3 October, 2012, by Francine Pickering
Seven Ways to Fix the World
Speaker: Chris Barnatt, Futurologist and Associate Professor of Computing and Future Studies, Nottingham University Business School
“Some scientist, somewhere, will solve the problem.” That’s the message that Chris Barnatt was most definitely not giving at this presentation for the Ingenuity Business Network.
Instead he focused on seven ways that individuals, businesses large and small, and wider society should be focusing on to address the fact that since the 1980s we’ve needed more than just one planet Earth to sustain humanity’s ecological footprint. Serious changes are required – technology, the inventions of those scientists, will take us so far but significant behaviour change is essential too.
In just an hour, Chris summarised the seven points he addresses in his new book, Seven Ways to Fix the World.
1. More Local Living
Chris proposed that globalisation is based on a false premise, that there is an infinite supply of oil. Rather peak oil will occur at around 2020-2030 and we will simply have to find a more local way to produce many of the items we now ship from around the world.
In some cases, global supply will still make sense – when investment in manufacturing plants is high, for example. But new developments such as 3D printing and synthetic biology will enable small scale local manufacturing on demand, and urban agriculture will create greater local food production.
2. Low Energy Lifestyles
For all the focus on developing alternative energy sources – and the University of Nottingham is very much involved in this area of research – it is unlikely that these sources will be able to fuel a future world that looks like today’s.
Such technological developments are important but they need to be accompanied by changes in attitude and behaviour that reduce energy use, and other technologies that help us do so – an opportunity, surely, for innovative small businesses such as audience member Softxpand which produces software that taps into the unused capacity of your office PCs, saving energy and costs or equipment.
In essence, we just need to use less stuff. The culture of mass consumerism needs to decline – the question is do we want a smooth transition to a less materialistic culture or do we keep on until we hit a brick wall?
Clearly this is an area where behaviour change is vital – to use less stuff we must want less stuff. But technology has its role to play. Digital developments mean that printed paper media will fall by 20% by 2015 and by 50% by 2030 (more research on this from RISI). And 3D printing will also play a part in developing materialisation on demand – creating what we need when we need it and only that.
4. Design for Repair
We have become addicted to products that are designed to last only a few years. Previous generations took a pride in saving for things to keep; now we borrow to buy things to throw away.
Smart brands will understand that consumers need to care more about what they buy and that they will have an emotional attachment to the items they own, not regard them as easily disposable. This trend highlights a move towards placing greater value on craft skills. “Ease of repair shall be a design ideal, not an afterthought” is just one item on the Maker’s Bill of Rights from MAKE magazine.
Companies and organisations are now using the power of the masses on the internet to help them crowdsource everything from new product ideas, ways to become more sustainable and the carrying out of human intelligence tasks to software development and the funding of new initiatives.
KickStarter is the US crowdfunding web site which raised $100m in 2011 – there are UK alternatives too. RiverSimple has even crowdsourced the knowledge necessary to develop its hydrogen car.
6. More Women in Authority
The growing evidence is that the current financial crisis has been testosterone-fuelled and the worst management decisions are made by individuals with the highest testosterone levels. Qualities associated more with women, co-operation and collaboration, are increasingly viewed as trumping competitiveness for competitiveness’ sake.
The business case for diversity on the board is growing – having just one woman on a board means a company is 20% less likely to go bankrupt.
7. The “Death of Economics”
Or, more specifically, the death of economics as the primary decision-making mechanism of humanity. We need to move from putting the welfare of the economy above the welfare or the biosphere. This trend is manifesting itself in the development of local currencies. The most recent of three launched in the UK is the Bristol pound, keeping money within the local economy, and there are over 300 such initiatives around the world.
Bringing the lively presentation to a close, Chris Barnatt proposed that it is time for a new narrative. The narrative of our current culture is one of constant consumption and needless disposal and this needs to change.
Smart businesses will be the ones that build their model around the need to change this narrative not just around developing technologies to patch up the problems. Without this, at some point, the time will come when some scientist, somewhere will simply not be able to solve the problem.
The audience said:
“A high value event. Very valuable for longer term planning.”
“Refocused the mind from continuous growth to the role of new technologies in the future.”
“’Changing the Narrative’ – excellent idea.”
The Ingenuity Knowledge Exchange breakfasts are free and open to all business owners. The next event is on the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility for SMEs and sees Dr Wendy Chapple from Nottingham University Business School joined by Dale Buckland from Progression Enrichment.