So Ive been thinking for some time about the dynamics of sustainable future development, and have come up with a concept – EcoFuturism.
There are already a couple of similar concepts out there already:
Enviro-futurism – founded on the belief that technological advancement and preservation and proliferation of our natural environments don’t have to be rivals. A model can exist where technology and nature embrace one another and form a mutually beneficial relationship.
Ecomodernism – an environmental philosophy which argues that humans should protect nature and improve human wellbeing by developing technologies that decouple human development from environmental impacts
But I think there is more to it than just technology, its around people and simplifying pathways to adoption too.
Let me explain it a bit here.
Globally we are facing a range of environmental challenges – climate change, habitat clearance, biodiversity loss, plastic pollution, etc.
In my experience, these tend to role out in a predictable way and then be met by some similar responses.
The problem is identified, but to get the attention of the world press, politicians and public opinion there is an over-emphasis on the doom and gloom aspects of the problem and size of the problem, so that individuals are left feeling that there is no actionable solution – ie nothing can be done by an individual.
This challenge is then generally responded to in two ways.
The first group of responses is to deny or ignore the issue. Arguments tend to focus o notes issue not being such a problem or that the problem will go away with technology and societal developments in the future. – a denial path. The basis of this position is that there is something to lose from doing something about the problem. It is going to cost too much money to solve (without any other benefit), or a company or sector that is making profit from the activity that is causing the problem will have to change the ways they do things – which costs money or reduces profit
The second group of responses is generally offered by a sector of society that fully understand the problem and are concerned about its impact. This sector is so concerned about the issue that they are prepared to change their lives or practises to start to alleviate the problem – a forsaking path. This group may be quite vocal and seek to encourage others to do the same. At its most extreme this path may lead to a monk-like existence forsaking modern developments that are causing the problem and proposing that we return to a ‘Garden of Eden’ state – to a time and readopting of practises from before the issue started becoming a problem.
Neither of these positions is particularly useful. The silent majority are generally too busy in their lives to fully understand the issue and may not appreciate going down the forsaking path – or indeed being lectured to about it. However this large group generally feels that something needs to be done about the problem, but are not sure who, or indeed if they should or what they should do.
For long-term changes in sustainability, and for environmental improvements to occur, solutions and actions need to be put through a three part lens of the economy, environment and people. There need to be demonstrable benefits realised in all three of these sectors for progress to be made to start to address environmental issue.
This framework has formed the cornerstone of sustainable development practises for decades.
The economic lens is easy – changes should cost the same or ideally there should be an economic benefit or profit from making a change. But the economic benefit doesn’t necessarily have to be for the sector or company whose practises are currently causing the environmental problem. If there is an economic benefit to making the change, other players will start to enter the market place and competition will allow new systems to be explored and refined. It may mean that some of the old players are usurped.
The environment lens is easy – there should be a demonstrable benefit or improvement to the environment following the implementation of the change, or at least a halt to its decline.
But what about the people lens – well the change should support or stimulate a basic human desire – rather than reflecting a warm fuzzy social good, this sector needs to reflect personal desire as a motivation for change. For example, vege burgers used to taste like cardboard but now the new range of burgers are focussing on taste so that they will appeal to customers – taste and desire are hard wired together and are a powerful motivator for individual action.
But lets have a look at the interactions between these cornerstones as well.
Viable – Intersections that support the environment and economy might look good on paper, but unless people desire them or they fulfil a need, they are unlikely to be taken up.
Bearable – Intersections that support the environment and people may only be taken up by a small sector of society, but won’t be more broadly adopted if there isn’t a broader economic benefit.
Equitable – Intersections that support the economy and people are labelled equitable, as the livelihoods of people can be improved, but at the expense of the planet.
Only the combination of the three lenses is sustainable.
So the basic premise of EcoFuturism is that for sustainable practices to be taken up and incorporated into the developed and developing worlds there needs to be a demonstrated benefit across these three sectors.
There are a couple of interesting dynamics that interact with this model and may usher through change quicker than previously imagined.
Technology is currently developing at an incredibly rapid rate. New solutions are being created that are revolutionising our lives, from renewable energy to waste plastic transformation. Added to this is a new global economy based around the startup ecosystem as a key driver of disruption and development.
The established large companies are standing back and seeing which of the startups win the race to a commercial model and then snapping up these promising offerings to revolutionise their business offerings. Its a time of great disruption but also creativity.
At the Global Food Summit in Milan recently more than half of the 350 start ups showcased there had developed a technology or business that tackled an environmental issue.
A heady mix of dissatisfaction with the status quo and feeling that they are being cut out of the future discussion or have been short changed in the global decisions made to date, has ignited a global youth population to stand up and be recognised but also to hold the old order to some accountability.
The mixture of youth power, technological development and start up culture is a potent mix that will see the pressure to develop and adopt changes and systems that support the environment, economy and people much more rapidly than through existing instruments.
There are so many good stories out there and great people combining these ingredients to develop projects that are truely sustainable that Ive started up a new podcasts series – EcoFuturists to showcase some of them.
The first episode will be broadcast in September. Hope you enjoy these great stories and the wonder and motivation of these actors.