Sustainable Innovation 2019 Conference
Kobus Cilliers | On 07, Aug 2019
I’m told that the reason women agree to have another child is because they’re programmed to forget the pain associated with giving birth to the previous one. Not on anything like the same level, but I think I can be a little the same way when it comes to conferences. The last time I attended the Sustainable Innovation conference was fifteen years ago. The emotional scars are still there in the back of my mind, but, 2019, I decided maybe my memory was wrong and that it was the time to go back and see if the world of sustainability had changed. So I duly submitted my abstract, ‘Never Make Predictions, Especially About The Future: What TRIZ Has To Say About The World in 2030’, it got accepted, probably because there was something of a 2030 theme about the overall event, and hey-presto, I’m scheduled to speak. No going back now.
Given that only thirty papers got accepted, I felt quite privileged. That is, until I actually turned up and sat through the pitches we all had to give to try and attract other attendees to come and listen to our presentations. If I include the half-dozen keynotes, what was on offer appeared to sit in one of the following categories:
- I have no idea what 2030 will be like, I have no methodology for working out what 2030 might be like, I work for a large organisation that also has no methodology for predicting what 2030 will be like, but I have some strong opinions about my area of expertise that I am going to extrapolate them into the future for you.
- I have no idea what 2030 will be like, I have no methodology and I don’t work for a large organisation either, I just happened to know the conference organizer and he thought I could entertain people with an upbeat message for half an hour.
- Company bosses, politicians, anyone in a position of power never listen to what we ‘sustainability experts’ have to say, it’s not fair and I’m quite angry.
- 2030 is going to be brilliant because Greta Thunberg and the rest of Generation Z are going to sort the whole environment thing out for all of us.
- The fashion industry is evil but we have invented this thing called ‘mass-customization’ so everything is going to be okay from now on.
- I’ve written a book on the ‘circular economy’, and I hope everyone in this room is going to buy a copy, because I worked quite hard on it. Including doing a survey that wasn’t really scientific, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of disguising the fact.
- I have a great idea for a project. I have no idea how to get from where we are today to where we need to be, but apart from that, I think I’ve invented Sustainability Utopia.
- I have some really strong opinions about sustainability, but I don’t understand science or mathematics or anything involving numbers and anyone that tries to challenge me with any of them is a liar and wants the planet to be destroyed.
- I run a recycling business. There is money in waste.
Before the conference, I could very easily find myself getting angry with Trump and other climate-change denying politicians. After the conference, I can see that if the people attending the conference are the people badgering these politicians, I’d have exactly the same attitude the skeptical politicians do. The Sustainability Community’s biggest problem is the Sustainability Community.
There need to be some new rules. Starting with who is allowed to come and attend Sustainable Innovation conferences: 1) they needed to have passed Systems Thinking 101 and Complex Adaptive Systems 101 courses, 2) they have to have some genuine skin-in-the-sustainability-game, 3) they don’t call themselves ‘creative’ (especially if they work in one of the so-called ‘creative industries’ – where, to make any progress you need to be precisely the opposite of creative).
And, for the authors and presenters: 1) they understand the concept of boundary conditions and ‘externalisation’ and that you have a duty to present data in an objective manner, not one that ignores inconvenient facts that don’t fit your hypothesis, 2) they do not read their presentation from a script. Especially if they are claiming to be ‘a creative’, 3) they are able to demonstrate a combination of academic-AND-do-er…
The planet doesn’t need humans. It will survive in some form or other no matter how much the average global temperature might increase or decrease in the coming decades. If humanity wishes to preserve its ongoing upward trajectory of civilization, however, we need to do something to fall ourselves dropping off the end of a very non-linear cliff edge. If the Sustainability Community is the self-appointed guardian of this mission, I fear, based on the evidence of Sustainable Innovation 2019 that, as a species, we’re very likely doomed. If humanity does finally resolve to tackle the climate problems we’re creating, I’m willing to make three bets. The first is that we will succeed. The second is that, when we do succeed it will have absolutely nothing to do with the Sustainability Community. And third, a bit more radical, if we’re still talking about poor old suffocated Greta Thunberg in three years’ time, the discussion we’ll be having will have nothing to do with sustainability or the environment.
There is a genuine environmental crisis looming. We’re still looking in all the wrong places to solve it. And, to quote a certain skeptic, that’s ‘Sad’.