July 15, 2020

Problem experts AREN'T always solutions experts

by: Leigh Baker

“While we were finishing the book [Drawdown] I spoke with three of the best-known international climate change experts—professors and authors who have been leading this field for the past 25-30 years. I asked them to write down their top-5 solutions for global warming. It took them a long time.

Moreover: They were all wrong.

Their top solutions are not the top solutions according to the data of the leading institutions as we have researched those.

Here’s my point: We are 40 years into global warming. It is the most serious problem humanity has ever faced. We have created it and the authorities in the field cannot name the top-5 solutions. That’s an astonishing anthropological fact. There is no plan…” (emphasis added) 

Paul Hawken in The Optimist Daily, 2018

Most problem experts on global warming are academics and scientists. - meteorologists, climatologists, botanists, hydrologists and the like. They know a lot about their chosen field and the politics within their academic silos - but how much do they know about the worlds of business, including manufacturing and distribution?

Business matters!

The multiple planetary boundaries we're challenging all have their roots in the 1-way mine/make/use/dump design thinking that industry inherited from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Academics and scientists often operate in very traditional organisations and specific silos. So they can sometimes have suprisingly mainstream "solutions" ideas collect from what "everybody knows" - thinking like:

  • "government controls business"
  • "government can deliver effective supply chain innovation"
  • "innovation happens AFTER the populace agrees on the need and votes accordingly"

So it's not surprising that they would automatically look to "the authorities" for action.

"We've got to get the people to tell the government to tell business that its alright to take action"

Famous environmental campaigner

What's focal becomes seen as causal

Unfortunately, human perception automatically designates the focus of a message as the causal factor.

If "everyone knows" that the environment is a government responsibility, then many of our more traditionally-minded experts are all to likely to act from that mindset.

So what happens when you tell the average consumer or business person about the environment and the need for government action? They worry - and then get on with doing business as usual.

So you never get beyond "everybody knows"

Who changes industrial design? Who delivers economic innovation at scale? Who designs, constructs and delivers the vast majority of the products and services we use every day?

Look at the smartphone in your pocket or bag and think about its history? Whose idea was it? Who paid the engineers who built the factories that manufacture them at scale?

To reverse the harm we've caused, we need to get our best and brightest business innovators scaling the design solutions of the last 40 years into practical, regenerative solutions. We need to accelerate smarter, more efficient, more profitable models like Circular Economy and Biomimcry and turn them into globally scaled industrial practices.

Government policy change isn't the only - or best - option for accelerating an industrial revolution.

I absolutely agree that governments can - when they choose - create supportive environments for sustainability innovation. I absolutely agree that government policies can be counter-productive (at least).

I know from 20 years of my own observation that there are many, many, many national, state, regional and local governments doing amazing things - and they have been doing them for decades.

Still, the most powerful, immediate leverage point for reversing global warming probably ISN'T voting for a government to make policy changes.

Vote, lobby AND go industrial...

Getting in to an entrepreneur's head is seriously powerful

One of the world's most sustainable businesses is Interface, and their approach has consistently been to "do well BY doing good". They take a strategic, longer term view - but they're about "good for the environment, good for the community AND good for our bottom line".

They have proven that strategic sustainability - like quality and safety in previous decades - is an innovation driver that offers trillions of dollars in business opportunity.

The Interface journey started when a series of events put sustainability front and centre in their CEO's head.

So arm yourself with information about the wealth of design solutions and the massive business opportunities. Then go out and start some solutions conversations in your local business community.

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