Sustainability as a moonshot?
As we wallow in moon-landing nostalgia (fake nostalgia in my case, I was minus two years old at the time, but hey…), it reminded me of the moon mission-related clichés which fly around the Sustainability world.
Certainly, we do need a ‘moonshot mindset’. This is where you assume what you are trying to achieve is eminently feasible and then work out how to make it happen. Sustainability is a massive challenge, but unlike an alien body in space, we know what we are dealing with and many, if not all, of the measures required to get there. The difficulty is that we are talking about the lives of 7.5 billion people, not just 2.
The other cliché I used to hear is “we didn’t get to the moon by aiming halfway” (a quote which I’m having trouble sourcing.) This isn’t strictly correct – if we get 99% of the way to Sustainability, we’ll be a lot better off than if we never bothered, whereas getting 99% of the way to the moon and back would be disastrous for the people involved. However, the idea of assuming we have to achieve the end goal, as opposed to trying lots of stuff we hope will take us the right direction, is very important.
When I’m helping clients create a Sustainability Strategy, I use a technique called backcasting where we work out what the organisation might look like if the moonshot is successful. We then work backwards to the present day to work out what we need to start doing now to get on the right trajectory. In ‘working backwards’, I usually step back to the halfway point between now and the targets to determine what would need to have started by then and what must stop by then to be on that trajectory. Given the external uncertainty over the 7-10 year timeframe of a typical Sustainability Strategy (a lot can change in 7-10 weeks here in the UK at the moment), this halfway point is usually more pragmatic than the end goal – so in a way we are aiming halfway! But we know that halfway point is the necessary stepping stone looking forwards.
But however we do it, we need to adopt the moonshot mindset – we must succeed!
Picture by CC BY-SA 3.0