The winter brings another transformation of the landscape, although one definitely out of kilter with my childhood norms. Instead of snow in the UK, there is rain. In Portugal, the cold is starting to get bitey; it is green and lush, a second spring soon to pass.
The environment needs resilience now as much as I do. Any week now and I’ll be moving to the mountains of Coimbra, near Goίs, hopefully this side of Christmas. Between packing and cleaning, poorly children, a very annoying fault with an otherwise sound car, no hot water, wrestling with a language to find solutions, starting the second part of the MOOC (called Beyond Systems Thinking), two failed funding bids for our volunteer organisation, work, and just normal life, I feel very ready to run to the hills.
I remind myself that this is just another part of the journey. A month or so and a New Year will bring promise. At this time of year I would normally have the tree up and be getting on with the crafting, but the tree is packed in the garage ready to be moved. When is unclear exactly, but soon, nearly…
The work is a quick turnaround piece, a review of sustainability practice in a business and an impact assessment against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has interesting aspects, with wider implications. This is the start of another journey.
Transformation into a zero-carbon society comes in many flavours. There is a role and place for differing ideas and innovations, coming from a spectrum of learning, experience and knowledge. When I speak about all of us having a role, it’s because we do.
The story of the future is one not written, yet we all have visions and dreams of what it might look like. There are shared objectives for everyone to work towards, defined parameters, but everything else is open. Want to create a new economic paradigm? Do it. Want to mobilise community power? Do it. Want to grow and regenerate? Do it!
What we collectively need now though, is imagination. In this latest piece of work, the documents I reviewed spoke to a desire to lead in the emerging economy of purpose-led business. Now, for some, this terminology might speak to greenwashing, and there is much to continue to scrutinise as corporatism pivots to sustainable goals. However, we need to keep this space open and listen to the ideas that evolve.
Language is important when trying to connect through a (fairly) dry report about SDGs. Speaking to the values and ethos of a business can help it vision how it will fit into this journey. My work is about guiding.
My work is also about, challenging. Let’s return to the aspiration, being a purpose-driven business. The purpose part means the business should be placing positive social and environmental outcomes on a par with profit. Implicit within that change, is that profit itself can no longer drive decision-making. Social and environmental values need to be shoe-horned into processes that weren’t designed to evaluate them in the first place.
When I hear about the need to ‘make the business case’, I ready myself for a challenge. Our needs for an emerging economy — in whatever shape that might take — should include a necessity to make a value case. Embedding social and environmental outcomes means learning new methods for the evaluation of these ideas.
That’s not to say there won’t be trade-offs, however trade-offs must be carefully monitored to check the proportion of economically-bias decision-making over and above other values, ie. social and environmental. If these are always being side-lined then that is greenwashing ; sometimes social and environmental values will be trumping economic outcomes in the new, purpose-driven future.
We also need imagination. A new future needs our human ingenuity, now. In the infrastructure world, teams of mulitple clients, stakeholders, consultants and communities, all have a position on the change that is being created. More often than not, huge number of decisions and processes have been made and followed before someone like me, a sustainability consultant, get asked to join the party. The processes already followed, and the outputs expected from my input, are so embedded. I sit on the periphery and yet, overlooking the whole, I just want to shake it all up.
With all these clever people, creating a major transport project, I want to delve, deep into their minds and coax out their ideas for change. To do that though, you need to pull people out from these embedded processes and hiearchical institutions. You need to get them in the room, out of their silos, and explore imaginatively, place-making for the future. You need them to be open and challenge their own bias, pushing outside of their comfort zone.
Purpose-driven leadership will be about approaching tasks inventively. It will be about taking old processes and ways, and changing them. It will be about challenging norms, supporting citizens to greater involvement, and sharing learning. Business cases will be value cases for investment. Profit will need to fall in line, it’s not the be all and end all. The greater gains are front-loaded in this approach and positive outcomes will be wide-reaching.
If you like this article, please give it a clap — you can clap up to 50 times! I write irregularly but around every couple of weeks or so, follow me to be notified when I do. I’m a artist, activist and sustainability guide, building a new life in Portugal and growing trees. See more of my sustainability work at https://futurecologic.co.uk/. To support my work as an artist, visit — https://www.patreon.com/Postcards_from_Portugal or buy me a coffee https://www.buymeacoffee.com/GClaws. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy it and I welcome any comments or conversation starters below.