Author Archives: osprinkel

The power of making in helping us to think differently

Nike have a new initiative – ‘Nike Makers’.  Nike never beat about the bush.  Or think small. “We’re here to unveil a new age of design. One that is about making better things and making things better.”

The starting point is materials. They are releasing the API for the Nike Sustainable Materials Index so that makers of code can create apps which will let makers of things design using more sustainable materials.

The video to introduce the initiative is classic Nike too. I quote some excerpts here, but it is 1 minute 32 seconds that goes by very quickly, so take a look.

“Make no mistake.

We hate sustainability.

We hate that people don’t even want to hear the word anymore.

We hate that it has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes.

We’re over it.

We’re here to unveil a new age of design.

It’s about making better things and making things better.


One that gives the power back to makers of things, not makers of decisions.”

And so it continues. The words resonate with me in so ways. I love the line: “We hate that it (sustainability) has become a management decision that is passed down like a pair of second-hand shoes”. It sums up how sustainability is managed in many companies, and how it is received by the people that it is passed down to, rather than it being something that is driven by the people who ‘make things’, those people who get their hands dirty everyday.

The emphasis on the makers of things led me to think back to an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum last year – “The Power of Making”. The exhibition was a powerful celebration of the skill of craftspeople. The essays in the catalogue confirm the wisdom of Nike’s approach – and reinforces the idea that power is truly in the hands of makers. I say hands deliberately, as one of the re-occurring themes in the essays is about how by making things, you open yourself up to think differently. As Martina Margetts says, “Making is…a process whereby mind, body and imagination are integrated in the practice of thought through action”.

Dan Lepard, a baker, said the same thing at a talk that I went to: that using your hands open up different parts of the brain. This is so true. And this is why, when I run workshops, I find that even if participants have a simple activity to do, such as cutting and sticking pictures from a magazine to make a collage, it opens up minds to think in a different way than that if they had just been asked to write words on a flipchart.

We all need to find ways of bringing more making, and less thinking, into our work lives – and, paradoxically, we’ll find that it opens up the new ways of thinking that we are searching for – in order to make things better.


What is a sustainable brand?

My first post on this site looked at the definition of sustainability. The definition that I put forward was:

“Sustainability is a balance between the financial, human, and environmental. It is about living your values and acting with integrity, responsibility and generosity. It is about being in a community of discussion, dialogue and action – because no person or company is an island and everything is interconnected.”

Yet this blog is about sustainable brands, and so I have been thinking about what the definition of a sustainable brand might be. The answer that I have arrived at is as follows, and builds on my definition of sustainability:

A sustainable brand is one that has a meaning or purpose that goes beyond making money, instead seeking to increase the wellbeing of humanity and all life on our planet. It sees people as creativists, not consumers. And it understands the lifecycle and environmental impact of all its activities, so that it can seek to continuously innovate and reduce its impact to a minimum.

In summary, the three main elements are: purpose, people as creativists, and taking action on lifecycle impacts. Or to reduce even further: creating + connecting + acting. I will take a brief look at each of these three elements in turn:

1) Purpose

Santiago Gowland, VP of Brand Development and Global Corporate Responsibility at Unilever wrote “A lack of alignment around purpose slowly erodes attempts to be proactive toward any solution.” And we need companies that are creating solutions. There is increasing acknowledgement that just making money, to the exclusion of all other aims, is no longer good enough. Here is Umair Haque on the subject in an extract from his Harvard Review blog:

“The untapped capacity to create significance (and all the stuff that follows on from it — higher purpose, a sense of meaning, animating passion, intrinsic motivation) has never been more important: I’d gently suggest it’s the wellspring of 21st century advantage. As I’ve discussed at length both here and in my book, The New Capitalist Manifesto, the real roots of this crisis are that 20th century institutions, whether banks, governments, or corporations, are becoming more and more useless to people, communities, and society. They’re extracting wealth from them, instead of creating enduring, authentic value for them.”

A sustainable brand will be focusing on how to create enduring, authentic value – for the long-term and for all people.

2) People as creativists, not consumers
A sustainable brand is one that is forming a new type of relationship with its stakeholders: its employees, its customers, the communities in which it operates. The old model was one based of passivity: employees did what they were told within the framework of the company hierarchy; customers bought what the advertising suggested that they buy; communities got a hand-out if they were lucky.

In the past year and a half, I have been developing my thinking around my Creativist Manifesto. The manifesto states that the biggest choice that we have to make in society today is to be a creativist or a consumer. A consumer is passive and motivated by extrinsic values, and this is damaging to individuals, to society and to the planet. A creativist, in contrast, is active in creating their own identity and motivated by intrinsic values.

Companies, in different ways, are beginning to recognise the shift from consumers to creativists. For example, Skanska, the construction Group, in an article about the future of energy, talks about ‘prosumers’. It gives the example of a housing development in Heritage Springs, California, which claims to be the largest solar-powered community in the US. When the system produces more electricity than the homes are producing, households are given a credit back to their electricity bill. In this way each household becomes an ‘energy farmer’.

“This development revitalizes the term “prosumer,” coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler, who in the 1980s defined the prosumer as someone who blurs the distinction between a consumer and a producer. Energy Farmers are prosumers of the 21st century – urban citizens that are stakeholders in a local energy community. Systems like that of Heritage Springs build an intrinsic understanding of electricity by directly involving, engaging and empowering citizens in the abstract concept that is electricity use.”

The meaning of ‘prosumer’ is itself now not distinct, sometimes meaning ‘professional consumer’, and in my view ‘creativist’ is a more accurate term to use here – households which are not just consuming electricity, but actively creating it. Whichever term you choose to use, the principal is the same, and the concept will become more widespread across different sectors. It is the companies who both recognise and encourage the shift from consumers to creativists who will be leaders on the road to sustainability.

And in order to respond to, and be ahead of, the constantly changing world that we live in, companies need their employees to be creativists, not consumers – not passively along for the ride and their monthly paycheck, but creativists, bringing their creativity, their passions, their ideas to work.

3) Taking action on lifecycle
Companies such as InterfaceFLOR and Unilever are recognising that lifecycle analysis is essential to understanding the impacts of a company’s products, and therefore being able to identify where innovation is required in order to reduce impacts. It is this rigour and understanding which will provide companies with a solid base to innovate from, and allow them to take a real leadership position. For the best intentions and the best connections amount to nothing without taking action.

What is your view? What makes a sustainable brand? Please share your thoughts and examples.

What will 9 billion sustainable lifestyles look like in 2050?

In 2050, there are going to be 9 billion people on the planet, according to current projections. And the choice that we have is what we kind of sustainability we want because as Dr Alan Knight has said ‘sustainability is inevitable… unsustainability is unsustainable’.

What is your vision for 9 billion sustainable lifestyles in 2050? Who needs to be leading this vision – and action towards this defining this vision? What would be your 10 focus points for a sustainable lifestyle?

Read the full post at:

What does sustainability do?

There is the noun ‘sustainability’. There is the adjective ‘sustainable’. But what does sustainability actually do? What is the verb, the action word? Sustain doesn’t quite cut it. So much that is written about sustainability is, as a friend of mine would say, ‘blah blah’, and one of the main reasons is that it is packed with abstract nouns, and short on doing words.

Read the rest of this article at

Questions, values, stories

Questions, stories, values

The questions that we ask determine the stories that we create, tell and live. The stories that we share reveal our underlying values. Our values, in turn, shape the questions that we ask.

It is now frequently being said that we need to look again at the questions that we are asking, create new stories and get back in touch with the values that matter to us. In order to do this, we need to learn to ask the big questions, which will unlock the powerful stories, and enable us to share a common ground of values.

If we use this model, the effect that this will have in our communities where we live or work is:

  • to engage people in conversation, through the questions that are asked, and the questions that these questions provoke
  • to unlock motivation to act through the sharing of powerful stories
  • to generate ongoing action based on a collective sharing and understanding of values.

These are the activities that we need to be engaged in if we are going to meet the challenges that we currently face, such as ensuring that every business, organisation and community is in carbon descent in the next 700 days. Below, I will explore each of these three areas, their inter-connection and how they are key to driving action.


“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”. (Albert Einstein).

Einstein knew a thing or two about solving problems. Yet asking penetrating questions is frequently overlooked in the rush to get to answers – even if the answer won’t be clear because the question is not clear.

In their paper, ‘The Art of Powerful Questions’, Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs give examples of powerful questions, and the key outcomes that resulted from those questions. Watson and Crick asked the question ‘What might DNA look like in 3D form?’. The outcome was the discovery of the double helix. Ray Kroc asked ‘Where can I get a good hamburger on the road?’. The outcome was the creation of McDonalds. Powerful questions are the drivers of innovation.

We need to become skilled in asking these powerful questions if we are going to make the shift that is required in the way that we live and the way that we do business. Marilee Goldberg in her book, ‘The Art of the Question’ said ‘A paradigm shift occurs when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered from outside it’. Dr Alan Knight, founder of and a member of the Sustainable Development Commission, spoke at the Goodenough College Challenge of Sustainability conference on June 13th 2009. He said that the question that was going to be asked at the Copenhagen conference in December was ‘How can we reduce our carbon impact by 80% by 2050?’ However, simply doing less of what we are currently doing is not going to achieve the levels of carbon reduction that are required. He therefore posed a new question, ‘What do we want 9 billion sustainable lifestyles to look like in 2050?’ There is currently no vision for what 9 billion sustainable lifestyles will look like. Surely, if you are embarking on a strategy, you would have a vision of what you are setting out to achieve? How can we undertake a mission of this size, without having a vision? The major piece of the jigsaw is missing.

The nature of the question determines the level of engagement as well. What story would you prefer to hear – or tell – or act on: the story of how to reduce carbon use by 80%, or the story of 9 billion sustainable lifestyles? What appeals to the imagination about either of those questions? The story of 9 billion sustainable lifestyles grabs my interest because of the human aspect.


Do you know what the secret to the Obama campaign was? Stories. And it wasn’t the Obama story parroted by people up and down the country. It was individuals telling their own story and answering two questions: ‘Why are you here?’ (taking part in the Obama campaign). And ‘what matters to you?’ Obama Camp trained the volunteers who mobilized the volunteers at grassroots level. The first thing that volunteers learned how to do was to tell their own story in two minutes. If they could tell their own stories powerfully, about what had moved them to become part of the campaign, then they in turn could motivate and inspire others to get involved.

If powerful questions are under-utilised, then stories are absent too. We need to begin sharing our stories with each other as a way of explaining why issues are important to us, and setting the context for the action that we are taking, if we are going to inspire others to do the same. To be reminded of the power of story in action, watch Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 – he seamlessly links personal story, with wider values, with the challenges faced by the country, with the urgency of a call to action. Marshall Ganz was one of the architects behind the 2008 Obama campaign, and you can hear him talk about the principles behind the campaign and the importance of stories in this video.


The third component of the circle is values. Marshall Ganz has written:

“The irony is that access to our moral sources is exactly what we need to create the possibility of winning. One of the key lessons of the social movements of the past — of the left and of the right – is that their power grew out of the moral energy of their people (not just their organizers), their readiness to take risk, and their resourcefulness – all of which was rooted in turn, not in “self-interest” in any obvious sense, but in the values at stake.” (Read full article here.)

If we share stories about why we are taking action, then we are at the same time sharing the values which are driving our action. A shared sense of values is more likely to result in ongoing action, as the values provide a deep-seated foundation. As we go through the cycle of questions, stories, values, the questions will begin to change and become more powerful as we reconnect with our values and what is important to us. And our actions will grow in power too.

What are you doing for the next 700 days?


Crow tipi, Hay-on-Wye

Crow tipi, Hay-on-Wye

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Hay Festival at the end of May. Known originally for being a literature festival, it has broadened into a wider festival of ideas. And, for the second year, the Festival welcomed Hay on Earth. Hay on Earth is an innovative type of conference, bringing experts and stakeholders from a diverse range of organisations together and using systems approaches to create practical plans and projects to tackle climate change, carbon reduction and the need to build security of food supply.

Andy Middleton of TYF/EcoSapiens who ran the conference emphasised the importance of asking powerful questions – a subject that I will return to in a later post. Andy effectively focused our attention on the task at hand by pointing out that every business, organisation and community in the UK needs to be in carbon descent by 2012. That equates to about 700 working days away. And there is no plan. 

So my question is – ‘What are you doing for the next 700 days?’ A washing line hung at the back of the stage, with markers from now to 2012, provided an effective, mind-focusing backdrop, as we worked on generating ideas on how we could effectively engage communities in action. And at the end of the two days that I attended, we hung our ‘to dos’ on the washing line. Ideas ranged from allotment projects to ‘community chests’ to fund social enterprises to hubs to facilitate connections.

One of the key themes that emerged for me that was that in order to effectively engage communities, there needs to be a sense of community built on shared values in the first place. Again, I will return to this theme. One project that is in place already is Green Valleys, which aims to enable community groups across Wales to reduce their carbon emissions and generate electricity and revenue from hydro power, one of the most abundant natural resources. Here’s to many more innovative projects such as this in the next 700 days.

Reskilling for sustainability

I am now writing a weekly blog on the relaunched SustainabilityForum.

My first post is on the reskilling that is required for sustainability – and identifies listening as a key skill that we need to develop.

Read the full blog post here:

I will, of course, continue blogging on a weekly basis on this site too.

The Creativist Manifesto

A quiet revolution is happening.

If you listen carefully, you can hear it all around you.

There is President Obama, saying that young people need to be making things, not just consuming them.

Design commentators are talking about ‘an age of participation’, in which we participate, not just consume.

Community movements such as Transition Towns are groups of local people, from Brixton to California to Australia, working together to devise creative, practical solutions to climate change and peak oil.

Chief Executives, such as Andy Bonds at ASDA, are saying that we are moving from DIY to CIY – create it yourself. But he still talks about us as consumers. And consumers are passive.

From consumer to creativist

A sustainable society begins with who we are.

Many of the routes proposed for sustainable development are ‘sticking plasters’ in that they do not address the fundamental reasons why our current way of life is not sustainable. One of the main reasons for this is our disconnection from our values and our gifts, from our communities and from the earth.

We are labeled as consumers. That is our identity. Our identity as consumers means that we are defining ourselves by what we do and have, not by who we are. Our identity as consumers has been manufactured so that there is a market for all the goods that are mass produced. In a sustainable society, we cannot defined by as consumers. We need a new identity. I am proposing that our new identity is as creativists.

Creativists actively create their identity, their place in the world, based on an understanding of their gifts, their values and the contribution that they can make. They are defined by who they are, not what they do or have. And by operating in the space of ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ or ‘have’, we open up new possibilities to create a new world. And we need to unlock our creativity to imagine a different way of living and working.

As creativists, we first need to reconnect with who we are. If we reconnect at an individual level, we can then begin to reconnect with our communities, with our work and with the earth.

Walt Disney said ‘We make money, so we can create things’. Most companies create things to make money. Creativist individuals and businesses make money so that they can create things. Things which are valuable, useful, beautiful – and sustainable. Creativists are not just creators, but they are part of a collective belief system, they are activists as well.

The Creativist Manifesto brings together thinking from different perspectives including philosophy, psychology, sociology and management theory. It looks at looks at the evidence that we are beginning to shift from a consumer to a creativist society, asks what the implications are, and questions how we can accelerate this shift – as individuals, as communities, as businesses – in order to speed the transition to a more sustainable society.

I am currently in the process of writing The Creativist Manifesto. I would love to hear your thoughts, observations and contributions to the debate – please get in touch.

‘Now the ears of my ears awake…’

I talked in a earlier post about the need for a new language of sustainability. Apart from a few forward looking businesses, poetry doesn’t usually have a place in the business world. However, poetry is one way for us to awake or re-awake to the beauty of language and the world around us.

It strikes me that in most business writing about sustainability and ‘green’ issues, there is a distinct lack of connection with the natural, for example invoking the senses. This lack of connection encourages us to continue to view the earth as something separate from us, rather than the source of life which we need to cherish. If we do want to engage people (whether in their capacity as employees, members of the general public, suppliers etc) then I would suggest that we need to encourage people to start to re-connect with the world around them.

To give you an example, I picked Starbucks at random to see what language they were using (I must be in need of a coffee). It turns out that their mission is ‘To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.’ This is a fine mission statement. And the use of the word ‘spirit’ suggests that they would be open to appealing to the human spirit. They have some nice features on their ‘Shared planet’ webpages – for example being able to take a look around a green store. It all sounds worthy, such as recycling coffee grounds and using reclaimed materials.

But it is hardly living up to their mission statement of ‘inspiring’. Why not take the language one stage further? When talking about coffee grounds, there is an ideal opportunity to appeal to the sense of smell – the coffee grounds which produced the heady scent of freshly brewed coffee, can now be used to help your garden grow – imagine the scent of the flowers filling your garden. Or when talking about using reclaimed wood, why not then talk about the forests around Seattle, the experience of walking in the forest? ‘This is what inspires us, which makes us want to preserve the forests. What inspires you?’ Of course, the hard facts need to be included as well, but there is a place for the spirit.

I will leave you with ee cumming’s poem ‘I thank You God for most this amazing’. If every Chief Executive were to recite this on their way into work, what difference would this make to the way business was conducted?

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)


how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?


(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

All the world’s a stage

I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity’. (Douglas R Hofstadter)

Reading these words, quoted by John Simmons in his inspiring book ‘Dark Angels – How writing releases creativity at work’, I was reminded of Ben Todd. Ben is the Executive Director of the Arcola Theatre in London, and he spoke recently at UK Aware in his capacity as one of the London Leaders. He explained how the Arcola Theatre has sustainability as one of the three key strands of its work, along with art and community.

Constraints fuelling creativity

Now, when they are planning a new show, the theatre will ask ‘Could you power your show using this fuel cell?’ And the theatre group will see as this as a new challenge to their creativity – demonstrating the point that what is a seeming constraint can fuel creativity. It is this attitude that business needs to bring to sustainability as well.

The rational and the visionary

Ben also made the interesting point that they need to combine the rational with the visionary in their work to incorporate sustainability into the theatre. Waste and heating fall into the category of the ‘rational’ – areas in which the theatre needs to take action as they have the biggest impact in terms of sustainability. Lighting and set design are in the category of the ‘visionary’. In footprint terms they don’t have so much impact, but because of their high visibility for the audience, making changes here will have the biggest influence in raising awareness amongst the public, demonstrating the Arcola’s ethos and inspiring people to think what they can do. A useful distinction for companies to bear in mind.