A survey of 50 stars in the firmament of sustainability and innovation.
By John Elkington, Charmian Love, and Alastair Morton
An old order is coming apart, a new one— for better or worse—self-assembling. Volans spotlighted this trend in 2009 in the report, The Phoenix Economy. It was noted in that report that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, but as Volans and JWT drafted The Future Quotient (FQ) it was clear that the opportunity had largely been squandered.In 2011: the Japanese tsunami and Fukushima meltdowns sideswipe the global nuclear industry and mainstream low-carbon energy plans; America’s debt rating was downgraded; Greece has teetered on the edge of default, with European political leaders scrambling to shore up other countries, indeed the entire Euro system. The United Kingdom has seen astonishing levels of violence in London and elsewhere. Even normally peaceful Norway has been shaken to the core by an outbreak of anti-Islamicism that left scores of people dead.
The central argument in The Phoenix Economy was that we were seeing not simply a great recession but the beginning of an era of creative destruction. History tells us that when these periods happen, those who are ill prepared and unwilling to reinvent themselves go to the wall. Eventually, of course, capitalism will mutate and evolve, but not uniformly around the globe.
Over time, we will see a shift in understanding about the requirements for a “going concern,” as required by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), with new methods needed for asset capitalization, depreciation, and amortization. Currently, a going concern is considered to be likely to exist into the distant future—which may prove an optimistic assumption when the forces of creative destruction are breaking loose—and when natural resource and environmental security challenges are pressing in.
So do we trust to luck and allow a new economy to emerge wherever it chooses to do
so, or do we seize the opportunity to create and shape the new order?
Volans and JWT choose the second option. Now, more than ever, it is time for businesses and their brands, governments and civil society organizations to test and build their capacity to meet the needs of both present and future generations.
“We are on a journey,” CEOs like to say as they sign up to the sustainability agenda. What they often mean is that the outlines of their enterprise are vague, the destination unclear, the captain and crew distracted, and the sailing date still to be agreed. But the leaders who feature among our 50 high Future Quotient Stars mean something very different where they use the phrase.
So what are the characteristics we need to adopt to ensure the new, stretched, future-friendly forms of leadership? We asked our 500 expert respondents what qualities enable thinking and acting with stretch. High-FQ leaders know how to navigate what we call the 7Cs (see “Measuring FQ,” below.) Clearly, the best leadership decisions play across many—or all—of these dimensions. To take just one striking recent example, recall the decision of 200 Japanese pensioners to volunteer to begin the cleanup at the Fukushima power station. Made up of retired professionals, the “Skilled Veterans Corps” clearly think long-term, arguing that they should be facing the radioactive risks, not younger people, because they would be more likely to die of natural causes before the cancer risks told. Such forms of collaboration and cross-generational sensitivity are deeply cultural, which is why the cultural dimensions of change are critically important.
We have identified 50 Stars with high-FQs. The selection is based on rigorous discussion, but is by no means definitive—indeed is quite skewed to the United States and Europe. As you view the 50 Stars, think of them as the sort of pattern you might see when you shake a kaleidoscope of brilliant crystals. It would be fascinating to see what happened when we shake the kaleidoscope in different parts of the world—or with different age groups.
To draw out the narrative a little, we have clustered the Stars under five categories: Pole Stars, Superstars, Constellations, Pulsars and Neutron Stars—and will explain each as we go.
Aspen Institute’s Long-Term Value Principles
Representing an unprecedented consensus among companies, investors, and corporate governance professionals, the principles promote exactly the sort of thinking and practices that are critical to long-term value creation.
A natural sciences writer, innovation consultant, and author of six books, including Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Although standing on the shoulders of giants, she branded an emerging discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s designs and processes (e.g. solar cells that mimic leaves, agriculture that models a prairie, businesses that run like redwood forests).
Founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, author and co-author of some 50 books, published in 40 languages, and careful to balance coverage of the world’s greatest challenges (e.g. loss of biodiversity, climate change, poverty) and emerging solutions (e.g. smart grids, electric vehicles, bicycles). Recently has taken a civilizational perspective.
Gro Harlem Brundtland
A medical doctor by training, and aged just seven when she joined the Norwegian Labour Movement, Brundtland served as Norway’s minister for environmental affairs before becoming the country’s first female prime minister in 1981. She was instrumental in propelling environmental responsibility to the international agenda through the 1987 report Our Common Future (also known as the Brundtland report). She has continued to lead long-sighted change through her work as director-general of the World Health Organization (1998-2003), and special envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change (2007 to date).
Jeremy Grantham / GMO
A British-born investor who co-founded Boston-based asset management GMO in 1977, Grantham takes a very long-term view—and has published several fascinating letters for investors on where we currently find ourselves. Also funds research, for example, on climate change. A fascinating model for other financial analysts and investors.
James E. Hansen
Described as the Paul Revere of impending climate chaos, Dr. Hansen is a world-class climate scientist, who has taken an active stance on the policy issues—including writing the book Storms of My Grandchildren.
Institute for the Future
For the past 40 years, this nonprofit has helped organizations make better decisions through foresight. Their 2008 Sustainable Outlook Map explored possible strategic responses to the sustainability agenda, and they have a rolling 10-year forecast.
The Intergenerational Foundation
This fledgling non-profit seeks to place intergenerational issues at the heart of public debate—both between living generations and on intergenerational timescales. Working in partnership with a German counterpart—Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations—they are encouraging research into the area with a prize. Watch this space.
Perhaps the epitome of intergenerational innovation, and certainly the most sustainable bridges in the world, these beautiful and immensely strong tree-root bridges span rivers of Northern India. Taking half a generation to complete, as roots are teased and woven to create bridges up to 100 feet long, many last for at least 500 years. A benchmark for innovators of today who aim high for future-fit ideas.
Originator of the Gaia Theory, he argues that the earth as a whole is a self-regulating system able to keep the climate and chemical composition comfortable for organisms. Patience and conviction saw this paradigm-level theory weather many criticisms, and elements of it achieved widespread acceptance in the early 2000s. It has been described by one former critic as a “Copernican insight.”
Stockholm Resilience Centre
Resilience—the ability to deal with change and continue to develop—is a property closely linked to fitness for the future. This international center advances research for governance of social-ecological systems, looking at how we can culturally, and inter-generationally, manage and govern for the future.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Biodiversity loss is often framed in intergenerational terms—we have species today that our children will never see. TEEB aims to spur the development of cultures that value biodiversity. It treads the middle ground between the moral imperative and the hard economic case for the conservation of ecosystems. Under the leadership of Pavan Sukhdev, TEEB has developed an agenda for decision-takers and policy-makers that will be hard to ignore.
Santa Fe Institute
A center designed to bring thinkers together to work across disciplines to solve complex problems. The research into complexity and systems thinking allows for deep exploration of issues and areas, including intergenerationally-specific topics such as the dynamics and sustainability of cities.
World Future Council
As the “voice of future generations,” this charitable organization aims to encourage the development of policy that properly values the needs and rights of future life. Among their campaigns, the Future Policy Award celebrates “future just” policies from around the world, and they have also created Future Justice, which brought together ombudsmen for future generations.
Aravind Eye Care System
What started out as an 11-bed hospital is now one of the world’s largest facilities and research/training centers for eye care. Aravind uses a tiered pricing model and other innovative business models to provide treatment for those who would usually be unable to afford it—and is rapidly expanding its services across India. Aravind also operates a manufacturing arm that continues to design and produce high quality ophthalmic products that are both affordable and accessible.
A general practitioner, she has worked to break the cycle of children coming back into Brazilian hospitals because their homes lack the necessary resources to ensure adequate nutrition, sanitation, and psychological support. The approach she pioneered at Associação Saúde Criança has spread to other communities across the country.
Ian Cheshire / Kingfisher and B&Q
Walking the talk of sustainability, Cheshire leads Kingfisher, the parent company to DIY superstore B&Q. In building the company for the future, they take stock not just of the views of employees, but also of those of the children of employees—among other things asking them what they think of their parents’ jobs.
DSM and DSM NEXT
902 The Netherlands
A company with competencies in life and material sciences, DSM has tied half the bonuses for its management board to environmental and social targets such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, the introduction of environment-friendly products, and improvements in workforce morale. Through DSM NEXT, the company is also capitalizing on its pool of Gen Y employees, providing a platform for them to act on their ideas to tackle innovation and broader sustainability challenges.
Launched by Nelson Mandela, The Elders emerged out of a conversation between entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel. Convening senior political leaders, the aim is to support peace, help tackle major global problems, and ease human suffering. A prototype for intergenerational working.
The brainchild of statistician Hans Rosling, Gapminder’s visualization software shows the world in a radically different light. By their nature retrospective, statistics presented in this way nevertheless expose insights and trends at a global level, encouraging curiosity and potentially powerful cross-connections.
Garth Japhet /Soul City and Heart Lines
1992/2002 South Africa
A widely celebrated social entrepreneur, Japhet founded Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication to use mass media to educate the public on health issues. Also founded Heartlines to focus on such issues as HIV/AIDS, youth sexuality, and violence against women.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The FQ of Bill Gates can be debated, but the work of the foundation is nothing short of extraordinary. With more than $25 billion worth of grants committed since its inception, in areas including global development and global health, he is now an undisputed leader in such areas as health and climate change.
The aim here is to help communities everywhere design and use technology to continuously improve their health, safety, and development. Founded in California’s Silicon Valley with seed funding from Google.org and the Rockefeller Foundation, InSTEDD now works around the world. One goal: early detection of emerging pandemics.
Lily Lapenna / MyBnk
An internationally acclaimed social enterprise that is increasing financial literacy among young people, empowering them to build the knowledge, skills, and confidence to manage their money effectively and make enterprising choices—a crucially important challenge in an era where consumerist lifestyles and credit card debt have collided headlong.
Paul Polman / Unilever
A finance director turned CEO, Polman has been responsible for guiding Unilever to scrap quarterly reporting and launch its Sustainable Living Plan. He has spoken out about short-termism, providing a guiding light for other CEOs as he seeks to help “drag the world back to sanity.”
“Save More Tomorrow” Pension Scheme
Designed by Richard Thaler and Shlomo Benartzi, “Save More Tomorrow” aimed to change behavior towards greater enrollment and volume of savings. By restricting the pension contribution amount to a portion of future pay rises, this behavioral economics-like “nudge” enables long-term minded behavior, while avoiding the barrier of short-term loss. It has been implemented now by a number of pensions providers including those abroad. In one study, average savings rates among subscribers almost tripled.
Shi Zhengrong / Suntech Power
An increasingly global solar powerhouse, delivering hardware to generate solar power in the home and as part of some of the world’s biggest solar arrays. They have benefited from China’s strong support of the renewables sector.
A global group active in electronics and electrical engineering, Siemens also operates in the energy and healthcare sectors. Despite recent problems with corruption, it has shown high-FQ by focusing its business on cities—where more than half of us now live. A useful lens on the future of cities.
Ushahidi, meaning “testimony” in Swahili, uses open-source software and mapping technology to collect and visualize data. It empowers people as citizens, seeking to harness the transformative change possible through technology that now exists in people’s hands and pockets.
Known as the ‘father’ of the bioclimatic skyscraper, Ken recognized early in his career the need to apply an ecology-based approach to architecture. Through his use of “ecomimicry,” more than 200 projects that he has designed globally include reduced or zero dependency on non-renewable sources of energy—and the use of cutting-edge features such as eco-land bridges, green living walls, and ecological corridors. A blueprint for all buildings and infrastructure to come.
Jochen Zeitz / Puma
The first major manufacturer to account for the economic value of its environmental impact with their 2011 Environmental P&L, Puma is helping drive a new agenda through business.
China’s 5-Year Plan
2011 People’s Republic of China
China’s government passed its twelfth 5-year plan in March 2011, aiming to address rising inequality and create an environment for more sustainable growth by prioritizing more equitable wealth distribution, increased domestic consumption, and improved social infrastructure and social safety nets. It is way short of perfect, but the rest of the world has a great deal riding on the sustainability of the outcomes.
Climate Disclosure Standards Board
A consortium of seven business and environmental organizations that works with leading professionals in accountancy, business, standard-setting, and regulation to develop and advocate a generally-accepted global framework for use by corporations in disclosing climate change-related information in mainstream reports. Underscores the central role of the right sort of standardization.
Green Growth / UN ESCAP
2005 South Korea
This effort represents an unusual attempt to bring green growth thinking to bear on poverty and development challenges across Asia, which accounts for 40 percent of the Earth’s land area and 61 percent of its population. UN initiatives are always complicated, but this one is working towards system change in critical areas.
London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG)
There has been growing interest in green and sustainability issues in the Olympics community, but the 2012 event—which has not been controversy-free—is bending over backwards to ensure its legacy is strongly net positive. It includes strong supply chain initiatives to squeeze out carbon.
Republic of Singapore
The third most densely populated country in the world, Singapore offers an interesting case study in how we might make sense of a world of 9-to-10 billion. Singapore leads by planning over extended time-horizons, as when dealing with an aging population and the resulting pressures on younger generations. Its “Top Up for a Loved One” scheme, for instance, creates a tax-efficient way for saving between family generations. Singapore is also developing research and industry clusters of new technologies in areas such as biotechnology and cleantech.
A simple mission—spreading ideas—has seen TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) feed the curiosity and fuel the imagination of millions across the globe. They have opened their doors to wider involvement with the crowdsourced TEDx and tapped into that crowd’s cognitive surplus in the form of the Open Translation Project. Altogether inspirational.
UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI)
An effort to deconstruct the widely held belief that fiduciary duty and societal objectives are at odds. Its six principles recognize the need to invest with the long-term interests of beneficiaries in mind. It now has nearly one thousand assessed signatories, more than half of which are investment managers. It has been challenged by investment consultant Roger Urwin to make intergenerational timescales more explicit in its principles.
Darling of the collaborative consumption movement, Airbnb is leading the way for the future of the hospitality industry by helping anyone with a spare room, couch, igloo, island, (etc.) to become a bed and breakfast—using their computer or an iPhone app. It is set to represent more rooms than the Hilton by 2012.
Paul Anastas / John Warner / Green Chemistry
Chemicals are critical ingredients to the products we consume globally. As more and more pressure is put on full supply chains, the work of chemists in cracking the code of some of the most toxic substances and transforming them into less harmful compounds is a big business for the future.
Aviva Investors / Forum For The Future
2010 (Partnership) U.K.
Aviva Investors CEO Paul Abberley is on a mission to influence the direction of mainstream investing by taking actions such as linking sustainability into its voting at company annual general meetings. Together with Forum for the Future, Aviva has developed a groundbreaking report on what the sustainable economy will look like in 2040.
Google / Virgin /100 Year Plan
2008 (Partnership) U.S. and U.K.
The two companies, each known for its entrepreneurial spirit and drive to challenge the status quo, launched a joint venture, Virgle Inc. It is dedicated to establishing Plan B in the face of environmental degradation—a human settlement on planet Mars by 2108. We commend this ambition, but hope that civilization on planet Earth will survive beyond the 21st century.
The Khan Academy
Sal Khan teaches the way he wishes he had been taught. From humble beginnings as a way to tutor Khan’s cousins online, The Khan Academy has quickly become a major disruption to the way education is delivered around the world. With 2,400 video tutorials available online, and more than 73 million lessons delivered, The Khan Academy is helping to evolve the future of education.
Long Now Foundation
Aims to foster long-term thinking and responsibility. One of their main projects is the Clock of the Long Now, designed to tell time over the next 10,000 years. Buried inside a mountain, the Clock will chime a different melody every time it chimes in the next millennium. Also working on the Rosetta Project, to digitize all human languages, and Long Bets, which encourages people to compete to place their bets about the future.
Renault-Nissan Alliance / Better Place
2008 France/Japan and Israel/U.S.
All partnerships have their ups and downs, but the Renault-Nissan agreement to jointly build out the infrastructure for electric vehicles spotlighted the way in which large incumbent companies increasingly need to work with innovative start-ups.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
A secure, remote seedbank designed to preserve a wide range of plant seeds in an underground cavern, providing insurance against the loss of germplasm and biodiversity because of environmental degradation—and also offering a refuge for seeds in the case of large-scale regional or global crises.
From its inception, the Thames Barrier was an exercise in cross-generational thinking. As London continues to plan for its future, the Thames Estuary 2100 project takes this onwards another three generations.
World Oral Literature Project
An academic project to document and disseminate endangered oral literatures, World Oral Literature Project is a fascinating and enlightening initiative that respects the huge value in culture. This project specifically looks at verbal art: passing this between generations lies at the heart of cultural practice. Potentially this will provide tomorrow’s leaders with greater cultural intelligence.
X Prize Foundation
A non-profit organization dedicated to solving the world’s “Grand Challenges.” It does this by creating and managing large-scale, high-profile, incentivized prize competitions that stimulate investment in research and development worth far more than the prize itself—for the benefit of humanity. Motto: “Revolution through Competition.”
The events that sparked the extraordinary uprising of public protest and resistance to oppressive regimes need no rehearsing here. While it is far from clear where all of this goes next, this series of meltdowns promises to liberate new energies that could be devoted to democracy and sustainability.
John Elkington is co-founder and executive chairman of Volans, where Charmian Love serves as chief executive. Alastair Morton is head of Ethos, a division of JWT London.