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Professor Malcolm McIntosh, on 17 January 2003
Tenth Anniversary Lecture Series, World Affairs & Economics Group contribution chaired by Geoffrey Catchpole
It can be argued that there are two issues that dominate international policy and lead to conflict and a lack of security: widening socio-economic polarisation and the problems of environmental constraints 1. The management of these two issues comes at a time when some commentators point to the 'failure of politics 2 and the erosion of moral values; and 'market fundamentalism having contributed to (that) failure of politics' . How shall we manage ourselves in order that poverty and environmental resource distribution are addressed? What can be learnt from research and practice in different, but related fields? There are many who argue that this is the century where the people of this planet have to find shared values, develop common principles and accept divergent civilisations if we are to manage our resources for the good of all.
But, as Martin Rees, the UK's Astronomer Royal, has said: "the future could extend into a post-human era. We're still near the beginning of evolution, not its culmination" 3. There are some who argue that sustainability requires us to evolve to a higher plane, or to develop parts of our brains beyond the reptilian. Just as it may be that we cannot 'hear' other intelligences out in space because, in Martin Rees words, 'they package reality in a fashion we cannot conceive' 4 so too we may need to repackage reality in order to manage our relations with each other and the planet more equitably.
The events of September 11 2001 and the collapse of the Enron Corporation in December 2001 have focused attention on how we manage conflict and wealth disparity and how we manage our private global economic institutions. After the Cold War we need to learn how to manage the peace. Some commentators argue that the solution is to be found in the way we see the world. Re-seeing the world will fundamentally determine how we re-engage with it. 5 Specifically, in this context, is the manner in which we engage, for the first time, with the Other - those people whose experiences have not been recognised in the story of the world - women, non-whites, non-western cultures, the poor and dispossessed.6 This process requires both learning and unlearning, networking ideas across traditional boundaries and then taking action for change.
There is a need to learn how to 'manage the peace'. A global industry has been built round research and teaching programmes on business administration (MBAs).7 The global elite may have learnt how to manage global finance, build multinational corporations and develop consumer economies, but we have not been as successful at managing peace, resolving conflict and establishing stability. There is a need to understand how we manage and nurture social capital - that most vital of resource in all societies. And there is much that humanity still has to learn about its relationship to planet home.
An examination of the complexity of social and environmental responsibility involves an interdisciplinary approach. This means considering international policy, specifically related to poverty, gender and development; management and business, specifically related to corporate social and environmental responsibility; education, specifically related to learning and personal, community and organisational change: development, peace and conflict studies, specifically related to regions in conflict, transitional economies and developing countries; and, technology, specifically related to the development of science and the relationship between technology, science and capitalism.
Managers in multinational corporations, officials in public administration and workers in civil society organisations often find themselves managing in conflict regions and involved in dispute resolution but without the necessary skills or competencies to work across traditional sectoral and intellectual boundaries. Despite the growth of a 'new social partnerships' approach to sustainability, accountability and development issues there is much that can be gained from developing research that reaches into the literatures and experiences on business management, development, international policy and peace studies. At the same time understanding how managers in private business, public policy and civil society can work more closely together requires new approaches to learning and change.
The title of this talk is really asking: is there something to believe in? Is believing in planet home something to share? Or is believing in one world, in a shared space and place, an illusion? Or is believing that we must nurture and protect our global ecology a new form of imperialism being foisted on us all? Indeed am I desperate to believe in something? Are the two challenges of widening socio-economic polarisation and the problems of environmental constraints really the challenges that face us on planet home?
The Distracted Self and Empty Meaning
Before emails and mobile phones, even before fax, the poet T.S.Eliot wrote of the 'distraction by distraction':
"Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty meaning." 8
Today, like the other days of the week, I will receive up to one hundred emails as well as my voice mail box being stuffed and my post box overloaded. Whereas once people paused awhile before opening their mouths or putting pen to paper now contact is like junk fast food; continuous, low quality, full of extraneous crap and bad for you. As psychologist Kenneth Gergen has written: The "massive increment in social stimulation - moving toward a state of saturation - sets the stage for radical changes in our daily experiences of self and others . . . with social saturation the coherent circles of accord are demolished."9 What is my identity and what do I believe? Who am I and why am I here?
Like many people I am part of a growing global elite class - downloading emails, working with colleagues in four continents, owing allegiance to my airline/supermarket/oil company reward card, rarely using cash, mixing croissants with sushi, and watching global TV. We used to say that we spend a third of our lives asleep, now it is possible for a significant elite to say that they spend part of their lives at 8,000 metres - maybe asleep, but often working away at the laptop. Despite the events of September 11 2001 air travel is predicted to grow, particularly amongst Jo Public on cheap, no-frills airlines in the USA and Europe.
Meanwhile, below me as I fly across the planet, twenty-five percent of the world's population will not see the age of 40, are living on less than one US dollar a day and fighting over the most meagre of resources. I am reminded that on average it takes six litres of fossil fuel to deliver one kiwi fruit to a British supermarket, and that one trans-Atlantic flight has the same personal environmental impact as driving a car for a year.
So, I have a dilemma. I want an identity and a lifestyle that does not compromise my comfort but at the same time does not knowingly impact negatively on the planet or cause others harm.
Hope and Planet Home
The assumption that we have made up until now, and certainly since the birth of industrial capitalism, is that planet Earth's resources are bountiful and that her carrying capacity is infinite. This assumption includes the chartering and incorporation of our corporations. The argument has been that capitalism is naturally good and that in order for its corporate agents to function they should be allowed to externalise significant proportions of their risks. But, now that our corporations have grown so big, and some of them so scornful of humanity, the complex global adaptive system - the eco-system - may see fit, not out of malice or foresight or predictability, to adapt and re-balance. This may not be good for humanity in the long run, and it certainly is not good for some twenty-five percent of humanity immediately.
It should be possible to pause awhile, to stand and stare. While we stand and stare we should examine three things:
· What do we now know about the adaptability of our global eco-system;
· What do we know about our technical and technological capacities;
· What have we learnt about social systems?
They are all adaptive, and they are all complex, but the eco-system may adapt in such a way as to diminish the life fulfilment expectations of an even larger proportion of humanity. Most important is to see these three distinct areas of analysis as symbiotic, as inseparable in reality, as integrated parts of the same whole.
Thinking of Air as Water
The fundamental problem of sustainability is that there has been a failure to understand the complexity of life on Earth. This is because of the tendency to divide and reduce analysis to component parts. If we looked further down the microscope of analysis we would study the relationship between things rather that the things themselves, and by so doing understand that things only have meaning by virtue of context. It is the spaces between things that give meaning to life and lend possibilities for dynamism, action and change.
It is in the silence of space that we will hear ourselves. And 'space' is a misnomer; we are talking about relationships and connectivity. It is no wonder that there is so much synchronicity about. The fungi specialist, micro-biologist Alan Rayner, has written that our problem is that air is too thin - we take it for granted. If we think of ourselves as swimming in water (and the chemical difference between air and water is not too far) then we will feel the connectivity more distinctly. This analogy will be most apparent to anyone reading this at 8,000 metres - you are hoping that the air has some density and connectivity and that gravity prevails. The former means that you should have a smoothish ride and the latter that your plane does not fly off into space. So, some fundamental rationalist scientific understanding is, in this case, reassuring.
Management, Humanity and Soul
In order to beat the blues that accompany postmodern deconstruction it is good to have a positive agenda, a way of going forward. Here is a vision from the Secretary General of the UN in 2000:
'We have to choose between a global market driven only by calculations of short-term profit, and one which has a human face. Between a world which condemns a quarter of the human race to starvation and squalor, and one which offers everyone at least a chance of prosperity, in a healthy environment. Between a selfish free-for-all in which we ignore the fate of the losers, and a future in which the strong and the successful accept their responsibilities, showing global vision and leadership. Let us choose to unite the powers of the markets with the authority of universal ideals.' 10
And here is a way of seeing the world from two people a management theorist and a Marxist poet:
'The activities of corporations are no longer defined by the imposition of abstract command and the organisation of simple theft and unequal exchange. Rather, they directly structure and articulate territories and populations. They tend to make nation-states merely instruments to record the flows of commodities, monies, and the populations they set in motion. . ….. This is really the new biopolitical structuring of the world.' 11
Zygmunt Bauman argued in Post-modern Ethics that postmodernism rather than divorcing us from choice by throwing us into a fragmented, nihilistic place of uncertainty, called on us to examine our moral choices more closely .12 He argued that the modern world requires a greater concentration of moral effort because we can no longer accept the universal truths of the past. So, in line with Kofi Annan's statement quoted previously perhaps the best place to begin is with the world as it could be. Here is the Dalai Lama speaking to the European Parliament in September 2001:
'Today's world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. We must learn to work not just for our own self, family or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the best foundation for personal happiness and for world peace.'
Approaching social and environmental responsibility from disparate angles means not assuming that it is easy to identify heroes and villains - personal or corporate. It does not assume that we know where we are going. It does assume that humans share similar conditions; that we share the same delicate, beautiful, intricately balanced planet twirling through space. That we share the same cosmic angst, never quite sure why we are here. We share our humanity and all our pasts, presents and futures. We have one soul and one collective unconsciousness.
On this basis the themes that now seem to present themselves as areas for research are:
· The relationship between human activity and the natural environment, represented in the debate around sustainable development;
· Governance and accountability for, and transparency in, decision-making in business and government;
· The contrast between talking to people and talking to organisations, and the disconnect that occurs;
· The relationship and discourse (and lack of) between the corporate business world, public policy making and local communities;
· The development of networks, network organisations, universal values and the clash with places and territory;
· The use and abuse of power, and the apparent power vacuum in many contemporary global-local situations;
· And, most confusingly, that sometimes things just seem to happen without due rhyme or reason. Either this means that nobody is willing or able to take responsibility or that the most powerful force is at play - synchronicity.
Synchronicity arises because of the complex patterns that emerge from an examination of any situation.
Sustainability"Ecological awareness will arise only when we combine our rational knowledge with an intuition for the nonlinear nature of our environment".
Fritjof Capra (1982 'The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture' 13
"Most current development fails because it meets human needs incompletely and often degrades or destroys its resource base"
IUCN,UNEP,WWF'Caring for the Earth' (1991) 14
"One has to challenge people with the facts, for example, that in 2000 we spend eleven billion Euros in Europe on ice cream a year which is about twice what it would cost to provide access to clean drinking water for people in poor countries".
Chris Patten (2000) EU Commissioner for External Relations 15
When summing up the twentieth century.16 the historian Eric Hobsbawn said: "The ecological problems, though in the long run decisive, were not so immediately explosive. . . . they tended to be to be mistakenly discussed in terms of imminent apocalypse. . . . But. a rate of economic growth like that of the second half of the twentieth century, if maintained indefinitely, must have irreversible and catastrophic consequences for the natural environment of this planet, including the human race which is part of it."
Clive Ponting's A Green History of the World (1991) has a chapter headed: "The Rape of The World" in which he says: "Over the last 10,000 years human activities have brought about major changes in the ecosystems of the world."17 For many activists and public policy-makers environmental sustainability is the starting point for any discussion about global public policy. This fragile planet is degraded and degrading fast and we are perhaps at the point of no return. To save our souls we must first save the planet. Much of the emphasis is therefore concerned with the use and misuse of environmental resources, with community rights to resources, with waste and environmental justice.
It is undeniable that we have a choice when it comes to treading lightly on the Earth, or pillaging and plundering environmental resources. One of the profound benefits of using the state of the planet as an entry point for discussing global public policy is its modernist universality.
Although most people do not understand the mechanics of global warming or our relationship to the destruction of the ozone layer even the most urban desensitised person understands, for instance, that clean water is better than polluted water, and that a good sanitation system is worth its weight in gold. There is a universal belief in the prospect of clean water.
A significant number of specific events in the twentieth century led to the development of intense scepticism about scientific modernism and the rationality of technological progress as being naturally good. These range from the introduction of DDT, CFCs and asbestos which were portrayed as inert, benign and somehow serving private needs and the common good, to the extreme use of industrialisation in developing inter-continental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombs and extermination gas chambers. In all these examples significant profits were made by private sector organisations, some of which are active today.
The other aspect of what postmodern philosopher Lyotard has called 'the grand narrative' of modernist rational progress is that it has failed a significant minority of the world. This 'other' has been left out of the story so far: "Modernism assumed universality and left out the experiences and creations of women, non-whites and non-Western cultures."18 One way to understand the crisis that afflicts a third of the population of the world is to relate the statistics on poverty, degradation and destruction. Another way is through the telling of stories, through the everyday minor narratives that fix the attention of the listener or reader on the
circumstances of the individual. Ironically this is also how we often come to understand the development of science (through knowing the man who made the discovery). This may account for the popularity of TV soap operas, because they often tell stories that we can all understand, in ways that we can all relate to. It may also account for the phenomenal increase in visitors to modern art galleries across the world. This may be discounted by the idea that these temples to art have become 'somewhere to go' and Disneyesque in their experience. But, it can be argued, their art helps the active viewer to understand a world that is not rational, scientific and obvious.
So it is that companies, realising the necessity to relate to us in both the grand narrative form and the lesser sub-text of life tell us stories of liberation, empowerment and improvement alongside the statistics. Here is Unilever on the theory and practice of sustainability:
"A business like Unilever has a direct interest in sustainability. Unilever's long-term success depends on access to sustainable natural resources, particularly agricultural products, fish and fresh water. Water is the most fundamental necessity of life. Yet one third of the world's population does not have access to reliable, regular sources of drinking water - and the problem is getting worse. Water is also essential in our business. We need water to produce our products and the consumer needs clean water to use and consume them. No water: no washing, no cooking, no tea. It's as simple as that."
Surf's Up - The Beach Boys (1971) 19
Don't go near the water
Don't you think its sad
What's happening to the water
Our water's going bad
The language of clean and accessible water is common everywhere --in Japan, Nigeria, Mexico, Germany, Scotland and in every place in the world. This may be why water is as good an example of the need to change our planetary management as any. In space exploration the possibility of there being water on planets and moons excites the imagination as if such knowledge would mean there was also life, as we know it on Earth. Surely, it is pointed out, whether our political system is capitalist or communist, autocratic or inclusive it would be perfectly feasible and desirable to provide everyone with clean water?
97% of the world's water is in the oceans and the remainder is on land. 77% of land water is stored in ice caps and glaciers, 22% is groundwater - most at more than 800 metres below ground level, and the remaining 1% is in rivers and streams. But we are 75% water. When we holiday many of us spend large sums of money to sit on a narrow strip of beach between the land and the ocean with few clothes on. Our relationship to water is full of love and fear. In Apocalypse Now 20 the producer Francis Ford Coppola had an American military crew during the Vietnam War racing up river to find the reclusive Kurtz who had gone mad. Joseph Conrad, on whose novel Coppola based his film, refers to the 'sleepless river' both in his metaphorical quest to the heart of darkness and in London where 'the traffic of the great city went on in the deepening night upon the sleepless river'.21
So many centres of urban life are based along rivers, so many corporate citadels look out over major rivers (including Unilever's on the Thames Embankment, almost opposite the Tate Modern). Now like the rivers, the global economy never ceases flowing on twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Water is in our blood.
And yet our inability to manage water resources globally kills 5 million people a year. It is worth reminding ourselves of how badly we manage this global issue: 40% of the world's population (2.5bn people) lack access to basic sanitation; 5 billion people will be without sanitation by 2025 through increased urbanisation; 5 million people die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water; 2 million people die every year from water-related diarrhoea; 80% of all disease in developing countries is caused by contaminated water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene; 50% of all hospital beds in developing countries are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases; 90% of water is used for agriculture; and women, children and the poor are disproportionately affected by the lack of clean water. And yet most of these people live in countries with markets, some dominated by some of the same global corporate citizens who provide the stories for numerous texts on business and management.
Interestingly some of the most significant writers on management and globalisation in the twentieth and twenty-first century fail to mention water. Peter Drucker does no mention water in his Management Challenges for the 21st Century (1999) 22 nor do Richard J Barnett and John Cavanagh in Global Dreams (1994) 23 , nor does George Soros in The Crisis of Global Capitalism:Open Society Endangered (1998). Even that chronicler of the twentieth century, Eric Hobsbawn, fails to mention water as an issue in the last century in The Age of Extremes: The Shorter Twentieth Century 1914-1991 (1994) 24
This is, of course, unfair. Or is it? Drucker's book says: "This book is a call for action. . . . We live in a period of profound transition - and the changes are more radical perhaps than even those that ushered in the 'Second Industrial Revolution' of the middle of the 19th Century, or the structural changes triggered by the Great Depression and the Second World War." The book discusses the "new social, demographic and economic realities" and argues that these cannot be dealt with by politics or free market theory, but only by "management and the individual". But nowhere does the book mention what is seen by some people as one of the single most important driver for change, namely our dysfunctional relationship to the planet we share and one of its prime constituents - water.
Barnett and Cavanagh's Global Dreams is heavy on shopping malls, corporations and international finance. It begins with the image of Spaceship Earth, which provides a "unifying metaphor to awaken planetary consciousness",but does not then return to the image of home, survival, community and the sustainable environment.
George Soros's critique of global capitalism is forceful and somewhat compelling, given that he has been one of the greatest financial beneficiaries of its manipulative processes. His concept of reflexivity calls for a change in the imbalance between an immature global political system that is no match for a rapacious global financial system which tends towards instability.
We know that the twentieth century was the century of industrialised warfare that saw millions of people on battlefields, in cities and in concentration camps subjected to mechanised death. Many wars began through a desire for natural resources and territory. The Japanese 1930s invasion of China and their push South was for oil, and the German invasions of their neighbours was to gain control of the territories of Europe. But also during this period millions of people died through the mis-use of, or lack of access to, environmental resources, such as water, around the world. 25
Water is used here to illustrate an obvious paradox. Water is only mentioned when money can be made from it: witness the sale of Wessex Water in the UK after the collapse of Enron in 2001 for some $1bn to a Malaysian conglomerate, YTL, and the price of shares for Evian bottled water in France. But, as a global citizenship issue it should be paramount, and as a management issue surely it should be easy to solve? And don't all those companies that claim to be global corporate citizens, multi-local enterprises and caring community companies have a vested interest in the link between clean water and economic stability?
The global non-bottled water business is estimated to generate annual revenues of US$300 billion for corporations. 26
This could be described as sustainability, or, for Anthony Giddens this is the third way: the renewal of social democracy. For him 'ecological modernisation' is one of the five dilemmas for social democracy: " the notion of sustainable development fits well with the broader one of ecological modernisation." 27 Ecological modernisation appears to mean upstream thinking; redesigning society on the principles of sustainability rather than unfettered growth; anticipation rather than cure and end-of-pipe solutions; pollution equalling inefficiency; and making a link between environmental regulation and economic growth - that is, of course, sustainable ecological growth.
Unilever's 0.1% of Global Water Use
We estimate that our "water imprint" - the total volume of water used to make and use our products - is equivalent to around 0.1% of all the water extracted for use globally each year. Agriculture is the biggest user: we estimate that potentially half of our overall water imprint must be associated with growing the produce that accounts for three-quarters of our raw materials.
The world's water systems - a shared, finite but renewable resource - are under extreme pressure. More than 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Unsafe water and poor sanitation cause an estimated 80% of all diseases in the developing world. No single measure would do more to reduce disease and save lives in the developing world than bringing safe water and adequate sanitation to all.
Without major improvements in the way water is allocated, used (which means actions to reduce consumption and to minimise impact on water quality) - and re-used - the global water situation will get considerably worse over the next 30 years. Indeed, water will be the major impediment to development in the future in several regions.
At Unilever, our approach to water sustainability is based on understanding the water imprint of our operations locally and by ensuring that our imprint is sustainable within the limits of the relevant water catchments. For example, in the past 5 years we have cut water pollution loading from our factories by over 20%. Many of our factories, particularly in developing countries, discharge no effluent at all due to investment in on-site waste treatment and water recycling facilities. We are working to help our suppliers and customers do the same.
At least four things are crucial: reflecting the full economic value of water in pricing; making water use more efficient by reducing pollution and increasing reuse and recycling; developing integrated and participatory frameworks for the management of water; and utilising knowledge and technology in partnership with local people.
Without conforming to Hobsbawn's ecological nightmare scenario related earlier it is clear from the evidence that the ecological situation is grave. The United Nations Environmental Programme 2002 annual report states: "the environment is still at the periphery of socio-economic development" and "the level of awareness and action has not been commensurate with the state of the global environment today; it continues to deteriorate."28 The situation is confirmed by a WWF report: We have seen "improvements in the quality of life for people in many parts of the world, yet we continue to exact an unacceptable price from the Earth's ecosystems at the same time." 29
Those who argue that the current neo-liberal model of economic development has generally raised living standards are correct, but fail to recognise that there have been winners and losers, and, that this model is ecologically unsustainable in the long run. There is also a failure to focus on the merits of better environmental management in resolving conflict. For instance it has long been a truism of the Middle East situation that water is as crucial as oil in the politics of the area. According to recent estimates Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula all face water shortages. There is an obvious necessity to reduce conflict and manage the peace and the development of stronger regional institutions could come about through focussing on water. After all water has the annoying habit of ignoring territorial boundaries: it is also vital to life and development.
General agreement concerning the state of the planet confounds postmodernists because the universality of planetary conditions is profoundly modernist, although how we tackle it may present a diversity of strategies and attitudes. Ecology could be called the post-postmodernist modernism. The Tellus Institute, without referring to the largely intellectual dilemma of modernism and its critics, wrote of the twenty-first century being the 'planetary age'. After decades of the science of eco-system understanding, after an array of astronauts staring back at Earth from space and wondering at the fragility and loneliness of planet Earth floating in the cosmos, and after the death of distance through electronic contact, now is the century where 'one world' becomes a political reality as well as a slogan for a global airline alliance.
oneworld TM(trademark!) brings together airlines from the UK, USA, China, Ireland, Finland, Spain, Chile and Australia. As the publicity says: "Its [sic] natural to want to be cared for. Because we work together as an alliance, the people from one member airline are always on hand to look after passengers from any other. Why? because oneworld TM revolves around you."
One world, or an understanding of planetary ecology, is the end of modernism as we have known it. It is the evolution of a new modernism with shared ecologically based values, common principles for managing shared values and sensitivity to and a celebration of the diversity of histories of the planet and people. Habermassian intercourse around ecology provides a platform for a liberating modernism that celebrates the 'other' within the confines of the physical carrying capacity of the Earth. This is what Ulrich Beck has called our 'ecological enlightenment.' 30
Let me quote from one of the more lucid texts on corporate governance: the South African King Commission. It argues that the nineteenth century was concerned with entrepreneurialism, the twentieth with management theory and the twenty-first is the century of governance, particularly between people and people and between people and planet. The world could learn from the African notion of Ubuntu - 'humanness'. As the report says: "The notion of sustainability and the characteristics of good corporate citizenship can be found within the concept of sound human relations in African societies." For former poet-President Leopold Sedar Senghor from Senegal "In African society, technical activities are always linked with cultural and religious activities, with art and magic, if not with the realm of the mystical." 31
"The most important task today is to learn to think in a new way"
Gregory Bateson (1972) 32
A Complex Business
"It is time to bring the rules that protect people and the planet to the core of decision-making."33
Dr Vandana Shiva, Director, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, New Delhi, India 2000
"It is a matter of understanding where the power actually lies. The reality is that however business is done in the world, it is inter-connected." 34
Sir John Browne, CEO, BP, non-executive Director SmithKline Beecham and Intel 2000
"The world that companies face today appears to many observers to be considerably more complex, chaotic and dynamic than the world of previous eras. . . . . Boundaries between companies have diminished as long supply chains, strategic alliances, joint ventures and partnerships of various types have evolved virtual and network organisations." 35
Jorg Andriof and Sandra Waddock (2002)
"The basic program of the corporations as self-seeking entities wars against the interests of human beings. Yet the living 'complexity' of corporations - their tendency towards multiplicity, spontaneity, accommodation, adaptability, transformation, and metamorphosis - links corporations to us humans . . . for we too are complex adaptive systems." 36
Robert A.G. Monks, 'The Emperor's Nightingale' 1998
Evolution is chaos with feedback, which gives us complex patterns. Our organisations and our systems of orderliness are like snowflakes. Snowflakes, beautiful to the human eye, are in a state of nonequilibrium and bound by the energy of metamorphosis between one state and another. They are each unique but display patterns, patterns that are replicable in science but not computable in nature, each snowflake being different.
Modern organisations and capitalism assume more order than there is. They assume the free flow of information, the making of rational choices and that orderliness can prevail if there is control. They assume power can reside in one place, and that it can hold. They assume too that the natural ecological home of social organisations, planet Earth, is so benign and mother-like that it will succour dysfunctional organisational misbehaviour ad nauseam.
We are concerned with the sustainability of human existence on planet Earth. It suggests that there are two approaches, which should be utilised in conjunction, in order to bring about a more harmonious co-existence of people and people, and people and planet. The nexus between people and planet is prosperity, how we define it, how we make it and how we use it. The strap-line for the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development was just that: 'People, Planet and Prosperity'.
The two approaches are a human virtue and an analytical tool. The first is humility towards our planet and towards each other; we do not know everything and we cannot judge each other too much. The second involves humility in understanding how we live on this planet through the use of the developing eye of complexity theory. This means developing a culture of conviviality.
There are a number of aspects to complexity that may help us understand our relationship to the planet and understand our relationship with each other within the same analytical framework. Key to this approach is taking models that have already been developed in applied natural science and applied social science. For instance complexities of organisational change have been studied, as have the workings of the international finance system, as have the spread of BSE (mad cow disease). These analyses coupled with an understanding of the patterns that are emerging from the internet and the life cycle of cities, for instance, can help us to build truly integrated models for planning a sustainable future.
The features of complexity theory which are attractive in attempting to develop a holistic methodology for looking at social and environmental responsibility issues are holism, connectivity, intelligence, learning, context and renewal. Most important business, government and civil society, are components in a universe over which they each may think they have control. They may have some, but that power is constituted in a different form; it is neither Darwinian nor deterministic.
· The whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts;
· The individual parts can only be recognised because of their relationship to other parts;
· In a complex system there are multiple interactions, connectivities, relativities and relationships and this provides richly textured patterns;
· The results cannot be predicted and are non-linear;
· The specificity of context means that it is impossible to compute possible outcomes beyond establishing emergent patterns that form direct and indirect feedback loops;
· Complex systems are open to exchanges of information and energy making them intelligent;
· Complex systems become surviving adaptive systems through understanding their own histories;
· New forms emerge through networking and creative destruction, not through annihilation or survival of the fittest.
This approach to problems is not impossible, but it does require re-seeing the world - learning, unlearning, networks and action. As Vandana Shiva and John Browne, quoted earlier, say from different perspectives - physics and civil society activism in Shiva's case and geology and business in Browne's case - connectivity is the key to understanding and humility.
It is interesting to note how the debate has developed and grown since the publication of Barbara Ward's book 'Progress for a Small Planet' in 1979:
"The hope of a post-imperialist society in which sharing, common policies, and mutual support come to influence the habitual relations of government is not wholly in vain. If the powerful had never been ready to compromise, modern industrial society would never have achieved even a modest measure of social democracy and civil peace." 37
We still have some way to go in developing a post-imperialist world, and there are many areas of the world where the legacy of oppression is still a current reality - I think particularly of places like South Africa, Ireland, and Australia.
Wangari Maathai, a biologist and winner of numerous international awards for her work involving women in Kenya, seeks to utilise the lessons of science and technology for the good, rather than the enslavement of people. She talks of a pyramid of wealth and oppression with the people from the poor South tending to be at the boot of the pyramid.
"Upon birth, we began a journey which should lead to happiness and fulfilment. That is the purpose of all our efforts. Between birth and death, however, there are many obstacles which separate us from that goal. Some are natural, but most are made by humans. . . . . . Science and technology can sometimes lighten the burden, but do not seem to be doing so. Perhaps part of the problem lies with people themselves. Humans have to reassess their understanding of the universe and perception of what constitutes happiness. We may have to reassess systems of governance and seek security and peace not in a pyramid but in a balanced and harmonious whole".38
The constituents of an approach that marries natural and social science through the science of complexity requires a common language, and sometimes some silent reverence too as the immensity of the problem is understood. For those who have learnt to rely on predictability, certainty and replicability the challenge of replicability plus context produces patterns, and not absolution. It sounds unlike science as it has been known. For those who are scientifically illiterate (which is many of us) - but who know that life is about uncertainty, choices, intuition and surprise - conversations with those who hold rationality above uncertainty are difficult.
The rationalists are frustrated by what they see as the lack of clarity of the second group, and the humanists are frustrated by being blinded by science which often fails to contextualise or humanise. It is also often the case that natural scientists can converse with social scientists, but that social scientists are quickly confused by science. In 1959 C.P. Snow was right, and today we still largely have 'Two Cultures'.39 But there are significant moves to accept that this is a dangerous way to make public policy.
There is evidence that by the early years of the twenty-first century there had been some significant gains in some parts of the world on environmental wealth and health and in most parts of the world on democratisation. But, we are still living beyond our means in terms of environmental wealth and some 25% of the world's population are barely surviving. We are spending both the interest and the capital, to use the language of economics, and a significant proportion of the world's population are not able to establish lives decent, fulfilled lives.
There are some guides to the future which utilise many of the characteristics of complexity theory and which are grounded in application and thorough research. The intention in applying this methodology to social and environmental responsibility is to integrate perspectives representing people, planet and prosperity.
Let me give some brief examples of this approach:
1. Gareth Morgan in 'Images of Organisation' uses this system to analyse the 'mad cow disease'(BSE) phenomenon in the UK as a rich picture composed of 'loops rather than lines.'' 40 He also cites similar extreme examples: for instance the Challenger space shuttle disaster and the disintegration of the Soviet Empire after the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
2. The same understanding of feedback loops can be applied to situations that presented themselves to Royal Dutch / Shell in 1995 over the Brent Spar oilrig and in Nigeria over the murder of Ogoni activists by the Nigerian government also in 1995.
An understanding of the new complexities is well articulated by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's 'Walking The Talk'. 'Sustainable development cannot be achieved in only one sphere, such as the economic sphere. It will require types of partnerships never before witnessed in human history.' 41
This means we must reform our corporations. I have referred earlier to Robert Monks' prognosis that the current form of the corporation is doomed - or we are. As he says:
'The basic program of the corporations as self-seeking entities wars against the interests of human beings. Yet the living 'complexity' of corporations - their tendency towards multiplicity, spontaneity, accommodation, adaptability, transformation, and metamorphosis - links corporations to us humans . . . for we too are complex adaptive systems.'' 42
3. The Worldwatch Institute publishes an annual compilation of discrete analyses of 'environmental trends that are shaping our future'. The 2000-2001 edition made a link between the rise in several diseases. Specifically they said that the development of AIDS was linked to an increase in TB, which in turn was linked to an upswing in global tourism and a dramatic increase in refugees around the world as well an increase in prison populations where disease often breeds. 43 This rich picture includes disease, geography, sexual activity, tourism, prisons, and refugees.
It is clear that it is not the technology that is lacking in moving towards the dematerialisation of society, but the political will. 44 Even a shift towards a knowledge economy, which it was thought would lead to significant dematerialization, has led to an increased environmental footprint for the world's largest economy, the USA.
4. In 'A Systemic Approach To Sustainability Analysis' Bell and Morse (1999: 119-148) use the UK city of Norwich to develop a soft systems approach which can enable the 'drawing out of what might be major tasks and issues.' 45 This modelling takes in: eco-decline in the region, new city industry and population growth, sustainability as public local policy, the historic city and the need for continuity, participation in consultation processes by community, the development of sustainability indicators, global influences, global warming, and tourism. 46
5. The Sustainable City In planning for sustainable cities the process is as complex as it gets. Richard Rogers, advisor to the British government and award-winning architect, says that "The Sustainable city is:
- A Just City, where justice, food, shelter, education, health and hope are fairly distributed;
- A Beautiful City, where art, architecture and landscape spark the imagination and move the sprit;
- A Creative City, where open-mindedness and experimentation mobilise the full potential of its human resources and allows the fast response to change;
- An Ecological City, which minimises its ecological impact, where landscape and built form are balanced and where buildings and infrastructures are safe and resource-efficient;
- A City of Easy Contact, where the public realm encourages community and mobility and where information is exchanged both face-to-face and electronically;
- A Compact and Polycentric City, which protects the countryside, focuses and integrates communities within neighbourhoods and maximises proximity;
- A Diverse City, where a broad range of overlapping activities create animation, inspiration and foster a vital public life.
'Cities for a small planet'
Richard Rogers + Philip Gumuchdjian 47
Peter Senge, guru of organisational change at MIT, is also confused by our seeming inability to grapple with the changes that are necessary in our frozen corporate structures: 'One of the great mysteries of our current state of consciousness is how we can live in world where absolutely nothing is fixed, and yet perceive a "fixedness". ' 48 If we can see ourselves as part of the unfolding universe, this changes management in organisations profoundly. He advocates a commitment to being rather than doing, the latter coming from a commitment to the former:
'I actualise my commitment by listening, out of which my 'doing' arises. Sometimes my greatest acts of commitment involve doing nothing but sitting and waiting until I just know what to do next. In most organisations today, managers who adopt this attitude would be considered non-managers because they are not doing anything to fix problems.' 49
The Santa Fe Institute has used the concept of complex adaptive systems to map stock markets, road-traffic networks, evolutionary systems, supermarkets, national economies, health-care delivery networks and the insurance industry. 50
If we turn back to soap; to the world's best selling soap - Dove, made by Unilever. If the objective is to keep clean, to provide a product that both cleans and delights and to have the least possible ecological footprint, how might we assure ourselves that Dove is the one?
The surviving organisation is now inside-out, with its intelligence on the outside. Central control is possible for a short while but eventually this organisation as an organism will be eaten alive. The global neural networks that have been established do not allow for complacency and the state of the planet only allows us a short space of time to bring our corporations into line with our spiritual, emotional and rational instincts.
The only way to model the future is through an honest examination of the complexities that present in any situation. The twenty questions that follow are based on the study of complexity in the natural sciences, but these thoughts have been mirrored in spiritual learning for many centuries. We are now entering an age where we can model the complexities of life using linear and non-linear learning. This will give us three perspectives: the rational scientific, the helicopter overview and a sense of the connectivities and convivialities that make up the universe in which the world exists. These three symbiotic perspectives will help us see an integrated whole (hole). But first we need people working in discrete professions and intellectual areas to adopt a culture of humility, conviviality and action.
The premises for adopting a new approach are:
· there have been significant negative unintended consequences of the increase in the global population and the development of technology, particularly over the last one hundred years or so;
· human systems seem to be out of kilter with natural systems;
· humans have learnt that the world may not be as it has seemed to be in the machine age;
· humans need to learn humility towards each other and their environment;
· natural systems and our own capabilities continually surprise us;
· social systems and organisation are disrupted by unpredicted events that cause significant hardship to people;
· by modelling complexity we can begin to see emergent patterns that may help us find solutions that we had not even dreamt of.
So let me suggest a new code, a code of humility, a code of ways of behaving:
The Culture of Humility Code
· Recognise that as a participant you and your beliefs are fallible - show humility;
· Responsibility means being an active participant in judgements, and therefore requires effort, and, the recognition that universality can be equated with laziness;
· Respecting diversity, otherness and difference is a value in itself;
· Gather as much information as possible, while recognising that it will not be possible to gather all the information;
· Consider the consequences of the judgement, while recognising that it will not be possible to consider all judgements;
· Do not dig too deep a hole so that it is possible to reverse the judgement if needs be, if the information changes or if the theory is found to be flawed.
adapted from 'A Ladder To The Moon' Malcolm McIntosh (forthcoming June 2003) Palgrave, London.
1 See, for instance, Rogers, Paul F. 'Politics in the Next 50 Years: The Changing Nature of International Conflict' (October, 2000) University of Bradford, Department of Peace Studies.
2 Soros, George 'The Crisis of Global Capitalism' (1998) Little Brown. Pxxiii.
3 Rees, Martin "Our Biophilic Universe and its Future" RSA Journal December 2002, Pps 48/9.
5 See, for instance, Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio 'Empire' (2000) Harvard University Press, Giddens, Anthony 'The Global Third Way Debate' (2001) Polity Press, and, Castells, Manuel 'The Rise of the Network Society' (1996) and other work, Blackwell.
6 See, for instance, Lyotard, Jean-Francois 'The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge' (1979) MUP, Glover, Jonathen 'Humanity: A moral history of the twentieth century' (2001) Pimlico, Krog, Antje 'Country of My Skull' (1998) Cape, Pirsig, Robert. M. 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Enquiry Into Values' (1974) Vintage, and, Heartney, Eleanor 'Movements In Modern Art: Postmodernism' (2002) Tate Publishing.
7 For a brief overview of the MBA curriculum in the twenty-first century see Chowdhury, Subir et al 'Management 21C' (2000) Pearson.
8 Eliot, T.S. 'The Four Quartets' (Mcmxliv) Faber and Faber. The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot (mcmxlciv)
9 Gergen, Kenneth J. 'The Saturated Self' (2000) Basic Books, USA. Pix.
10 Annan, Kofi 'The Global Compact' in McIntosh, M 'Visions of ethical business 2' (2000) FT Management & PricewaterhouseCoopers, London.
11 Hardt and Negri op cit
12 Bauman, Zygmunt 'Postmodern Ethics' (1993) Blackwell, London
13 Capra, Fritjof 'The Turning Point' (1982) Flamingo, London. P25.
14 IUCN, UNEP, WWF 'Caring for the Earth' (1991) Earthscan, London P8.
15 Patten, Chris 'Respect for the Earth' Discussion, BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures (2000) Profile Books, London. P112.
16 Hobsbawn, Eric 'The Shorter Twentieth Century: Age of Extremes 1914-1991' (1994) Michael Joseph, P569
17 Ponting, Clive A Green History of The World (1991) Penguin, London. P161.
18 Heartney, Eleanor (2002) 'Postmodernism' (2001) Tate, London
19 Jardine, M and Love, M. 'Don't Go Near The Water' on 'Surf's Up' (1971) Capital Records, EMI
20 Coppola, Francis Ford Apocalypse Now (19??)
21 Conrad, Joseph The Heart of Darkness (1995) Penguin, London. P20.
22 Drucker, Peter F. 'Management Challenges for the 21st Century' (1999) Butterworth Heinemann, Oxford and MA.
23 Barnet, Richard L and Cavanagh, John 'Global Dreams' (1994) Simon & Schuster, London.
24 Hobsbawn, Eric 'Age of Extremes' (1994) Michael Joseph, London.
25 Op cit Ponting
26 Barlow, Maude and Clarke, Tony 'Blue Gold: The Fight To Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water' (2002) New Press
27 Giddens, Anthony The Third Way (1998) Polity Press. London. P57
28 UNEP (2002) 'Global Environment Outlook 3' UNEP Earthscan www.UNEP.org
29 WWF (2002) 'Living Planet Report 2002' www.wwf.org
30 Beck, Ulrich (1991) 'Ecological Enlightenment' New Jersey: Humanities Press - translated by Mark Ritter (1995)
31 Senghor, Leopold Sedar (1976) 'prose and Poetry', Heinemann, London, quoted in Murphy, David F 'African Enterprises and The Global Compact: Adding Value through Human Relationships' (2001) ILO, Tunis, Tunisia
32 Bateson, Gregory 'Steps To An Ecology of The Mind' (1972), Chandler, San Franciso P462
33 'Respect for the Earth' BBC Radio 4 Reith Lecture 2000, post-lecture discussion.
35 Andriof, Jorg et al 'Unfolding Stakeholder Thinking' (2002) Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK P20
36 Monks op cit P190
37 Ward, Barbara 'Progress for a Small Planet' (1979) Penguin, London P10
38 Maathai, Wangari "A View from the Grassroots" (1995) in 'Science for the Earth' Ed Wakeford, Tom and Walters, Martin, Foreword by Stephen Hawking, Wiley, London Pps 279, 291.
39 Snow, C.P. 'Two Cultures' (1959) Rede Lecture, University of Cambridge
40 Morgan, Gareth 'Images of Organisation' (1998) Sage, London. P279.
41 Holliday, Charles O. et al 'Walking The Talk' (2002) Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK
42 Monks op cit P190
43 Worldwatch Institute 'Vital Signs' (2000-2001) Earthscan, London
45 Bell, Simon and Morse, Stephen 'Sustainability Indicators' (1999) Earthscan, London P125.
46 Ibid P126.
47 Rogers, Richard and Gumuchdjian, Philip 'Cities for a small planet' (1997) Faber and Faber, London P5/169
48 Senge, Peter, Introduction to Jaworski, Joseph 'Synchronicity' (1996) Berret-Koehler, San Francisco P11
49 Ibid P 12
50 Casti, John 'BizSim: The World of Business in a Box' (2002) www.santafe.edu/sfi/education/csss/files02/casti.pdf
After the lecture members of the audience suggested that as well as the example of water shortages discussed there are other areas of urgent concern, such as dwindling oil resources, agricultural depredation, unsustainable population growth, cultural losses, etc. Such factors were seen as influencing political decisions and initiating wars. It was argued that materialist expectations (e.g. in America) drive political policies and that the concern of corporations is primarily for shareholders. The speaker emphasised in his reply that his concern centres upon the need for recognition of the urgency of consideration of such issues by legislators, planners, businessmen, etc. He believes that the 'Brent Spar protests' and a consequent boycott of Shell products in Germany was a 'complete surprise' for Shell directors. He mentioned also planning oversights in respect of flooding in Britain and the unpredicted outcomes of volcanic activity. Overall, he thinks that chance ('synchronicity') constantly surprises us and that we should be more humble about our ability to predict events.
The speaker was asked what would 'trigger' the 'humility, responsibility and conviviality' he is advocating. He replied that in order to accept that 'there is something to be done about an integrated planet' we need to understand the 'science' involved, which is difficult - the messages are confusing and difficult to evaluate. He believes that individual altruism is evident, but to the comment that corporate benevolence is usually allied to a 'kickback of some sort' he replied that human motivation is complex - 'reward and satisfaction need to be married to a deeper understanding of ecology' perhaps. When asked whether 'learn, adapt, survive' policies would lead to a stable global situation or to an ongoing process he affirmed the latter, but insisted that sustainable development is not yet being seriously considered. He asked whether many think that there is an 'environmental imperative' and whether they understand 'why there is something to be done'. He concluded by asserting that most people in Britain do not understand the 'bases upon which private and public policy is being made'.