A time of transformation

With the UK in lockdown, our immediate focus is rightly on tackling the Coronavirus emergency. However there are things we should be doing now so that when we emerge from this crisis, the world will be on track to tackle the climate crisis too.

This can help make the emerging world a better place, in just the same way that the planning during the second world war allowed the creation of the NHS in 1948.

The first and most obvious opportunity for transformation is about travel. For the last few years carbon emissions from transport have been stuck at around 1/3 of the UKs total. However as we are all learning how to use online tools for meetings and finding we like them, we’re rapidly realising that we don’t need to travel as much as we thought we did.

This is already making a difference. Carbon emissions are down. The streets are quieter. The air is cleaner. With most flights grounded, the sky is bluer.  Even when the lockdown ends, we will undoubtedly decide to travel less than we did before.

A second key opportunity is about our food system.  This has developed over the last 50 years into a disgracefully wasteful and unhealthy behemoth, that accounts for around 20% of the UK’s carbon footprint.

It’s suddenly become apparent that it’s also a very fragile system. In part this is because supermarkets use a “just-in-time” delivery system that means that if people buy just 10% more than usual, or supplies drop by 10%, suddenly the shelves empty and people panic.  It was noticeable last week that the stalls in Cambridge Market often had stock, when supermarkets did not.  I think the recent disruptions are likely continue for a while.

To cope we need to learn from the experiences of people like my Grandmother during WW2 when there were severe food shortages yet people became healthier.  She cooked using basic ingredients and became extremely creative about substituting one ingredient for another. She was meticulous about avoiding waste, and this lasted for decades after the war ended.  As meat became in short supply, people ate more plant-based dishes, and this was accompanied by a massive “dig for victory” campaign.

A similar transformation towards “real” cooking now could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint by at least 17%: it is estimated that a plant-based, locally source diet, has less than half the carbon footprint of a diet that’s based on lots of meat, processed and imported foods.  It can often be tastier too.

Who would have thought that learning to cook could change the world!

Advice for companies re COVID-19

I received this from a contact of mine, who put it together for his early stage companies

The key message is to plan for serious economic disruption on a 12 month + timeframe. This is not a short term problem.

The more companies are able to be creative and flexible in responding to the very difficult times to come, the better their chances.

Brewery Brewdog have started making hand sanitiser

Continue reading Advice for companies re COVID-19

Kids deserve creativity

As the new school year starts, I always find it shocking how poorly many schools develop children’s creativity. Although creativity and innovation is fundamentally important for economic growth, in most schools it has become totally subservient to the need to push kids through ever more tests. Continue reading Kids deserve creativity

The quiet revolution.

Some revolutions happen quietly, but have profound impacts.

We used to have the idea that “Mankind” was completely separate from “nature”. We thought that humans were the only species on earth with consciousness/intelligence/creativity, and that the Earth and its resources were there for us to exploit without comeback.

Some of us still do think this, but over the last few decades, it has become increasingly clear that none of these statements are true.   Continue reading The quiet revolution.

Natural creativity.

The other day I asked Mike (a pseudonym) , a mid-career manager “How’s it going?”  He replied with quite a tirade.

The essence was that while on holiday, he’d had the space to think about the underlying causes of problems he spent his working days battling with. He had just written (but thankfully not yet sent) a steaming email to his boss demanding that the problems were fixed, or he’d leave.  We discussed the issue (basically, a chaotic production department run by an increasingly alcoholic manager producing defective products that upset Mike’s customers) and came up with a constructive solution that he could propose to his boss.

This is of course the holiday season, and I find it interesting how common it is for people to return from holiday having had important creative insights into their careers or problems at work. Continue reading Natural creativity.

That Vision Thing

The other day I was helping develop some future scenarios, set in 15 years time, envisaging some of the surprising business consequences of the clean-tech energy transition.

Envisaging future scenarios is something I love doing, and I find it really quite easy.  It always surprises me that some people find it very hard, because it is an important skill, and one that can be developed. Continue reading That Vision Thing

Brexit as Innovation

As the UK embarks on the complicated process of negotiating itself out of the EU, I found myself reflecting about the parallels with innovation.

Many R&D managers will recognise the feeling of being asked to achieve a complex multifaceted project with an apparently impossible timescale and distracting internal politics, while being under-resourced and under huge pressure to “just get on with it”.  Continue reading Brexit as Innovation

The Power of a Mayor

By 5th May 2017 our rather bizarre devolved region of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will have an elected Mayor.  This extends from near Royston in the South up through Fenland to a bit north of Wisbech, and from a bit past Newmarket in the East (but not of course including Newmarket) to near Thrapston in the West.

It’s hardly a coherent geographical region.  I, like most people round here, was initially pretty unconvinced that we needed another layer of government, but our councils voted for it, and so now we need to make the best of it.

One of the important areas where the Mayor  could make a difference is in the whole area of the environment, climate change and sustainability.   Continue reading The Power of a Mayor