John Elkington on the Emergent Future of Sustainability

20 Aug 2020

John Elkington, Co-Founder and Chief Pollinator at Volans, discusses his new book, Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism. “The Godfather of Sustainability” touches on the influences and incentives that drew him to conservation, and how the culture of sustainability has evolved over the last 50 years.

Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.

“Most “black swans” take you exponentially where you don't want to go, at least, to start with. What would it be like if you had “green swans?” These are positive exponentials that take you very fast after a period of relatively slow development to places that you do want to go.” John Elkington


Show Notes

  • 00:19

    John, in your new book, Green Swans, you discuss solutions that take us exponentially toward breakthrough. Can you share a particularly poignant example of these solutions?

  • 01:10

    Jeff introduces John

  • 02:37

    You were described as a founder of the sustainability movement. Did you know what you're getting yourself into?

  • 03:32

    You wrote the Green Consumer Guide, Environmental Data Services before that in '78, and the concept The Triple Bottom Line in '94. What inspired you to pursue this path?

  • 04:51

    What is the strategic or the differentiator for Volans? What are you trying to accomplish with that company?

  • 06:38

    How has COVID-19 impacted the sustainability and other change agendas?

  • 08:20

    In 2018, you wrote in Harvard Business Review about the need for a strategic recall of your own concept of the triple bottom line. What did you mean by this?

  • 11:00

    As an engineer myself, I really like this idea of everything coming into a unified field theory, in the absence of something like that for corporate ESG metrics, what can the C-suite really do to deliver on these goals and how can they think about them?

  • 13:00

    Moving back to the triple bottom line for a moment, you mentioned it once as a genetic code, the “triple helix of change for capitalism.” What did you mean?

  • 14:19

    In your new book, The Green Swan, you contrast this notion of exponential breakthroughs with the Nassim Talebs and the others- the Black Swans. Could you maybe go into that that comparison?

  • 16:12

    What is this new way for exponential progress, whether it's economic, social, environmental wealth creation you talk about, how is it a better way or what's different about it going forward than maybe what we've seen in the past for wealth creation?

  • 17:32

    The billion-dollar question then is- who are today's ugly ducklings that have the potential to become tomorrow's world-saving green swans?

  • 20:54

    You've called the 2020s “the exponential decade,” and I think you covered it somewhat, do you think this is where it's because of the awareness or because we'll actually get something done?

  • 23:11

    In your view, how can a leader make decisions with long-term while operating in this short-term highly uncertain world? Any guidance you can provide?

  • 25:14

    Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

  • 26:26

    Your Who's Who listing mentioned you're reading of an “alpine range” of books, what are some books or people that stand out as significant influences?

  • 28:24

    How can people find you online?

About John Elkington

John Elkington

John Elkington, Co-Founder & Chief Pollinator at Volans, is one of the founders of the global sustainability movement, an experienced advisor to business, and a highly regarded keynote speaker and contributor, from conferences to advisory boards.

In 2008, The Evening Standard named John among the ‘1000 Most Influential People’ in London, describing him as “a true green business guru”, and as “an evangelist for corporate social and environmental responsibility long before it was fashionable”. In 2009, a CSR International survey of the Top 100 CSR leaders placed John fourth: after Al Gore, Barack Obama and the late Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, and alongside Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank.

John has addressed over 1,000 conferences around the world. He was a faculty member of the World Economic Forum from 2002-2008. He has served on over 70 boards and advisory boards. John has won numerous awards and is the author or co-author of 19 books. The 20th book was published in April: Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism (Fast Company Press).

Selected links from the episode

Connect with John Elkington

Mentioned in the podcast

Books by John Elkington mentioned in the podcast

Recommended reading