Where’s the green vision?

In a recent post, Joel Makower points to the seemingly missing vision of what a “bright green” future might look like as playing a significant role in the lack of on-the-ground support for sustainability.

There’s long been a fundamental problem with the green world — the myriad companies, activists, evangelists, politicians, clergy, thought leaders, and others who, each in their own way, have prodded us to address our planet’s environmental ills. And it explains why, after four decades of the modern environmental movement, only a relative handful of companies and citizens have joined in, while many more have dragged their heels to slow, or even reverse, environmental progress.

The problem is this: No one has created a vision of what happens if we get things right.

I couldn’t agree more – I think it is something that is sorely lacking. For me, one of the inspirational elements of Cradle to Cradle was it’s appeal to our sense of aspiration for a better life. It presented concrete examples of what a bright green future might look like, that there was an alternative to business as usual that met our aspirational needs without bankrupting the planet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and I’m more and more convinced of the need to reframe the debate about “growth” and sustainability.

Instead of spreading a message of “less”, we need to appeal to our natural, innate, human sense of aspiration – replacing the aspiration for “more stuff” to focus on what really does constitute a “better life”.

Can we do a judo move (I’m channelling Naomi Klein in No Logo here), to take the weight and momentum of this idea of “growth” and “aspiration” and hurl them towards sustainable goals?

Maybe it’s possible, but to do this we absolutely need a vision of what the future could be like – something to aspire to (rather than away from) – as Joel suggests.

In an earlier TED video, Barry Schwartz talks about the paradox of choice – that as we get more options (which, he points out, is often equated with “freedom”) we are actually less happy.

I think many people recognise that our drive for “more stuff” isn’t working. Certainly in my day-to-day interactions with friends and family we collectively recognise the problems in the banking system, in the corporate payouts for un-performance, in deteriorating public health and education systems, of layoffs following multi-million (if not billion) dollar profit announcements. And of course in the global financial meltdown.

A lot of us intuitively know this is wrong. It grates against our sense of justice, of our ideals of meritocracy and our social values. But we feel trapped – lost without an alternative. If only we had… a compelling alternate vision.

This is a latent force that, I think, has yet to be fully tapped. If we can reframe the debate – from the oppositional framing of “growth vs. sustainability” to the inclusive and aspiration embracing “wellbeing and a better life” – I believe we can go a long way to leveraging this sentiment to achieve significant, and rapid, change in our world.