Country of residence: UK
Current Position: Chairman, SustainAbility; and Research Fellow, Green Templeton College, Oxford
How did you get to the role you are in today and what advice would you give aspiring climate champions?
I shifted my career 20 years ago from (unwittingly) encouraging unsustainable consumption as an advertising and marketing professional to working out how I could encourage business to be part of the solution, which is what SustainAbility does. I am wary of advising people on how they should spend their lives, but anyone aware of the massive disruptions climate insecurity will bring should ask themselves what skills, innovative solutions, and networks they can leverage to make a difference, however small.
What prompted your early interest in the environment?
My daughter was diagnosed with asthma and the doctor said ‘Don’t worry – it is caused by Oxford’s polluted air’. That made me really worry…. and then decide to act.
Describe your first attempt to ‘save the planet’:
A video I made at the Earth Summit in 1992. It headlined the issues and how business could help. I could play it at Rio+20 and you would think little had changed over the last 20 years.
Favourite quote: Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. (attribution disputed, but who cares?)
What is your view on the COP 17 outcome?
Mixed. It was never possible that we would get an agreement equal to the challenge of staying below 2 degrees of global warming. But the outcomes are well above (admittedly low) expectations and will definitely be helpful in encouraging the unilateral, bilateral and multilateral voluntary actions which are our only hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change.
What do you believe should be achieved at Rio+20?
Should or will be achieved? Given that virtually all environmental and social indicators have progressively worsened over the last 20 years, it is unlikely that we will see any substantive outcomes. We need to take stock and acknowledge that UN processes are a welcome but inadequate response to the multiple urgent challenges we face in achieving remotely sustainable ecological and sociological systems. We need to find new ways of delivering the scale of changes needed.
What is your role in this process?
Challenging and guiding the corporate sector to play an active role in addressing the massive challenges we face in a globalized and privatised world. This has to shift from lessening negative environmental, social and economic impacts to using corporate economic power, innovative skills and global scale to generate positive societal outcomes.
How important is the Rio+20 process?
Sadly, I suspect not very important. I fear it will be positioned as a celebration of progress when the reality is continuing degradation of the environment and effectively a generation of potential solutions completely lost.
What do you think the priorities for action should be in 2012 in the run up to Rio+20?
Bringing together government, civil society and business to recognize that future solutions need to be fundamental rather than incremental; collaborative rather than competitive; and working to shift systems rather than parts of it.