Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for the ‘Spirit?’ Category

spirituality, consciousness, faiths, philosophy

Climate Reflections at 397ppm

Posted by jembendell on April 21, 2013

I recently wrote a piece for the Guardian entitled “Is sustainable business still possible?” Why ask such a question? Wouldn’t it be disheartening to think it’s too late to avert massive disruption? Well, I don’t think so – after the initial shock and mourning, a new type of commitment can emerge. Not everyone reacts in that way, but I think it’s important to face up to what the science is telling us and then explore the implications, rather than continuing old patterns.

Some might think I’m exaggerating. So here is a quick recap.

Carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have stayed between 180 (ice ages) and 300 (inter glacials) parts per million (ppm) for 800,000 years, possibly up to 20,000,000 years. Now it gone from 325 to 397 ppm in my lifetime. It’s increasing at 2.7 ppm a year.

The average global surface temperature is now about 0.8C above that in 1900. Current projections are a 4 degree rise by 2100; i.e. in the lifetime of babies being born today.

Global warming affects the hydrosphere (water, ice), lithosphere (the land), and atmosphere. The relationship between them is complex, but the hydrosphere has been acting as a buffer, with seas soaking up most of the excess energy trapped by the current 397ppm of CO2.

Heating is speeding up beyond the worst past projections. For instance, NASA in 2007 said that we could lose Arctic summer sea ice by 2030. Now some projections are it will be gone by 2015.

The warming of the Arctic affects those areas most efficient in feeding the world through their exports.

Sea levels have been rising by over 3 mm a year since 1993. The most fertile farmland is low-lying and much will be swamped by sea rise of a meter.

CO2 at 397ppm is probably a death sentence for billions of people, and possibly for civilisation as we know it.

Significant action now will reduce the damage. Yet we don’t have significant action. Our systems for acting together have been failing us, ever since 1987 when the UN General Assembly first recognised climate change as a major problem. Media, politics, economics, monetary systems, intergovernmental processes, religions… We need to ask why, and that doesn’t mean asking who to blame, but delving deeper into causes, and learning more about rapid change processes.

Although significant action now will reduce the damage, it won’t stop massive disruption. So, we need to consider how to help future generations get through the disruption, through the suffering. What kind of ancestors are we? Will we be despised for our stupidity and selfishness? Perhaps. But can some of us help shape ways of life, values, ideas, systems, etc, that might help?

We intend to explore some of these ideas at the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability. Which is why our launch in May at the RGS is called “Adventures in Sustainability”

Some of the speakers recently appeared on Sea Change Radio: http://www.cchange.net/2013/03/26/sustainability-adventurers/

Posted in Academia and Research, Spirit?, Sustainable Development | 3 Comments »

Escaping Universal Usury

Posted by jembendell on December 24, 2011

As we take some time to contemplate the year, the most important things in life, and lessons from religious teachings, we could well reflect on what we’ve been told about the charging of interest. A super little article from my friend Wayne Visser, summarises the warnings against charging interest from the great religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Those warnings are so striking now, as sovereign debt crises shake our hopes of a joyful year ahead. As usury is so routinely regarded as a problem by the great teachers of the ages, why have we let contemporary money be created as debt with interest, by private banks? Today, over 97% of our money is created that way. This doesnt mean usury by a lender using existing money they earned, but usury on the very birth of money. Commercial bank money is born as debt with interest, and this is its original sin, because the perpetual indebtedness it creates means ecological destruction and social inequality. It means that we have to pay the usurers for our ability to trade anything amongst ourselves. It creates a state of universal usury.

The world’s religions have relaxed their prohibitions on usury, apart from Islam, although even then, other tricks are used to achieve the same effect of making money from money without sharing effort or risk. There are some good arguments for allowing, while limiting, the charging of interest on loans. But charging interest on the very creation of money, the very unit of value, the very mechanism of exchange? Thats a disaster. And it crept up on us, with religious leaders and followers mostly silent on the situation.

The solutions are many, and we can start working on them now, as I described in my TEDx talk.

But the first step is to open our minds to this critique, to decide to explore it, rather than hide behind a comforting and mistaken assumption that “its too complicated” or “it just sounds too radical” or “this is something for monetary experts”. That takes courage. Yet without courage, what does any spiritual message, belief, or experience really mean?

So if you want a change from the usual TV, check out some of the videos, check out some of the links on my money resources page.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Spirit? | 2 Comments »

Where is the Movement?

Posted by jembendell on July 18, 2011

This week is the 10th anniversary of the mass protest against the G8 in Genoa, Italy. Hundreds of thousands of protesters called for a systemic change in the global economic system, forming something called an ‘anti-globalisation’ movement by the mass media, or what was known by many activists as the global justice movement. In Genoa, behind huge metal barriers, leaders met while anti-aircraft missile launchers scanned the skies. We thought it a bit of an over-reaction; but we didn’t have the benefit of memos about Bin Laden. The (now proven) agent provocateurs helped the black block protestors create conditions for police to then brutalise many peaceful protesters. One protester, Carlo Giuliani, was shot and killed by a policeman. The violence led many people, myself included, to question whether they wanted to be involved in such demonstrations in future. Perhaps that was the intention of the reactionary elements in the Italian government. Yet there was another limitation to the protests. The movement had become defined by the media as the protest, because the cameras showed up at demonstrations. Yet a movement is motivated by the values and awareness of people, and that exists all year round, not just during a protest. It was the values and vibrancy of the activists that was key, and expressed in many other ways all year round, such as choices of work, ways of working in the community.

10 years on its a good time to look back, recall the mood and spirit of the activism, and see how the vibrancy of that time throws light on the choices many of us have made since. To conjure up a sense of the feelings involved back 10 years ago, here is a snippet from my last book:

“Rolling onto my back, I lay my head on a rucksack, staring into the night sky. The tarmac still pushes up through my sleeping bag, but somehow it feels more comfortable this way. I think of the few times I have slept out in the open, in fields after parties, or on beaches while travelling—times when I could revel in the sense of floating through the immensity of space, secured on the edge of a cosmic plan, or comic fluke, called planet Earth. But tonight I can’t drift away with thoughts of the infinite expanse of space. Police helicopters hover above, their cones of light traversing the car park like manic stilts. Dreaming is not permitted. It’s the G8 Summit in Genoa, 2001. I stretch my neck. My face feels sticky with the residue of vinegar I was told would help me during tear-gas attacks. Are we being searched for or spotlighted, I wonder? If they shine their lights on us for long enough, perhaps they’ll discover what they’re looking for? Perhaps we’re all here to discover what we’re looking for—something different, something possible? I can’t sleep and turn to Rik, a guy I met on the streets during the day. ‘D’you want to hear my poem?’ he asks. ‘Yeah, why not . . . ?’

Possessed by possessions
Lord and Master of all we owe
Belonging to belongings
It’s a disaster, I know
Chained to the mundane
Our reference frame is physical
Every day the same old same
Nothing metaphysical
And if God’s not dead
He must be mad
Or blind
Or deaf and dumb
Or bad
Still smarting over Christ, perhaps
The way the people have been had
But in our defence
I’d like to say
We nearly chose the proper path
But lost the plot along the way
You’ve got to laugh
It’s not our fault
It’s just the toys we made
Made such a lovely noise
And girls and boys
Are high and dry
Time to bid
All this
Goodbye.”

Rik Strong’s The Sermon, which he recited to me as we ‘bedded’ down in a carpark during the demonstrations at the G8 Summit in Genoa, captured some of the emotion that drove many of us to protest. There was certainly a lot of anger at the suffering being caused by economic systems, and the lack of accountability of political systems to the people. There was also an angst about something more deeply wrong about modern life. Western society didn’t relate to how we felt inside. Publicly people didn’t seem to care for each other, yet we knew that deep down they must do—surely? For us there had to be more to us than working, shopping and looking out for Number One. This was a holistic critique, and one that connected professional and lifestyle, the political and personal.

Yet 10 years on its difficult to say exactly what or where “the movement” is now. Many people who were active in protests back then have this nagging thought: We were everywhere, we went everywhere, but we got nowhere. What was it that led to the weakening of what seemed at the time to be a global awakening?

The level of violence certainly turned many away from protesting. But there were other factors that helped to corrupt some of the creative spirit. As the old Left woke up to the new wave of anti-capitalism sentiment and became involved with groups such as ‘Globalise Resistance’ they brought with them their hierarchical we-know-what-you-really-want-and-how-to-win politics. For some, this was a politics of envy not personal liberation. This led to splits and aggressive criticism from those who rejected instant political solutions freeze-dried in the 19th Century. And so egos clashed. When, during a demonstration in Brighton I mentioned to one activist ‘leader’ that his organisation was critiqued in a Schnews pamphlet, he just asked “was I name-checked?” Meanwhile career-conscious band-wagon jumpers leapt like crazy on to talk shows and into best-seller lists and newspaper columns, and misrepresented some of the core democratic anti-hierarchy values that permeated much of the organising and the aspirations of protesters.

But the biggest impact was 9/11. Soon after, the protest groups refocused on anti-war campaigning. The mass media closed ranks around the march to war. The critical analysis became more about the dreadfulness of one President, rather than a more informed critique of the whole system and its alternatives. The “war of terror” knocked the global justice movement aside, by making activists focus on symptoms, not causes.

For many people, the political philosophy that was shared by activists from very different walks of life, concerned about different issues, was a sense of everyday democracy, where all processes, whether political or economic, should be open to their participation and mutual control. John Isbister has noted that “an ideal democracy would give a voice to everyone who is affected by a decision. The real democracies with which we are familiar cannot reach this
standard.” For example, poor children are affected by welfare systems but have no vote. Women in poorer countries are affected by family planning funding decisions in the United States but have no vote in their elections. Instead, we can remember that democracy is an aspirational goal, for situations where individuals and communities participate effectively in shaping the social limits that define what is possible for them, without impairing the ability of others to do that for themselves. The goal is therefore an everyday democracy where all organisations enable participation. It is also inherently a global goal, because it is an organisational response to a universal principle of people being able to pursue their individual freedoms.

The 1960s student leader Gregory Calvert has reflected that in their student movement they came to understand that their commitment to democratic principles came from the heart, and had a spiritual dimension. Activism inspired by this consciousness seeks to challenge large incumbent unaccountable institutions, whether in the public, private or civic spheres of life. What excited many people in the process of campaigning, was that they were connecting to a sense of purpose greater than themselves, a story of a common humanity. It filled a need, because there was, as there remains today, some angst about the purpose of our lives, the story of our existence. For some people our story of existence is one of a secular, scientific, mechanical world without meaning. For some it is the story of a God creating us to struggle to return to ‘Him’. For many people that story seems more like a fairytale – a nice idea, something they don’t really believe but find it helpful to entertain the idea, perhaps once a week or so. To others this story seems like a nightmare with a “blind, deaf, dumb, mad or bad” God. Thus Thomas Berry, writing in 1990, felt that we had lost faith in the story of our relationship with a God and, therefore, who we are; “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it… sustained us for a long period of time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purposes and energized our actions. It consecrated our suffering and integrated our knowledge. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children.”

This faltering between stories has sometimes been talked about as the ‘death of God’. Hence the angst and spiritual void captured in Rik Strong’s The Sermon. Set against this angst there was a real energy and hope, perhaps similar to the hope felt by people in the recent protests in the Arab world. On the streets of Genoa the T-shirts read “Another world is possible” – a world that would enable us all to be all we could be. In our hearts we felt that world already existed, but we didn’t really have a way of speaking in chorus so that the rest of society could hear us and join in the singing.

So what is this new story? I picked up some ideas from discussions of activists 10 years ago….

First, is creativity. In the west pop-culture gurus like Pat Kane were talking of a play ethic to replace the work ethic. By this he meant that the most natural, and perhaps highest, state of being is to play – to be creative, to be expressive, to test, try, experiment, to have fun in becoming all we can be. As Jean Paul-Sartre said, “As man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom, then his activity is to play.” The parallels with eco-centric thought on the irrepressible diversity of the natural world are clear. Pat suggested that this play ethic comes from the new generation of young professionals, who: “have shaped their identities through their… cultures of play – a whole range of self-chosen activities that have anchored them in a different orientation towards a meaningful life. These are the backpackers of Alex Garland’s The Beach, using cheap flights and travel literature to make the world their playground. The ultimate playfulness is to help each other to play together.”

Second, is a global consciousness, a sense of a common community of mankind. For many people nationalism is no longer a belief system and just a bit of fun, to be enjoyed in an ironic sense. Nationalism is being replaced for many by a planetary patriotism – we might call this Planetism. This means a deep concern for the health and well-being of the planet and all its peoples. Another aspect to this Planetism is a spiritual reawakening, as people see a common essence to all the world’s spiritual teachings, no matter how twisted they may be through religious institutions. This reawakening has been helped in secular society by the club culture, as ‘ravers’ grew up but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) “forget those blissed-out moments of transcendence, when drugs and beats blurred the boundaries of their selves”, according to Pat Kane. These states of consciousness were something that ecocentrist Thomas Berry pondered. If the universe is not alive in a psychic spiritual sense as well a material one, then “human consciousness emerges out of nowhere… an addendum [with] no real place in the story of the universe” he wrote. Thus the potential for a common storyemerges amongst the diverse traditions of eco-centric, religious and secular thought – an autonomous yet interconnected spirituality that supports self-expression. The new story of humanity is about our growing understanding of our relationship to our planet, including all its people and their spiritual selves. Therefore it is the story of our relationship to ourself – who we really are. The new story is that there will be infinite stories to unfold. Thus, in protests around the world people were saying one No and many Yes’s. “We’re not going to play your games anymore – thrill to your icons, your hip soundtracks, your latest double-stitch or lycra mix. We’re going to play our own games” wrote Pat Kane. And so play we did, from our use of the web to co-ordinate global protests, to the subversion of advertising, from the rave atmosphere of street parties, to the humour of slogans, from the creation of alternative currencies, to the launching of our own social businesses.

So what happened to this story of global creativity? What happened to the anger at a controlling exploiting system? What happened to the confidence that rejected the legitimacy of incumbent institutions and leaders and the old politics of left and right?

The rent. The mortgage. The debt. The pension plan. The fear of being left behind. The insecurities that make us want to be accepted and respected in the mainstream. The temptation from the story that integrating our hopes into the mainstream is the best way to live our values, to honour our memories of higher states of consciousness by our cold-light-of-day choices.

And so, if there’s anything to learn from the last 10 years, its the need to change the system that creates this apparent necessity for compromise. Jessie J may write cool music, but it IS all about the money, money, money, because if we don’t change the monetary systems, we will be subject to the incentives and disincentives that draw us into stultifying compromise. We cant rely on mass levels of mindfulness to escape the day to day corroding pressures that arise from debt-based monetary systems. Redesigning the way money is created, to remove the debt burden from our governments, economies, communities and own families, will be key to unleashing a creative globe of local and international democratic communities.

Posted in Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, My Life, NGOs, Spirit?, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Eating alone?

Posted by jembendell on February 15, 2011

Eating alone tonight? Don’t watch telly, but join me by watching images of amazing nature while listening to how we have fallen away from it.

Posted in My Life, Spirit?, Sustainable Development | 1 Comment »

Integrating Personal and Global Wellness

Posted by jembendell on October 14, 2010

(A keynote given by Jem Bendell at the Wellness Summit, Singapore, October 14th 2010).

I want to thank the team at Spa Asia and the Wellness Summit for making sustainability a theme this year. It has been rather challenging times for many in the industry these past 2 years, and that could have led some to focus purely on the near term, rather than providing a space for reflection on what it is we are doing and why. The location is also refreshing. We do not have to put ourselves in concrete jungles to be smart and serious. We are part of nature, and when we are in sight of nature we are more relaxed and thus more creative… and the science on that process is in.

I am here because I think wellness professionals can be leaders in the transition to a fair and sustainable world. You can be part of what I term in my latest book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement – A movement that is pursuing a transition to a fair and sustainable economy through new approaches to enterprise.

I was invited partly because of a report I researched and wrote about sustainable luxury, for the environmental group WWF. In Deeper Luxury, we mapped out the sustainability challenge, and how luxury brands perform, the commercial reasons why they can do more, and some examples and tips for companies. The report took off around the world. I even ended up pictured in Tatler; a dubious indicator of success for an environmentalist perhaps.

Wellness services target the same market as many luxury brands, and many wellness services are themselves luxury brands. The luxury industry has been under an increasing spotlight on its social and environmental performance. From the sourcing of metals and stones in jewellery, to the working practices for models, to the use of endangered species in its products. More and more luxury brands have made steps to improve practice, and some luxury groups have even decided to make major investments in buying niche ethical luxury brands, such as LVMH buying half of Edun, which focuses on ethical clothing. The trends they are responding to are trends that also affect wellness industries – a growing realisation amongst people around the world of social and environmental malaise and how our consumption affects that, and how our choices at work matter. If you are in a business where the products and services are highly discretionary, and where personal motivation of staff is key to your success, then these broader public issues affect your business, because they affect customer and staff mood.

I’m new to wellness, and I need some. Having flu at my first wellness conference maybe tells me something I need to hear. I’ve been working on sustainability for 15 years and it is a huge agenda. It can seem complicated, with more stuff to have to think about, to check on, and so on. But actually its quite simple. At its most basic sustainability is about people being in harmony with nature, including our own natures. As our societies have developed our work and ways of living have separated us from that harmony with nature, with each other and with our true selves. You have likely heard that before. Right now I’d like us to take a moment to sense what restoring that harmony could feel like. You may find it helpful if you close your eyes for the next few moments.

So, now with you eyes shut, try to recall a moment when you think you won an argument, or clinched a deal, or got promoted. Think of how it felt at the time.

Still with your eyes shut, next, try to recall a moment when you were in nature, perhaps looking at a sunset, or where you completely lost yourself in the moment of something you enjoy doing. Try to taste that feeling.

Now contrast that feeling with the first – the feeling generated within you when you won out on something.

Consider whether that first feeling is one of self-promotion – a worldly feeling, while the second feeling comes from somewhere else, something some would call your soul.

This is a reflection recommended to us by Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest from India. He says the worldly feelings control us, and make us controllable, and don’t provide the nourishment and happiness from when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. He suggests we are weighed down by these worldly motivations for approval, popularity, and power.

That is also a sustainability message. Because sustainability is not so much a challenge out there, but in here. It comes down to how mindful we are in our work. A sustainable wellness industry will flow from a sustainable wellness profession of people inspired by creating experiences that generate well-being for everyone involved, not just the client, and restoring the biological diversity and balance of our planet in the process.

The good news is that more and more people want that from us.

This time tomorrow you will hear from Adam Horler of LOHAS Asia, some new data on consumer attitudes to the environment and consumption, from across South East Asia. So I wont go into the data I have from last year. The positive news is that contrary to myth, middle class urban Asian consumers are concerned about the environment and would prefer better options on that issue. But today, Ill share with you some statistics on why it is so important we try to meet those consumers’ aspirations and help them turn it into behavioural change.

Since the conference opened here at 9am yesterday morning, just 24 hours ago, over 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest have been lost. Over a million tonnes of toxic waste have been released into our environment. Since 9am yesterday, 98,000 people on our planet died of starvation, tens of thousands of them children. In just a day, 137 species have been driven into extinction. In that time, up to 200,000 sharks have been killed, many of them endangered species, by removing their fins to flavour our soup. Perhaps it is no wonder then that an estimated 2 million people around the world took a day off work yesterday due to stress or depression.

We are exposed to bad news in the media on most days, and it seems so abstract and unconnected to us. It can make us numb, partly because we don’t know what to do. But if we repress certain feelings then that can come out in other ways, damaging ourselves and others. The numbness can also hold us back from acting on what we know and what we care about. There’s an American poet Drew Dellinger, who I particularly like for the way he reaches through this numbness. Suffering with this flu, I was bored in bed and listening to his poetry. One poem reached me in the middle of the night. It goes something like this:

“It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do while the earth was unravelling?
Surely you did something when the seasons started failing
when the animals, reptiles and birds were all dying?
Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
What did you do?
Once you knew…”

When that touches us, even if its painful, we can be grateful for that, because we are feeling our extended self, our fuller self, expressing itself.

We are lucky we are not one of the people who suffered in the last 24 hours. We are probably lucky we are not our great great grandchildren. But we are also guilty. Not of inaction or apathy. Because we are already active in causing the problems I’ve described, through what we buy and what our savings get used for, who or what we work for or on. The problems in the world are not there from an absence of human action, but because of human action, in pursuit of profit and pride. The building, the lights, the food, our clothes, credit cards, the works, its all of us involved in all the difficulties I’ve just described.

Am I making you feel well? In raising these issues am I providing a wellness service? The sustainability agenda must make us question what we mean by wellness.

Some may cynically surmise that such malaise may mean a growth in demand for wellness services. But wellness seems to be more than health, moments of happiness and thin veil of calm. Rather, wellness is a form of contentment and balance, a way of being where one is both healer and whole. Providing people opportunities to awaken to their higher selves can be part of the wellness agenda. It might be unsettling, but ultimately can be deeply affirming. In any case, new evidence confirms that personal wellness and well-being is often affected by collective wellness and well-being.

Personal and collective wellness are connected in two key ways – environmental and social. A US government study published last month found a strong, consistent correlation between adult diabetes and particulate air pollution. There are also scientific studies published this year that correlate levels of air pollution, such as nitrous oxides, with levels of personal happiness. Studies also correlate more traffic congestion with less sense of well-being. We probably didn’t need scientists to work that one out.

Our proximity to nature also matters. Studies have found that post-operation patients housed in rooms with views of nature require less time in hospital and require fewer pain killers. In a study by the University of Illinois “those who lived in housing units with no immediate view of or access to nature reported a greater number of aggressive conflicts with partners or children than their peers who lived near trees and grass.” Our natural world is our common well-being.

The second way that personal and collective wellness is connected is through social factors. One study reported this year finds that if you are not in a good relationship, your injuries will take twice as long to heal, than if you are in a positive and nurturing relationship. Studies show correlations between unemployment, or poverty or economic inequality, with higher rates of crime. It is not surprising then that one study found that in the most economically unequal of states of the USA, 35 to 40 percent of the population feel they cannot trust other people, compared to only 10 percent in the more equal states. Not trusting each other, and being anxious of our rank in society, and what will happen if we slip back, is one explanation for why growing GDP has not correlated with growing levels of happiness, beyond a fairly low threshold. Even UN studies report more unequal societies are more unhappy, top to bottom.

Can one be well when many are not? Apparently not.

There are two major implications for the wellness industry from recognising this connection between personal and collective wellness, or from now on, between personal and global wellness. First, are implications for the relationship with the client. Second, the relationship with everyone else involved, and the environment.

Let’s consider the client. Instead of retreat many people seek reconnection. Jeorg DeMeuth, who runs Organic Spa and who you heard from yesterday, told me that he finds more “people are looking for a holistic experience, where they experience soul, mind and body. The new Spa is a kind of dreamland for new ideas and life concepts”. For those clients who don’t yet have this awareness, as professionals with access to the latest science on the relation between personal and global wellness do we have a responsibility to help lead more people towards that thinking, as it is in their own interests? Serving people by proposing something they don’t yet know they want is an old challenge. Henry Ford knew it well when he famously said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d tell me a faster horse.” We can serve customers by seeking to lead them.

How to lead customers in this way is an important questions. I want to learn about that, and am looking for examples to include in my next book, on sustainable luxury, so Id welcome chatting after, if you have tried it. I think one subtle way of leading consumers is to communicate how you are providing your services in more responsible ways. Demonstrating a practical manifestation of values can be a good teacher. This also connects to the the second main implication of the connection between personal and global wellness – unless you are supporting collective wellness through the actual operations of your wellness business, you are not really helping your clients’ individual wellness. If the products you use have no contaminants but their manufacture polluted the air we breath, rising our rates of diabetes, destabilising our climate, then that’s not so ‘well’.

I hear that there are many companies embracing this agenda, and some of them we are hearing about at this conference.

There are a variety of initiatives bringing people together to make this happen, such as The Campaign for Greener Healthcare, The Green Occupational Therapy Network, The Green Yoga Association and the Authentic Luxury Network which I launched with some people in the luxury world. There are also initiatives such as Green Globe’s standard for environmental management of Spas, which the luxury resort chain Six Senses developed with them. What is exciting is that we do not have to only focus on making less impact on the planet and people, but we can create products and services that make a positive impact on people and nature. For example, I’m an advisor to The UN’s Biotrade initiative, which is working with skincare and fragrance companies to develop product lines that create new revenues to pay for the conservation of species and their ecosystems. One participant is the Swiss fragrance firm Firmenich, who worked with the NGO Care International, to improve the lives of Vanilla farmers in Uganda, and incorporate that into the brand proposition for a new perfume by Estee Lauder and Donna Karan, called PureDKNY.

This is not about companies offering charity. It is about upgrading normal business operations. The sustainable wellness agenda is about how you make your money not how you give it away. It may seem complex but you can start anywhere, for instance by empowering your staff to become aware of issues and how they relate to their values and their healing practices, and then together discover ways of reducing negative impacts and making more positive contributions. You can look for guidelines and standards, and you can take lots of notes during Jeorg’s skills development session tomorrow.

In summary, I think wellness professions are important to sustainability and vice versa. It will soon be impossible to separate personal wellness from working on collective or global wellness. We will only integrate these properly if we have a heartfelt intention to serve all life through our work. That is an intention most of us share, but it gets covered up with all the stresses and strivings of everyday life. The reflection from Anthony de Mello at the start, helps us see that our world needs from us simply what we deeply need for ourselves. To be authentic, soulful and purposeful. We don’t have to be whole to heal – we just have to be on the way. Thank you.

[References to the data mentioned will appear in my forthcoming book, “Higher Ends”. Thanks to Lifeworth’s Hanniah Tariq and Sara Walcott for research assistance, and comments from Matthew Slater and Ian Doyle on an earlier version. A video of the talk will appear soon].

View the summit at http://www.wellnesssummit.com

Posted in ALN, My Life, Singapore, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Crowd-sourcing philosophy on Facebook

Posted by jembendell on May 24, 2010

The power of crowd-sourcing information and ideas is proven by the power of wikipedia. New innovations in crowd sourcing include crowd funding, for instance for the movie Age of Stupid.

I decided to have a crack at this for something quite abstract, yet very important.

I have increasingly realised how easy it is for people to assume that one “thing” is “good” and become attached to that assumption in ways that lead to bad judgement. It happens a lot in the worlds of organisational and policy development. Examples in my field include cross-sector partnerships being seen as always good, or U process facilitation as always key, or government subsidy or regulation related to climate change as always good. Im a fan of each of these, but I’ve seen how assuming such things to always be good without understand context or intention, is a real problem. I realised this is something related to very deep themes around systems thinking and non-attachment. So, I thought I’d put the question out to my pals on facebook, to see how they could help me clarity these insights, so I could then communicate them more clearly in my advisory and writing.

Here are the preliminary results. If you can, please add in comments on this post, and Ill continue to crowd-source philosophy through wordpress!

The thread:

May 17th Facebook status: Jem is looking 4 egs or quotes 2 illustrate a problem of mistakenly thinking a practice or thing is itself “good”, rather than seeing it as good at a particular time due to its context-dependent effect & people’s intention behind it, so that no “thing” is good, except an intention & an ability to understand effects in cont…ext. The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing. Ideas?

Jerri Husch
read some of the early work in anthropology, ie. Clifford Geertz who talks about meaning creation. Or read some of Peter Berger and Luckmann’s stuff from the ’70’s who talk about action and the “social context of meaning creation”. They were the early ones to talk about how the “norms” of what is “good” and what is “bad” are based on the social context of the actors and objects….. 30+ years later they are still the best—-good luck with the work and would love to see what you come up with.
May 17 at 1:08am ·

Jem Bendell
thx. im not wanting to study it, simply to communicate this principle as simply as possible, and mention any classics e.g. from antiquity, that make the same point. any ideas?
May 17 at 1:24am ·

Jerri Husch
maybe check this out…..a good overview and maybe some quotes?http://books.google.com/books?id=kd3w_tWWeewC&pg=PA35&lpg=PA35&dq=berger+and+luckmann+objectification&source=bl&ots=tDLpE3YYXZ&sig=SKkqJTkl-h092Mo7Z6UpiHRTLRs&hl=en&ei=IH_wS7DZLsP6lwef9dm1CA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CDsQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q&f=false
May 17 at 1:32am ·

Trineesh Biswas
more neo-classical than classical, but economic governance in the uk and the us for most of the last thirty years has been marked by the notion that privatisation, deregulation, and market forces were always good and efficient, with insufficient case-by-case analysis.
May 17 at 9:45am ·

Linda Popova
A tip from a Classicist, though not necessarily easy to communicate…Read Derrida’s essay “Plato’s Pharmacy”, which, among other things, discusses the “betterness” of the spoken word over the written. It is essentially a discussion of Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus and the relationship between memory and writing. It is centered on the use of the word… See More ‘pharmakon’, which in ancient Greek means both remedy and poison. Socrates’ death by drinking the hemlock is hence said to be ambiguous: is it damnation or salvation? The Phaedrus itself makes use of two further myths – the myth of the cicadas and the myth of Theuth – to illustrate that point…Also of interest, on the ambiguity of mental concepts (metaphors) dependent on context, Lakoff’s and Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By is a good primer, with less linguistic jargon than my first recommendation. Good luck. Fascinating subject. Would be curious to see your take on it. Best, L
May 17 at 9:46am ·

Linda Popova
p.s. And then, of course, there’s Kant’s take on the subject and my musings on the Patriot act (with which I am sure you will disagree), but nonetheless, you could use this as an example of divergent vs convergent thinking. Since science should be based on divergent mental models, i.e. competing hypotheses rather than scholarly dogma (convergent politics), I am happy to be in disagreement:-)
http://newrisks.wordpress.com/2008/06/16/late-night-thoughts-on-the-patriot-act/
May 17 at 10:05am ·

Kate Tench
To raise the tone somewhat and spin netgative to positive – “Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day” Withnail & I (I believe it was “I”).
May 17 at 11:10am ·

Tiago Pinto-Pereira
“Knowledge is neither good nor bad, but man’s use of
it can be either good or bad.” Paraphrases a sentence i remember in my theory of knowledge course in high school. Not sure of the origin of this epistemological sentence.
May 17 at 1:01pm ·

Vicente Garcia-Delgado
The problem arises because we keep under the illusion that things are “things” when they are really “processes”. For example rather than saying “I am” we ought be saying “I become.” (try that for size…)
May 17 at 3:33pm ·

Jerri Husch
what a great conversation!! Thanks Jem et. al.!!!
May 17 at 4:24pm ·

John Manoochehri
Those are too complicated as examples.

Start with the original myth: the Midas touch. King Midas wanted gold, because it was his hearts desire, and was granted the wish that all he touched would become gold. He touched a tree and rejoiced at the golden tree. He touched his daughter – and then was distraught at the golden daughter. “The same thing… See More in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”

This story has at least two resonances: the problem of proxy-indicators of welfare, and the problem of the changed context.

One reason Midas liked gold, and the reason we like money, and consumer goods, is that they are ‘vehicles’ or welfare, they ‘carry’ welfare, but they are not in fact happiness or value themselves.

What happens all too often is that these vehicles of welfare, in particular when we get used to ‘storing’ them, as a way of holding over welfare into the future for example (e.g. by hoarding gold to buy more things in the future, banking money, etc), become ‘proxies’ of welfare, i.e. we see them as stand-ins for the welfare itself, and thereby, equivalent to the welfare itself, in the mind. The need to translate the proxy into the actual welfare recedes, and we become obsessed with money and object ownership, even while being unhappy!

Thus we are reminded “only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realise that we cannot eat money”. The child that has a hoop and a stick is happy, and the man with a house full of goods is sad, even if the house holds his old hoop and stick. “The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”

The other resonance is problem of changed context, where, not particularly because one’s concept of, or intention for, an object or action has changed (e.g. from an object as a vehicle of welfare, to an object as a proxy of welfare), but because the situation has changed, and thereby the welfare effect of the object or action has changed.

The hopeful boyfriend who brings a beautiful rose to his second date, shining with expectation that the girl will fall for his charms, but forgetting his girlfriend is allergic to roses; the father trembling down the stairs towards a disturbing noise, with a baseball bat clutched for protection, discovering it is just his child watching TV; the mythical king mistakenly turning to gold what he valued more than gold, more than anything – all of these are examples of an initial intended welfare effect of an object or action having quite the opposite effect (rose > love; rose > sickness; baseball bat > protection; baseball bat > threatening act; golden touch > more lovely gold things; golden touch > one less lovely daughter).

Or, as you put it. “The same thing in different contexts & with different intentions is not the same thing.”
May 17 at 11:05pm ·

Jem Bendell
im beginning to find a wonderful new use for facebook because of u guys! Hey, its funny how people think that someone having a midas touch is a good thing. Many people speak of a designer or ceo having a midas touch for a brand.. and yet.. the midas touch is a tragic story of greed and ignorance.
May 18 at 12:27am ·

Jem Bendell
ps: this has been such an interesting use of fb ill blog about it, so anyone else wanna chime in this week? all tips welcome.
May 18 at 12:28am ·

Vicente Garcia-Delgado
go ahead! “I am becoming” game!
May 18 at 12:31am ·

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Free Your Mind… from your Mind

Posted by jembendell on January 7, 2010

“Our most intimate relationship is the one we have with our own minds. I was in a very dark place for a long time. Then one day I realised a simple thing. When I believed my own thoughts, I suffered. When I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer. Everything changed for me that day.”
– Byron Katie

“Make a list of [your] darkest, most aggravating, shameful beliefs – the poisonous, top secret, horrible judgements we reveal to no one – then choose the greatest shame of all and apply the four questions and turnaround”

1.Is it true?
2.Can you be absolutely sure that it’s true?
3.How do you react when you think that thought?
4.Who would you be without that thought?

“[Then] invert the original thought and give three examples of why this “turnaround” is as true as, or truer than, the original belief.

“According to Katie, any painful thought subjected to this inquiry loses its power to hurt us, since most of what foes on between our ears is a pack of lies.”

I did it, it helped.

All quotes excerpted from Mark Matousek’s book pg 127/8

More on him at http://www.markmatousek.com/

Posted in Spirit?, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Globalising Trusteeship

Posted by jembendell on April 12, 2009

Jem At Jallian Wala Bagh in April 2009

Jem Bendell visiting Jallian Wala Bagh in April 2009

On April 13th, ninety years ago, a British General ordered the firing on people peacefully protesting the repression of India. Mohandas K Gandhi was so moved by the massacre in Amritsar that he called for a special week to be observed every year – a Satyagraha Week. “Satya” means truth, “Graha” means both ‘involved in’ and ‘global’. Gandhi used satyagraha to describe a non-violent way of life, that does not participate in oppression wherever it occurs, and challenges it in non-violent ways. It became synonymous with India’s liberation movement.

Due to the work of Varsha Das and her colleagues at the Gandhi National Museum I was reminded of Gandhi’s teachings, and began re-reading what he said and did about life, politics and economics. As you probably are yourself, I was familiar with his famous phrases including that “we must be the change we want to see in the world’. But as I read on, I realised his views are very relevant to the current global economic crisis and the work I do on sustainable enterprise and finance.

The recent G20 failed to launch a deep reconsideration of the global economy, and some of its precepts, such as current concepts of property and a consumption-led economy. I suppose the pressures on the leaders for more-of-the-same were immense. But it has become clear that is up to us to begin a broader dialogue. Gandhi called for the Satyagraha Week to be one of fearless yet convivial dialogue about the truth of society and to redouble our efforts to live by that truth. Reading that affirmed some of the work I did this past year, with the Global Finance Initiative. After consultations with finance professionals and stakeholders in dozens of countries we concluded with a recommendation that dialogues on changes in financial systems are required that are:

  • Foundational, addressing profound questions about the purpose of the financial system and the principles that direct its actions;
  • Comprehensive, encompassing the connections between accounting systems, currencies, regulatory systems, economic structures and all parts of the financial system;
  • Inclusive, with processes reaching beyond traditional insiders, to engage responsible investors, multi-stakeholder groups working on finance issues, asset owners, labor, NGOs and critical academics, and be truly global;
  • Systemic, connecting financial stability to the real economy, social equity, and environmental sustainability.

This dialogue could be part of a global truth-seeking — a ‘Global Satyagraha’. Beyond his views on dialogue and truth-seeking, MK Gandhi’s views are relevant to the future of the global economy and our work on responsible enterprise and finance in at least four ways: economic equality, appropriate technology, self-reliance, and trusteeship.

Challenging both the caste system and negativity between religions, he promoted the equality of all peoples, which meant non discrimination in employment and economic affairs. He also believed that technology could be good if did needed work, but bad if it put people out of work. This philosophy led him to spend many hours working on the spinning wheel, a technology that was appropriate to the economic level of villagers across India at the time. Another important aspect of the spinning wheel was how it generated self-reliance. Gandhi spoke of ‘swadeshi’ or economic self-sufficiency, as the only way that India would achieve self-determination. He called on his country-people not to pay into the system of empire by buying foreign clothes. In our current context the implication here is not simply that we produce for ourselves, but that we seek to become independent of systems of exploitation for our own livelihoods and lifestyles.

Jem Bendell at site of MK Gandhi assasination, March 2009

Jem Bendell at site of MK Gandhi assasination, March 2009

These aspects of Gandhian economics are well documented and discussed. Like many business folk the world-over, many Indian executives do not see the relevance of these approaches to modern business, viewing them as anachronistic. Yet, in a resource-constrained and climate-threatened world, where hyper-inequality fuels violence, the need for principles and practices of equality, appropriateness and self-reliance to pervade business is clear.

What stunned me was the resonance of his views on ‘trusteeship’ with the latest thinking within the corporate responsibility movement. More of us have come to understand that we need to redesign the systems of corporate governance and finance in order to create more sustainable and responsible economies, and that business executives can and should engage in public policy debates to promote that redesign. In my latest book, I develop the concept of “capital democracy” to describe an economic system that responds to this understanding. I write:

Corporate Responsibility Movement, Bendell et al, March 2009

Corporate Responsibility Movement, Bendell et al, March 2009

“In a democratic society, property rights should only exist because people collectively decide to uphold them; they are not inalienable but are upheld by society as a matter of choice. Therefore, if society confers us the right of property, then we have obligations to that society. Today property rights have become so divorced from this democratic control that they are undermining other human rights. A reawakening to a basic principle is required: there can be no property right without property duties, or obligations. From such a principle, it should not be left up to the powerful to decide if they are responsible or not, or if they are carrying out their obligations or not. Instead, the focus shifts to the governance of capital by those who are affected by it” (Bendell, et al, 2009, Pg 33 to 34).

The Mahatma’s view of trusteeship is the same, but elegant in its simplicity. It arises from an understanding that everything is owned by everyone, and wealth is owned by those who generate it. Thus the one who controls an asset is not an owner but a trustee, being given control of that asset by society. Gandhi wrote “I am inviting those people who consider themselves as owners today to act as trustees, i.e., owners, not in their own right, but owners in the right of those whom they have exploited.” In the Harijan paper his views on trusteeship of property were later documented to clarify “It does not recognize any right of private ownership of property except so far as it may be permitted by society for its own welfare” and “under State-regulated trusteeship, an individual will not be free to hold or use his wealth for selfish satisfaction or in disregard of the interests of society.” He also wrote that “for the present owners of wealth… they will be allowed to retain the stewardship of their possessions and to use their talent, to increase the wealth, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the nation and, therefore, without exploitation.” All those years ago the Mahatma was proposing an economic system that many people are only beginning to conceive of today. If you have my book, I apologise for my prior ignorance of Gandhi’s trusteeship concept. If you don’t have it under your trusteeship yet, hey, it’s still worth reading!

Sangeeta Das of the Gandhi Smriti Museum revealed to me how some Indian industrialists supported many of Gandhi’s ideas and applied some to their own business. Upon reading the views of some current Indian business leaders I see the concepts of equality and trusteeship have informed their voluntary corporate responsibility efforts. However, I am left with a sense that the concept of trusteeship has much untapped potential as an economic system, codified into public policy and regulation. The current crisis demonstrates the need to globalise trusteeship, or capital democracy, as an approach that can be debated and interpreted into new principles and policies for economics, finance and enterprise. In addition it is clear that concepts of appropriate technology and self-reliance have much more to offer both to corporate strategy and public policy than currently the case. I wonder whether Indian business leaders could play a role in bringing this insight to the world.

The life of Gandhi is important not only for his views on economic systems but also on how to bring them into being. In my book I argue that the global challenges we face mean those of us who work to make business better must start thinking and planning like a movement. “The corporate responsibility movement is a loosely organised but sustained effort by individuals both inside and outside the private sector, who seek to use or change specific corporate practices, whole corporations, or entire systems of corporate activity, in accordance with their personal commitment to public goals and the expectations of wider society.” (Bendell, et al 2009, pg 24). As a movement leader, we could learn from Gandhi’s mastery of symbolic communication combined with personal authenticity, his embrace of both dialogue and direct action, his respect for people no matter the differences, and his demonstration that we must ourselves disengage with systems that uphold a lie. More of us can mobilise our networks and knowledge for transformative ends. And if it means changing our lives to be less economically dependent on the status quo, then that’s what we must do.

The recent violence from authorities against protesters and bystanders (and the truth) at the G20 is yet another reminder of the need to learn how to engage in a transformative non-violent movement that provides people diverse ways to participate while sucking energy out of violent systems. On the 90th anniversary of the hundreds who died in Jallianwala Bagh, we can remember how their memory inspired millions in the pursuit of truth and freedom.

I will be discussing some of these ideas in a webinar, online, and seminar in Geneva, called: “The Corporate Responsibility Movement: Where are we going and why?” Seminar: Thursday May 14, from 12.30 to 14.00 Swiss time, Uni Mail, 40 bd du Pont d’Arve, Geneva, room MR 150 (ground floor, opposite the cafeteria). Register: csr@unige.ch.  Webinar: Tuesday May 19, from 16:30 to 18:00 UK time, organised by CSR International. Venue is “online”. Register: clemence@csrinternational.org http://www.csrinternational.org/?p=273

The Corporate Responsibility Movement, Jem Bendell et al. March 2009 ISBN 978-1-906093-18-1
http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

Thx to Suzy, Satjiv, Inderpreet, Nandita, Varsha and Sangeeta for unwittingly guiding my serendipitous journey in India.

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth, My Life, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Deepening Luxury in Delhi

Posted by jembendell on April 4, 2009

Im just about to leave India after an amazing month. The International Herald Tribune conference last week was inspiring, and for me very affirming. Feedback from Christian Blanckaert, Laurent Claquin, Suzy Menkes and Anna Zegna, among others, about the impact of the report Deeper Luxury on their own work was wonderful to hear. Theyre all doing what they can to promote sustainable luxury. The transcript of my presentation follows. I was taking a bit of a risk, a Britisher going to India and leading an audience in a group reflection/meditation, but the reaction was positive (or those with a negative reaction were too polite to tell me!).

To follow up I wrote a piece in the local business paper, and an article in NYT and IHT mentions the talk.

Deeper Luxury, Presentation by Jem Bendell at the International Herald Tribune conference on Sustainable Luxury, Imperial Hotel, Delhi, India, March 26th 2009.

“Despite the difficulties, the choice of India and of sustainable luxury as the conference theme now has a feeling of serendipity about it, doesn’t it?

Since the IHT made their bold choice, we have seen dramatic events, both here and abroad. What does an economic collapse and a terrorist attack have to do with sustainable luxury? If sustainability is about how we live our lives and what we work for, then they are very relevant, because we must employ our best talents to make our world a better place, whatever our line of work.

India is probably the richest country in the world, in the truest sense of the word rich. Yet it is one beset by massive social and environmental challenges. Coming here to collectively imagine what luxury and sustainability might offer each other, is as important now as it ever was. So thank you IHT for organising what could be a watershed in the luxury industry, and perhaps, if we make it so, an important moment in the sustainability movement.

I’m here because of a report I produced in 2007 for the environmental group WWF. In Deeper Luxury, we mapped out the sustainability challenge and the reasons why luxury brands could do a lot more, ranked companies and provided some examples and tips, as well as a charter for responsible brand endorsement by celebrities. The report took off around the world. I even ended up in Tatler; a dubious indicator of success for an environmentalist. But today I wont go into the report. Instead I’ll say some things about the heart and the head of sustainable luxury management in light of rapid changes. I hope to allay any lingering doubts you may have about sustainability being the future of luxury, rather than just a passing fad.

At its most basic sustainability is about people being in harmony with nature, eachother and ourselves. As our societies have developed, our work and ways of living have had both a positive and negative impact on that harmony. You have likely heard that before. But right now I’d like us to take a moment to sense what restoring that harmony could feel like. You may find it helpful if you close your eyes for the next few moments.

So, now with you eyes shut, try to recall a moment when you think you won an argument, or clinched a deal, or got promoted. Think of how it felt.

Next, try to recall a moment when you were in nature, perhaps looking at a sunset, or where you completely lost yourself in the moment of something you enjoy doing. Try to taste that feeling.

Now contrast it with the first – the feeling generated within you when you won out on something.

Consider whether that first feeling is one of self-promotion – a worldly feeling, while the second feeling comes from your soul.

This is a reflection recommended to us by Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest who hailed from Mumbai, and integrated Eastern and Western philosophies.

He says the worldly feelings are not really natural. I quote “they were invented by your society and your culture to make you productive and to make you controllable. These feelings do not produce the nourishment and happiness that is produced when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. They were meant to provide thrills, excitement – and emptiness.”

He suggests we are weighed down by these worldly motivations for approval, popularity, and power. He is suggesting that, actually, less can be more, and “I” can become “we”. That is also a sustainability message. Because sustainability is not so much a challenge out there, but in here. It comes down to how conscious we are in our work. A sustainable luxury industry will flow from a sustainable luxury profession of people inspired by creating things and experiences that generate well-being for everyone involved, and restoring the biological diversity and balance of our planet.

Fear often holds us back from living and working in full consciousness. In our work on corporate responsibility in the luxury sector, there is a nagging fear that there is something fundamentally contradictory between luxury and sustainability. Some fear that we cant do that much, particularly given the current economic situation and the limited awareness of consumers in key growth markets.

One way to calm that fear, is to realise how greater social and environmental responsibility can often be a cost saver and a driver of innovation. That is what we sought to do in the WWF report. This morning I want to go further, and address four conundrums facing the industry that can hold us back from engaging fully, soulfully, in sustainability. So far I’ve only heard them expressed in quiet conversation by people who are aware of the challenge but not sure of how this sector can really deliver.

In hearing reassurances about the financial sustainability of brands and luxury groups we have been reminded of the strength of the Asian market. Their economies are still growing, middle classes expanding, and fashion consciousness rising. The difficulty I’ve been told about by some executives is that such consumers are not aware of social and environmental aspects of brands and don’t really care. In the past year, new market research points to a wave of environmental awareness sweeping through Asia.

Research done by some WPP agencies, found that Chinese consumers now see the environment as a higher priority than do their US and UK counterparts. 69 percent of the Chinese respondents said that they expected to spend more on environmentally friendly products in the coming year.

The graph on the screen is from the French agency IFOP, showing levels of concern assessed in June last year. It also shows emerging market consumers concerns are higher in Brazil, China and India. More unpacking and interrogating of the nature of this concern is required to gauge its relevance for corporate strategy, but it shows the awareness is now there.

Consumer awareness takes time to translate into consumer behaviour, because we cant chose what doesn’t exist, or behave differently when we are unclear about our options. As the connections are made between what we buy and the environment we live in, the commercial implications are huge. So it is time to empower the consumer with the right information and better choices. So the first conundrum is not so real.

At a global level some analysts say the world has lost almost half its wealth since September. The crisis is real and scary. As someone running a small consultancy, we have lost one major client already. My company also works on sustainable finance, and worked on a project which consulted with finance professionals in over dozen countries. The insight from this is that the current crisis is not something that will be “got through” before a return to “normal”. Instead, it marks a major shift in global power. At root it is a Western financial crisis. The impacts will not only be financial, but also cultural, impacting on the status of the West, and on consumer culture. The implications for luxury are therefore deeper than our immediate concerns about profit and loss.

Many of us here work in enterprises that are the very best at what we do, whether that’s watch making, boat building, resort management, and so on. The crafts themselves may be excellent, and the sincerity and quality discussed yesterday morning very real. But what groups us together in this room as “luxury” is not so much that excellence, but consumer perceptions of what “luxury” means and our need to understand how to continue to appeal to the consumer of “luxury” as much as the consumer of our particular product or service. If there ever was such a thing as a luxury industry, then it is now endangered, because of the economic situation. More people are thinking twice about any discretionary spending. They are questioning the true value of what they buy, and how it appears to others at a time of increasing hardship. The ability and motivation to buy what is, to some, unnecessarily expensive, will therefore decline. In such a context, luxury must become something meaningful and lasting, providing the most enduring products and experiences to consumers.

Therefore the economic crisis is ushering in a fundamental change in world power and consumer values that moves social and environmental excellence from an option to a category-defining dimension of luxury brands.

The social legitimacy of luxury becomes more challenging in situations of extreme inequality and absolute poverty. Within sustainability there is a principle of fairness and social equity. Some people consider that luxury involves excess, so it could never be moral while there is poverty. That’s quite a conundrum.

If you visit the Taj Mahal this weekend you will not be that far from the border with Madhya Pradesh. If you travel on, UNICEF says that in some villages 6 out of every 10 children you will see are malnourished, like these children, pictured a few months ago.

It’s natural to block out this other reality as we enjoy our own privilege. Because many of us dont know what to do about it.

The two world’s collided last week when the two Slumdog child actors from Mumbai’s slums fronted a fashion show. The success and subject matter of the Slumdog film has raised debates about poverty and child protection, and the role and responsibility of the creative industries, like film. One response to this situation is charity. Designers Ashima and Leena announced last week that a new Jai Ho Foundation will support children like Rubina and Azahruddin.

If done well, charity can help. But it rarely addresses root causes. In my 10 years as a consultant to the UN on development issues I have been constantly reminded of one thing. People with low incomes do not want our charity, but their dignity and opportunity – which basically means good education, a safe environment and decent work. Just like ourselves, no one appreciates pity. But solidarity and support is always welcome.

The economy of Madyha Pradesh has been booming but it doesnt trickle down well unless you have responsible businesses buying from responsible businesses. Therefore the best way to reduce inequality and poverty is for the products and services we make to provide decent work throughout the value chain.

To illustrate I’ll mention one breakthrough British luxury brand. For several years jeweller and anthropologist Pippa Small has been designing jewellery made by fair trade groups. Her range for Nicole Fahri’s store in New Bond Street is produced by a group of slum-dwellers in Nairobi using discarded brass and recycled glass. The product line is helping ensure the workers’ children go to school, has funded a crèche, is teaching them computing skills, and shows them how to run a business. Pippa believes the reason the Farhi range sells so well is, I quote, “because people feel good wearing jewellery that is doing some good, as opposed to exploiting people”. But she also notes that, I quote again, “buyers in big stores often don’t get it. They think that jewellery made in slums equals something horrible and dirty, rather than seeing that giving people skills offers them an opportunity to get out of there.”

I was pleased to find out last night that there are some similar innovations occuring in the high end fashion sector here in India. The brand Bombay Electric are working with WomenWeave, to source materials from women working in villages, so that high end fashion can promote social development.

So we need not ignore. We need not feel guilty. Neither actually helps. Instead, the conundrum can be resolved if luxury comes to embody a fullness of our ability to live in solidarity with everyone we influence. Its ambitious. But are luxury brands not always ambitious?

The last conundrum I’ll explore here is sustainable consumption. Luxury brands are promoting consumerism in countries at a time when we need to reduce consumption in order to avert a climate catastrophe.

We only have one planet don’t we. Yet some aspire to live as if we have 5. If everyone lived like Americans we would need 5 planets of biological resources to support us. But it’s not simply a Western binge. Estimates put Malaysia at 4 planet lifestyles, Dubai at 10. Some research suggests the Indian middle classes now have a carbon footprint higher than the average Briton. The impacts are profound. For thousands of years the river Ganges has been revered. The Himalayan glacier that feeds it is shrinking by 40 meters a year, meaning it could disappear altogether in 20 years, and with it the Ganges in the dry season. Water is precious, to some it can be sacred. The shirts on our backs each took a few thousand litres of water to create. If we cherished them more, we would use less water. As well as less energy and other resources. To cut carbon emissions we have to reduce our consumption of resources. We only have about 10 years to transform our development so we don’t tip the world into catastrophic climate change. If you don’t believe it, you’ve been living in a bubble, and need to read your Herald Tribune.

Some of us are here to work out how better to sell Western brands into this highly complex market. Key to that is promoting a consumer fashion culture in a country where style traditions are centuries old and slow to change. Yet we know our world can’t cope with another billion embracing unbridled consumerism and a throwaway society. It would be an epic tragedy for some of our brightest minds to work on that, at a time when we need their talent to create a sustainable future.

What’s the answer? Become the best. Offer the best environmental option. Luxury brands have the margin and mandate to create the most environmentally friendly products and services. Yesterday Anna Zegna gave you some real examples, as will Stella in a moment. The great thing about luxury brands is that the way consumers relate to them actually prefigures the way we need consumers to relate to all their products. To look after them, to repair them, to see them as becoming vintage not garbage.

So let’s not be pale green, seeking to reduce our environmental impact a little to protect our reputation. That would be understandable, but it wouldn’t be real luxury. Instead, lets seek to create products and services that are actually environmentally restorative. So that by buying them people help the environment. One example is the UN’s Biotrade initiative, which is working with brands to develop skins and other products that create new revenues to pay for the conservation of species and their ecosystems.

Once we have created environmentally restorative products and services, then lets integrate that into the marketing and advertising of them in new markets, to help guide that wave of environmental awareness into more beneficial environmental behaviours. We have the power to shape aspirations and can use it wisely.

My intention in addressing these issues has been to release possible blockages to you being in flow in your your work and life. Because sustainability must start with us.

I am here because I believe that luxury can lead, not lag, in the transition to a fair and sustainable world. Its designers, entrepreneurs and executives can become part of what I term in my new book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement – A movement that is pursuing a transition to a fair and sustainable economy through new approaches to enterprise.

Together with the luxury brands Timothy Han and EcoBoudoir, as well as the UN Biotrade initiative, and luxury marketing expert Marco Bevolo, we are creating an association to support this transition. The Authentic Luxury Association gives you the opportunity to become an expert in the strategic importance of social and environmental excellence, as well as its operational implications. Already over 200 luxury professionals have joined our online network, which you can find at authenticluxury.net

We need not be confounded by this time of global stress, but work towards a new form of luxury that embodies what is personally, socially and environmentally the best of human creativity. The reflection from the late Anthony de Mello helps us see that at this time of strife, our world needs from us simply what we need for ourselves: o be authentic, soulful and purposeful. So thank you, for being, simply, you.”

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THE IDEAS HERE, OR ENGAGE, PLEASE VISIT WWW.AUTHENTICLUXURY.NET

Links to the video of the talk will be posted there.

Posted in ALN, Corporations, Lifeworth, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, Talks, WWF | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Questions to Christians

Posted by jembendell on June 17, 2008

Over the years I have sometimes discussed religion, faith and spirituality with people at parties. I was asked to follow up with someone on this recently, and rather than providing explanations and references, in the first place I am writing down the questions I normally put to someone of faith. I pose these questions to explore with them the depth of their spiritual inquiry.

  • How can you be happy going to heaven knowing others have gone to hell?

  • Might your assumption or yearning for yourself to have an independent existence after death, worthy of being called or experienced as “you”, be a projection of ego consciousness, showing a fixation on your separate identity?

  • Given that you are not meant to worship material idols, why do you worship the bible, or sentences in it, when it is made of human invented things called “words” referring to human invented things called “concepts”

  • In a world of billions of people with their own histories cultures and belief systems, how can you believe you know the one right way, based on divine revelation to one group of people at one moment in time, without being racist or accepting that your God is racist?

  • Given that archaeological evidence from the past 100 years have highlighted how key elements of the biblical story, such as a ‘virgin’ birth, the numbers of disciplines, and some key Jesus teachings, were actually popular myths prior to the supposed lifetime of Jesus, how can you not wish to explore the historical and cultural origins and inventions of your religion?

  • Given the role of the roman empire in influencing what was chosen to be in the bible or be excluded, around 300 AD, shouldn’t you explore not only what was left out of the bible but also what the interests of the romans were in challenging existing spiritualities across europe at that time?

  • Given that those pre Christian European spiritualities, like many other non-Abrahamic spiritualities around the world, did not see a separation between the natural and spiritual realms, might that separation have been functional to forms of organisation and control that enabled those societies using Christianity to conquer more peoples and lands?

  • What might have been lost to our sense of self, community and world, due to that new understanding of natural-spiritual separation, which might be at the root of some of our problems today?

  • Why does your personal sense of joy and peace when you decide that doubts about your religion are mere tests of your faith, and that god transcends human understanding, validate your views and subsequent actions?

When I have some time in a week or two Ill write up the way the discussions normally go, and then the references I can recommend to help people follow up on the issues raised. Usually the questions do require a lot of explanation of the history of spiritualities, the development of religion, and Western notions of concepts and words.. and then alternatives that are as enriching, empowering and socially positive, as a feeling of being loved by “God”.

Posted in My Life, Spirit? | 4 Comments »