Categories
business communication values

Purposeful optimism

Tim Jones of Grow Good tells us he realised that the credo statements on the walls of many businesses are a complete lie – they claim values based on people, but really, its about profit. He describes a “purpose journey” of discovering what companies (and the people who make them) can contribute. This brings a sense of optimism, and reveals who you really are.

See if you can make that positive difference.

Categories
business maori

Passion behind business marae

Heidi Renata is the energy behind Dunedin’s Innov8HQ.  She is “inspiring people to follow their dream”.

 


Talking points:

Being a women and being Maori has presented itself as a form of unconscious activism.

We’ve created a western and commercial version of a marae that brings people together and enables them to cross pollinate and collaborate with skills and experiences of different levels.

Where technology has connected us, it has also divided us.

What we’ve designed has always been our heritage, we’ve just done it in a commercial sense – a business marae.

Technology is exponential but communities are still not being educated

If you have got a dream give it a go! Surround yourself with the right people.

I’m a connectorer – with passion and deliberate intent.

Categories
business education

Transformational skills through enterprise

Dr Colin Kennedy is Head of Impact for the Young Enterprise Trust.

We’ve been too busy focussing on the problems…it’s time for the solution section

Enterprise is the most powerful agent of change we have – for good or bad.

How could we have a bigger positive impact?

Why wouldn’t you use something exciting to teach the curriculum?

This generation’s narrative is impact

An eternal optimist, and business is the biggest tool we have, let’s use it for good.

Be the change, find out where you are most useful and work that.

Categories
business innovation

Epic development

Natasha Barnes Dellaca is a founder of Epic Westport.  Before that she had several roles, mostly in the not for profit sector focusing on conflict resolution and then finding a middle ground in social enterprise.  She is driven by the idea of sustainable resilient communities – that don’t have to resort to violence to resolve differences.  Epic is a collaborative work environment and is proving that truly world class can be done from Westport.

Creating community and supporting growth.


Talking points

Be mindful that I am interested in making an impact in the place that I am now

Sustainable: Development in this generation that doesn’t affect the future generations ability to do so (UN definition) what I believe is when you break that down there is sustainability in every day actions as well as the a cumulative impact.

Success: I want to say the jobs that we have created on the west coast of New Zealand, but actually the first thing that came to mind was knowing that we are making a positive impact, that small moment when you see the light bulb go on, when you see the opportunities open up, they get really excited about their ability to provide for their families.  The buzz I get from having a positive impact. 

Superpower: I’m all about making people feel included and heard in the conversation

Activist: Yes, at times. I would love to get out and spend more time protesting, I’ve actively been working on the issues that matter to me, so I’m an activist at heart.

Motivation: Serving my customers and creating a sustainable future for our communities, we have that phrase we have all of human knowledge in our pockets, that really compels me, we have some much information and there are so many obvious social problems so we should do what we can to solve them using the resources available.

Challenges: Some tough negotiations coming up around how we can best use the resources that we have.  

Miracle: The ability for every child to grow up without the threat of harm, physical harm or otherwise.   I’m not quite a relentless optimist, there is this threat of collapse, of apocalypse, so “apocaloptismist”. 

Advice: Be kind and hear each other, see the other person and meet their needs. Find the thing you are passionate about because life is pretty good once you find that.

Categories
business community ecology electricity generation

Empowering communities

Dr Paula Roberts is a Senior Lecturer at Bangor University.  Growing up in Llanberis she was “concerned about the natural world” and became a Countryside Manager.   Eventually though, she became an environmental scientist – specialising in soils of polar regions.   Passionate about change making, and the Welsh language and culture she now finds herself running a community power company.   Paula also runs an MSc in environmental management and business management – attempting to close the gaps between environment and business.


Talking points

Doing something rather than complaining.

Success: We have an interesting project about reclaiming coal mines in Indonesia, restoring previously damaged and degraded land into a productive resource.

Superpower: Tenacity, the ability to stick with it and keep going.

Activist: Yes, because you’ve got to push boundaries to get resulting change.

Motivations: I’m a cyclist and a mountaineer so I like to keep moving… I like to see places that haven’t been trashed.

Challenges: Getting another community energy project underway.

Miracle: It would be nice to find yourself in a place where the government and the policies are on your side, where they work with you instead of making yourself hit your head against a wall.

Advice: Life is a bit of a rollercoaster, you really never know where it is going, so you just have to learn to stay on.

 

This conversation was made with help of the Sustainability Lab at the Bangor University.

Categories
business local government management

Crowdsourcing development

Dr Jim O’Malley is a Dunedin City Councillor.  We spoke to him about his career as a scientist and entrepreneur, local government, and a crowd funding campaign to buy a chocolate factory (https://ownthefactory.co.nz/).


Talking points.

Things that make a difference

If you feel strongly about something then do something about it

If you say things often enough, it starts to get legs

Rationalisation of money is capitalism at its worst

Large multinationals…are not immoral, they have no moral sense at all, but they are staffed by good people

Sustainability: Sustainability means that the venture lasts way beyond you, there are many economic models out there which are profitable but quickly begin to eat away at the company, what I focus on is finding the balance between a long lasting company and a profitable one.

Success: Getting on the Dunedin City Council.

Superpower: The ability to think before I act and make educated decisions.

Activist: Sometimes, the definition of bravery is knowing what you are facing and still going forward and doing it again, and sometimes I’m a bit too aware so I don’t go forward.

Motivation: Interaction with people, having a varied interaction with people. Sometimes as small as coaching a girls football team, other times as large as getting a factory off the ground!

Miracle: That everybody was quite insightful and we had societies that ran harmoniously and smoothly.

Advice: Do whatever makes you feel right and do the right thing.

Categories
business community creative

Creating entrepreneurs to create change

Jesper Kjellerås is the Founder & Managing Director of Impact Hub Stockholm.   A change maker, process facilitator, team coach, business coach, Jesper believes we can change society in positive way through entrepreneurship.

 


Talking points

Being the change we needed to see

How do we change behaviour to actually care for each  other?

Drive a prosperous community that can be the change you need to be.

Everybody will have an impact

See unlikely allies as potential for collaboration

The goal is to solve the issue, this needs a business model to be viable, and that means scalable.

Innovation at the edges

Not just the best in the world, the best for the world

Creating entrepreneurs to create change

Sustainable: I don’t really like the world sustainable, because really what is sustainable… does that mean that nothing happens and it’s just sustained?

Success:The scaling program that we did with eight different houses in Europe was a huge success.  

Superpower: My ability to not give up, I’ve done this for many years now, I’ve been on this rollercoaster and it’s just been going really steep down hill… but somehow we always seem to get up again.

Activist: I grew up with both of my parents as activists, so in some ways yes I have it in my blood. In a present sense, I’ve tried to do it now by creating a framework for others to try and take action.

Challenge: We just launched the SDGhack (Sustainable Development Goal Hack ) our upcoming challenge is developing our role as a creative workspace in stockholm, we are really taking on these sustainability goals.

Motivation: My children, probably my five year old who wakes me up in the morning. Being able to hear their struggles, ideas and creativity… it’s so motivating.

Miracle: I would put women in power, not just an equal power share but a comparable amount of power that men have now. Just flip the imbalance.

Advice: Be yourself, whoever you are meant to be and be transparent about it. Don’t be ashamed if you think differently to others, just embrace it.

 

Categories
business education innovation maori psychology

Giving life to learning and purpose to life

To say that Mana Forbes has a background in education and IT is a massive understatement.  He worked on computers when they had whole rooms, and is heavily involved in education including Te Wananga o Aotearoa, including Te Mana Whakahaere Council, Hamilton Raroera Campus Manager, Foundation Director Te Arataki Manu Korero (Elders traditional knowledge Diploma Course), Foundation Manager Te Puna Rangahau Iwi Research, Foundation Trustee Aotearoa Scholarship Trust, Foundation Executive Member of Te Runanganui o Ngati Hikairo, and the Foundation Licensee of the first Early Learning Centre Raroera Te Kakano.    His educational philosophy is one of empowerment based on capabilities and an understanding of self and purpose.  He is now working with Minded to bring these resources he has developed to the mainstream.


 

Talking points

Opening the door to participation

Looking and thinking: we don’t need to be the same.

Giving life to learning and purpose to life

Nurturing the desire to care

Developing a sense of responsibility

Celebrating success

Fulfilment of your exit strategy

Cries we should be following are those of young people left by wayside of schools operating on a paradigm of one, without communication and relationship

Project-based learning: whole of person and guide them through

Get it out there – at scale

Sustainability: Replenish

Success: Minded.  The development of the course, I think the direction of what we are teaching is so important for today’s learning, and so important for preparing people for living and communication and working relations.

Superpower: My ability to connect the dots and work alongside with other skilled people.

Activist: In some regards yes, the areas that I have passion for I will embarrass myself and people around me and thump the table to make a change, I don’t want people walking out the door thinking that I wasn’t passionate about this particular purpose.

Challenge: Trying to get the establishment and trying to work with the government structure and understand their way of thinking.

Miracle: For the ministry of education saying that we realise the benefits of this and we need to have this in all of our high schools and middle schools.

Advice: If you can make a difference, work out what that might mean to you, your family and the wider community.

Categories
business social enterprise

Cooking a difference

Rebecca Stewart has worked in not for profits around the world.  From anti sex-trafficking in Delhi, and reproductive family health in Fiji to Jesuit housing, all of these roles have been about making a difference.  Now she has founded Pomegranate Kitchen in Wellington, a catering business – where the cooks are all from refugee backgrounds.   We talk about social enterprise, described by Rebecca as “charity that makes its own funding” and how we could be better at celebrating good news stories.


Talking points

Jobs that make a difference

So much injustice…the privilege of inequality

Systemic change that isn’t a bandaid.

Pushing back in a loud way against injustice

Sustainable: For us it’s about financial sustainable being a self funded charity as well as human sustainability, so upskilling the cooks so that they either stay with us or continue with the growth of their careers.

Success: On a personal level, recovering from cancer was a huge achievement.From a business point of view moving into a new kitchen of our own, as well as the ongoing interpersonal relationship within the business. A real family.

Superpower: Empathy, my superpower is my connectedness with other people, that’s why I’ve been able to do Pomegranate in the way that I’ve done it, I’ve been able to connect with the cooks on a certain level, getting them excited to help out.

Motivation: The people that I work with, I want to keep creating and supporting a life for my workers that is enjoyable and rewarding for them.  

Activist: I’m happy having uncomfortable conversations and staying true to my values, but I’m not the type of person who would be in the front row the the protest.

Challenge: With this new kitchen we are scaling everything up, so we are about to run a three hundred person lunch for TradeMe, so there are a lot of upcoming challenges that will be on a much greater scale than before.   Novelty, doing good. 

Miracle: Ideally world peace, resulting in no more refugees being relocated. On a more local realistic level, doubling the New Zealand refugee quota which is well within the countries capacity would be awesome!

Advice: Be kind to each other.

Categories
business

Efficient hippie

Driven by a sense of purpose, Simonne Wood is chair of Sustainable Dunedin City.   Simonne has worked in fair trade, in international relations, in an ethical property company, and now Otago Polytechnic – all “organisations looking to change the world in a positive way”.

 


Talking points

A sense of it being possible to change things

Sustainable language has been co-opted by the elite

Collective impact, a sense that we can all take responsibility for small things

The big challenge is how to do values at scale

You can make a difference, or at least you have a right to try

Sustainable: Trying to live a life without waste and I think waste is what really upsets me, and that’s not waste in the narrow sense of rubbish but rather about people, resources and nature just being wasted.  We’re trying to move to a sense of regeneration, interacting together. 

Superpower: I’m an efficient hippie! Being someone who has fairly non-mainstream opinions and maybe quite idolising views about creating a better world, but someone who executes change in an un-hippie like, effective and efficient way.

Activist:I’m an activist in the sense that I strongly believe in our personal responsibility to take action, for me that mostly means doing things in a non-confrontational way. I believe that most people would like to do the right thing if they knew more about it, so instead of being an angry activist I work to educate people about the issue.

Motivation: The sense of not letting things go to waste as well as knowing that there is an intrinsic value in every person and the natural world that shouldn’t be spoilt and wasted.

Challenges: I would like to get more involved in climate change, water quality and the reduction of waste in the Dunedin City area.

Advice: Sign up to the SDC (Sustainable Dunedin City) newsletter and get involved with the events within the community.

 

Categories
business computing environmental entrepreneur

Enterprising Sustainable Technophile

Dr Jack Townsend has worked to investigate startups that address resource and sustainability challenges. The resulting framework can analyse investment portfolios, and  identify opportunities for new digital products.


Talking points

Superpower: Persuasion, I think at the end of the day sustainability is about us having to make some difficult decisions in our longer term interest as a species.

 

Motivation: A mixture of a strong concern for sustainability, being a technophile and being incredibly curious and inquisitive.   

 

Miracle: I’d like to see the entire world transition to a decent cycling infrastructure, so that people aren’t pushed into dangerous roads and that I can let my kids go out cyclicing without having to constantly worry about their wellbeing.

 

Advice: Please start to think about the importance of digital technology and start to reach out to digital communities especially entrepreneurs with your problems, because there is lots of new things that we can do and it is extremely important for digital technology to have a significant role in sustainability.

Categories
business education philosophy

continuous happiness

 


Dr. Gagan Deep Sharma is from the School of Management Studies at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He works and teaches in finance. with a focus on sustainable investment, humane business, and the response of technical education to sustainability.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. Each week we talk with somebody building a positive future and we try to investigate what drives them, what is their sustainable lens, how they’re acting as a sustainable practitioner. Today’s sustainable lens is that of Dr. Gagan Deep Sharma from the School of Management Studies at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He works and teaches in finance and he’s working in sustainable investment, humane business, the response of technical education to sustainability, and so on, all particularly with an Indian context. Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Gagan: Thank you.

 

Sam: Let’s start with the big questions though. Where did you grow up?

 

Gagan: Oh well, I come from the province of Punjab in the northern part of India. I come from a small village, I was born in that small village, Rampur. I took my initial education from there and grew up there to a middle class family, service family. Yeah, just like that. Then I took my higher education from the same district.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Gagan: Well, it was different when I initially thought. I thought I would be studying law probably. But, as I grew up, I thought that law is not my cup of tea, so I thought I’d rather go with teaching, and I ended up teaching.

 

Sam: What did you do your higher degrees on?

 

Gagan: I did my masters in commerce and philosophy. Punjab University is my university. Punjab University is one of the better universities, better known universities in India, and globally also. Then I did my doctorate in the field of management. I did it on the stock markets of South Asian nations. Yeah, so I studied the linkages between the stock markets of SAARC, South Asian regional block that we have.

 

Sam: The sustainable, environmental, social thing that you have going now. Has that always been a thing for you?

 

Gagan: Actually, it has not always been, but let me bring into perspective the other part. I started reading a lot of literature, not only on my field, not only on management, finance, and stuff, but I started reading literature on different fields like, for example, poetry. For example, on the short studies, the novels, the fiction, the prose, all of it. While going through that, I myself developed the interest to go into the poetry. So I wrote two books of poetry, which were in my local language, Punjabi. When I saw the field of finance and management from a poet’s view, that was a different lens altogether. That gave me a broader thinking, broader way to look at the things. I thought that finance, management, all these things, economics, by itself cannot be looked at in isolation from the other things of the world. This is where the initial change in my focus comes.

 

Secondly, in 2010, I came across a workshop, which was an eight-day workshop on human values and ethics. It was done by an electronics engineer, Ganesh Bagaria.  He is an electronics engineer, but he was talking about a different perspective. He was talking about what is the human goal, what is the goal of the family, how do we look at the universe? This was sensational for me. I was taken aback and I was shaken. “Man, what are you doing? What kind of stock markets, what are you talking about? Have you tried to put your things into this perspective? Have you tried to look at the world from this angle?”

 

The answer from within myself came, “No.” Then I thought it’s never too late to start thinking on the right lines, so I thought I’ll just look at the world of business, the world of management, the world of economics from the angle of a holistic perspective. This is the second way, the second shift that happens in my thinking philosophy. So from then on I shifted. As I said, I did my doctorate in global finance. All the doctorates that I’m guiding now are not in global finance. Those are in integrating finance with a holistic development, or sustainable development as you may call it.

 

Sam: If you had had that lens earlier, would you have not done that doctorate? Or could you have applied that lens to the doctorate that you did?

 

Gagan: Yeah, actually. Again, I did my post-graduation in 2001 and I started my doctorate in 2008. Had I had that lens before, I think I would have finished my doctorate by 2008 rather than starting it, because that lens does not hinder you, it helps. The biggest problem in the doctorate research is to find a problem, which problem to research on. Had I had that lens before, I think I would have had the problem before I could be able to identify the problem, well before. And I would have finished my work and then I would have been better placed to … I think would have been at a more advanced stage in my research on humane model than what I am today.

 

Sam: So this workshop that was transformational for you, it was on human values and ethics. What prompted you to go to that?

 

Gagan: Oh, it’s not so formal, but yeah. My university, probably I’ll put it in a very funny way, that two of us who were pretty naughty kind of. I was heading the department there, so my principal wanted to punish me. So he sent me for eight-day workshop. He said, “You should go there.” So I didn’t even look at the curriculum, what are they doing. I just thought that it’s a different place, so I’ll go, I’ll have fun. The other friend of mine, we thought that we’ll have some wine together and then enjoy the evenings. We won’t go to the workshop, as such. We’ll go on the first day and we’ll go on the last day. We were suited, booted. We wore our ties, we wore our suits. We were on the seventh heaven.

 

Then on the very first day when we went to the workshop, they told us to sit on the ground. The workshop was conducted on the floor. They said, “Sit on the floor.” So how would we, dressed in the suits with the ties, with all those formal pants and all, so how would we sit there? But we just talked that it’s rubbish how these people, I’m kidding. Then we thought, “Okay, no problem. Let’s spend an hour or so and then, well, anyway we are gonna run away. And we’ll be back only after eight days, when the concluding session is underway.  Yeah, that was the thinking, but …

 

Sam: What did they say in that first hour that got you to stay?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah. Actually, it was a very planned workshop. They had the plan to trap people like me. The plan was such that, initially, they got some people who came and spoke for two to five minutes. They were the people like me who were trapped before. They were sharing their own experiences, that “This is how we came. This was the philosophy with which, and all the thinking with which we came. And then we came here for an hour and then stayed for eight-odd days.” There were people who said that, for example, there was a guy who had worked in Septem used to be a real big company. He was a vice president there. He was wearing a kurta and a typical Indian dress. That guy was talking that “I left my job of vice president Septem. Another guy said that “I left my job, IBM, a very high position, and I started doing this.” That got us. We thought that “Let’s listen to everybody. This is not this place to run away, so.” Before I spoke to my friend about my intentions not to leave, he spoke to me and said that “Look here, I’m gonna be here.” So that’s it.

 

Sam: You said that was run by an electronics engineer?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah.

 

Sam: That seems a bit surprising too.

 

Gagan: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I’ll talk about it in slight more detail. That electronics engineer, he was dressed in a kurta, white coloured. He seemed to be an ordinary man, I mean really ordinary man, because it is Uttar Pradesh in which this workshop was. Uttar Pradesh is the name of the province. I thought that “He is such a layman now. What can he teach me?” When they read his degrees while introducing him, they said that there is no book in the library of the university, IIT, that he has not read. Every book in the library at that time has been seen issued to Ganesh Bagaria.

 

He has been going through the philosophy which we call as coexistentialism. This philosophy is called as coexistentialism. He has been into the philosophy of coexistentialism for long. You saw my presentation yesterday. I quoted A. Nagraj a number of times. A. Nagraj is the man who actually gave this philosophy. He went into the stage of samadhi in ancient Indian system. There is a stage of samadhi where you just get relieved of everything else that’s happening. He went into the Himalayas and did the samadhi for years.  After coming back he didn’t speak anything at all for years. Because he got realised to the coexistence. This is what he writes in his books. Then he wrote 13-odd books of philosophy. If I tell you the ideas of those philosophical verses, he wrote on human behaviour, he wrote on economics, he wrote on science. I mean whatnot, law? Whatnot, constitution? He wrote all those philosophical books, 12-odd books. Ganesh, he read all those books.

 

And not only that, all those books, he was in close company, he came across A. Nagraj like I did with Ganesh. He spent a lot of time and then discussed all those things with him. And he started looking at electronics engineering, or for that matter engineering, from that lens. That’s how he got into it, but yeah, I got into it like this.

 

Sam: So we don’t have eight days, but can you give us an insight into what the philosophy is?

 

Gagan: Oh, okay, why not? About eight days first. It is not necessarily eight days. The workshop is done for one day, for two day. I myself ran these workshops later for two days and three days for my students. Then it is also run for eight days, but as I said, in my feedback … We don’t call it feedback, we call it self-evaluation, which we do on the eighth day, on the last day. What I said in the self-evaluation was that I am afraid that this workshop was not eight day workshop. I’m afraid that this workshop is going to be running within me forever now. Eight days, you’re right you said you don’t have eight days, but I’m sure you have life. Not only you, but the listeners also.

 

What is it all about? It talks about the four levels. It says that, initially, it begins with what is the goal of the human? What is your goal, right? We keep on saying that, for example, my goal is say social benefit. People say my goal is natural benefit, this this this this this. The workshop takes you to the straight white, that through all that, you’re actually not looking at all that. Those are the means to an end, and the end is your own happiness. The ultimate goal the workshop proposes, it’s run in the form of a proposal, not in any form of sermons. Not any form of verdict. It is run in the form of a proposal. It proposes that the goal of a human is continuous happiness. That’s it. I want to be happy and I want to be continually happy, that is it, nothing more, but nothing less.

 

Then, for achieving the continuous happiness, it talks about the human programme. What is the programme that you have to achieve that continuous happiness? About the programme, it states that there are two important things in this whole universe. One is the human. Second is rest of the nature, right? Rest of the nature can also be classified into three orders. One is material order, plant order, animal order. And the fourth one, as I said, is human, so human order. There are four orders in this world. Material order, plant order, animal order, and human order.

 

Then the first three can be put into the head of rest of the nature, and the fourth can be put as a human. So human and rest of the nature. For carrying out your programme, for reaching your goal of happiness, the human needs to be in harmony with the other humans, this is what we call relations, and with the rest of the nature from which we take the physical facilities. In order to achieve the human goal, the three things that human needs to do is … number two and number three, I’ll come to that first. Number two is relations with the humans. Number three is physical facilities with the rest of the nature. And number one is right understanding about both of them. How much is required, how to get it, all of that. It is about understanding about these two.

 

In this way, this is the kind of human programme that is required to attain that human goal. This is the first thing. This is to happen within yourself. At the level of individual this is to happen, this understand is to happen, and then you are to realise that “Yeah, this is what I’m gonna do.” This process begins. Once this happens with an individual, the second thing which the workshop proposes is that it happens in the family. At the level of individual, as I said, at the level of self, what we call, it is continuous happiness.

 

At the level of family, so once this happens within the individual, within all the members of the family, when the family is prosperous … And I have developed my own definition of prosperity where we say that what you have upon what you need. What you have upon what you need. Prosperity has to do more with the denominator than the numerator. While we are working towards what you have, have more, have more, have more whatever you have. And if you do not know exactly what you need, then the glass will never be full. If I remove the base of this glass it’ll never be full. Things are like this only.

 

Therefore, in the family, it tells you about the denominator also. It guides you towards the denominator. What exactly do you need? And what exactly do you need is in terms of both second and third, relation and facility. It is not only about the facility, but also about the relation. When we do it this way, then the family has a possibility to be prosperous.

 

And when the families are prosperous, then the third goal at the level of society is fearlessness. Since when we are not prosperous, we will try to grab it from elsewhere. In poetry, I say usually that when one gets frustrated, one will choose the weapon. And with the weapon, the one who is weak will kill himself and the one who is slightly stronger will kill the other. Both of them are dangerous for the society. And both of them are achieved only when we are, not prosperous, but when we do not have the feeling of prosperity for that matter. When the feeling of prosperity is there within the families in the society, there is a possibility of fearlessness, which I think is a goal at the level of society.

 

And when you are fearless at the level of the society, when you know that you’re prosperous. You do not have to exploit the nature for attaining your own goals. For example, let me bring into perspective the example of my own province, where in order to … Because we people, the farmers in my area, we did not have a sense of how much exactly do we need. So we went for chemical farming and we have ended up damaging the air, we have ended up damaging the water, we have damaged the quality of land, we have damaged the quality of human beings because we are using that much chemicals. Reason? We did not know exactly where to stop. How much do we want to earn? We did not know what we need, so put infinity as a denominator, so the end result was zero. And as a result we kept on exploiting the nature.

 

When we are in a position to attain the first three goals, at the level of individual, at the level of self, we are continuously happy. At the level of family, that we are prosperous. At the level of society we are fearless. Then at the level of nature, we will live with mutual fulfilment. We will fulfil. Just in order to, I’ll take a minute, I know that I’m going a little in too much of detail, but this is eight-day thing that I’m talking about and giving eight minutes is fine I guess.

 

When we look at the four orders that I spoke to you about, material, plant, animal, and human. We look at these four orders. The first three orders cannot think. The fourth one can. Out of material, plant, and animal, these three cannot think. Arguably third can think or may not think, this is arguable, but the first two certainly cannot. Fourth can. And if we look at the damage that has been caused to the nature, the first three are very certain. The fourth is uncertain. If we look at the first three, material, plant, animal, plant knows what to breathe in and what to breathe out. Human body also knows. But the plant also knows what to do, where to grow up. It has a certain behaviour. If I throw this glass from up side, it’ll go down, that’s it, right? There’s no uncertainty in it. If I crush it, it’ll be crushed. If it is strong then it’ll probably crush my hand. The first three are certain behaviours. The fourth does not demonstrate a certain behaviour. And all the damage that has been done to the nature has been done by the fourth.

 

It is important for us not to manage the other things. We are too busy managing material, we are too busy managing plants, animals, all those things. Without feeling the need to manage ourselves, to think within ourselves and understand that it is the human which needs to be corrected, nothing else. This is almost all that the workshop speaks about. As I said, this is in the form of a proposal which one can verify at one’s own level. The good thing about this kind of a workshop is that now, we started small. Those people started very small. Now they are multinational also. We are holding these kind of workshops overseas also. Some workshops have been had in South Asia. We are planning to expand overseas also. These kind of things, wherever required will be done. This is not done for the sake of material. This is not done for the sake of money, no money is involved.

 

Sam: When you, after eight days, went back to work and you went away as somebody that was all into high finance and you went back, what did you say?

 

Gagan: Oh, I did not say anything, I did. Two of the important things that I could do … Rather, three of the important things that I could do. I was too much into research. There were 23 students who were studying in the MBA programme, I was heading the programme department, I was head of the faculty there. I called my staff and told them that “Guys, look here. We are not going to do anything which does not have a purpose.” So all the research, those 23 guys, our students, they were supposed to write a project each. We told them that “Okay, all those 23 projects will be with a goal. And they have to be placed somewhere within this.” I handled it myself and looked at all the 23 topics myself and made sure that those are somewhat related and somewhat placed within this framework. Then we went ahead and did those projects, 23 projects.

 

Okay, now, this is one. I’ll talk about the outcome also. The second important thing was that, since I was heading the faculty, I was also to look after the industry placement of those students. I must admit that this was the first batch of MBA holder, and the placement scenario was not too good. Employability scenario, not many companies are coming to employ those people. So when we did this exercise of 23 people doing their own projects on some meaningful issues, I requested my principal who punished me to come out to give me some funds, and I want to publish a book of the summaries of those 23 projects. I wanted the students to come up with the research papers out of those 23. I submitted all those 23 papers into SSRM, which is a social science research network, and got those published there.  Sanjit is one of my students, but he’s a friend and he was a colleague there, so I got him to do all those things, and he did. He also attended a workshop by the way, and is doing a PhD under me on similar topic.

 

I wanted him to look at these 23 papers and then we submitted it to the network, and then we got it published in the form of a book. Then I sent those books to almost all the industry that was around. To all those companies, with a sworn letter from my end, that “This is what our students have done. I’m sure you’ll look for the right tenant. And I think you can evaluate these people on the basis of that tenant.” So we did that, and what happened next is anybody’s guess. All those 23 people got their own offers, didn’t they? This is how I propose that, when you do the right thing, you do not have to work for the outcome. You work on the input and the outcome follows. This was pretty strange, and after that I’ve never looked back. I’ve thought earlier, I was also thinking that I would have to work for these people’s industrial placements separately, I will work for the research separately, I will work for the academics separately. But then when I realised that this is what, this.

 

This isn’t about this part, but I would again put into perspective one more thing. The other thing that we did was that, both of us who were there at the workshop, we thought that “Once we have some more understanding about it …” So we attended two, three, four more eight day workshops. This time we requested the principal to punish us again. We attended three, four more workshops, and then we maybe thought that there is somewhat clarity about it. We started with a smaller version of it, one day, two day workshop for all the university students at our campus itself.

 

Okay, so we could give this as a thought to those students. By the way, I forgot to mention that this was also a course which my university introduced, compulsory course for the students, which will run into four credits. Three credits later. But what we did was voluntary, one day, two day workshops, weekend workshops. I’ll tell you what happened again, another important aspect of it. The students who went to this workshop, when they come to me and say, “Sir, there is construction going on within the campus. There is labour which is working, they are living in the tents. Their kids are there. They’re here for around a year or so, two years, three years, whatever time it takes for the construction to finish. And those kids are not going to the schools.”

 

I said, “That’s true, but what can we do in it?” They said, “You talked about society in that workshop. We want to begin with an evening school for those workshops, and whichever student is free will go and teach.” I said, “That’s, wow …” I said, “I do not, there’s nothing stopping, so let’s go on.” We started with it. We gave it a go-ahead and the students started with it by themselves. We gave it a name, called Prayas. Prayas is effort. Hindi version of effort is Prayas. So we said, “Okay, let’s do it.” We started with it, we did it, and while doing this thing, I was also looking at the PR part of my college, public relations. Some of my friends who were in the media, journalism and media, they came to me and asked me, “Sir, give us some story. Not news, but some story.” I said, “Okay, fine, I’ll give you one story.” So I got them to interview those students who did that. They did a story, it was a national story, it got published.

 

Next day, newspaper carries the story that the students, the engineering and management students, opened the window of opportunity for the underprivileged lot. Story gets published. Next day, the education secretary of the ministry calls my principal and says, “How dare? How dare? We are promoting and we are boasting that our state does not have a single student who does not go to school. And you are teaching people, you are mentioning in your story that this is what is happening.” So the principal said, “I’ll get back to you.” He called me up, “What’s going on?” I said, “Let me show you what’s going on.” Both of us, we showed him, “This is what is going on. Anything that you want to say about it?” He called education secretary back and told him that “This is what we are doing, we are gonna do it.”

 

Sam: Because it’s the right thing to do.

 

Gagan: Yeah, it was the right thing to do, so we did it. And then the government wrote to us that “We would like to adopt this as a school,” which my principal denied. He said, “No, I do not want the government to do it. I will continue doing it. I will have my people continue doing it because the people can do more than the government can.” These are a few of the things that did follow the workshop.

 

Sam: Just in terms of the framework, the self, family, society, nature … The first one, the continuous happiness self one, is that different to the satisfying rational man generating selfish happiness that you would’ve come across in the finance and the stock markets and things? Is that a different concept or is it the same thing?

 

Gagan: No, it is different. Well, we need to classify in that, individual, you need to classify human into a coexistence of body and self. There is nothing religious in it, there is nothing spiritual in it. But scientifically, there is a thinking pattern within us which can be called self or conscious, and then there is a material component, which is the body. Body, again, acts certainly, with certainty. If you hit like this, it’ll pain. Self is the one which is conscious. So between body and self, and there are needs of the body and needs of the self. Needs of the body are limited, certain. And the needs of the self are different.

 

When you look at the facilities, facilities are required by the body. For example, there is extent, there is a limit to how much you can eat. The body cannot tolerate, we cannot keep on eating, eating, eating, eating, eating. But the self feels, I should eat more, I should eat more. It is the self. Your stomach is full, but your mind still feels, “Yeah, more.” That feeling of more, wanting to have more, is there in the relation of man. Right, so-called relation of man.

 

But when you look at the things from this lens, suddenly you realise that there is extent, we have to be actually relational.  In that way, classifying it into body and self is what is different in this theory. In the typical theories, we only look at human, I think most of us we look at human as body. When we call ourselves selfish, there is no self-involved. It is bodyish, not selfish. I myself often say that being selfish is the best thing to happen. If you know what is in interest of yourself, that’s fine, that’s perfect, then the goal achieved.

 

Sam: So when you apply that lens to technical education, and you’re looking at a school of management or electrical engineering or whatever else it might be, what does this lens offer to how we develop that education?

 

Gagan: Firstly, I’ll slightly modify the question and then answer it. Rather then, remove the word technical and let’s apply it to education, and then let’s come over to technical education in the second stage. Education will give us the right understanding, which I spoke about, about the relations, about the facilities. What do we require? What does a human require and how do we get that? Two things, what and how. What to do and how to do. “What to do” is value and “how to do” is skill. There are two types of education. Value education is the one that deals with what to do question. And the technical education is the one that deals with how to do question. No kind of technical education, or value education, can be enough in isolation. It has to be looked at in an integrated fashion.

 

“What to do” needs to be addressed first, even for the technical education students. Even for the technical students, like we spoke about the electronics engineer, and myself for management, professional student of management, student of finance and economics. What to do needs to be addressed first and then we need to address the how to do part.  You cannot take for granted that these are the skillsets to be developed. We only need to look at the need, that what exactly do we need? What kind of skills do we need? Why do we need that? What is the placement of those skills in the entire system? And then we impart those skills.

 

The technical education, now coming to the part of technical education, needs to look at what exactly is the technicality that we need to impart to our students. Once we did valuable to do that, then we should think of ways and means to impart that. For example, as a school can representation also yesterday, we need management graduates. But do we need management graduates only to solve the multinationals? Only to solve the companies like, for example, you look at the telecom companies, you look at the e-tailing, retailing companies. Do we only need the management graduates to sell their products? Or can the management graduates also look at the problem of the India? For example, I take the case of India. The problem is that we do not produce what we should produce. We are producing what we should not. We are producing through chemical methods and we do not produce through natural method.

 

There is a reason to that. The reason is that when you use the natural method, the output falls initially. Cannot an engineer, who’s an agriculture engineer, cannot he study what is the extent of the fallen output? How much output fall is there? For how long it falls? If we can think about these questions, for how long the output falls? How much does it fall? Are there any natural ways in which we can stop these things? Or reduce these things? If we can think of the ways and means, then this is one part. This is one engineering, thinking about it, finding the answers to these questions. Second is that cannot the education people go out and spread the answer to these two questions to the whole farming community? And then tell them that “Okay, this is what … So don’t be afraid of it.”

 

Once we are able to reach to the farming community, then the management graduates can make groups out of them and get to know exactly what to produce from the market area, from the sense of the market, and then act as a bridge between these two. Engineers can further help, electronics engineers can further help through agri electronics, through concepts such as green engineering and all those things, as to get the maximum out of the system that we already have. The management graduates on the other hand can also tie up with the bigger chains like Walmart, with the bigger chains, and then supply to them the natural product, which you and me and all in India, all of us in India, we are just ready to pay any price for it, provided we get the right quality of food.

 

If this can happen, there’s a very simple solution through which we can not only do good in terms of facilities, because we don’t only require more food in that terms, we also require the right food. The right product is also important, the quality of the product is also important. Going by that, I think this will solve the facilities in a good way, and we will be able to maintain the relations with the human order and with the rest of the natures. In this way, technical education has to fit in this system.

 

Sam: Is this a lens that is universally applicable? Can you point this lens at anything?

 

Gagan: Oh yeah, why not? Why not? It is only about understanding the lens first. It is not a material lens that you can just see through. It has to happen within yourself. You’ll have to realise the real things, and then only this happens.

 

Sam: You study humane business, which could be seen as a contradiction, if you’re managing a business in terms of maximising return, but I think you’ve just answered it in that it’s not … That question is too far down the track. You would see the question being asked much earlier, I suspect.

 

Gagan: More, I think, this is okay. Actually, Sam, I’m coming up with a model, I’m doing a research myself on the humane business, so I’m soon going to come up with a model of humane business. Maximising return, I put it the other way. The concept that I am giving is holistic value. We have talked about three things previously in economic literature. We have spoken about wealth, we have spoken about profit, we have spoken about value, and we’ve also spoken about return. What business generates, for me, is holistic value. As I said, if you’re able to generate the holistic value, your product sells itself.

 

For example, we spoke about the natural business example. I do not have to hire a Bollywood star to sell my natural product. I don’t have to pay to him for all that. I simply have to tell my people that this is what is good for your health. And not only tell them, I have to make them realise this. Once that happens, once they’re educated, so it is not marketing, it is education. Once those people, my consuming class is educated about it, your product sells itself. This is where I say that this business is not against the notion of profit. This is for the notion of profit. But profit is a term which we only used towards the stakeholders and that also for the share owners, just for the share owners. If we look at all the stakeholders, who are those stakeholders? All of them? Again, we put it in another way that the stakeholders will include the individuals, it will include the families, it will include the society, and it’ll include the nature. In the individuals it’ll include employees, it’ll include the consumers, it’ll include your share owners, your investors, and the ones who are not connected with you directly. All of them.

 

When you do the right thing, it’ll generate return for all of them. I think that’s more important. Profit? We are not leaving aside the profit. We’re including the profit within it. I’ll take a very small example in a minute. There are millions of farmers in India who are producing, and they’re dependent upon the government to buy their produce. The government in India, I’m not sure if you know about it and your listeners know about it. The government in India comes up with a minimum support price for agricultural produce every year, MSP. The farmers sell their produce at that MSP, minimum support price.

 

I came across a farmer … I came across many farmers, but while interviewing one of them for a research project of mine. I asked him that “What are you producing?” Most of the farmers in my area are producing wheat and barley. He was also wheat and barley. He said, “I’m producing wheat and barley through natural way.” I said, “Okay.” Just in an informal talk, I said that “Mr. Singh, will you please reserve some wheat for me this year?” We were in the month of February, it was in the month of February, and the produce was to come in April. I said, “Will you please keep it for my family, some produce? Maybe a couple of quintals? 200 kilogrammes my family will consume in a year. So will you please keep that?” He said, “No, sorry.” I said, “Sorry? I’m coming to interview you. I’m a university professor. I’m a high ended guy and I’ll pay you whatever it takes.” I thought, “How did he say no to me?”

 

Then I asked, “Why?” He said, “Sir, my produce comes in April, but I only take orders till May previous. So anyone who gives me order till May 2016 will be given the produce in April 2017.” Ooh, one year waiting. This is how the produce sells itself.  Mind you, this produce sells at more than twice the cost. More than twice of the typical produce, which is a chemical produce. And he does not have to use any chemicals in the produce, so his cost also comes down after a few years. This is how. This generates profit. Will you say that this does not generate profit for him? But it also does generate profit or value for the consumer, because other consumers will eat the chemical produce and then they will attract problems, diseases. The land will be in a problem. The other produce, which Mr. Singh is producing, generates not only the profit for him, but the value for all of the four stakeholders. This is what is holistic value.

 

Sam: So how does your framework relate to the notions of sustainability?

 

Gagan: I’ve already explained to you what is this framework all about. Let’s revisit what is sustainability now. UNESCO says that “Sustainability involves not consuming what belongs to your future generations.” Nagraj says that “Sustainability is not only that …” I mean, he does not use the word sustainability as such, but in his view sustainability is not only this.  You do what UNESCO has said while also adding value to the four levels. While also adding value to the human, to the individual, to the families, to the societies, and to the nature. In this way, the framework that we have discussed involves sustainability, but it involves more than that. Or it involves sustainability in a broader way. It does not look at sustainability only in terms of facilities. It also encompasses the relations between the humans or with the rest of the nature. And therefore, we do not go separately, for example, in one man, for society, for governance. We do what we are supposed to do, and everything else is outcome, is a byproduct.

 

Sam: How would you describe your superpower? What are you bringing to the superhero team?

 

Gagan: I’m simply bringing the kind of a need to think on what is required for yourself. Not just be preconditioned and thinking that I require a Nike t-shirt and that’s it. You need more. Not just what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but how will you live between breakfast and lunch? How will you live between lunch and dinner? How do you feel during that time?

 

I’m bringing the need to understand: What exactly do you need? What exactly do you need when you reach that point? Then you need more for your family. What do you need for your family? What do you need for your society? What do you need for the nature? All this, and there is no conflict of interest between these four, right? Usually we presume that there is a conflict of interest between families, there is a conflict of interest between Sam and Gagan, for example. There is not, there is none. I’m bringing this coexistentialism into the perspective. This is not being superhero, this is just being human. There’s nothing like superhero.

 

For example, I once asked Ganesh … We brought it into perspective, I asked him that “Sir, what is subconscious?” Said, “There’s so much thought about subconscious.” He said that “You better be conscious. So if you’re conscious, that’s it.” Similarly, someone asked him that “Do I need to meditate?” He said that “Once you realise what is to be done, once you realise all this.” So meditation goes on 24/7. If you are not to meditate separately, you exactly know what you are to do. Meditation is talking to yourself, knowing what yourself needs. If you know what yourself need through your conscious yourself, there is no need to be subconscious or unconscious of whatever.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Gagan: Well, Sam, a lot. On my family front? On my individual front? On the society front? On the nature front? I’ll talk about all of them in a minute.

 

On my individual front I’m relaxed. For example, I know I’m earning enough. I’m not seeing a need to go for extra earnings. I don’t need to go for anything extra than that. I’m okay. This is for my individual front, and I’m happy. I do not have to worry for the things. I do not have to worry for my facilities, I do not have to worry for my relations, I’m okay. Things are fine. Things are going fine. I will not say I have achieved, but I am in the process at least.

 

On the family front, which is the most important for modern man. I will give you two or three important things. My wife and I, we live together. My parents and my wife’s parents live in Punjab, which is a province 300 kilometres away from my place where I work, uni. We go to the families whenever we go to Punjab. We go to the families, we spend time with them, everything fine. When I was to come here, I did not have to worry about my wife being at home alone. There is so much bonding within the family that I’ve spoke about this and both the families offered, “We will come and stay with her.” My parents are staying with here. That’s the one part at the family level. I do not have any confusions, we do not have any questions. My wife had also gone to the workshops though. After the marriage she went to one, and one she had gone into before the marriage itself.

 

Second important thing, which I think the most important thing. My father was diagnosed with a tumour a year and a half back. We thought that we would go through the allopathic treatments and all that. While I was going through the workshop and all, allopathy said that we will have to conduct a Whipple procedure, which is a medical procedure, which is a very lengthy procedure and a very complicated one. You have to remove some parts of the body and then … It’s a very complicated procedure. Very costly too, but cost didn’t ever matter much. Health mattered. We were prepared to go for the Whipple procedure. It was slightly malignant also, the tumour.

 

While I was going through the workshops some years back, 2010, I came across the first workshop, and this was in 2015 when we came across the problem, we got to know the problem of my dad. While going through the workshop and while talking to those people, I had come across that Nagraj, he has also written about the medical sciences. About what are the natural ways to cure different things. What should we eat, what all should be done. So I took my dad to Nagraj. One of the fellows who lives with him, Mr. Sudhan. We went to Sudhan and Amba, who is the daughter of Nagraj, and Nagraj, who was sick. He was at the age of 97 at that time. We went to him, I took my dad to him. They said it’s fine, his self is fine. His self is clean. It is just the body which needs to be taken care of. They gave some medicine, some natural medicine, and said that “You will have to eat these for six months.”

 

We said, “Fine, this is nothing. Nothing much in it.” Just for six months, and this would’ve been in October, so this was pre-conference. He took those medicines for six months. Then I again spoke him that “Okay, this is what it is. What to do next?” He said that “Okay, as it’s your family, let’s go ahead and eat these medicines for three more months.” He kept taking the medicines for three more months. Then, after those three months, we went to him. He looked at, they would just touch from, they would just see the nose and then feel what exactly is the problem. They would not do any other diagnosis that just the nose. Then he checked it and he said, “I think the problem is gone. But, again, as I say for my family, let us eat it for two more months. Half for one month and then further half for the last month and then done.” I said, “Okay, fine,” so we did it. After 11 months we underwent all the tests, all the chemical tests, the CT scan, the 19.9 test, all the tumour tests, everything, and there is no tumour.

 

Sam: Wow.

 

Gagan: This is at that level of the family I think I could not achieved this for any other way. I think this means the most to me, and to you, and to all your listeners. And those guys did not charge anything. I would have paid millions of money and then still, I’m not sure if we could have cured. We would have harmed his body till that required to be opened up. And all the doctors were saying that “This is foolish. You should not do this. You should go for the procedure.” Then when the results came and the same doctor looks at the report and says, “There’s not any tumour. Gone.” This is at the level of the family that I have achieved. That I can relax and I need not to think much about the physical problems that we come across or we may come across in the times to come. And I do not need money for it, I need relations.

 

At the level of society, I think I’m doing something worthwhile. I’m in the process of doing something worthwhile. I’m guiding two, three PhDs which are on this line. In the times to come, I’m going to come up with a model, as I said, humane model of business, which I think will go a long way in the business due to the right thing. That is what will happen at the level of society. It is already in the process of happening. I also know more about how to manage my team because I can understand. I understand myself as a human, so I understand others also as humans. It is easy for me to manage the teams.

 

For the nature? All this is nature. For the nature, you do not have to plant trees, right? There are many people who plant trees. You only have to not to disturb it. That is the biggest thing that you do. You don’t have to disturb the nature, nature will take care of itself. In that way, I think I have achieved these kind of things at all the four levels, yeah.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Gagan: Yeah, I’m an activist because I work on myself, that’s it. Working hard on yourselves is an activism by itself. If you work on yourselves and the people can see you, this is what you are doing. The people who are close to you, they understand this is what he is doing and he is able to achieve some results. This transforms them also. This generates the eagerness to understand what you have understood, or what you’re starting to understand. In that way, I believe that activism is not much about showing what will … It’s not much about showing, but it’s more about doing on yourselves.

 

I come from kind of a family of activists. My grandpa was an activist, my maternal grandpa. He was an activist, he was a union leader. My father has been fighting all his life for the literary causes. I also kind of used to think that I’ll be a reactive activist, but then I realised that activism is more about this, rather than what I used to think before.

 

Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Gagan: Usually I just get out of bed and do some work for my family. For example, I go to the kitchen straight away and then get some water. I’m used to taking some hot water with some lemon and ginger and honey. That’s my first thing in the morning. That I do not only for myself, but also for my wife. I come from a society which is different. The wives do everything. This is something which I do. Then of course there are certain things, cooking, I do not know much about it, so she does it. It’s not that it’s only her who’s doing all this.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Gagan: Well, we have different challenges Sam. Actually, capitalism has 20 different set of challenges at us. I spoke about working on yourself, but the whole world is hell bent upon work letting you work on yourselves. For example, I thought of … the title of my second book of poetry was Man is Never Alone. So I say this in a different perspective, and you can sense your answer out of that, that the whole world is hell bent on making people alone. For example, the selfies, right? You don’t even have to rely upon others to take your photo. You can yourselves as selfies. You do not have to do anything, you just sit in a room then do all the communication by yourselves. While you and I are sitting here, we could have sat here and work on our computers or on our mobiles and communicated to the rest of the world without feeling the need to communicate with each other. The whole world is hell bent upon making people feel isolated. And isolated, but busy. But man can never be isolated.

 

This is the challenge, the biggest challenge is that it is very difficult to realise that they need to think about themselves also. They will think about material, they will think about plants, they will think about animals, they will think about the body, but not the self. The biggest challenge is that capitalism is trying its best not to let this happen. So how will we make it happen? You create a challenge. I’m sure, once we are able to talk to the people and once we are able to demonstrate what is right, rather than preach what is right, the challenge will be met.

 

Sam: Two more questions. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would it be?

 

Gagan: Oh, people understand.

 

Sam: That’s an easy one. And lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Gagan: Well, yeah. Your listeners should not only listen to the show, they should also listen to themself.  Listen to what are their needs in terms of relations and facilities. Then read the proposal that I spoke about. Read a little bit more about the proposal that I spoke about. The website is coexistence.in. They can go there to the website, coexistence.in, and then read a bit about the proposal. And if they need to, I’m being all available to cater to them. As I said, there is no material involved, no money involved, nothing. We can simply speak about this and help them understand what theirself needs.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Gagan: Oh thank you. Thank you sir.

 

Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago Access Radio, oar.org.nz, and podcast on sustainablelens.org. That’s Sustainable Lens like a lens we’ve been talking about. On sustainablelens.org, we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Gagan Deep Sharma from the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in New Delhi.  He works in the School of Management Studies. You can follow the links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via iTunes as well as all the other sort of pody places that you’d find that sort of thing. We’re everywhere. But do like us on Facebook. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

This conversation was recorded in December 2016 at the 5th International Conference on Sustainability, Technology and Education 2016.

Categories
business design values

Value driven bikes

Wishbone - Richard Latham and Jennifer McIvor

Richard Latham and Jennifer McIvor are the passion behind Wishbone Design Studio. And that passion has created a successful international business firmly embedded in sustainability and quality.

Because we declared our values early on – sustainability and quality – we were attracting customers of that same ilk, the pressure on us was not to drop standards, but to raise them.


Talking points

Wishbone is a family business, we’re located in Newtown in Wellington, and we design and manufacture for a global market high quality childrens products – ride-on toys, most of our products have wheels – and we’re making them with sustainability as a background principle.

(Rich) I wanted to make stuff…industrial design

I don’t want to make rubbish, so from that perspective if you’re making quality product you’ve inherently got a sustainable ethic to it.

There are a lot of cheap Chinese toys in the world, and we didn’t want to make cheap Chinese toys. We manufacture in Asia but we focus on quality, we focus on guaranteeing that the bits and pieces that we put in the box are worthy.

(Jen) I studied law, I wanted to find way I could practice law that would pursue a passion. And I discovered environmental law and international law…(eventually) I became a diplomat.

Sustainability has been a key principle for me, I wouldn’t describe myself as a greenie. I’m interested in policy around environmental issues.

Starting a business was an exciting opportunity to pursue sustainability through the private sector.

(Jen) I’ve always had a love of natural world, I love the outdoors, I derive a lot of energy from it, and I thought if I’m going to be a lawyer, I thought how am I going to connect those dots? (and The Lorax, adds Rich)

I was making stuff for my children in our New York bathroom.

My supply chain (during the initial design) was Home Depot – what I could work with. When we came to production we could address those things – we looked at the glues, the materials themselves so we could be sure they weren’t going to corrode or rust,

Wishbone Design Studios started with three principles – simple, smart, and sustainable. The first two referred to the functionality of the product and how it transformed, and the sustainability was the manufacturing ethos.

There is no plastic in our packaging, it’s all recycled board. Even the packaging itself, we realised that we had to have a box to put the product in, but what happens when it gets home? So we printed an image on the inside of the box so it becomes a play space and a cut-out mobile.

These sustainability things are adding value.

(Is it harder not to make rubbish?) In a competitive marketplace your product is more expensive. People make cheap rubbish because they are trying to hit a price point, we have never really been driven to look at that. It is a factor in business, obviously there’s no point making world’s best widget if no one is going to buy it – so we’ve tried to navigate the fine line between being commercially viable and making the best product we can.

We launched just as the 2008 crisis hit. So we were very aware that the world was encountering a major financial crisis, and money was suddenly not what it was, and consumption patterns were not what they were. At that very moment we were working on our brand, what are our core values we want to instil into everything we do? Our product design but also our employment strategy, our partners choices – fundamentally Richard and I are not major consumers of material goods…

At the time the world was suffering this financial crisis, it would be a fair assumption we thought that there’s a good market of consumers tat would revert to traditional values rather than speedy consumption of goods from discount sources. They would go looking for the one item that might indeed cost a little more but would last longer.

We thought that there was this old school value that would enjoy a renaissance, and it was coincidence that these are the values that we live by, and so that was the brand, and we might have an opportunity to start a new brand right in the thick of a global financial crisis.

The product could suit a child as young as one, and we intended for them to still be riding it when they were five. So that put the pressure on to make sure it would last four years – in the life of a children’s toy that’s quite a long time. And we would hope that they would pass it on to a younger sibling.

The back page of the instruction manual, we printed a car-ownership style registration page

Another principle is 100% repairable product. We wanted to make products that would never end up in the landfill.

That our bikes hold their value for second-hand resale is a matter of intense pride.

It’s a conscious strategy to promote the second-hand market.

It’s counter-intuitive to business where the more stuff you make the more stuff you sell, we say, no, we’ve got this product that we like to see being resold amongst a community of user, we can service it and keep it usable. An endearing quality we’re building, the value set of our brand.

We’d love our bikes to be second generation products…passed on to their own children…that for us is an inspiration, that we can produce something so well that it will be there not only for a family and its siblings, but potentially for a second generation of those children.

We use the phrase that we’re designing a new generation of classic children’s toys. Modern design together with old school value.

The limited edition bikes…started out as cosmetic seconds bikes, we took the frames out of the skip, added artwork to them and increased the value. That is part of our DNA, seeing an opportunity, taking something that was rubbish and making good out of it.

Because we declared our values early on – sustainability and quality – we were attracting customers of that same ilk, the pressure on us was not to drop standards, but to raise them.

The last thing you want is to be culprit of green-washing. So we adopted policy early on of stating what we do do. We describe the steps we have taken in areas of sustainability, corporate social responsibility – this is what we do do, and here’s the truth about everything else, and here are our aspirations for the next 12 months.

This bike is made from carpet.

Communicating the values of the business through product.

A matrix of new ideas coming together. Theoretically the world’s a better place because produced this product that sets a benchmark – it can be done, you can take recycled residential carpet and produce a children’s bike.

So now we’re asking how far can this go? How can we take the product learnings…this is just the beginning of the path..

We have to deliver a product that delivers functionally something better than everything else, the fact that it’s made from recycled carpet is a secondary point. It’s just inherently in the product.

Sell more stuff not our business model. We made a decision one year, our business plan was to be sure that the following financial year we didn’t sell an additional unit. The hardest thing we do is manufacture well. We will make and sell to those who want it, and we will do a good job of that. Our goal is not to just sell more.

We are a model of a family owned creative business.

(Success) Global consumers are looking to get the products that they need from brands that represent who they want to be…people want a cleaner

(Activists?) Futherist thing from activist…trailblazer. Fine line. Never going to beat chest and try and preach, but I would like to think we care doing things in a interesting and creative way – which other people can get some inspiration from.

(Motivation?) Five core values, the first: get close. It’s about the human element.

We both get out of bed in the morning, not to sell bikes, but to have the joy of the interaction with people

There’s a hook to it, now other people are dependent on us to sell bikes. There is a responsibility there that we’re coming to terms with.

We’ve never driven to make 1000s and 1000s more of what we already make, we’ve never been driven to have major staff numbers

(Challenges?) Growth, learning discovery…maturing…knowledge base…scope…technology strategy.

Maintaining values as we scale…trying to find people who understand our value sets…culture within our business internationally.

(Miracle?) Not having to work so late at night.

(Advice?) Have stamina…so many times we’re looked each other and asked are we idiots? Confidence – there is a bigger picture here, and we’re on a path to achieving it. Knowing we’re doing the right thing.

(How will you know when you’re there?) (Jen) We’ll never get there. (Rich) When I sold the first bike, I thought was there…

Categories
business

Placing sustainability professionals

James Irwin

Take time out to think about what you are doing, and once you’ve set that goal the world will conspire to help you.


Acre is considered the global market leader in sustainability recruitment and related services. We turn the tables on manager James Irwin to talk about his own career, and where he sees the future of the sustainability professional.

Talking points

0:02:51 I thought the two go hand in hand, and still do, sustainability and commerce

0:03:08 Without understanding peoples’ motivations it is extremely hard to think about and to get change

0:03:18 To me that’s the key to sustainability – to make people care, and if they care they’ll do something about it.

0:03:30 The world we live in, a lot of people are driven by capitalism, the commercial side, so understanding both sides is critical

0:04:17 Everything turned out to be the complete opposite of what I thought it was, economics wasn’t precise answers, it was this is what people think and this is what the drivers are, whereas ecology, that I thought would be more subjective, was completely objective – facts, figures and scientific study

0:09:03 I really wanted to combine sustainability with sales, and business development…Acre kept on popping up

0:10:00 Acre…recruits across the sustainability space

0:10:06 The term sustainability means so many different things to different people, often for two people in the same company

0:12:11 Somebody who is, say, a marketing manager in a renewable energy company, are they sustainable, or just doing a job in a sustainable company, and does it matter to us? And does it does matter to us.

0:12:34 So we define two roles… dark green – that you can only do if you are sustainability professional, and light green

0:13:00 (can you be a sustainability professional in an unsustainable company?)….Yes…We’ve put sustainability professionals in tobacco companies, arms manufacturers, alcohol companies… from our point of view, if we can put a sustainability professional in that completely changes the landscape…

0:13:47 If we can put in a sustainability professional that completely change the culture in these companies…then that’s a really positive impact.

0:14:07 If we can make a positive impact in companies that might might be perceived as less sustainable, then that’s a good thing.

0:15:28 We’ve haven’t turned down anyone…but definitely we are prepared to take that call.

0:15:41 (what if it is clear it is just greenwash?)…We’re not privy to internal decisions…but from a candidate perspective an important question is where does the role report to? For a lot of people that’s the key to unlock if it is greenwash or genuinely a role where they want change to happen…We also get asked if the company is looking for greenwash or looking for genuine change to happen. But for me both those questions are null and void. Sustainability, health and safety – this whole space that we are in is about change

0:16:35 …making change happen. For me it doesn’t matter if the company is getting forced to recruit a sustainability CR team because of their shareholders or whatever the reason is, but if you can get the foot in the door, if you can go in there and create some projects and really show the business that it’s not one or the other – its not business performance or sustainability, they’re symbiotic, they go hand in hand.

0:17:05 Demonstrating that more sustainable business perform better, that’s the only way that sustainability is going to get a true foothold in the business world.

0:18:10 go with that…once you’re in there you have the opportunity to influence the board room, for us that’s the making of the best sustainability professional – t’s not “can they influence other sustainability professionals?”, it’s “can they influence the CFO, the CEO, the head of operations ?”

0:18:44 As the market matures, the influence and engagement is absolutely what’s important.

0:21:06 As you get into the top end…the technical skills become less important, and the soft skills become important, influencing, engaging, leadership and change – change is the big one.

0:22:33 Embedding sustainability in supply chains is a current trend

0:22:52 A core sustainability team might create ideas…but then the business has to own it. Unless they influence, engage and drive change then nothing will really change.

0:23:42 Acre365 is all about impacts… in the first year of their role.

0:25:14 (Common feature of success) Making ideas happen, making change happen

0:27:45 Sustainability is perhaps about doing itself of a job, making sustainability and corporate responsibility business as usual. But that’s only to a point, we need to think, we’re here now, what’s next…? And having that core hub of excellence sustainability is set to continue.

0:28:29 Another trend, that has been a surprise it has taken this long, is leveraging core business around sustainability

0:29:19 (Definition of sustainability) has to include business world, environment and people. Sustainable for business and ethical and environment

0:30:40 Such a big challenge (timescale of return on investment), something might have a return on investment of ten years, but those businesses want to operate at fast pace – they want to see a return tomorrow.

0:31:18 I’m hoping that we’ll see more data sustainability/profitability (like the McKinsey report on diversity and profitability)

0:32:41 Being a change agent has to be primary core linking people together, the best candidates we place

0:33:23 How do they influence the boardroom to change the perspective from the next quarterly report, to the next year, five ten, to 500 years- its huge challenge, possibly one of the biggest challenges in sustainability

0:33:46 It will happen when businesses understand that its not mutually exclusive

0:33:52 How do you link short term profit with long term sustainability?

0:43:55 We’ve never been busier, so hopefully, if we’re reflecting the market it’s a great sign for sustainability – we’re a bit of a litmus test.

0:44:46 We’re seeing some inspirational business models…where we need to get to as a sustainable society, looking as supply chain, social equity – Im not seeing in my lifetime those all being overcome, but as with any goal you have to put into bite sized chunks.

0:45:47 Compared to the 1990s, businesses are more sustainable

0:46:53 Good things happen in local communities, one of the challenges of sustainability is big cities

0:49:35 (Success) Growing the business

0:50:06 (Activist) I my own way I think I am, I have a vision of where I’d like society to be, I I’d hope that I’m using my skills at the moment…the best to influence people and in some part make that vision a reality

0:50:47 (Motivation) Helping to grow the business, being part of something new, sustainability, ideas, action…we embody all that at Acre and we place people that embody that.

0:51:20 Challenges: Keeping in tune with the market, what does sustainability mean – and it moves so quickly and we have to stay at the front of that, that’s hard to do – we have to be out there leading but also taking a step back to reflect and know what you are doing.

0:52:24 (Miracle) to give people the opportunity to understand the impact of their buying decisions. I think people are good people, but there’s a lot of forces out there that influence them. I’d like to see a product that could show people every time there are looking a buying something, this is the impact…

0:53:27 (Superpower) Time travel , taking people through time to see what impacts decisions had, seeing beaches covered in plastic in 20130 because of that thing you bought on holiday

0:54:37 (Advice) Spend time to think about what drives you and what motivates you.

0:54:44 I’ve had the benefit of talking with people throughout their careers, and I tend to find those who are truly happy…so seldom are those getting paid the most amount of money. Take time out to think about what you are doing, and once you’ve set that goal the world will conspire to help you.

This interview was recorded in London in mid-September 2015.

Categories
business

Is business the sustainable solution?

Eva Collins

The majority of existing businesses can still be characterised as having a compliance-based relationship with sustainability, but there are hopeful and interesting things happening.


Dr Eva Collins is Associate Professor in Strategy & Human Resource Management at the Waikato Management School. We talk about the tensions of traditional business models (e.g. continued growth) with the concepts of sustainability (e.g. limited natural resources) and explore creative solutions – can business be a solution to sustainability instead of the problem?

Talking points

There was a disconnect between human rights and corporate lobbyists, but it is harder to maintain that disconnect once you know people – past the stereotypes it’s a person with values and beliefs.

Business (in NZ) is often considered a necessary evil

Voluntary environmental programmes…have a role, but are not a replacement for regulation.

Government regulation sets the floor, voluntary environmental programmes are the stretch.

For the leaders it’s showing others what can be done, but you also need that floor, and in New Zealand it’s a very light floor.

I’m a believer that business can do more than just be the problem.

I checked out environmental books from the library, and this librarian said “what is an academic from the management school doing checking out environmental books?” That is absolutely the perception.

We’re seeing in the megatrends..shifting values and transparency. Businesses are now accountable for what their suppliers are doing.

I’m interested in the power of commerce to change these issues.

Part of my work is the incremental side, about business doing the small things. But then there are people who start a business, who are entrepreneurial to solve a social and or environmental problem – I’m very interested in that.

I take a strong sustainability perspective – bounded by the environment.

Self interest is OK if it is a starting point to get us to where you want.

Experience with Fishbanks (simulation game) shows that self interest rules the day until past the tipping point and can’t recover

If we rely solely on self-interest we won’t get to outcomes we’re looking for…government has to have a role

We would be rational, but we can’t because we don’t have all the costs.

People notoriously say that they’ll pay, but when it comes to it, they won’t.

All Good Bananas case study

There is a tension between traditional business model and sustainability: pressure to grow; return to shareholders paramount; short term focus. Absolutely tensions, this is the interesting part for me.

Also how to bring in longer term views, indigenous perspectives, biomimicry…
Biomimicry is a good example – there’s no such thing as waste in nature. We see some companies exploring that – Interface carpets.

Looking at tensions and pressures in business models – circular economy, sharing economy – these things are not threats, rather, different ways of doing business – which is a threat if you don’t want to change.

The notion of the sustainable practitioner in business is highly contested. A values led organisation, long term focus, circular business model, adds to social fabric. Hopefully the workplace infects its individuals. But this is two way, people who have those values bring it – work can help spread those values.

It might not be what you do, but how you do it.

We don’t have enough planets to support the “sell more stuff” in a take/make/waste model, so stuff needs to be made better and last longer.

90% of what we buy is thrown away in six months – this is a huge scope for business opportunity to change from take/make/waste model

We might be getting away with it now, but we won’t be getting away with it for very long.

There is a huge scope for business to be be successful if they look at different ways of doing business, and I believe that change is going to be forced upon them.

We’ve looked at planetary boundaries from a New Zealand perspective. Water, biodiversity and climate change are the top three boundaries for New Zealand.

Businesses have not historically thought about the pricing of environmental services, and the planetary boundaries starts to put it in a language where it makes sense to business.

It changes the language, it changes the mindset.

Self interest might be the starting point but I’m OK with that if it gets us to where we need to go.

Equitable access to water is going to impact businesses and cities. This is just getting on people’s radar. Even in the Waikato, water is going to be fully allocated in the next five years.

There’s no denying that many of the problems are from business. I think though that individual consumers have a role and responsibility, I think that governments have a role and responsibility. But I do think that business has the reach and resources that government no longer has, and increasingly the motivation to do something about these issues.

In this country in particular, business is considered a necessary evil, and that positive aspects of the business are weighted heavily.

Increasingly entrepreneurs, particularly on the social side, but also environmental, saw an issue and wanted to use business to solve that issue. This has the potential to be much more impactful.

New Zealand businesses are much more engaged in social initiatives and that makes sense because they are small businesses embedded in their community – so socially proactive, environmentally compliant.

The majority of existing businesses can still be characterised as having a compliance-based relationship with sustainability, but there are hopeful and interesting things happening.

We have students do a personal sustainability audit, they find that transformational.

Future business leaders are our hope for the future.

(Activist?) Yes, I how in how I teach. I am an activist teacher because I want certain outcomes and I’ll pay attention to how I teach to get those outcomes.

We have learning objectives for them to help change the world. That’s how high a bar I set.

I don’t tell students that there’s only one way, there’s space for different voices – thinking critically is what we are supposed to be teaching them to do.

I tell students what my bias is, then I try to present both sides. I’ve had complaints that I give too much credence to the other side.

(Motivation?) Nature is the source of my inspiration.

(Challenges?) Short-term thinking. I want more change from that, quicker. You can’t discount incremental thinking, but I have less and less time for it.

(Miracle?) More of a global shift, quicker.

(Advice?) It’s worth going out there and getting engaged. Even when you get frustrated about the pace of change, it is still inspirational to get out there. Whether it’s the social or environmental side, there’s still lots to be done.

Categories
business marketing values

Valuing value

Phil Osborne

If you can be a better consumer, then we can change the world.


Phil Osborne teaches and researches marketing at Otago Polytechnic. We talk about the role of marketing and the relationship between values and value, before exploring what the sustainability agenda can learn from marketing.

Talking points

At the heart of marketing is exchange, it connects producers with consumers

Products become redundant in a new view of marketing

Value is subjective

Things only become valuable when we use them.

In the 60s-80s we had this surplus to get rid of, and we didn’t think about why customers wanted to buy these products.

I see value as in economic value with a little v, and Values with a big V. Values is what society or individuals are starting to see as worthwhile.
So, value in terms of a market exchange comes from the Values of society.

Marketing is a child of the industrial revolution which privileged the view of the firm – they made massive gains in the factories and efficiencies. Look, society is must better off because we can produce these things. And because society was supposed to be better off, the production view was privileged. But now this has flipped, the service dominant logic asks “is it products we want, what do we do with those products?”. So service dominant logic is still about exchange, but exchange of service.

Marketing had a lot of currently useful generalisations, and at present, a lot of those are no longer useful.

At heart of marketing ethics is a satisfied customer.

How do measure satisfaction, I think there’s an ethical way of doing that. If they are getting their product or service delivered in an unethical way, it’s likely to impact on their satisfaction. The ethics of marketing becomes very transparent. The snake-oil salesman is a generalisation for a reason – people don’t like that approach.

Ethics in business school has become a much larger and more obvious subject to deal with since Enron example, and what happens when you let businesses run away with the efficiency model.

In developing sustainable practitioners, that ethical transparency is gives to sustainability – ethics in the end is an individual choice, organisations don’t actually make decisions, individuals within the organisation make decisions.

If you are in a organisation and you feel like they’re about to do something unethical, it’s only individuals who can make that change.

“Is it legal?” has been the standard in business, but that is changing, I say “if your grandmother knew you were doing it, how would she feel about it?”

Students find it hard to think about their great grandchildren, so my analogy allows them to plug into the understand of their grandmother – but this is really about getting them to think about the future.

We’re on cusp of dawn of the end of dinosaurs of organisations. Questions being asked: How do we create organisations that allow employees behave ethically. How do we reward whistle blowing? This is a positive thing, an age of these questions being asked. And they’re not being asked around the water-cooler any more, well they are but water cooler is the internet and the boardroom.

Marketing has always been about sustainable business, the heart of marketing is about relationships. And those relationships can only be sustained when we are doing things that we each like.

Marketing can bring to the table the role of representing the customer at that table – the marketer is the customer’s voice in the organisation. The voice of sustainability among customers is becoming larger and larger – and the marketer is the one that is going to carry that voice into the organisation.

So how to we value sustainability? It typifies the dominance of the paradigm that we want to value it somehow, to put a number on it. And we can put a number on it in that customers are starting to think about maybe I’m not going to buy that thing because it is cheap because I don’t know what their organisational practices are like.

Brands indicate a level of trust. In the future I think we’ll see that the brands and trust value will enable us to understand the value that customers are putting on sustainable practice.

(how do we wade through the marketing greenwash?) Greenwash was the marketing response when we still had that sales response – let’s trick our customers into thinking we’re green by putting dolphins on there. The can’t do that anymore. We might have gotten away with that in the 70s or even the 90s. Nowadays you put a dolphin on there and someone is going to go and track why that dolphin is on there.

Customers have a role in not falling for greenwash. And call it out

(Are you an activist?) Yes. I’ve had 7000-10,000 students over the years. If I’ve made even half of them consider their practices differently and decide not to stuff a leaflet in your letterbox without any understanding of what that is doing, then I’ve made a few changes.

I think we’re all activists as consumers, we all have the chance to be activists. If all you take from understanding marketing is being a better consumer, then we can change the world.

Marketing is no longer a simple relationship. Society’s conversation about sustainability is influencing consumers’ beliefs, which then has to influence the marketing conversation. It is not longer a delivery of products – a monolithic dyadic conversation dominated by the marketer to a dialogical, learning together, thinking about what is best for society.

(Motivation) Making a difference.

(Challenge) Changing the perception of marketing.

(Advice) Become a more conscious customer, every time you spend money with an organisation you are voting for its continued existence. So think about whether you condone it.

Categories
business design systems

Strategic sustainable products

Sophie Hallstedt

The trick is to make a business out of being more sustainable.


Dr Sophie Hallstedt is a researcher and lecturer at in the Department of Strategic Sustainable Development at
Blekinge Institute of Technology. Her research interest is sustainable product development and the question of how a strategic sustainability perspective can be integrated and implemented into product innovation process with focus on the early phases.

This conversation is one of a series of four recorded at Blekinge Institute of Technology Department of Strategic Sustainable Development in September 2014.

Talking points

Strategic sustainable development means you you take a strategic approach to the success ladder.

Supporting companies to consider sustainability as part of everything they do.

If you talk to individuals in an organisation, many are concerned about the unsustainable society that we live in, and they want to contribute…but as part of a bigger organisation it’s not always so easy to do that – to put that on the agenda when there are other issues that are putting pressure on the company.

You need to have a long term perspective. If you only look at today, you might have one choice, but if you look 10-15 years ahead, what would be the best alternative if you could then choose for today. It may be best to invest in the thing that is more expensive today but will in the long term be more beneficial.

We are developing support for including the long term in decision making. This is tricky because you don’t know what is going to happen. So we use scenarios.

We have a tool for visualising scenarios.

There’s a danger of reducing to economic terms if you do it too soon. You need to keep it as transparent as possible and also have a qualitative assessment. You need a dialogue around the results. This can be supported by the visualisation of the quantitative results.

It is harder for engineers to accept qualitative results…it helps to visualise it…but the qualitative story is needed.

(Can human rights, human suffering – less tangibles – be represented in a format that makes them equivalent to the numerical values in a decision support system?) You can’t. You can’t put a figure on some sustainability aspects.

But if you are going to support product developers, to support them in their decisions, their designs, then it may be important to help them go from the larger picture to something they can translate and compare.

To make a more sustainable product it is important to collaborate with your partners in its value chain.

Can a product be sustainable?) It depends on how you manage it for the whole lifecycle. It is very difficult to say something is sustainable. You might be able to say more, or less sustainable.

What is strategic sustainable development? What is a sustainable society?

(Role of ecology in engineering degree?) I would think it very useful, to see how everything is connected.

Everything is connected. Even a small change can have catastrophic consequences.

(Consumers). A big impact is to use with care so it lasts longer.

(Decision to buy, are we getting better at supporting through product design the decision not to buy) You have to take responsibility as a consumer, but yes, you will see more of that.

(Is there a sweetspot as a consumer?) A mix. There is a need for companies to make products that enable consumers to choose between alternatives.

To some extent we (as consumers) need to trust the producers that they have taken their responsibility seriously to make their product more sustainable, or as sustainable as it can be at the moment and have a road map.

(but we have to wade through a swamp of greenwash). yes, as consumer, your responsibility is to be aware of that. It’s quite hard, that’s why we have labeling schemes. These aren’t perfect, but they are better than nothing.

You should be aware of the labelling schemes, but you still have to take your own responsibility when you chose your product.

Issues such as ecological issues, production issues and so on are harder for the consumer to see, so these values have to be in the company – what is good for society is also good for us.

(On planned obsolescence) I hope and think there is another way to do products design, so they have a value for lasting a long time, maybe a modular system where you replace parts of the system.

3D printing may cause a new sustainability problem itself if overused.

(Activist?) I wouldn’t call myself an activist – I’m trying to inspire. I want to try to inspire and grow and have a seed to take a direct responsibility to continue to work.

(Challenges) Having companies taking a more active role in bringing in a sustainability perspective in business strategies. I working on describing more good examples so they can see it does have a value.

(Motivation) Trying to contribute, To inspire other people to work with it.

(Miracle) My wishlist would be to have more resources in companies to prioritise this area.

(Advice) Everyone can contribute in their field to a more sustainable society and you should do that – both as a person and in your profession

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Categories
business economics policy

Creating change

David Bent

A responsibility mindset – a focus on compliance – is not a strong narrative for change.


David Bent is Director of Sustainable Business at Forum for the Future. He is also a policy fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy at the University of Cambridge.

Talking points

15-20 years into my career it is the right moment to to ask the big questions, and the right question after working with business for 10+ years on becoming more sustainable, it seems the right time to ask “what’s the role of business?”.

Business as political actors

The more we found better ways of representing cost on how much effort it would take for a company to move from its current position to being sustainable, the less likely they were to use that information to do anything about it – for one thing, you were telling them off, and the other, you were making the opposite of a business case…we were framing it all wrong. We were starting with a responsibility mindset, the business has a negative impact on the world, what can we do to make that impact less. The switch now, is the world has an impact on the business, what can the business do to be successful in a world dominated by sustainability. That opens up a whole new terrain of things you can do, including looking at the opportunities, and framing things as strategic risks, that if you do nothing about then your entire industry is at risk.

A responsibility mindset – a focus on compliance – is not a strong narrative for change.

How can we create change by helping leading businesses go further, faster?

Our system innovation approach is deliberately aligning all of our work to create change at a system level

How can we help individual companies play their part in the transition to a sustainable global economy?

A move away from framing things in terms of responsibility- which rather traps you in ethics and duty and you have to hope that people share your value set – to a frame based on sustainability, how will you be successful in the long term?

How can we scale up what seems to be working? What can we do to scale up innovation so there is system level change? How do you scale up impact?

Our (Forum for the Future) founders had had a long time campaigning, and post-Rio 92 they could see that campaigning by throwing mud wasn’t enough, people where saying “yeah, I get it, it’s important, now what should we do?”, so Forum was founded on the basis of partnership and long term working

One of the primary things we provide is being a critical friend

Part of what the change agents in the companies are looking for, is someone who can bring the difficult truths to a conversation. That does lead to delicate balances: “what is the most this organisation at this time can handle, with a view to them being able to handle more in a years time?”.

With the best will in the world, even with the pioneering organisations we’re working with, they are to some extent dependent on the status quo, and we’re trying to change the status quo and create disruption in the interests of people who don’t yet exist in the form of future generations, and it’s very difficult for future generations to pay current wages.

Sustainability is not a collection of individual things, but it’s a relationship between all those different things.

We meed to maintain a transdisciplinary systems view…to see the connections, and to see the dynamics, and to play out and see what the unintended consequences might be requires seeing the connected whole.

What historical examples are there in our shift of energy sources that happened at a global scale and happened quickly? The one that gives me hope, bizarrely, are the shift from coal to oil…and the abolition of slavery, a move from a seemingly free resource with negative impacts occurring on people the political elites of the time didn’t care about – in that case people who were slaves, in our case people in the future. It took a generation, but it is possible to make those massive changes…the political elite can see a viable alternative. A third parallel is the transition to the welfare state.

(Michael Jacobs four conditions for creating the Welfare State) Massive crisis – opportunity for change…business elites could see a viable path…that someone has laid the intellectual groundwork…and a popular movement.

We had the crisis – the global financial crisis – and that disproved the intellectual foundations for the previous two decades – that if you leave companies alone they won’t be so stupid as to hard themselves…it turns out the bankers are that stupid. We had a popular movement, a spasm of anger – who got us into the mess and who is paying for the mess.

…but in London there weren’t enough people who feared that they would down-grade their current and their children’s prosperity…the interesting thing about austerity, is to what extent are people giving up hope that the future is better than today. At the moment, the way people are reacting to that in the UK and across Europe, is they are turning to nationalist parties.

The facts don’t back up (nationalist) story, but nevertheless the story speaks to people being very much afraid, feeling that globalisation is taking things away from them, and losing hope for the future and turning nationalistically- turning inwardly to deal with it rather than turning outwardly.

Part of the story has to be making ourselves more resilient by distributing the risk and ability to respond across many different nodes, and acknowledging interdependence – what happens way over there affects us here. It is in our enlightened self interest to make sure that things don’t get really bad in Africa. I want the people in the tropics to have the capability to choose how to live their own lives rather than being subjected to have to respond to e vents far beyond their control.

We know a lot about the boundary conditions we have to live within…then there’s the social and political foundations – give people the capability to make choices in their own lives…that’s moderately well known: a degree of equity; interdependence; you need access to energy, health care water, sanitation … those end goals and the boundaries are like the table on which you can put your coffee cup of sustainable economy – that’s well known. What we don’t have a good grasp on, is how we make the transition from here to there. There’s a couple of things that make that really difficult. One is that it has to be economically viable at each step of the way – the current ways of making profit have to finance the things that drive us in a different direction, we have to allocate capital away from stuff that is familiar and currently turning out profit…and put that investment into things that are a bridge into the new future. The other problem is that every step along the way has to be politically viable…without knowing how that is going to happen we’re adding decimal points on the end of a universal constant, it doesn’t make any difference.

Businesses need to make a reason for change….seeing that the long term success of their businesses, their shareholders is in creating a more sustainable world.

The buy-in of a certain group of the business elite is there, we now need more unusual ambassadors.

Humans have evolved brilliantly to respond to things that are urgent that we can see and touch and feel – if you’re a monkey in a tree that’s absolutely what you have to be good at – and what we have in the crisis – the slow, grinding, unfolding crisis that we have – are things that our actions today affect the world in 25 plus years, climate change experience of the next 15-20 years was set in train by accumulative behaviour up until about 1990.

Our evolutionary heritage, and our political systems are really badly set up to deal with climate change – in many ways that’s why there is a crisis, it’s in the gaps of how we deal with things. If we could deal with it, we would have dealt with it, but we can’t deal with it and that’s why it’s ongoing.

Rational argument hasn’t carried the day, so in some ways we need something that will loosen people’s ties to the status quo. We missed the opportunity of the financial crisis…we didn’t have a strong enough intellectual alternative, equivalent to Keynes, then may be we could have replaced laissez-faire markets with something else.

A resilience narrative gives agency, it gives them stuff to do in their locale, it gives a way of thinking more into the future. But the thing I don’t like about it – its shadow side – it accepts that some sort of crisis is inevitable, that we can’t really avoid some sort of downside in order to create action, and there’s still an eternal optimist side of me that says, with enough workshops and podcasts we’ll be able to act before we’re in that situation, but that was probably five – ten years ago.

So there’s something appealing as well as appalling in the resilience narrative that could bind people together to act.

(Motivation?). Social justice and creating change for social justice.

I am annoyed when there’s persistent injustice, in particular where’s nothing the people at the end of that can do anything about it. We’re at a complicated moment in history – fairness always means different things: fairness of outcome, fairness of process, fairness of opportunity. There’s a mixture for me of fairness of outcome and fairness of opportunity, and we have to acknowledge that at the moment we’re not set up for that – and for me this makes what are seen as environmental issues are really social issues. If we take climate change – it’s been caused by the emissions of rich countries, it’s going to affect poor countries, and affect choices and take away the ability to have to have the life that people want to lead in the tropics in the first instance, and that’s not even remotely their fault, and that’s the social justice question. The environment is the means, but the real motivation for me is the social justice question. And what gets me out of bed in the morning is creating change to avoid those injustices.

(Activist?) No. For me an activist is someone who’s primary way of trying to create change is protesting outside the castle walls. For me, we need the activists at the gate, banging and causing elites to understand that there’s need for change, my role is the advisor inside the court that helps the barons do something about it. You need both parts of that movement, you need the activists and you need the ones helping those with resources and power do something about it. And that help might include getting out of the way. Inside the gates and therefore not activist.

(Challenge) How can we take advantage of the windows of opportunity that come along? To avoid the worst and get the best.

(Miracle) Smallest thing that might make the biggest difference. Extend the time horizon of decision makers – to 10-15 years planning horizon, you would have enlightened self-interest – thinking about not just your entity, but all the things your entity relies on and all the things it impacts on. Once you have that time horizon then you start thinking about who else shares those goals to create a good context for my entity.

(Advice) There is always something you can do wherever you are. It is easy to think these challenges are so enormous that there’s nothing you can in any situation it’s about what “they over there should be doing. Well they should but there’s also things that everyone can be doing

If everyone does lots of little things, they do add up.