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The road to sustainability

Big challenges we face – Connecting G20 to COP 21 and the SDG of United Nations.

This post is a loose transcript of my keynote address to the 2015 Pivotal Summit, or rather it’s the notes I spoke from.

I was asked to speak on how I see the international community addressing the movement toward the agreeable targets for sustainable development under the pressures of climate change. What are some of the key issues that I believe provide indications of change for the better? What are the technology issues and how can these impact our lives? How is the world today fundamentally different than ten years ago for citizens and government and business?

I’ve been mulling over some of these ideas for 5 or 6 years now and I want to thank Tim and Richard for inviting me to participate in Pivotal in this way (as it’s forced me to tie down some of these thoughts).

It started during a car ride to a meeting in mid 2010. It was my first advisory board meeting for a new sustainability startup, run by two geographers and backed by a few leading academics and thought leaders in the sustainability field. It was a great concept – provide a portal for individuals to share and track micro-donations (collected as a small levy on takeaway coffees) across a range of global sustainability projects. I took away four ideas:

  1. A good goal for individuals is “to live with eloquent sufficiency” ie not more than you need to be comfortable (note – this is more than survival, it’s not a goal to be living in third world conditions, which is a message often conveyed by novice sustainability advocates)
  2. To do this we must shift from a masculine to feminine economy (no this does not mean women need to run the world, more that we need to adopt more principles associated with female roles – nurturing, sharing, collaborating – in lieu of the current “growth at all costs” competitive culture we promulgate.)
  3. We have no hopeful vision to share as inspiration for others to join us. (our message is “if we don’t change it will be Armageddon” – not very inspiring).
  4. This is unprecedented. We’ve never been here before, therefore we have no models to refer to.

Well, my unconscious voice took this as a challenge. There has to be a way. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

We are now in a post post industrial age. We benefit from the inventions of the printing presses and telephones and broader “industry” that gave us workplace relations laws last century. These in turn emerged from a new “corporate” class, characterized by the success and ultimate failure of the Dutch East India Company more than 100 years before that, and the legacy corporate law arising from the impacts of its demise. Such a company was only possible following the dramatic liberation of people, church and state in the 16th Century. And this was arguably the most iconic change. The effects of the Magna Carta remain embedded in our culture, far beyond its constitutional roots. It was signed 800 years ago (800 years and 14 days to be precise).

Magna Carta became an ideal from what it was to what it represents today. A representation of liberty. A symbol of social justice. An indication that people can overcome their differences for collective good.

Magna Carta and the Kyoto Protocol are treaties that have become symbols of significant social change; turning points.

In ten years the Kyoto Protocol has gained a status somewhat similar to its 800-year-old cousin, the Magna Carta, becoming the latest symbol of fundamental change for communities, governments and businesses, despite its apparent failure.

While Kyoto is primarily about carbon emissions, events surrounding the treaty have raised the profile of the need to care for country, and in turn, to care for each other.

It’s not an accident that during those ten years, the US has the first black president, or that Queensland and Australia recently had the first women leaders or that gay marriage has been legalized around the world.

It’s also not an accident that accessible spatial information and global connectivity have surged during that period.

LinkedIn and Myspace launched in 2003

Second Life 2003 (peaked at 1.1 million users, still has 900K users and turns over about $700m annually. Beta 2 announced Mar 2015)

Facebook and Flickr were launched in 2004

Reddit was founded in 2005

Twitter created in 2006

Tumblr released 2007

iPhone 2007 (in March 2014 Forbes estimated that more than 500 million iPhones had been sold in 7 years, estimated at 700 million a year later)

Soundcloud 2008

Instagram in 2010

In 2013, the Guardian Australia edition reported that “Sony’s Futurescapes, Siemens’ Answers and Microsoft’s Youthspark” were standout campaigns that played a role in social media driven sustainability communications during 2012. In 2013 “GE, Renault, Ford and this year’s index leader, Levi Strauss, put stock in developing a strong editorial voice” or “magazine mentality” as the Guardian called it. This magazine mentality was triggered by a simple yet complicated reality: sustainability is no longer only of interest to niche stakeholders. For companies, that poses an intriguing opportunity of communicating sustainability to a large audience and a thorny problem of how to do that in an engaging, compelling manner.

“Indeed, in 2010, when we first published this index [SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index], just 60 companies had dedicated social media channels to talk about sustainability. By 2011 that number had doubled. For 2012, we found 176 major companies around the world that had allotted dedicated resources and social media channels to their sustainability dialogue.”

Kalev Leetaru: Geographic location appears to have no real correlation to people’s conversations on social media. We have breached the borders. This also means that for people in developed countries, the issues facing those in developing counties is closer.

“Overall, the result is that global emissions have showed no sign of slowing down, as the chart below shows. In that sense, the Kyoto protocol has been a failure. But it was unquestionably an important first step in global climate diplomacy. The question is whether a more ambitious second step will follow in time to avoid unacceptable risks of devastating climate change.” Duncan Clark Monday 26 November 2012

“There is, however, another substantive aim of the Protocol which should not be overlooked, namely to provide the means for industrialised countries to demonstrate their ‘leadership’ required to convince the developing world to join in abatement efforts.” Benito Müller oxford energy.org

News from the advertising world is optimistic though. Last week at the Canne Festival, Unilever reported that their brands which had sustainability as a core purpose financially outperformed their other brands.

B&T published a story in mid 2013 where the global CEO of communication giant Havas said: “You cannot have discreet conversations any more. You can’t say one thing to shareholders, one thing to employees, and so on. Things that would have historically remained private are in the public. “It’s made it one of the most exciting times, but also one of the most challenging times, to be a business leader. Social media has created a world of radical transparency.” That radical transparency means a growing culture of behaving well – and proving it, according to Jones. He told B&T: “I genuinely believe you can out-behave your competition. Eighty per cent of people want business to stand for more than just profit. The new price of doing well is doing good. And if you don’t buy that, look at the cost of doing the wrong thing.” B&T

There is a real beauty of this sustainability dialogue occurring alongside technology developments that enable unprecedented social connections between people regardless of their geographic location. And this is that we are creating; data that would be impossible to collect cost-effectively under any other means.

Google Earth launched in 2001, with satellite overlays, mobile and search capabilities being added in 2005.

All of a sudden, everyday people have access to mapping and sharing tools at a time when there is an escalating global debate about environmental sustainability and human rights. And the public appetite for accessing, using and creating knowledge is insatiable. Google Earth maps for election violence (eg Centre for Monitoring Election violence – Sri Lanka, Kenya), marriage equality, how to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Gartner advocates that technology runs in 30-year brackets: technology gets smaller faster cheaper over that period (and their hype cycles are based on this). They say we are coming to the end of the Intel life cycle that has driven much of this change. They also say we can’t predict what the new tech is, but we’ll know it when we see it. Most people are saying it’s Nano, and you only to have to look at movies like Big Hero 6 to see how that’s being played out in consumer-land.

In the last ten years we have experienced quite a unique synergy between the pace of technology and the pace of cultural change. It’s easy to look at Kyoto and say, “it’s been 10 years. We failed.”

Magna Carta wasn’t executed in a decade.

It was constantly revised for 87 years after the first version was signed by King John.

When you have a look at generational change in contemporary society, you start to have a sense of how that 100 years is playing out for Kyoto. It’s not jus the rate of technological change. Generational change is also at play – consumer habits and values are greatly varied between Baby Boomers, Gen X and the Millenials (Gen Y and Z). In fact, Millenials are said to have a much stronger sense of social justice than their baby boomer grandparents. Old structures are tumbling under the disruptive innovation that is apparently so natural to this generation. It seems Gen X will be the translators, and enablers.


1984 1994 2004 2014 2024


Generation X


Generation Y


Generation Z


25-45 years old Baby Boomers

Silent Generation


Baby Boomers Generation X

Baby Boomers

Generation Y

Generation X

Generation Z Generation Y
traits traditional, loyal, hard working, lived through World War II


workaholic, change, challenger, free love, lived through Vietnam war self-sufficient, educated, tech savvy, non conformist, family oriented, latch-key, high divorce

digital immigrants

community-minded, environment, educated, plugged in, born into digital – never knew life before mobile


altruistic, traditional values, care less about fame and fortune, prefer to mould platforms and medium – new viewing/ reading patterns


motivated by community perks, prestige Fun, quick wealth attention. recognition environment, social justice





Silent Generation



Silent Generation



Baby Boomers

Silent Generation


Baby Boomers

Generation X



World leaders are, by and large, young baby boomers, early Gen X-ers.

Just last week, the US Census Bureau reported that milennials outnumber baby boomers, and are far more diverse. They number around 83.1 million (to 75.4 million baby boomers) and represent more than a quarter of the US population. 44.2% of them are part of a minority race group (so, not non-Hispanic single race white).

Gen X-er’s, who represent 16% of the workforce are in no-man’s land. In the US they represent the most “immigrant” generation and have the most unequal spread in terms of income and wealth. The “latch-key children” of the 80’s, this generation doesn’t trust corporations and is opting out of the traditional remuneration packages desired by their baby boomer counterparts, instead choosing work-life balance, raising families and early retirement. According to Forbes contributor Neil Howe “Helping this generation get back on track economically is one of most important policy challenges America faces over the next decade.”

It’s a chicken and egg situation – are Gen X opting out of a race they think they can’t win (millenials are nipping at their heels to take the leadership reins, and many gen x-ers have felt threatened by accelerated pathways offered to the younger generation during recent boom times) or are the milennials stepping up to a challenge that Gen X-er’s haven’t wanted to take on?

I don’t know the answer – what I do know is it’s every evident that the next generation won’t succeed the last one as has happened previously, and this makes for an interesting dynamic.

What is notable, is that while caring for families, Xer’s have a lot of time to think about the future they want for their family, away from the influence of the future businesses envision. It may just be that this is the generation to be first followers – check Derek Sivers TED talk on how to start a movement.

I can also say that Xer’s are looking both forward and backward for inspiration and leadership. In my own sphere I consider myself extremely fortunate to work with a growing number of thought leaders who, while around retirement age, are nowhere near slowing down. You might say the rest of society has finally caught up with them and they’re just warming up.

  • Dr Tim Foresman whose name and contributions are well known to this audience.
  • Dr Kate Crawford – who has provided invaluable mentoring about social collaboration to others and myself in recent years, and who is a driving force behind the Pivotal Youth Symposium.
  • Dr Elyssebeth Leigh – a career simulationist who is just delightful to watch as she uncovers a new facet of an old problem. Elyssebeth is focused on separating the technology from the cognitive skills and knowledge required to abstract reality for a purpose – and contributing to the development of formal educational frameworks for skilling people in the use of sentient visualization.
  • Prof Tom Furness – founder of the HITLabs and “grandfather” of virtual reality – he invented the heads-up displays for fighter pilots in the 80’s. At 72 he’s now working on virtual retinal display technology, which does away with the screen – drawing a raster image directly to the retina.
  • Ray Page – former Qantas employee responsible for the standards environment that allows zero fly time (full simulation accreditation) for airline pilots. He’s 82 and still consulting on simulation standards, most recently had a chapter published in the British Medical Journal.

Kyoto, MDG and now SDG are modern day Magna Cartas. They represent a willingness to drive difficult and complex change for collective good. They also embody a politico-legal framework for change. And that’s a good place to start.

In fact, Dupont suggests it’s the only place to start. Their model the “Bradley Curve” (designed for improving safety culture, and works for pretty much any cultural change) proposes that most change begins with a regulatory response to undesirable situations. From natural state – where the consequences drive activity and it’s all about the situation – to dependent, where a system of rules – and inherently – penalty is the driver. Dependence on the rules; the rules will keep you safe. Of course, “they” enforce the rules, so it’s all about them. This would probably be all you’d need if no one was educated. But…it doesn’t take long before people gain some understanding of the reason underlying the rules, and personal ownership of some rules (maybe not others) and the Mexican standoff begins. Us v them. Luckily, Dupont worked out there are two more stages, independent, where “my commitment to the rules” is the driver, and it’s all about me – I want to benefit from the rules (shift to positive rather than penal) and then interdependent – I want to help share the rules and it’s all about us. I want to care for the well-being of my colleagues.

The most difficult cultural transition is the one from dependent to independent. This is the one that creates the most dissonance. The one where the most vested interests are at stake (moving from masculine to feminine means moving from holding onto control to sharing and dynamic leadership). I think our cultural shift toward a more sustainable world is at the cusp of this change/transformation.

Both the Great Charter and the Kyoto Protocol can be seen as symbols of liberty

Magna Carta 1215 liberated the people of the day – right to due legal process and freedom from arbitrary taxation.

Kyoto is also liberating people. Directly, it’s about a right to food and water, right to wellbeing for the next generation. It’s liberating people of tomorrow.

Indirectly, it’s also liberating people today, by removing barriers to experiences and opportunities in quite unexpected ways. The pressure to be more environmentally focused, economically sustainable and educationally superior is driving rapid increases in the take-up of collaborative technologies that serve to equalise.

Florian Strauss 2015
Florian Strauss congratulates his teammate after winning the Bathurst 12 hour (via news.com.au)

This is Florian Strauss. He’s part of the team that won Bathurst 12 hour in February. He won a Playstation contest to get there. Until recently, if you wanted to be a race car driver your best chance was if your family was extremely wealthy and also involved in motorsport. It’s an expensive hobby!

Today, a collaboration between Nissan and PlayStation means that anyone, anywhere with access to a Playstation and the Gran Turismo game can participate in a global qualifying competition to win a lucrative $1M contract to race for Nissan Motorsport. The 2015 competition has just closed (final qualifying round was 16 June).

Cultural Heritage Projects, like the work of NoReal IT’s Davide Borra, Virtual Song Lines, which you’ll hear about later, SIBA’s Project Mimosa, the work of Nadia Thalmann and the MIRA lab in Geneva, USC’s New Dimensions for Technology project, which is creating holographic testimonials from holocaust survivors, and various other projects are offering the general public insights into the past, and a platform for thinking about the impact we are having (positive and negative) on the world and the people around us. In fact the Smithsonian has released hundreds of models as open source to enable public co creation.

Uber… we could go on.

But we still have a way to go in terms of direct engagement with sustainability.

How do we go around this problem? How do we move from being dependent on rules to owning and desiring to improve the rules, and then to sharing the beliefs with pride? How does visualization help or hinder progress toward our goal?

One of the layers of this challenge is to reframe the resolution of the activity.


Take for example the movies Avatar and Wall-e. Both have pretty clear messages about culture, sustainability, and technology. Avatar sits across the world and region layers. The messages are about policy and high-level beliefs, ethics and intercultural behaviours. It also highlights the clash between dependent and independent cultures and reinforces the dependent culture we have around sustainability. It’s fairly hard for a person watching this movie to go away and implement the messages. We don’t have that technology or capability; and if we did, political or commercial interests could take it away, so we need to wait until the government makes that nice earth-loving community for us. The rules will keep you safe (but they aren’t yet protecting the blue people).

Wall-e on the other hand, targets individual behaviours that combine to a collective stereotype. Take home message? Eat mindfully and in moderation, exercise, and you’ll do good for yourself and your world. Easy. You don’t need to wait for rules or to live on a cool ship because your planet is wrecked, you can just go on and do that.

I posit that if we reframe the way we think about the inner layer from individual/constituent to consumer, a new dynamic is created. We start to think about products and technologies that embody our vision.

And, we shift the cultural nuance from dependent to independent by creating the element that distinguishes wall-e from Avatar – empowerment. (Community member comes later when we reach interdependent, and it’s important to recognise leaders and laggers will be at play too – we will all go through this at different paces – some people are already at interdependent. Collectively though, we have a dependent culture around sustainability, evidenced by the fact that we are still waiting for government to make the rules before we’ll behave more sustainably).

And like the major changes that have gone before, sometimes it’s hard to provide a clear picture of a transformed world, now. You can’t take a photo of something that doesn’t exist. Imagine if Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted. Imagine if he told them he was creating a world with no horses.

So what does it mean for us to think about consumers of sustainability? How can we empower them?

My goals as a person. A human. A mum. A home owner. A professional. A driver. A collector. A creative. A gardener. A woman. A wife. A 40 year old. A sister and daughter. A colleague. A mentor. A neighbour. A client. A volunteer.

An App Store of datasets.

I want a PA but I don’t want a person I’m not married to, to look me in the eye each day knowing all that stuff about me, and judging. That actually erodes my decision-making capability.

I want Siri + Fitbit + Glass + Google + the Cube + Social +

Give me a Fitbit that automatically builds me a schedule and reminds me to follow it. That combines our family data and proposes a menu and shopping list (that I can get and cook within my schedule) that maximises sustainable consumption. Proximity notice boards in my home rather than a white or black board. Geolocated data. A dashboard of life. Give me the data that’s important to me when it’s timely. Eg country of origin manufacturing/purchase

Think Beymax (Big hero 6) on steroids.

Baymax Big Hero 6
Baymax from Big Hero 6

We know there’s loads of data.

Data someone else creates

Data we create without thinking about it

Data we choose actively to create

How we engage with that data (either to create or use it) can be categorized in many ways.

Push or pull messaging and services, Synchronous v asynchronous, Geolocation, Anon or known/declared, Past or future, Collective or individual

Giving me data to support my decisions v doing it for me eg driverless cars. Give me forecasts. Model alternatives.

Unfortunately for many of us, the payback/ROI period for sustainability is too far away for me to invest the time in learning how to change my behaviour while I have other monkeys on my back consuming my energy and attention. Make it easy for me. Look at Michelle Bridges 12 week transformation challenge.

Monitoring is hard and devising strategies is hard. Auto monitoring and suggested strategies are better. Give me options. Might be do you want options – no just tell me what to do.

Standards have been a feature of both treaties, to enable trade and economic benefit

Clause 35 of Magna Carta demands standard weights and measures for grain, wine, beer and cloth. Once again, the archaic terminology employed here (‘russet’, ‘haberject’, ‘ells’) should not blind us to the significance of the principles covered in this clause. England in 1215 was an economically buoyant land. New towns and new markets proliferated, driven by the continental demand for English wool. For trade to flourish, commercial confidence was essential. – See more here.

Kyoto introduced standards for emissions trading. In the past decade we have seen an increase in the use of standards for managing a variety of technology interoperability challenges, such as BIM. But these are not actively linked to our main “standard” of modern society – currency.

Apple app developer guidelines – must launch in 15 secs, no bigger than 4GB (ok the time will get shorter and the size will increase)

Internet of things

How is the rate of technological change helping us?

Constraints for consumers are:

  • Investment $0 – $1000 per year
  • Time to gratification 0 – 30 days – ideally <15
  • Level of effort can be measured in seconds or breaths = high level of control, low level of invasiveness, high level of automation
  • Not unreasonable to infer that the level of computing power available for Higgs boson will be in a mobile device within a decade.

So… there is an emerging cultural and technical architecture to support my information needs, allowing me to live with eloquent sufficiency in a feminine economy. But, we are missing context. Media reporting like stock market. Make it about the people. Competition. greenTV. Use national pride. Sustainability report, like the weather report.It will give me a positive vision of a sustainable future.

What about ETS trading details along with the DOW and FTSE?

Can I as a consumer participate in free market emissions trading?

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, some years ago, I participated in an advisory board for a new sustainability startup, run by two geographers and backed by a few leading academics and thought leaders in the sustainability field. It was a great concept – provide a portal for individuals to share and track micro-donations (collected as a small levy on takeaway coffees) across a range of global sustainability projects. Why was this important, or innovative?

The old saying, you get what you measure. As a consumer, how do I measure my carbon footprint and rectification strategies? I can donate $2 to Qantas every time I fly – but I have no easy way of connecting that into other activities I do, or to see where my $2 has gone. There’s no transparency.

Even the growth in collaborative innovation like Milaana, Pozible haven’t yet overcome these challenges.

Right now making the most sustainable choices for the average person is limited by the scare resource of Time. What if it could be made easier? Clean air overlays impact of tree planting, garden design

The other scarcity is the limitation of cognitive ability. Augmented cognition – Dylan Schmorrow.

And with machine learning, singularity is emerging as one of the discussions for the next decade, and we will be in a sort of anarchy for a while until regulation catches up.

“No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law. How can it be within the law? The law is stationary. The law is fixed. The law is a chariot wheel which binds us all regardless of conditions or place or time.” Emma GoldmanAnarchism and Other Essays

“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” Eric Schmidt Executive chair Google

We have been through change like this before. It just takes a long long time. We can maybe speed it up a bit by focusing on empowering individuals to get on with it, while we sort out the rules.


Deanna Hutchinson Pivotal

Pivotal 2015

What does the Magna Carta have in common with Kyoto Protocol? In the year we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the great charter, I gave a keynote address alongside NASA scientists, Nobel Laureates, politicians and humanitarians, about the cultural challenges facing us as we move toward a spatially enabled, sustainable future. I have published a loose transcript here, or you can watch my presentation on Youtube.



In March 2014, we celebrated printing the first issue of Simpublica. Frustrated that I couldn’t tell people at a BBQ what I do for a living, or direct them to a “book or website” as was often requested, I started Simpublica, a print and online magazine in 2013.

Celebrating the question “what if”, simpublica explores the fascinating cultures of simulation and augmented reality from the viewpoint of everyday people. It is a unique perspective on the people, technology, applications and trends around the world addressing questions like “What if we painted the wall a different colour? What if there’s a flood? What if the wind changes direction? What if the brakes fail? What if it’s a roaring success?“