Saturday, March 31, 2007
The plantings of bullrushes and reeds around Barnes Pond are beginning to get into their stride – the sun was setting behind one clump as we walked back from a trip into central London today, largely to pick up the laptop I stupidly forgot to bring back after last night’s celebration. As we sat alone in the office and I did a message to the team, it brought home how much of SustainAbility’s undoubted achievements of the past 20 years have depended on other people. Then, this evening, having bought DVDs of the latest Bond film Casino Royale and of The Queen, we watched the former. Wonderfully distracting, doubly welcome since the peer reviews have just come in for the new book – but I think I’ll leave that until Monday. Have always expected this next stage to be complicated.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Today we marked SustainAbility’s twentieth anniversary, kicking off a process of celebrating the organisation’s twenty-first year and pushing forward our ongoing transformation. A special 20-years-on section of the SustainAbility website will be launched next week.
In this first event, which coincided with a Board meeting today, we mainly invited the UK team and alumni from over the years – including Fiona Byrne, our first-ever employee. Sadly, co-founder Julia Hailes couldn’t make it, but will be involved in later stages. The US team also couldn’t make it, though their latest recruit – Jonathan Halperin – was with us. We used his presence to celebrate the extraordinary success of our US colleagues since that defining early setback, when we were based in New York, of our team watching the planes fly into the World Trade Center. Also from the US, Debra Dunn, a member of the Skoll Foundation Board, joined us – having spent much of the week at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford (see earlier postings).
A deeply moving gathering of the tribes, with every face telling a story. I recall, for example, when Geoff Lye joined us in the early 1990s and he and I couldn’t pay ourselves for several months – something he helped us put right by getting the organisation onto a much sounder financial footing. He now splits his time between us and the Oxford-based Environmental Change Institute, where he focuses on climate change. And among those present was Jonathan Shopley, now CEO of the CarbonNeutral Company, but a colleague on the consultancy side of my life when we were launching SustainAbility. He jokingly complained that when people Google his name today, a blog entry of mine comes up No. 1, describing how Gaia amd Hania embraced him on our doorstep after his long ride north from South Africa. Can’t see what he’s complaining about: when I Googled him, the blog came up No. 4 …
More seriously, our continuing friendships and relationships with such people underscore one of the more delightful aspects of SustainAbility. Unlike an oceanic wave, which maintains its form in passing but leaves individual water molecules that once formed it behind in its wake – our organisation may have involved 80-90 people in its Core Team over the years, but those who have moved on have tended to stay as part of our extended family, in some cases as members of our Council, which ran for ten years, and now our Faculty.
Gaia and Hania brought me a ‘birthday’ card, celebrating 20 years of their third “sister,” SustainAbility, which shared our family home for several years before it flew the nest. Now it is more or less grown up and over the next few years will increasingly be in the business of establishing nests elsewhere in the world, including – we hope – India. Twenty years on from the launch of the Brundtland Report, which began the process of mainstreaming the concept of sustainable development, the idea of intergenerational equity has gained a fair amount of traction – and, in my mind at least, that was symbolised by the presence of Norah Lee, daughter of our CEO Mark Lee, who pops up in a couple of the photos below. My thanks to Tell Muenzing, who took many of them.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
SKOLL WORLD FORUM 2007
Bumped into Geoff (Lye) at Oxford Station, while waiting for a train back to London. Railways, as usual, in turmoil, with our train cancelled because of missing guard. But nothing could drown out the astonishing experience of the past few days at the Skoll World Forum.
From the music of Salman Ahmad and the gentle wisdom of Charles Handy through to the thoughts of David Galenson on the different forms of creativity and Larry Brilliant (of Google.org) on reasons for optimism, this was an unbelievably rich banquet of ideas and – in line with this year’s theme of ‘Innovators in Action’ – there was a regular jolt of electricity from social and environmental entrepreneurs from, by Jeff Skoll’s count, 40 countries on six continents.
We launched our first Skoll Report, Growing Opportunity: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Insoluble Problems, co-sponsored by Allianz and DuPont (http://www.sustainability.com/news-media/news-resource.asp?id=938). And the four of us (Sophia, Maggie, Ritu and I) were involved in three separate sessions.
One, ‘Partnering with Business,’ ran on Wednesday, was chaired by Sophia, and featured Maggie, social entrepreneurs Blaise Judja-Sato (VillageReach) and Chris Elias (PATH), and leading speakers from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GE Asset Management and GSK.
The second, chaired by Jan Piercy of Shorebank, focused on the challenge of accessing capital for social enterprise, and I was on the panel alongside folk like Penny Newman of Cafe Direct, Michele Giddens of Bridges Community Ventures, Tim Reith of Community Innovation UK and Arthur Wood of Ashoka.
And the third, as the event moved towards its conclusion, came earlier today. I chaired a discussion with Bill Drayton of Ashoka and Ed Miliband, Minister for the Third Sector, with whom a number of us had dinner last night at the Said Business School. First time I’d met him, but was impressed by his grasp of the subject and the clarity of his delivery. Still, Larry Brilliant was a tough act to follow, particularly with his astonishing swooping in and out of the Indian sub-continent via Google Earth, or similar, in the process of demonstrating how horrendous the risk of climate change is to low-lying countries like Bangladesh.
To view the Forum sessions online, go to http://www.skollfoundation.org/skollcentre/skoll_forum.asp
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
In the olden days, Oxford saw the burning of people whose thinking was outside the bounds of orthodoxy. Last night Geoff Mulgan noted that the Skoll World Forum was being held just around the corner from where Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was burned in 1556 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Cranmer). Passed the spot today.
The Guardian devotes a full page today to my piece on ‘Rising to the Challenge’ (http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,2044046,00.html) – and you have to admire their consistency in ensuring that their random typo generator is always switched on. Somehow they managed to convert the acronym for the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers into KPBM, twice. I take my hate off to them.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Began the day with WWF at Westminster Central Hall, helping launch the new One Planet Business report that SustainAbility has developed with WWF and a range of other partners (http://www.sustainability.com/insight/research-article.asp?id=941), including the Global Footprint Network – one of the winners in this year’s Skoll Awards (see below). Clive Anderson moderated and made a particularly pointed comment about Sky TV being both carbon-neutral and tax-neutral, an issue that SustainAbility has been covering in its work on the tax agenda for business (http://www.sustainability.com/insight/research-article.asp?id=450).
As I left, I passed a demonstration calling for reparations for the slavery era – and, in Parliament Square, the brooding statue of Lincoln. Then by train to Oxford, where I snapped the always moving statue of the WWI Tommy reading mail from home, to take part in the Skoll World Forum (http://www.skollfoundation.org/skollcentre/skoll_forum.asp). The opening ceremeony was held in the Sheldonian Theatre, an exquisite building – but its seating also provides exquisite torture for the lower anatomy.
Staying at The Randolph Hotel, which a troubled friend signed into some 30 years ago planning to burn the place down. They guessed: he signed in as Lucifer. My brother had to go and bail him out.
Fuzzily from the Sheldonian Gods: Sally Osberg, Peter Gabriel, Muhammad Yunus and Jeff Skoll
Monday, March 26, 2007
CHATHAM HOUSE AND HARRY POTTER
Spoke at a rather dreary Chatham House conference, ‘Sense & Sustainability,’ before heading down to Oxford for a Skoll Foundation dinner to celebrate the 2007 crop of social entrepreneurs. Held in the dining hall of Exeter College, where – Jeff Skoll said – Tolkien came up with the basic idea for Lord of the Rings and, more recently, sundry parts of Harry Potter were filmed.
Barry Coleman (Riders for Health) and Susan Burns (Global Footprint Network), Exeter College
Sunday, March 25, 2007
DIVERSION EN ROUTE HOME
Have never come across more roadworks than on our trip to Fowey and back, taking the ‘fast’ route via Bristol westward, then coming back on the A30 and A303, and dropping off to see Julia Hailes and her family for lunch. The Google Earth time estimates turned out to be pretty much spot on, though, despite some quite extraordinary diversions, which probably means I wasn’t driving at the most fuel-efficient speed. Still while they may have blurred by, I relished the burial mounds and tumuli around Stonehenge as we headed east.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Having driven down to Fowey from London last night, Elaine and I headed across to the Eden Project (http://www.edenproject.com) for 11.00 this morning, to meet up with Tim Smit – and he gave us the Grand Tour. Some images below. Wonderful to see where ‘Seed,’ by Peter Randall-Page (http://www.peterrandall-page.com/) will stand from June. We talked on after a late lunch and then Tim, the epitome of hospitality, led us across to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which we managed to get around before the sun went down. Just. One of the most extraordinary days of my life, with the skies blue horizon-to-horizon from the moment the sun came up to the moment it disappeared. As the three of us took stock back at the Hotel Marina, over a bottle of Framingham Pinot Noir, I couldn’t get Lou Reed’s voice out of my mind.
Dome from dome: Tim and Pamela talk geodesics
X marks the spot where Peter Randall-Page’s ‘Seed’ will stand
Testing the acoustic
A different drum
Cassanova and the Marquis de Sade
What are they hatching?
Not quite up to his eyeballs
Brassica seem unafrighted
Cooler: Pamela (wearing rug from our car) and Elaine
Sun begins to set
But it still lights up the trees when we get back to Fowey
And then the lights come on
Monday, March 19, 2007
INVASION OF THE FROGS
Gaia and Hania were over yesterday and, after we talked about the frogs that have taken over Gaia’s garden in North London, she emailed me some photographs she had taken. Some of the amphibians are unlike anything I have seen in this country before, except – perhaps – for one orange fog I saw in a welter of the beasts on a Cumbrian moor behind Eskdale Green maybe 30 years ago. Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places. But maybe encouraging when frogs seem to be in such precipitous decline in so many places.
Who’s the alien?
Saturday, March 17, 2007
JACK, THE DEBATE IS OVER
I had thought it progress when Jack and Suzy Welch had concluded that it was time for business to act on climate change even if the science wasn’t yet proven, in their ‘The Welch Way’ column in the February 26 issue of BusinessWeek. Given how much Welch has resisted this whole agenda, this seemed like the dikes beginning to break. But the March 19 issue now carries a very prominent letter from an Ian Keay in Palo Alto, arguing that “Jack, the debate is over, and the scientists have won …. There is no more time for fence-sitting.” I only know one Ian Keay in Palo Alto: he was our Best Man in 1973.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Stopped off briefly in St Bride’s Church, off Fleet Street (http://www.stbrides.com/), as I walked across to a meeting of the Tomorrow’s Global Company Inquiry Team this afternoon. A place of worship for 2000 years, the site is a wonderful island of calm. The extraordinary Wren church has been the “the spiritual home of printing & the media” for 500 years. According to the Church’s website, something that would have seemed a miracle even a few decades ago, the church stood empty for seventeen years, after “a wartime bomb had left the church a smouldering shell.” An extraordinary sense, despite the ecxesses of today’s media, that this has been an axial point around which successive battles have been fought for freedom of speech.
Then on to KPMG’s HQ, just around the corner, for the meeting. At the dinner afterwards we were considering the key skills and attributes of tomorrow’s CEO and other business leaders. I scribbled down four in my little blue Moleskine notebook before the tour de table began, and when it was my turn to speak – after around 15 contributions – none of mine had been mentioned.
One was a Superman-like ability to see way back down complex supply chains, a form of X-ray vision. Another was the capacity to pick up early on weak signals of new risks and opportunities. The problem here, I noted, was that if you become too sensitive to weak signals it’s a bit like being on LSD, where everything seems significant. Someone I had earlier challenged on his Neanderthal positioning on climate change fired back that it seemed as if I had taken LSD – to which I replied that, as usual, I knew of what I spake. Laughter followed, but the point stands: and it’s a rare mind that can do this.
A third item on my shortlist was a sense of humour, which often signals an ability to play with ideas and see things from odd angles. Not as powerful as LSD, perhaps, but in the longer term likely to leave more of the brain intact.
Maybe it’s the Sixties, and all that went with them, but in these various conversations around the future of globalisation – including SustainAbility’s own 20th anniversary report on the theme, which I am working on at the moment – there is too often a comfortable, dangerous assumption that the processes of globalisation will run on rails. That seventeen year hiatus at St Bride’s should be a reminder that History rarely runs on rails, and neither will current forms of globalisation.
The news hoardings were full of Gordon Brown’s greening as I headed across to the Café Royal last night for the Green Alliance (http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/) event showcasing the Chancellor. Apparently he was invited last year, but the invitation was turned down. Then when David Cameron was invited instead, the Treasury called to demand why Brown hadn’t been invited? Hey-ho, but here we go, it seems: climate change and carbon budgeting have become the stuff of the political steeplechase.
I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by Brown, though can’t say I trust his instincts after his action in areas like pensions and the ill-fated Operating & Financial Review (OFR). He noted that when he commissioned Sir Nicholas Stern’s report on the economics of climate change, he had no idea about the scale of the challenge the world faces. His ideas for upgrading the United Nations Environment programme, for greening the World Bank and for ensuring that future Chancellors of the Exchequer have to count – and account for – carbon were welcome. Indeed carbon budgeting (and the implications for the Treasury) is an area where Geoff Lye – who now straddles SustainAbility and Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute (http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/) – has been investing a great deal of effort in recently.
Brown also reported that he is going to ensure that all homes eventually have energy efficiency ratings, like white goods such as fridges, which is welcome, and he is writing to the European Commission to ask that member states be allowed to reduce or remove the VAT on green products. All good stuff, as far as it goes, but I thought his prediction that climate change would radically transform global governance over the next 5 years a little far-fetched, though much stranger things have happened.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Glorious walk in Richmond Park today, with jackdaws, rooks and parakeets in joyous Spring-time mood. Had a sudden hunch that the frogs would be spawning and we walked over to the Secret Pond, to find several clumps of spawn already afloat. Uneasy feeling that they may be too early.
Friday, March 09, 2007
ONE PLANET BUSINESS INTERVIEW
Did a filmed interview today for the launch of the WWF One Planet Business report and programme later this month – a project which SustainAbility has been helping with. As we filmed, Sam (Lakha) flitted around with the diminutive Canon camera and these are some of the results.
Venetian blind and three echoing glasses
A touch of green
Eye off the ball
Q side of the equation
Almost done, Sam?
The killer question
(All photos: Sam Lakha)
SUSTAINABILITY JOINS USCAP
Jeffrey Immelt (Chairman and C.E.O., General Electric) and Jonathan
Lash (President, World Resources Institute) at the launch of the USCAP
Call to Action [Photo credit: Reggie Lipscomb, NPS Photography]
SustainAbility has signed up as a supporter of the US Climate Action Partnership. The USCAP (http://www.us-cap.org) is a group of businesses and leading environmental organizations that have come together to call on the Federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. USCAP has issued a landmark set of principles and recommendations to underscore the urgent need for a policy framework on climate change.
The statement we provided to USCAP along with our endorsement reads as follows: “As SustainAbility enters its 21st year working with businesses to address society’s greatest challenges, we are encouraged by the leadership and courage demonstrated by the members of the USCAP. We share their sense of urgency regarding the global need to dramatically and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we join them in their call for national climate change legislation in the US.”
The six principles that are core to the USCAP Call for Action (http://www.us-cap.org/ClimateReport.pdf) are:
(1) Account for the global dimensions of climate change;
(2) Create incentives for technology innovation;
(3) Be environmentally effective;
(4) Create economic opportunity and advantage;
(5) Be fair to sectors disproportionately impacted; and
(6) Reward early action.
Someone I have known for many a year, Robert Davies (CEO of the International Business Leaders Forum, http://www.iblf.org/), has started a blog which affords a very different – and very interesting – window on the linked fields of corporate responsibility and sustainable development.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
IMPERIAL PINK – AND BLUE
Always enjoy doing sessions with the Business & Environment MSc students at Imperial College, the course run by Andrew Blaza, which I did again this morning. Highly diverse and engaged group. Back to a bunch of writing tasks, but particularly the report we are racing to finish in time for the Skoll World Forum at the end of the month. One theme of my Imperial session was the need for more creativity in this space – and this week, so far, we have had visits from creative folk like Bob Adams of IDEO (http://www.ideo.com/) and a number of his UK colleagues, from Kris Murrin of ?What If! (http://www.whatifinnovation.com/), and from Sara Olsen of SVT Consulting (http://svtconsulting.com/about/team.html).
Sunday, March 04, 2007
In between blogging and doing catch-up work for the office, I have been wading through piles of The Times, Financial Times, and other assorted newspapers that have accumulated at home while I was away, including today The Observer and The Sunday Times. Yesterday’s FT included a nice column from Carolyn Lyons on the Mason Pearson hairbrush, “the brush that really brushes.” Its design roots go back to 1885, apparently.
All I know is that it was always the standard brush in my family – and Elaine’s – and still is. But the story that sticks in my mind is my mother’s, who used to use these redoubtable brushes to tan our hides when we were small. At one point, the handle of a brush broke off. So she sent it back to Mason Pearson, with a polite note saying that she had used their brushes to beat her children for many a year. Not sure that would square with human rights rules these days, but, obligingly, they sent her a new one.
One of the wonderful things about the Bangalore visit was the generosity of spirit of the people who I met around the city. Rohini Nilekani, for example, not only introduced me to the work of Arghyam (http://www.arghyam.org; motto: ‘safe, sustainable water for all’), but put me in touch with Rajni Bakshi, who is deeply knowledgable about the deep history of civil society movements in India, particularly those based on the thinking of Mahatma Gandhi. Though Rajni lives in Mumbai, she and I had two long telephone conversations while I was in Bangalore and then, as I was packing to leave, the door bell went – and Rohini had sent over a copy of Rajni’s book Bapu Kuti: Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi, published by Penguin Books, India, in 1998 (http://www.amazon.com/Bapu-Kuti-Rajni-Bakshi/dp/0140278389).
Read most of the book on the flight back, aided by the fact that it was delayed by a couple of hours, and was soon scribbling reams of notes. A wonderful, threaded series of twelve stories of activists who have taken forward Gandhi’s thinking – all linking back to Bapu Kuti, the simple, elegant ‘mud hut’ originally designed by and built for Madeleine Slade, or ‘Miraben’, an extraordinary aristocratic Briton who had sailed to India in 1925, aged 33, and adopted Gandhi as her spiritual father. After a major attack of malaria, he lived in what became known as Bapu Kuti for many years and it subsequently became a shrine.
Among the things that struck me about the stories Rajni tells are the impact of the thinking and work of Joseph Cornellius Kumarappa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._C._Kumarappa), whose “economics of permanence” anticipated sustainable development by several decades, and the unbelievable courage of people like the founders of Ganga Mukti Andolan (GMA), which fought to reclaim the Ganges from those pillaging it.
Got a comforting look from an air hostess when she passed and saw my eyes brimming with tears as I read the words of Shanti Devi, a 55-year-old widow who had been active in the GMA since its beginning: “We will fight, no matter what happens. If I die fighting then like a daughter I will go to sleep in the lap of Mother Ganga.” What made the words even more powerful was the knowledge that the GMA insisted on non-violence, while their often extremely violent opponents resorted to techniques like slashing those who resisted their power and then immersing them in the river, to bleed to death.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Bangalore’s traffic seems to run on just two principles: first, drive as fast as you can, as close to the vehicle in front as possible, with no thought for lane discipline; and, second, put your hand hard on your horn at every possible opportunity. You get used to it surprisngly quickly, though I wouldn’t want to try it on a cycle – except if I was shielded on either side, like one cyclist I saw today, by what looked like milk churns. Some of the tuk-tuks were laying down smoke-screens worthy of WWI destroyers – though I only managed to snap one that was fuming in a relatively modest way.
Friday, March 02, 2007
During a working session alongside the swimming pool on the future of tracking, monitoring and sensing, I noted that it would be useful to have a robotic dragonfly to flit acrosss to a nearby working group – and see what they were doing. (Would have been useful, since they were the ones who won the subsequent future business competition.) The idea had surfaced after we had been passing around a set of RFID and other tracking devices. Then, weirdly, a giant dragonfly came and hovered over our group as it was disassembling. I tried to photograph it – and it almost seemed to know what I was trying to do, and played with me. Then it got a little too clever, trying a different flight-path – and, click, it was in frame.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Apparently, the discussions in Bangalore are proving to be more abstract, more strategic than those in the earlier session in Egham, Surrey. Not surprised, given how abstract some of my traffic pictures turned out.