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Accelerating the #ImpactImperative – aiming for NET POSITIVE

Keynote speech transcript by Hedda Pahlson-Moller from the LIST TECH DAY 2022

I’m going to take you all on a little journey if you’ll join me…

You wake up one morning… you look out the window and it’s a beautiful day.

But you just don’t feel it. You had a bad night’s sleep. You feel uncomfortable and just ‘off’ - sound familiar?

You walk through your home a bit dazed and out of sorts… stub your toe on the table and grumble some foul words…. It’s going to be one of those days.

Maybe some breakfast would help. But you accidentally knock over the milk carton and make a half-hearted attempt to clean it up...nice stain. The dishwasher is full so you leave the dirty dishes in the sink… You’ll deal with it later. Just not in the mood….

You grumpily respond to some good mornings... ‘whatever’. And stomp off to work grumbling… argh...forgot the keys inside!

Now that I put everyone in a bad mood, let’s go here instead:

Maybe feeling less grumpy now? Funny how easily we can be influenced...

OK so we walk along that beach and admire the view and think our thoughts…. Or just listen to that incessant chatter in our heads that distracts us from being… present.

Feel a bit like relaxing, how about taking a seat? You just miss squashing a little crab that scurries out of the way as you plonk down.

Take a few deep breaths (go ahead). Let your mind wander across the beautiful view….

Feeling a bit munchy? Ah yes, got that protein bar in the pocket for emergencies. You cant help but wonder what actually is inside the ‘natural energy bar’ hmmm..

Wait a second, there's no garbage can. What to do with packaging?

Maybe the little crab can bring it back to its nest and use it for shelter? Wait, do crabs have nests?

Whatever. How do I get back into my house without keys?

Ok let’s zoom out and get some perspective.

We are finally generally familiar with the concept of a footprint – the mark we make on this planet.

While we absent-mindedly meander through our daily lives we leave… imprints.

Big and small, sometimes deep. Our presence is rarely unaccounted for.

Sometimes it’s leftover spills or unwashed dishes from our grumpy morning.. other times it’s discarded wrappers and squashed creatures on the beach.

And it’s not always physical the marks that we make. Our words and actions have their own imprint.

This morning when we stomped around all grumpy and out of sorts, we snapped at people, threw dirty looks.. maybe an unnecessary gesture or two. The child, spouse, friend, colleague or random passer-by we addressed will be impacted.. a big ole unhappy shoe mark on their lives.

Do you ever consider what your real footprint is?

It requires some self-awareness to recognize harmful behavior – even with zero bad intentions whatsoever.

Consciousness is both a gift and a burden.

We have to recognize the problems to be able to act.

We are becoming more savvy at measuring our impact on this planet – in terms of carbon emissions, waste, biodiversity loss…

Science and technology have given us tools to track and monitor critical data – not just on overall systemic challenges, but even our own contributions – by region, by country, by company, even by individual.

Did you know an American fridge consumes more energy per year than an average person in many countries? Or that the production of 1 kilo of chocolate requires around 20,000 liters of water. Ouch.

But there is so much that we do NOT measure that has a meaningful impact.

What are the ripple effects of our actions and non-actions - and what really matters?

Let me change tracks and take us from the feet up to our hands.

It’s another image, and a powerful one at that: our handprint.

Unlike our footprint that we inadvertently make as we tread through life, our hand print is purposeful.. We place it with intention and consideration.

What is your handprint – what are you proud of giving back?

Perhaps more than just reducing your own personal carbon footprint or waste, how do you influence others (family or colleagues) to follow? Or instead of only limiting your electricity consumption, what about putting energy back on the grid?

Speaking of putting energy back on the grid, have you ever noticed the effect of giving an unsolicited smile or compliment to a stranger? Can you imagine how much that pays forward?

Recognizing the inevitable ratio of positive to negative impact is what we call ‘The Impact Imperative’ - it is the awareness that we are constantly creating both.

The ratio of good to bad or intentional to unintentional is something we must endeavor to continuously improve.

Our goal, my friends, should not be net ZERO – it should be net POSITIVE.

Let us re-set objectives .. and expectations. We want to go beyond reducing harm to leaving a positive imprint – to more hand than foot if you will.

Our basic instinct will always be to put things in compartments – or even better: binaries.

The world feels safer and easier to navigate.

It was Hans Rosling who shared this fundamental human behaviour in his book FACTFULNESS.

He was a Swedish physician and academic - wise, sweet and a bit nerdy like other Swedes I know…

He was always petitioning us to recognize the good, or at least the better. And he provided data-driven, evidence-based arguments for the improvements and positive trends that are levelling the global playing field.

I think Hans might be a bit disappointed to see the set-backs we’ve faced in the pandemic and now war next door. His most compelling statistic was the steady decrease of the poverty rate over the last 50 years.. which suddenly went in the wrong direction.

But he always managed to find optimistic arguments and data to support it, so I follow in his footsteps – no, no his HAND print.

So let’s talk about the… S-word: Sustainability – it’s almost TOO broad to fathom. And our brains struggle with big and broad.

The Economist wrote recently that they consider it a ‘wooly’ term (like innovation by the way) – there is no opposite, no antonym. So it becomes fuzzy and loosely applied.

That’s when you get the color-washing – green-washing, pink-shading, rainbow washing - when marketing teams spray-paint their logos with green and diversity claims.

The only binary you can squeeze out of sustainability is planet versus people… and that’s an unfortunate dichotomy as they are both intrinsically interconnected. The zero-sum game approach to addressing planetary vs societal health is misleading and counter-productive.

We cannot solve climate change without addressing the human element – both our contribution to the problems and our buy-in to the solutions.

An attempt at combining people and planet approach is the popular ESG acronym that gives us a few helpful compartments to tackle the S-word. But our focus tends to stick on the first letter.. the E = Environment.

There’s an obvious reason for that – and it’s not just media spotlighting climate change (Hans by the way was not a fan of media because they focus on dramatizing the bad and ugly). We tend to stick to environment and climate metrics because it has the most readily available data for measuring. It’s concrete and accessible – we like that.

But If we want systemic change we need to think in SYSTEMS. People and Planet function in synergistic systems. We shouldn't separate them.

What we want is this:

Looks good, right?

It’s actually the sweet spot we are aiming for – what Kate Raworth calls “the safe and just space for humanity”

The outer ring of the donut are the planetary ceilings – boundaries we should not transgress to ensure a healthy planet.

And the inner ring of the donut are social floors – basic human rights that need to be safeguarded.

It’s quite simple and logical. And it’s a doughnut shape – very pleasing to the eye.

We used to think the world was flat and then we had a collective ‘duh’ moment when we figured out that was wrong. Now it’s high time we re-evaluate the economic theories and misguided thinking that made this mess.

I am effectively asking you to UNLEARN certain concepts.

· Shareholder supremacy needs to be replaced by STAKEHOLDER.

· We need to strive for REGENERATIVE systems and not exploitation.

We have adopted a mindless approach to take, make, consume.. and waste.

My friends - the world is NOT flat. And we need to think CIRCULAR

And speaking of circular, maybe like the round arm puffs kids use to keep them safe while swimming - we need to WEAR that darn donut.

Apropos useful things to wear, we have LENSES to see the world with different perspectives – because we cannot change what we cannot recognize (like self-awareness we mentioned earlier).

Many of us in the older age brackets have our long-distance glasses.. you know, the binoculars for big picture. And then we have our thick close-range glasses to read fine print and … smartphones. So let’s take some helpful lenses to explore the wooly sustainability space.

There’s of course the ESG lens (you all know it by now) – effectively basic hygiene. Let’s make sure we are limiting our harm and improving our performance in these categories at least. Deal?

Then we can level up and use the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a powerful framework identifying global challenges. You can choose 1 or 2, or 4 of all 17 of them. You can track and contribute to any of them - energy, healthcare, education.. peace… it’s all in there.

We can get even more sophisticated and add the diversity lenses – begin to integrate the colors, shapes, sizes, genders, perspectives of the world we live and begin to reflect this in the ivory towers of decision making.

Ivory towers I realize is quite an appropriate image as both the shape and color echoes who is currently in them (I will let that sink in...).

Ok, let’s go have some more fun – we can get our light saber out and put on a JEDI lens– JEDI = Justice Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (key word is inclusion).

You need more than good intentions. You have to measure your impact.. and manage that ratio we talked about earlier – the impact imperative.

And I will tell you a secret – the most important lens you can use is … EMPATHY.

Because feeling beyond yourself is a key to unlocking change.

So let’s ask a fitting question regarding the role of technology and digitalization in this just and safe transition we aspire to.

How can technology build – or at least support – maintaining that donut shape?

We have a tendency to believe or wish that tech will solve .. everything.

But it is an ENABLER.

And it needs to enable US. You, me… him.. definitely her. also them!

With intentionality focused on solving societal challenges, we can accelerate with data and technology. We really don’t need another dating app or street-fight video game.

We need to create transparency and accountability on critical issues that impact our lives and our planet. What we need are tools that help us manage our energy usage and reduce waste, that ensures our safety and wellbeing, so we ALL have the opportunity to thrive.

If you have been gifted with a scientific mind and education and tech savvy to boot, please harness that privilege to help us address REAL problems. And… we will need a human touch of humility and learning to pivot when our solutions are not effective or need improvement.

And speaking of human touch, to achieve the transition, we will of course need leadership.

Most people are leaders in one way or another.

You have influence, you have power.. you have AGENCY. Please don’t wait for ‘empowerment’ – you don’t need permission to contribute to solutions.

You just need to recognize how important you are and the power you already wield to make the necessary changes.

We are working with collective blindspots. So grab those lenses we talked about earlier. Lean in. Leverage all the tools and influence you have - and make your own contribution personally, professionally and most certainly if you have influence over capital flows – because investment is a very powerful tool in this transition.

(But I won't bore you with a speech on sustainable finance

I repeat the most important messages:

  • We need to get beyond NET ZERO as a goal

  • We need to move beyond a lighter footprint

  • We need to aim for net POSITIVE and use our handprints to lead us to a brighter more hopeful future.

And as a reminder to our wee secret today, a good dose of empathy and kindness will bring us so much further and faster on this journey.

TIME, my friends.. is NOW.

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