Knowledge Institute Podcasts
John Elkington on the Emergent Future of SustainabilityAugust 20, 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
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?
Jeff introduces John
You were described as a founder of the sustainability movement. Did you know what you're getting yourself into?
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?
What is the strategic or the differentiator for Volans? What are you trying to accomplish with that company?
How has COVID-19 impacted the sustainability and other change agendas?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
The billion-dollar question then is- who are today's ugly ducklings that have the potential to become tomorrow's world-saving green swans?
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?
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?
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
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?
How can people find you online?
Jeff Kavanaugh: People, planet, profit: the triple bottom line. John Elkington invented these concepts, plus others like the “green consumer,” “green growth,” and “environmental excellence.” 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?
John Elkington: Poignant I'm not sure, Jeff, but one that's very striking to me is the market trends in renewable energy. I mean I'm old enough to remember when people thought renewable energy was almost a physical impossibility. And now, we have the extraordinary fall in the price both of solar and wind. I mean we're struggling a little bit with batteries, but I'm sure we'll catch up. And for me, a “green swan” is a market trajectory rather than an individual company or leader, although you could say companies and leaders have green swan characteristics.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And making sense of that emergent future is what we'll be exploring today's conversation. Welcome to the Knowledge Institute Podcast where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. I'm Jeff Kavanaugh, head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute and today, we're honored to be with John Elkington, founder and chair of Volans and SustainAbility. Described by Businessweek as “the dean of the corporate responsibility movement” for three decades.
John Elkington is a global authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development. In 2009, a corporate and social responsibility international survey of the top 100 CSR leaders placed John fourth, only behind Al Gore, Barack Obama and the late Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. Author, advisor, futurist entrepreneur, John is the founding partner chairman and “Chief Pollinator,” his words, at Volans. He's also co-founder and honorary chairman at SustainAbility, honorary chairman of Environmental Data Sciences, senior advisor to a variety of resource centers and a member of the World Wildlife Fund Council of Ambassadors and a variety of visiting professorships at leading universities.
John has written and co-authored 20 books including the Green Consumer Guide, Cannibals with Forks, the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business and The Power of Unreasonable People, How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World, and his most recent, Green Swans.
In April 2020, John released this book which is perhaps his most important book to date. It's about the coming boom and regenerative capitalism, a manifesto for system change, designed to serve people, planet and prosperity. Described as the “Godfather of Sustainability,” John writes, "The best way to predict the future is to get out there and just do it yourself." John, thanks so much for joining us.
John Elkington: Thank you, Jeff, for the invitation and I'm looking forward to the conversation.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You were described as a founder of the sustainability movement. Did you know what you're getting yourself into?
John Elkington: No. I never know what I'm getting myself into. I mean I know what I don't want to do and I'm nosy. I'm curious, and therefore, the stuff that comes out that looks intriguing, I tend to sort of plunge in without giving it very much thought. I'd been working in that field for quite some years before, in 1987, we set up the company called SustainAbility. I regretted that name to some degree for three to four years because people just kept getting in touch and they always misspelled it. They never heard the word before.
Well, now it's everywhere. I had no idea either of that would happen and if I did think that it might happen I would have given it actually a shorter time scale than actually we've seen, but as a species we're slow but we eventually sometimes get there.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yes. Mr. Darwin had a few words on that topic.
John Elkington: He did.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Your entry in Who's Who describes you as playing with ideas and thinking around corners. 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?
John Elkington: In a sense part of what I do is ride waves. I seem to be able to pick the waves up before most people, and then on a bit like a surfer I sort of jump aboard and see how long they'll carry me in the wider agenda. But in terms of why I got involved, we traveled a lot when I was a child to different parts of the world and I was exposed a great deal to wildlife. That went in to my psyche somehow and when we came back to the UK when I was nine, I was sent off to school. It was a sort of boarding school. One day I suddenly found myself standing out in front of all these boys.
I was paralytically shy at the time, at the time, 80 boys, and basically saying, "I want your pocket money or your allowance for the next two weeks." And I got it. This was you mentioned kindly the World Wildlife Fund. This was the first year of WWF. It was 1961. I raised that money, but I never formally worked with NGOs. I've been on their boards on councils and things like that, but I was fascinated by business.
I've always been fascinated by technology, by science and technology and business. If you're interested in business, then you have to be interested in markets. What we periodically do is try and give markets a nudge and the Green Consumer Guide is an example of that.
Jeff Kavanaugh: What is the strategic or the differentiator for Volans? What are you trying to accomplish with that company?
John Elkington: Part of what I've done over the years is to try and bring the outside world into corporate boardrooms, C-suites and so on. In 2008, with a colleague, Pamela Hartigan, who was also my co-author on the book the, Power of Unreasonable People, we set up Volans.
At that time, there was a huge interest in social entrepreneurs. People who are trying to address the world's big problems, but through new types of business model and so on. So, Volans was initially founded to bring social entrepreneurs increasingly into the world of business.
When we started, business just didn't know who these people were. I mean it sort of got their brain around, or brains around why they should talk to people like Greenpeace or Oxfam or whatever, but social entrepreneurs seemed a bit weird. These people did actually want to talk to business and work with business, but didn't know how to do it, whereas the NGOs, the activists really hadn't wanted to, but once they're inside the boardroom or whatever found that was quite useful.
Over the 12 years since we founded Volans back in 2008, the agenda that we've been working on has expanded. We're still working with social enterprises, social entrepreneurs, what people would call impact entrepreneurs, impact investors and so on now. But we've also started to embrace about five or six years ago some of the people who think exponentially.
So, you think about Singularity University, Google's X facility, the XPRIZE Foundation and so on. There is, in particular, in California this group of people who think we've got a 10x or 100x everything that we do. I've got to the point in my life where I'm beginning to think, unless we do that, all of our talk about sustainability and sustainable development actually is going to blow away in the wind because the scale of the problems that we face is growing so fast that we've really got to step up or, in a way, get out of the way.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Speaking of scale of problems, how has COVID-19 impacted the sustainability and other change agendas?
John Elkington: What's interesting in earlier this year, we did a piece of work for the World Business Council for sustainable development. So, a platform of a couple hundred leading companies and their senior teams around the world, and we looked at the impact and implications of COVID-19. One thing's very clear is that it's accelerated a bunch of things that were already starting to happen.
You think about technology trends like digitalization. You think about the contraction, the simplification of supply chains. There are already people starting to talk about that, but this has given a really big push in that direction. Unfortunately, it's also given quite a strong nudge to some things that I suspect most of your audience wouldn't like to see in the world and that particularly the spread of autocracy, of extreme populist politics and so on.
We might think that this was going to blow all of that away. I don't think it will. I think it's given a very, very strong nudge towards science or people particularly even global leaders have been thinking that science was in some way ignorable or dispensable along the route. I think what COVID-19 has shown is how completely dependent we are now on science, whether it's for producing vaccines or antibody tests or whatever it is. My hope is that people will learn from that, that we are in the process of creating a bunch of so-called wicked or super wicked problems.
The book’s full of them and COVID-19 is just the latest reminder that when we talk about things like the climate emergency, we're not talking about something that is a choice. It's a reality that's building very powerfully all around us and if we fail again to address it in good time in good order, God help us and God help future generations.
Jeff Kavanaugh: 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?
John Elkington: Well, Harvard Business Review said it was the first time in their knowledge that a management concept had been subject to a product recall. Now, I've worked with companies like Ford and Toyota and enough to know exactly what a product recall is. It's when a product that you put out there, it might be a car, it might be a refrigerator, all sorts of things is dysfunctional in some way, so you pull it back to repair it. You really don't want to do that, but it's something that's become part of established business practice.
I launched the idea as you kindly mentioned in 1994, the triple bottom line, people, planet, profit and I think it served us quite well over time, American sense of quite. So, we've got all sorts of platforms built around it. I was nine years involved with Dow Jones sustainability indexes. I was on the board of the Global Reporting Initiative. The last two businesses I founded were respected with the first and second B Corporations, certified in the United Kingdom. I think the whole B Corp movement now, which 3,000-4,000 businesses around the world, including some quite big ones like Natura in Brazil are embracing the triple bottom line.
In a way, why would you recall this thing just as it was getting in to its stride apparently? The answer is very simple. I think, again, the nature and scale of the challenges that we face are not going to be solved if we simply trade off, for example, the triple bottom line is about economic, social and environmental value added. Very often people do run an equation which results in one of those forms of value being suppressed or actually going into reverse.
We're basically saying unless and until we can integrate all of this into real world solutions this is not going to work. Now, just very quickly, the response was several people were absolutely incensed, but hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of people said, "Thank God. It's forced us to think that's useful." We've actually evolved the idea since then. So, it hasn't gone away. It's just been reframed.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Yeah. Some people in Silicon Valley might call that triple bottom line 2.0.
John Elkington: In a way, it's very easy to take concepts and just be programmed by the, assume that that gives you the right sort of outcome. All we were saying was, "Are you really sure? Are you really, really sure?" Let's collectively pay a little bit more attention to how this is actually working out in practice.
Also, stack it up. Benchmark it against what we increasingly know needs to be done. As it happens I did that more through intuition than it… it wasn't strategically planned out in any great detail. But so far I've been actually very pleased with the way our sustainability industry or movement has responded.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You mentioned science and you mentioned rebooting this. 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?
John Elkington: Yeah. It's funny because, again, I'm old enough to remember when we, in the 1970s first started to approach major companies and say, "We'd like to come in and talk to you about safety, health, environment, these sorts of issues." Then, over time total quality management and sustainability and all the rest of it.
To start with, the response was, "Absolutely not. We do not want you anywhere near the guts of our business." If you saw anyone, you saw public relations people and lawyers, people in very much in defensive roles. That's changed completely now. You typically see people at director and board level.
To your question, I think one of the things that's changed most profoundly is that there's been a generational shift or two. Given that business generations tend to be rather shorter than human ones and the people now increasingly in C-suites and boardrooms know this stuff is coming and know somebody's going to have to act, and therefore, that's been a psychological shift, which I would describe almost as seismic.
I think that people are pumping out new funds, they're pumping out new promises and commitments, not always understanding what those commitments actually mean. So, on the one hand, I'm pleased that this moment has been reached, but I also think there's a very major quality control issue at work here. I think, again, critics of business often are just knee-jerk in terms of their criticism, but there is need now for a serious and sustained challenge to some of these positions that companies think that they're taking, and very often, I'm not saying that they're fraudulent, but if we believe that the world is safe simply because of what we're now being told, I think that would be a fundamental mistake.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Perhaps the floor is raised and while the general level is up there are still a few mountain peaks fully emerging that can be those green swans you talk about. 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?
John Elkington: The double helix expresses itself in some quite complex mechanisms of time, but it is an integrated set of solutions. The idea of the triple helix that we're talking here about not just financial performance, but economic performance, social performance, and environmental performance and whatever we do has to hit up all three of those bases simultaneously, otherwise, it's not going to deliver the systemic change that we need.
One of the companies we're working with at the moment is a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Novartis. What they're doing is trying to put a financial value on social and environmental progress. Now, I think that's important. I chair the advisory board that is informing that work, but I do think this is broader than financial. I think the economic piece is really, really important too.
One of the things that is very clear at the moment is that the economy and our form, the current forms of economics and our understanding of what capitalism is and should be, it's proving to be quite dysfunctional.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Once, again, you are listening to the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. We are here today with John Elkington, the “Godfather of Sustainability,” inventor of the triple bottom line, an expert on regenerative capitalism. John, 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?
John Elkington: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, everyone will have heard of his work even if they haven't read his books. If you haven't read his books, I recommend them very highly and particularly, The Black Swan. It's been very striking that since COVID-19 hit, quite a number of people have been saying COVID-19 is a black swan.
Taleb himself is saying something quite different. He's saying, "It really isn't. I mean we saw this coming…" People will know that black swans typically have three characteristics. One is we don't see them coming. Secondly, when they hit or arrive, they cause off the scale impact, very often damage, sometimes it can be progress. Thirdly, afterwards, after all this has happened, we sort of look back and think we've understood what's happened and very often have completely misunderstood what happened and why, and therefore, we set up ourselves for failure all over again.
Clearly, the book was coming together quite some time before COVID-19 hit, but the idea of green swan by my association was simply that 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.
In the book, you have the notion of lame duck industries. The industries that are going to be really disadvantaged by what's begun to happen all around. You have ugly ducklings. I found in China, I found in Japan, I found in different parts of the world, people understand and know the ugly duckling story. It's one where something looks weird in the early stage of its development, and then develops into something that we later on recognized as something rather different than we had expected it to become.
The ugly duckling becomes a swan. Now, that could be a black swan, it could be a gray swan, it could be a green swan, but that's the sort of fundamental storyline.
Jeff Kavanaugh: 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?
John Elkington: For me, the green swan notion is incremental change is good because that's where we all start. We've all got to try stuff out. We've all got to start from grassroots action or whatever. We learn a huge amount from doing that, but unless and until collectively, we start to realize the gap between where we currently are and where we would need to be by the 2030s, we're deluding ourselves.
One of the things I just constantly do with companies, time and again, you hear companies saying, "What are we already doing and how does that map under the 17 UN Global Goals?" They come… If they hit five or six, they think, "Fabulous. We're well positioned." But I'm pointing them to the fact that the first 2 goals out of 17 are no poverty and zero hunger.
Now, even if you were aiming for the latter part of the century, those would be exponential goals, but the UN is saying it wants those goals delivered by 2030. Now, that calls for a very different mindset, a very different level of ambition and performance targets which are just off the scale different from the ones that most companies have embraced today, which is why I've been reaching out to some people at Silicon Valley and places like that to get a sense of where their thinking is going.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, the billion dollar question then is who are today's ugly ducklings that have the potential to become tomorrow's world-saving green swans?
John Elkington: We've now set up a Green Swans observatory. One of the people we've just pulled in to the observatory is very expert in this whole nexus or cluster of electric vehicles and batteries, autonomous vehicles, smart grids, renewable energy and so on. I think one of the things that's really interesting, and this for me would be a genuine green swan, is how lots of different things are converging in that cluster, which takes us towards not just smarter mobility patterns, but a systemic response which links all these different things together and over time where houses has long been talked about in places like California.
Houses have their backup batteries. They become part of the electricity distribution and storage grid. I think what we're seeing is a number of these things happening simultaneously. Another one would be agriculture or food production. So, if you think about soil health, it's very interesting that you're starting to see people talking about carbon capture, not just simply pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and bumping it into disused underground sort of oil and gas caverns, but saying, "How do you bring that carbon back into the soil in such a way that you boost long-term soil health and fertility?"
Now, that's a really interesting set of questions. If you then think about that in combination with what sort of foods do we need over time to provide our expanding populations with? For example, would meat be high on the list? The answer is unfortunately for compulsive meat eaters, it's a real problem. The generation of methane and carbon dioxide and so on, major problem. But the critical role of the cattle industry is in deforestation, removal of forest cover which is a really critical carbon sink.
There's a wonderful group and if your audience don't know about it, it's called RethinkX based in Silicon Valley and the UK. They've just done a study of the cattle and dairy industry in the United States and the trends that they see happening because of what they call precision fermentation are extraordinary and actually politically very alarming
Then you think about Tesla, Elon Musk, and so on, with his truck. If you get to the point where you have autonomous trucks, you lose a couple of million truck drivers. They're not going to be terribly pleased about that, but the much bigger problem is in cattle ranching. Because there you're talking about something like a 60% reduction in cows on the land. RethinkX are talking about basically the disruption of the cow. That's another part of the puzzle.
Then, you've got synthetic biology. You've got synthetic meat. You've got synthetic chicken. You've got synthetic fish. You've got all these different things coming together and you've got sort of growing understanding of how food and nutrition relates to long term health. You've got insurers starting to become interested in what people are eating when they're offering lifetime insurance cover. So that's another nexus which is starting to come together.
The third one that we're starting to look at now is finance, which links to everything else, of course, and that's not simply about ESG. I think ESG is a symptom of the fact that the financial world is beginning to pay attention to some of this stuff. But a lot of that, again, is knee-jerk itself. "Oh, BlackRock's doing it, we should do it." For finance to really play its role in all of this, it's really going to have to pull up its collective socks over time.
Jeff Kavanaugh: 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?
John Elkington: No, Jeff. I think it's for something rather different. I think the awareness is increasingly there. I think there's a sense among ordinary people that whether you take plastics in the ocean or you take fires, droughts, floods or whatever, they intuitively sense increasingly that the world is not going to be as they imagined it would be in the next sort of 20 or 30 years.
You look at the polls of people's confidence and the ability of their children, grandchildren to enjoy a better world and it's actually falling quite markedly. So, I think what's driving this is something much bigger. I'm going to put a public health warning on the front of what I'm about to say.
I went to study economics first time university in late 60s. I gave it up after one year because it seemed to have very little to do with what I saw then in terms of environmental challenges and the Vietnam War and so on. But two economists really live on in my memory and mind and one of them was Nikolai Kondratiev and the second was Joseph Schumpeter. They both said broadly the same thing- that our economies never go in straight lines, they almost breathe. They have cycles they move in waves.
I think these things you can dispute how long they go on for, but let's say for the sake of argument somewhere between 40 and 50 years. We're coming to the end of a wave and that's a wave that began with the Bretton Woods Conference in terms of geopolitics. It began with Milton Friedman in terms of macroeconomics and technology, IT primarily, but some biotechnology in the mix there.
That's driven global growth and this latest round of globalization, but I think we're coming very sharply to the end of that. So, a lot of people are talking about is this a V-shaped recovery we're going to see, a U-shaped, a W-shaped or whatever or could it even be an L-shaped or whatever? I think this is going to be a very extended period of time, something like 12 to 15 years before a really genuine recovery starts to come through driven by different mindsets, different priorities, different politics, different technology.
The reason I say that is because every 60 or 70 years, we go through one of these periods of meltdown and the first diagram in the book, and remember this was written last year and I've been using the diagram for a couple of years, it's called the U-bend.
Jeff Kavanaugh: 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?
John Elkington: In many ways, I think this is immensely exciting moment in all of this. The first thing I would say to leaders is just pay attention to what's starting to happen all around you, because if you come with a set of assumptions and what you were taught at business school, you're going to miss a lot of the critical trends that are starting to build and a linked thing is to say to people, we've been involved in this, but there's a very good group based in, again, the US and the UK called Leaders' Quest.
What they do is they take large groups of people, and it might be from a bank, it might from major consultancy and they take them to rather stressful conditions. I was involved in one in East Africa where something over 100 people from Barclays, the bank, and their CEO, then CEO, were taken to five slums around Nairobi. For a week, they're exposed to a very different reality. Bain, again, about 100 of their people went to a landfill site outside Mumbai quite some years ago and this is partly to… it's an existential shock. In a way it's like the recall of the triple bottom line.
It's just to rattle people's certainties and shake their assumptions, and then get into the question of what are we missing in all of this? What are we not seeing because we're programmed, to some degree self-programmed, to see the world as we think it is or we think is it, think it might be?
With VW, you've had the Dieselgate scandal, and now you've got the racing to become the world's predominant electric car company. Now, again, who five or six years ago would have been predicted that? I think what you're seeing there is there's some sort of pattern, which is black swan events, Dieselgate, you might say was one of the ones that the rest of the world didn't see, because we just didn't know that level of fraud was possible, let alone being practiced by Volkswagen.
But a black swan event is very often what shakes people up to the point where they then start to think about different ways of doing things and particularly about system change. How you change the way things are and the way things operate?
Jeff Kavanaugh: Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
John Elkington: I think if I got a million dollars or even $10 for every time I'd answered that question I would be a very wealthy man, but the answer is I was born an optimist and you couldn't survive in doing this sort of stuff that I do or we do, which is to stare absolutely in the face some of the very major risks that are coming our way, and the book for example has issues like plastics in the ocean, I've mentioned that. It's got antibiotic resistance, it's got obesity, chronic disease, and diabetes, it's got space debris, it's got the climate emergency, and no one set out to clog the world ocean with polymers.
I mean it's an unintended consequence and I think the point about the exponential decayed framing for the 2020 is that a lot of things that we've been doing without thinking about it very much are coming home to roost, black swans, if you like coming home to roost. If we simply plod along with our incremental thinking and our incremental and siloed thinking, we'll take this bit of that problem and we'll work on that without recognizing that this is a fundamental problem with capitalism and the way that markets currently operate.
Now, I'm an optimist because I think our species when it's backed into a corner tends to do its best work.
Jeff Kavanaugh: 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 and why?
John Elkington: Well, people might expect me to say Rachel Carson with Silent Spring and books like that, Barry Commoner and so on. When I was young and even more impressionable than I am now, those people did have an influence, but the one book that had the most profound impact on my thinking and I read it when I was 14 was Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
John Elkington: It's fascinating. A lot of people don't know the book. It's actually pretty hard reading, and so how I managed to read it when I was 14, I have no idea, but it was the moment at which I realized how the way we see the world and we think about the world is profoundly shaped by our experience, profoundly shaped by our cultural assumptions and expectations, and ever since that moment, I've actually been more optimistic than I was before, because you suddenly realize that actually we create our cultures, and then we, the cultures then shape the way we think.
We can change them and the question is, is that going to be because of disasters and catastrophes that have happened or can we decide positively to do that? Thomas Kuhn and he Structure of Scientific Revolutions- profound impact. The other area I spent a lot of time on particularly in the 60s and 70s, it was science fiction, because particularly in the United States and in Britain at the time, these were countries that were, certainly the United States, it was on a roll and people wanted to know what the future is going to be like. I spent quite a lot of time tracking down science fiction authors like Frank Herbert, when he was still alive. I found their wisdom extraordinarily helpful.
Now, I've started to read, in English translation, some of the Chinese science fiction. Things like, most obviously books like The Three-Body Problem, but there is a huge resurgence of science fiction in China, which I find absolutely fascinating and the way in which people there are thinking about dissent and surveillance and the deep future and so on. And china's role in the world, I find really, really interesting.
Jeff Kavanaugh: How can people find you online?
John Elkington: Well, if they're minded to do so and whether they approve or disapprove of what we're doing, I'd love to hear from anyone who's minded to be in contact. The simplest way is by email. That's John, J-O-H-N@volans, V-O-L-A-N-S.com. I'm on LinkedIn. Twitter and there I'm VolansJohn. I'm even on Instagram these days for that slightly different world. There are two websites. One is volans.com and the other one is johnelkington.com. That's more personal, but if people are interested that's also available.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Excellent. Everyone you can find details on our show notes and transcripts at infosys.com/IKI in our podcast section. John, thank you so much for your time and a fascinating discussion. Everyone, you've been listening to the Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstructing ideas, and share their insights. Thanks to our producer Catherine Burdette, Kerry Taylor, and the entire Knowledge Institute team. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About 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.
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.
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).
- Visit the Volans website
- Visit the SustainAbility website
- Volans’ Tomorrow's Capitalism Inquiry site
- Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact John on LinkedIn
- Contact John on Twitter- @volansjohn
- John’s website- johnelkington.com
Selected links from the episode
Connect with Vishwa Ranjan
- “How Anita Changed the World”Independent - September 12, 2007
- World Wildlife Fund
- Singularity University
- Inside The Moonshot Factory: Five Out-of-this-world Ideas Coming from Alphabet’s Secret X Division NS Business - Febraury 13, 2009
- XPRIZE Foundation
- What is a Certified B Corporation?
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- The 17 United Nations Global Goals
- “What is the Tesla Semi? Everything You Need to Know About Tesla's Semi-autonomous Electric Truck” ZDNet - March 22, 2018
- Nikolai Kondratiev
- Joseph Schumpeter
- Bretton Woods Conference
- Milton Friedman
- Leaders' Quest.
- “Volkswagen: The Scandal Explained” BBC - December 10, 2015
- “Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a Book that Changed the World” Virtual Exhibition, Environment and Society Portal
- “Remembering Barry Commoner” The Nation - October 1, 2012 “https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/aug/19/thomas-kuhn-structure-scientific-revolutions” The Guardian - August 18, 2012
- Books by Frank Herbert Goodreads
- 'Three-Body Problem' Asks A Classic Sci-Fi Question, In Chinese NPR – November 13, 2014
Mentioned in the podcast
Books by John Elkington mentioned in the podcast