My Narrative

Building a new planetOver his 20 year career Alan has created a narrative which aims to build a simple but powerful template for companies to think about the risks and opportunities sustainability offers their business. This narrative offers building blocks that give readers an overview of how sustainability could work at business, public policy and consumer levels.


Running the planet like a company

My narrative starts with the obvious question: what is the problem that sustainability is trying to solve? Successful companies are run with a high degree of discipline, governance and internal collaboration. Here I look at the planet if it was a company highlighting key challenges facing sustainability.
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Sustainable lifestyles

We know we want sustainability, but a sustainable what and what will it look like? I argue that we should be talking about sustainable lifestyles, not just for those in developed economies but all the economies of the world. That means nine billion quality and sustainable lifestyles by 2050. Since all companies’ products and services are designed in one way or another to improve people’s lifestyles, having a clear “specification” or “project brief” of what a sustainable lifestyle could look like should inform the direction of any company’s sustainability plan. Once again, this part of my narrative is reflected in one of my presentations, characterised by the “Plasma TV person”.
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If products could talk

It is Saturday night, you are slumped on the sofa watching TV, and that familiar theme music for your favourite chat show host comes on. You are a MD of a company, or maybe a buyer or marketing manager. The host strolls on to the screen, “Tonight I will be talking to …,” he says, but this time it is not the usual A and B list celebrities, “A cabinet door, from Indonesia; flown in from India, especially for us, a brass door knob and we have potting compost from Yorkshire.”

What would they talk about? Well, in chat show style they would talk about their life story. These are just as interesting as those of Posh and Becks and Elton John.
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I will if you will

When I was a commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission, I wrote a report called ‘I will if you will’ which discusses how we can make a start shifting from a three-planet economy to a one-planet economy. It was this document that introduced the concept of “choice editing”. The report’s title comes from the findings of research that described the gap between business, consumers’ and policy makers’ attitudes and behaviours towards this change. They were waiting for the others to act first. It argues that it is right to expert business and policy makers to take bigger and bolder steps.
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Choice editing

The ‘choice editing’ phrase came out of the report I co-authored called ‘I will if you will’. In simple terms, I believe that in general, it is public policy makers and retailers who should choice edit ranges, making sure that they do not offer products that perform poorly from a sustainability point of view. Perhaps, I argue, we should talk less about “informed consumer choice”.
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Product stewardship and certification meltdown

This building block of my narrative follows on from my ‘if products could talk’ and ‘choice editing’ papers. Many retailers and manufacturers aim to offer products that don’t damage the environment or violate accepted social standards. The way they do this credibly is by signing up to recognised, independent certification schemes. That’s good news but now there are so many different schemes that duplicate each other and can be confusing to their end users. Are there too many and would they benefit from a more co-ordinated approach?
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