Speaking of Sustainability in the Future Perfect
Reflections on experiences at this year’s Future Perfect festival, designed to bring together sustainability thinkers and doers…
The Future Perfect Festival, held on the Stockholm archipelago Island of Grinda, wrapped up recently. The event, now in its third year, is designed to provide a space for those engaged emotionally and professionally in sustainability; a space where they can gather, engage in dialogue and co-create.
Future Perfect, the brainchild of John Manoochehri, is a unique kind of festival, and it is badly needed. Even if, like myself, you are engaged in sustainability on an almost daily basis, the topic is far too wide for any one mind to take in. We need to listen to each others perspective. If we as a species are going to successfully transition away from the present counter-sustainable culture we live in we need to do it together. This means talking, listening to each other, sparking ideas off each other, trying ideas out, coming up with ideas together, and developing our perspective by reflecting in the company of those who both agree and disagree with us.
To me it means engaging in double -loop learning. Single loop learning assesses the strategies being used by looking at outcome and trying corrections and then assessing the outcome, trying new corrections and so on. Double-loop learning is to look at outcomes and assess assumptions behind strategies and the values of the outcomes. Just now there is, for example, a huge debate about economic growth. Instead of using the single loop mode of changing taxes, negative incentives to get off unemployment and tax breaks for corporations, the double-loop mode questions (for example) whether economic growth is desirable at all, and if there should not be a minimum wage paid to all regardless of if they work or not.
A fascinating comment on this topic came up in one of the evening debates: one speaker suggested that the transfer of money from one person to another is an expression of that person’s appreciation of the other, and that we did not want to see a reduction in economic transactions as that would mean a reduction in the love and appreciation each of us share.
Anyway, if we are going to have dialogues that move deeper into double loop mode, we need to get to know who we can talk to, and we need a space, even if it is just once a year, that facilitates that. The Future Perfect set-up manages to do just that always in a comfortable, open setting surrounded by the Swedish countryside looking its summer best.
Just a few moments after arriving I was plunged into a fascinating dialogue experience What do young people want? With Kim Jakobsson, Magnus Åkerlind who have toured Swedish Schools to engage youth in sustainability. The session was expertly facilitated by Per Hörberg from http://www.navigatororganisation.se/ and Gustav Elmberger http://www.samutveckling.se/ who got us to sit in a circle, and reflect on the idea that if we were all-powerful, what would we do to connect youth to sustainability.
The breadth and depth of ideas was impressive. It was great to be reminded that it’s is not the lack of solutions, tools or ideas that is stopping us creating the future we want, but the lack of concerted action.
After lunch it was my turn to participate in a panel meeting with representatives from JAK bank, including the bank’s ethics representative, Tom Strömberg. I represented the Swedish Transition movement. Transition is a network of people working locally to make their communities resilient to energy shortages, climate change and economic downturn. For me, when asked about local production and consumption I identified three good sustainable reasons to do it:
- The money stays in the community and goes around again, and jobs stay in the community. As money leaks out for the community, for example when you buy fossil fuel, jobs leak with them.
- Producing locally requires less transport and therefore the transport footprint is less
- Doing business with people you know is far different from doing business with strangers from far away: it builds community and community means resilience.
The other things is it is easier to get away from being just a consumer. We all need to be owners, producers and consumers.
It is in the dialogue that you develop your own arguments, and it is fascinating when you think something is self evident and you find yourself finding new ways to explain them. Take the issue of us always having traded with each other. We have had global trade for thousands of years. Would it not be better just create an app that trades everything all over the world? Not so fast. The heavy things in your life are also the basics: a roof over your head and food on the table and social cohesion: a community of 100 or more. The heavy things require fossil-fuel (and cooled) transport. The lighter things that you do not need everyday can of course much easier come from afar. Or heavy things that you only purchase seldom.
In my consulting I help with framing strategy that gives real value back to people and the environment while ensuring financial stability. I see how it is getting harder and harder to take on the leadership role, as the challenges mount. I think that the Future Perfect set-up is a good one for leaders. There are several things that Future Perfect does well.
- It creates a space for dialogue. Not just the “mental space” but also the way the programme is organised and the physical meeting spaces encourage dialogue, structured and spontaneous.
- It gets people excited about working on solutions together. Of course we live in a competitive business environment, but true cooperation between government, civic society and business is needed if we are to find ways forward.
- It hosts dialogues well, bringing out the best in its speakers. Future Perfect has knack of identifying just the right speaker and combination of speakers to quickly get to the heart of the matter. And the dialogue forms they have been using and developing – including the quick presentation in the panel and the probing follow-up questions – are enlightening and stimulating to follow.
- It brings people together. As guest speaker Internet Philosopher Alexander Bard said in an interview for the Web-TV channel that broadcast from the festival “I like to see other people involved in the ecological to movement to discuss how we can avoid disaster”.
In grammar, Future Perfect is the name of the tense that I usually explain as “standing in the future looking back”. In English it is expressed in the form of (point in time) + (actor) will have +(event expressed in past tense). This is my “future perfect statement”: In 2030, society will no longer use fossil fuels or emit greenhouse gasses. Future Perfect will have made a pivotal contribution; it will have brought us together and will have helped us have those difficult reflections and conversations that gave us insight and resolve to make the change. What Future Perfect statement would YOU like to make?