Can We Play in the (Oil) Sand Box Together?
The theme of The Natural Step’s upcoming Accelerate conference is "Collaborating for Sustainability." Over the past two years, we at The Natural Step have dedicated ourselves to better understanding what it takes to collaborate more effectively across organizations to bring about the kind of breakthrough results that can shift systems toward sustainability. Accelerate will be another chance to learn together on this topic.
One thing we’ve learned is that systems change is unlikely to happen if we only collaborate with our natural allies. Instead, transformative change really does require understanding and working with those whose interests and perspectives are different than our own.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the hyper-polarized debates about Canada’s energy system and response to climate change, arguably our most important sustainability challenge. My observation has been that while many people tend to lament the polarization, we also tend to go back to mostly working in the realms in which we are most comfortable, mostly engaging with people who share our views. What do we miss when we follow these patterns?
Among other things, we might miss opportunities for innovation. Billions of dollars are being invested in technology to reduce emissions in the fossil fuel industry and in new clean energy technologies. While a big part of the solution to our challenge surely lies in the realm of engineering and technology, we also need to invest in social innovation. Social processes have a huge role to play in evolving the cultural narratives, relationships of trust, and policy frameworks that help accelerate new solutions. The tricky part is that some of this investment will surely need to come from sources very rooted in the "current reality" of the system.
Recently, I was asked how The Natural Step Canada could accept sponsorship from Suncor Energy for the Accelerate conference. Indeed, some will suggest that, being an organization with a mission to accelerate the transition to a sustainable society, The Natural Step should not accept sponsorship from a company whose primary business is the development of fossil fuels. [Read more]