thinks that toilets are not only one of the keys to a global economic recovery, but also to empowering the developing world. Perhaps he’s spent too long on the “seat of wisdom”, or maybe he’s got a damn good idea.
Consider this: worldwide there are 2.5 billion people without access to proper sanitation. This is really bad news as it means that many are left to do “business” in rather uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions. It also means that effluent is not properly treated in many countries, and often winds up contaminating the ecosystems of rivers, lakes, and streams. This of course has knock on effects with drinking water, and that can spell some nasty diseases from contamination.
Now move from this scene to one of a corporate board room on the other side of the planet: business people are trying to find new markets and new products to make money. The recession has meant belt tightening, and not only that, how many flat screen televisions does the average household really need?
Well if a 2.5 billion person market doesn’t attract attention, what would?
Problem is, conventional business strategy sees these underprivileged “bottom of the pyramid” people as poor, and therefore, not worthy of much business attention. As with the conventional logic that spurned our recent economic crisis, this notion is worth flushing.
While the poor might not have heaps of wealth, they are still are promising market for businesses as they represent a volume opportunity. Why not try selling a million useful things to people at a reasonable cost, than a few expensive big ticket items to the really rich?
Telecoms have recognized this opportunity for millions of new customers. Nokia is one such example. Its introduction of Nokia money (a credit that is swappable between mobile phones) in developing nations has not only meant success for the company, but has also served as a de facto second currency in several African nations. African warlord got you down? National currency a bit deflated? Use your Nokia money to pay for groceries instead this week. Not a bad idea.
So back to the toilet. How to connect the bottom of the pyramid with the businesses in a position to help?
Jack Sim started the World Toilet Organisation (or WTO) to connect these two seemingly disparate parties in the name of mutual progress. The UN estimates that $1 spent on sanitation yields $9 in economic benefit (think lower disease rates, less trips to the doctor, better environmental quality, better health, which then means higher productivity, and consistent wages). Good sanitation is therefore one cornerstone of alleviating poverty.
Breaking down silos, the WTO works to bring governments, aid agencies, community groups, and businesses together to help solve sanitation challenges worldwide. According to Mr. Sim, just throwing money at the problem is not going go solve anything. “Merely throwing aid dollars around only creates a dependency mentality, and incentivizes people not to help themselves,” he says.
The answer lies in treating this new market just as you would with any market. That means involving the customers, respecting them as real
people with very real needs, subsidizing the market development instead of hardware costs, developing rural markets for sanitation services, empowering local entrepreneurs, and facilitating links between demand and supply.
“Poor people are intelligent, discerning, brand conscious, and prudent with their money. Quite literally, they cannot afford to make a purchasing mistake,” says Mr. Sim. “Not only that, poor people are highly entrepreneurial out of necessity. They do not want to look poor and have a great amount of pride. Part of the solution is to make toilets a status symbol to help spur demand. A vision needs to be created in the community that everyone aspires to better health and sanitation.”
The good news is, even in developing nations, there are many low cost fixtures on the market already, some as cheap as US$250-400. There are also many ways to keep the whole process affordable. A village might come together to build a shared toilet block and biogas digester unit, or individuals might get a microfinance loan to have facilities installed in their home. In many countries, distribution networks are largely already in place, with over 4000+ low cost distributors in Bangladesh alone.
As sanitation becomes community and national priority, it opens up opportunity for new jobs and micro enterprises. Sure there are some gaps to fill along the way, but with some careful planning, coordination, and facilitation of low-cost financing, they’re not impossible to overcome, and certainly worth the results. Healthier people, better environment and water quality, increased economic opportunity, and new business possibilities—it’s a hard bottom line to argue with. And that’s where the WTO comes in to catalyze the process.
From a business point of view, Mr. Sim sees it like this: sanitation and hygiene yield health and optimism. Optimistic healthy people are then better positioned to work and be entrepreneurial, thereby getting a better income and slowly raising themselves out of poverty. As they climb up the ladder, they enjoy better well-being and have more opportunity for the future.
“Sooner or later, if you persist, it will have to happen. By helping the world’s poor, we are really helping ourselves at the same time. It’s a win-win situation,” says Mr. Sim.
Mr. Sim started the WTO in 2001 and has seen progressive involvement since, with everyone from the UN to the Clinton Global Initiative getting involved. It now has 215 member organizations in 57 countries. Annual conferences have raised attention to sanitation issues on the global stage. While the WTO might seem to have achieved glamorous standings, even for a toilet association, the reality is that it started from a very humble, simple background.
At the age of 25, Mr. Sim started in business and was quite successful. By age 40, he was comfortably wealthy and pondering retirement, or starting a new business. He then had the inkling that perhaps, rather than put his wealth on a roulette wheel once again just to make more money, a change was in order. “I was looking for something meaningful,” he says. “Death is a sure thing and I might as well do something positive. I saw toilets and sanitation as a neglected area, something that in many cultures, people were afraid to talk about. I figured it couldn’t get any worse, so it was time to make a difference.”
With that very simple motivation, he got things flowing. “The more difficult the challenge, the more kick you get from solving it,” he says. “For me, it was about becoming an ordinary human being again, and just feeling happy.”
Jack Sim recently spoke at ISEAS as part of their ongoing series on climate change and environmental issues.
The National Museum of Singapore was graced last night with some of Southeast Asia’s leading innovators. Both native talent and international experts were showcased in an event hosted by Qi Global
. The event themed Human Progress in Harmony with Nature was incredibly significant, not only for the speakers, but for the fact that it sought to connect people with the ability to create change.
“When you ask someone if they think that climate change is happening, they say yes. When you ask them if they are doing anything about it, they say no. Where did that disconnect happen?” questioned Paul Coleman, director of Qi Global. “We want to inspire people to think about the long term, and simply put, care about the future.”
The evening was full of people who did exactly that, many starting out from extremely humble means and little money. Dr. Willie Smits, founder of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation
was one such example. He arrived in Indonesia from the Netherlands and became smitten with the local wildlife. Very quickly he realized the large scale destruction that plagues rainforests in Indonesia, with poor farmers clashing and burning in order to open up areas to agricultural land. In 1998 alone, over 5.5 million hectares were lost to fires set by locals, which were exasperated by layers of coal near the surface. For roughly 3 months, only minor sunlight could get through the thick haze of smoke.
Under such conditions, the native orangutans are frequently driven from their habitat, often turning up in villages where they quickly become food for impoverished locals. Dr. Smits sought to change all that, and starting only with small donations bought up incremental parcels of land. Using mixed agriculture techniques, he slowly transformed acres of landscape from agricultural plain back to rainforest. “Interaction lead to innovation,” he said. “We used over 1232 different species of plants to regenerate the area, not just for nature, but for human well-being also.”
In this mix was bamboo that could be harvested for a number of uses, as well as the highly valuable sugar palms. Far different than oil palms, sugar palms provide 20 times more jobs, and also have an extremely high sugar component making them valuable as an ethanol biofuel source.
People in the area were taught these farming techniques and recruited for the replanting efforts that have reclaimed an every growing area of land each year. Dr. Smits used diversity of plants and their purposes to fulfill not only ecological roles, but also to help create livelihoods for locals so they could step beyond their traditional slash and burn methods. The evening’s raffle went to benefit the project.
Also in Indonesia, designer and entrepreneur Singgih Susilo Karotono
helped transform his village of Kandangan in Central Java. He developed a high quality process for manufacturing a wide range of handcrafted wooden pieces, from chopsticks to radios. Working alongside European buyers, he created a market for his products and grown his business to the point that it now employs 30 locals. Like Dr. Smits, Singgih had more than just ecological outcomes in mind. He wanted the products to redefine how people viewed with and interacted with nature. “A product is part of our life and people often have a strong connection with what they own. We need to have a similar relationship with the environment as we are all a part of nature,” he said. “Beyond reduce, reuse, and recycle that everyone knows, we need to redefine what our lives and products are like in the first place.”
His formula was simple: use small amounts of wood to craft high quality, high value products that are beautiful and sell for a fair price point. Teach the local craftspeople how to manufacture at this level and help them learn business skills to regenerate the local economy. Use profits from the business to regenerate local environment and encourage the planting of new trees, not only for future material, but for ecological benefit.
A Thai based designer took a different approach. Dr. Singh Intrachooto
(centre right) the design principal at Osisu was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of agricultural waste Thailand produced annually. “Right now, we focus too much on the product, not on the process,” he said. “Often something we make creates as much as 32x the waste as the final product we use.”
Some 38 million tons of waste emerges from farming everything from rice to oranges every year in Thailand, not to mention the waste that comes from manufacturing processes that produce everything from buttons to foam for sofas. Dr. Singh set about experimenting with the different materials, seeing how they could be given new life. One by one, new products took shape. Old steel pipes were reborn as park benches, pop tops as stylish handbags, plastic waste as chic modern seating. His solutions were genius in how they used waste streams as primary materials, and how they challenged what we think of as conventionally designed products. His designs are in hot demand with audiences across Asia and as far away as Europe.
The evening’s events also included presentations from Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue (above image, left), world-renowned Danish conservationist Lone Droscher Nielsen
(above image, right) and acclaimed jewelry designer John Hardy who founded the Green School in Bali
. What all these stories had in common was the ability for every day people to transform our world for the better, starting in their own “backyard” and often by trying to tackle a single problem.
The innovation demonstrated in all of these stories was extremely inspiring.
Beyond the luminaries presenting on stage, there was plenty of local talent on hand at the event, including the controversial Ivy Singh-Lim (image right, centre) of Bollywood Organics, model and presenter Nadya Hutagulang, and fashionable green scenester Olivia Choong.
While interest in sustainability issues in Asia might be a slow process, it seems likely that the tide is shifting. The room was packed with everyone from gallery owners to product designers and bankers; over 200 people attended on the evening. With interest and enthusiasm we look forward to upcoming events.
It’s probably happened to you. Someone in the company gets a bright idea that the company needs more bright ideas-- a new product or service; some new angle to catch the public’s interest; a marketing gimmick or brand extension that will “revolutionise the industry.” Blah blah blah.
You’re dragged to an offsite “brainstorming” session and a day full of sitting on beanbags and drinking abusive amounts of coffee ensures. Plenty of talk takes place. White boards get decorated. Perhaps some creative juices flow. A barrage of new initiatives get slated for further development… but how many of these are actually goodies?
From SME’s, to big corporates, to community organisations, and the big ole’ city council— all of us at some point or another have to innovate what we are doing in an attempt to grow capital of one kind or another. Problems arise when creativity overtakes practicality and we lose sight our operating context.
According to extensive research by Doblin Group
based in the U.S., a 2007 survey of over 3000 projects in 400 businesses across 4 continents over 10 years revealed some startling conclusions: over 95.5% of all innovation fails. Painful but true. That’s a lot of wasted days on a beanbag chair.
So what are professionals in the sustainability space to do? We’re trying to solve some big issues, from climate change to the viability and social cohesion of our communities. We also don’t have the luxury of time and cannot afford to let our actions be outstripped by the issues we face. How do we deliver value from the ideas we generate to solve these problems?
We need to battle test them, critically examine their design, and make sure they hold up. Going back to Doblin Group, they note that 95% of change should focus on improving the everyday. It’s about being quick and incremental. Think battery powered lawn mower. Another 5% of the change needs to be more disruptive, radical, and outside the box. Think iTunes.
Keeping that balance is essential as often there are big gains to be made in improving on something already exists, rather than trying to be too revolutionary and producing a solution the world isn’t ready for yet.
Peter Salmon of Moxie
believes that problems need to first address the human condition. “After all, it’s like my dad used to say: everyone’s an environmentalist until the lights go out. If we aren’t looking after people’s basic needs, how can they care about bigger worldly issues?” he says.
Moxie’s been around a while, and under Peter’s leadership, recently developed a programme they call Next Plays
. After years of presenting thought provoking research and hearing "So what's next?" from clients, they sought to help companies answer the question. It goes like this: use carefully developed strategies to design a positive future. Everyone from Air New Zealand to the World Bank and governments in charge of Hanoi are getting in on the action.
So, how’s this thing work?
Up front, there’s consideration taken for the big picture issues. What will be affecting the industry or city? A critical examination takes place of the key factors that will be shaping the future, from shrinking capital markets, aging populations, climate change, peak energy production, and collapse of ecosystem services and so on.
“There are no ideal answers,” Peter says. “It’s about creating a general and realistic scenario of the future rather than trying to be overly predictive.”
From there, Next Plays moves into the ideas necessary to start tackling these problems. Knowing what we know from the scenarios developed, what needs to be developed? Is it rejigging the business model? Developing a new product or service? How the widget gets made? Changing the way theorganisation operates to influence its stakeholders? In this stage of the process, all ideas are on the table, no matter how left field.
“Most people innovate around their core competence,” Peter says. “There are often other opportunities out there around finance and delivery— and those are likely to be the revolutionary ones. Sometimes it’s as simple as recruiting a new industry partner or pairing up two promising, disparate ideas. There’s a lot that can be learned from biomimicry that translates into how we can successfully do business. We need to move away from linear thinking.”
With some promising ideas on the table, the scrutiny begins. Alongside the Next Plays guide that features case studies from around the world, ideas are critiqued across numerous categories (or “Plays”) including:
- Improving communications transparency (authenticate)
- Creating broader value nets—not chains (engagement)
- Considering longer term impacts in decision making (go long)
- Closing loops on material inputs and outputs-- waste is a resource (loops)
- Mixing and broadening boundaries together to increase chances for rapid evolution (mix)
- Filling unmet needs and gaps in the system (needs based- what do people want?)
- Finding a niche and simplify a way of doing things (simplify)
The possibilities are then examined across the business or organisation structure, from the business model, to the larger operating environment, to the processes of the company, to the individual products and services, to larger communications and engagement strategies.
Inevitably, some of the ideas fall out at this point. This is not a bad thing as it’s likely they didn’t have the sticking power first anticipated. Others ideas combine into larger initiatives, or broader themes for action.
An overall response to the problem starts to emerge. Everything that’s left is vetted across three major results criteria: are these refined, new, or shifted ideas? The purpose of this stage is to help examine whether there’s enough of a balance in the response to the problem. If it all start’s looking like reinventing the wheel, then it’s time to start over.
If it looks like there are substantial social and environmental wins, and that the organisation is at least starting to shift how it operates, it’s a sign of progress.
What about the financial bottom line? It’s implied the whole way along that any ideas produced are of financial value in some way, or they wouldn’t be included.
Finally, the remaining ideas are weighed up against time and the scenarios that were discussed at the onset. What takes priority is determined by the organisation’s unique situation. Discrete initiatives might be polished off in a matter of weeks. Strategic business changes might roll out over a 5-10 year stretch. In either case, implementation should begin as soon as possible.
“Future enterprise value will be measured by the benefit to society and the environment,” Peter stresses. “We need to do less, do it better, rigorously test ideas and designs, and get them more viable, rather than try 50 things that fail.”
With these guiding principles gaining traction, let’s hope the solutions we develop going forward are intelligent, considered, and ultimately solving the problems we face. Time is not on our side.
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