JP July 2013Jonathan Porrit, who was a director of Friends of the Earth and is now founder director of Forum for the Future has released a new book, The World We Made, which explores how the world will look from a sustainable viewpoint in the year 2050. In this interview, Jonathan discusses how HR can take the lead in shaping our future.

How long have you been involved with Forum for the Future now?

I set up Forum for the Future in 1996, together with my co-Founders Sara Parkin and Paul Ekins. It’s still my principal place of work, although I obviously have involvement with a number of other organisations beyond that.

How has the organisation changed and developed over the years?

Forum for the Future now has around 70 employees, and the biggest change over the last couple of years is the increased focus that we have on our international work. We now have offices in New York, Singapore and Mumbai.

Do all employees of Forum for the Future need to have a passion for sustainability?

You don’t have to have a passion for sustainability working for Forum for the Future, but it helps! In fact, like all not-for-profits, we tend to recruit people who want to find jobs that provide purpose and real personal challenge, as well as reasonable remuneration and a good working environment.

Many companies struggle with employee engagement, getting their employees interested and motivated in the business. Are your employees automatically engaged with the organisation and its values or do you have to work at it?

To be honest, we don’t have to work at this. Our organisational values are very actively promoted across the organization, and all our employees reflect their concern for sustainability in their own personal lives as well as in the workplace. We also provide a lot of learning experiences, bringing other people into the organization to share their insights and experience. We also have a lot of fun together, which his pretty critical given how much bad news about the environment we have to process on a daily basis!

How has social media changed the way you do things? Is it a force for good?

We’re actively involved promoting the Forum’s work via social media, and it’s transformed our entire approach to communications more generally. On the whole, we definitely see these developments as a ‘force for good’, whilst recognising the inevitable downsides.

Is social media proving a useful recruitment tool for the organisation?

Social media play an important part in every recruitment process, but I’m not sure we keep statistics on how successful applicants first contact us – in the conventional way or via social media.

Your new book, The World We Made, looks at life in the year 2050 and the issues surrounding sustainability. Do you think that the march of sustainability and the new technologies surrounding it will throw up a whole new industry and employment opportunities, in much the same way that the advent of the internet did?

We already know that the low-carbon and cleantech sectors are amongst the fastest-growing economic sectors in the world – and here in the UK too. There’s no doubt that this will continue indefinitely into the future. Some of this growth will provide high-tech jobs – in science, engineering, design, manufacturing and so on – and some will be in what is sometimes called the ‘green collar economy’ in terms of energy efficiency, retrofitting homes and buildings, installing renewable energy appliances and so on.

What advantages and incentives are there for companies to act sustainably?

Without exception, all the companies that are doing well on sustainability issues are stronger companies because of it – in terms of reduced energy, waste and water bills, enhanced staff motivation and productivity, better relations with key stakeholders (local communities, regulators and so on), and new opportunities for innovation and topline growth.

If companies act sustainably, will employees then also be motivated to act more sustainably in their personal lives? And can individual action make a difference?

Companies that prioritise employee engagement all report greater interest from those employees in their own personal lives. It’s a natural fit, and it means that employees don’t have to live by one set of values and behaviours at home and another set of values and behaviours at work.

Does HR have a role to play by engaging management and employees in this issue? 

All our experience in Forum for the Future tells us that HR has proved itself to be a really important function in the success of our Partners in becoming more sustainable – particularly in matters like staff recruitment and retention, remuneration, work-life balance, training and personal development.

And if so, what steps can HR Directors take now to encourage sustainable practices?

HR Directors can get stuck in on this whole sustainability story without waiting to be instructed by the boss! All the principal HR professional bodies now have excellent resources to help HR Directors get going, and some equally helpful books can be recommended – such as ‘CSR for HR’ by Elaine Cohen (Greenleaf Publishing), and ‘Climb the Green Ladder’ by Amy Fetzer and Shari Aaron (Wylie).

How do you think technology will impact our lives in the year 2050, will the World be radically different from now? 

Our lives are already being transformed by today’s rolling IT revolution, and the next generation of cloud-based technologies will deepen and accelerate that transformation. After that, the next biggest technology revolution lies in the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy that will take place over the next 35 years. We’re roughly 90% dependent on fossil fuels today, and we’ll need to be 90% dependent on renewable energy in 2050 if we are to avoid the potential horror story of runaway climate change. These two massive transformations will impact every area of our lives.

Is the next Generation doomed?

Far from it! A really good, rewarding, fair and genuinely sustainable life is still available for all 8.6 billion of us living on the planet by 2050 – just so long as we get on with the change today without any further delay!

New book from Jonathon Porritt outlines challenges and solutions to a sustainable future

Jonathon Porritt, eminent British environmentalist and author, challenges politicians, the media, the business community and NGOs to raise their game in confronting the challenge of living more sustainably through the launch of his new book, The World We Made.

Told through the eyes of Alex McKay, a 50 year-old teacher writing in 2050, his book describes the key events, technological breakthroughs and lifestyle revolutions that he believes could transform the world over the next few decades.

After many years of working alongside business, government and other organisations to create solutions to complex sustainability challenges, in his role as Co-Founder of global non-profit Forum for the Future – plus two years of intensive research into many different areas of technology, economics, health and the environment -The World We Made is bursting with the kind of radical, positive ideas that could transform a world currently stuck in denial.

Jonathon Porritt commented: “Ever since the Earth Summit in 1992, the UK and most other countries have been playing at sustainability, taking small, tentative steps to reduce the horrendous cost of our current model of progress. After the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it’s blindingly obvious to all just how inadequate a response this has been.”

The book is being launched with the support of Arup at its London office– precisely the kind of company that is ready and able to spearhead our transition to a more sustainable world.

“Businesses in the UK are already doing a lot to rise to the challenge, but our government has proved to be wilfully negligent in matching those business commitments.”

Because of this continuing inaction on the part of governments all around the world, Jonathon Porritt warns that in the coming years, the world could face water riots, runaway climate change, cyber-terrorism, resource shortages, and periodic famines. But it absolutely doesn’t have to be like that.

“The irony is that we are surrounded by astonishing innovation on every side, in terms of both technology and new thinking of economics, social and governance issues. By far the most important challenge we face today is to get those ideas through the innovation pipeline, properly prototyped, funded and fully deployed throughout the world.”

All royalties from the book will go to support the work of Forum for the Future. Its partners include leading companies such as M&S, Unilever, O2 Telefonica, Carillion, Nike and many others – as well as the Rockefeller Foundation, public sector organizations, NGOs and social enterprises. Insights generated in the book will help feed into Forum’s strategic work.

Jonathon Porritt continued: “The ideas raised in the book are not science fiction, since almost all the projections are based on what’s already available today in terms of new technology and potential breakthroughs. But there are, inevitably, some serious shocks to the system along the way which will help jolt our politicians out of their current inertia. A fair, dynamic and genuinely sustainable life is still available for all of us in 2050 assuming only that we get a move on without further delays.”