Talk: What do we mean by a sustainable future for a creative economy?

Earlier in May I was a panelist talking at a University of Art London event. I had five minutes for a pretty complex question – what do we mean by a sustainable future for a creative economy? – but I boiled it down to 5 points.

It’s in the text of the talk below. Enjoy!

Let’s talk definitions
(1) A sustainable future is one where people can meet their needs without compromising the ability of people in the future to meet their own needs. This is the Brundtland definition of sustainable development.

It is strange that we are threatening our own ability to enjoy the future. It’s a bit like society is an habitual smoker.

How would we know if we were in a sustainable future? If people could realise their potential because their essential needs are met and there are the social and political foundations they need – all within environmental limits.

This second version is important. It’s not about hairshirts and sandals. It is a liberal, market-based democracy position. I’m saying you can have fun, as long as you don’t harm others. I’ve put this in terms of Sen’s capabilities. Forum has turned this sort of thinking, with funding from the Technology Strategy Board, into the Horizons tool.

But how do we get there?
It can be easy to talk in terms of hard, technological solutions. But as a society we will need to be learning:

-open to the data of new experiences
-make sense of a complex world
-gain novel insight
-act on that insight
-and repeat

Therefore (2) getting to sustainable future is a creative act.

What I see in my day job
I work at Forum for the Future to help leading businesses go further, faster on sustainability.

Why are they acting? Because sustainability issues are shaping the context they operate in. Doing nothing represents real risks. Acting now opens exciting opportunities. It is in their long-term interest to act.

What are they doing? I see leading companies doing two things. First, shaping the context so we’re on the path to a sustainable future. Second, innovating to win along that path.

Now, NESTA defines the creative industries as ‘using creative talent for commercial opportunity’.

Therefore (3) there is a massive need and opportunity for the creative economy, in order to:

  • Make sense of complexity through art and culture
  • Shape expectations and desire through advertising and the media
  • Make it easy for individuals to act through design, architecture, and innovation

What does this mean for you?
Bad news: the need for sustainability is unavoidable over the coming decades. So, it is unavoidable in your careers.

Good news: (4) you can make a difference, whatever your role in the creative industries. There is a contribution you can make.

So, what do we mean by a sustainable future for a creative economy?

(1) A sustainable future is one where people can meet their needs without compromising the ability of people in the future to meet their own needs

(2) getting to sustainable future is a creative act.

(3) there is a massive need and opportunity for the creative economy

(4) you can make a difference, whatever your role in the creative industries. 

Which brings me to my final point. Past generations have had enormous challenges to overcome, fascism, communism and more.

So, (5) Building a sustainable future is the task of our generation.

It will be tough – and a great life’s work for us all.

Thank you.

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