Adopting a sustainable lifestyle isn’t easy and often confusing. I enjoyed learning some of Wayne’s practical tips.
Wayne is the author of his latest book Thriving: The Breakthrough Movement to Regenerate Nature, Society and the Economy. He currently serves as a head tutor, fellow, and lecturer at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.
How do you practice sustainability?
This has been my life and my career for more than 30 years. I got involved in the whole sustainability movement when I was a business student, which was ahead of the Rio Earth Summit in the early 1990s.
I even went to a conference in Japan as a representation of youth giving our voice in a meeting with global leaders.
So I’ve been trying to participate since then, mainly working with business as a consultant and practical academic. A lot of what I do is find ways to help companies integrate sustainability concepts. Now, I suggest we go further than that and also integrate thriving into their strategies.
How can we start thriving or regenerating nature?
Let me start by explaining why I’m somewhat critical of sustainability. Firstly, the concept of sustainability itself—which is to sustain something or continue to endure—is not clear to people.
Secondly, our approach to sustainability is not working. In fact, the challenges that we’re trying to solve, like climate change, biodiversity loss, income inequality, social injustice, etc., have been getting worse over the past decades.
Thirdly, sustainability is boring. It’s not inspiring for people to say that they want to put effort into making something survive. Human beings want to thrive, and nature is also designed that way.
So it’s more about a level of ambition to say that we want to get a positive future, sometimes called a net positive or a regeneration agenda.
There’s this saying, ‘if you shoot for the stars, you might hit the moon.’ I think we’ve been shooting for the moon and barely getting off the ground. As a result, we’ve been trading off economic thriving against ecosystem destruction.
What would be a good start to thrive based on your framework?
It turns out that six breakdowns are happening. We want to turn those into breakthroughs by finding where the system evolves into a higher functioning state, where we get innovation and a positive outcome.
The first two of these transitions are in nature. We have to go from the degradation of ecosystems (mainly caused by land use change, farming, and pollution) to the restoration of ecosystems through an ecosystem services economy.
This means using the market to help nature do what it would have done if we hadn’t gotten in the way. Examples include cleaning water, regulating the climate, pollinating crops, etc.
This transition is what we were failing at a catastrophic level. We’ve lost two-thirds of wildlife populations since 1970. If you think about that, it took 3.8 billion years to build up the diversity of life on this planet, but it took us just 50 years to wipe out two-thirds of that.
The second one is going from the depletion of natural resources to renewable resources. That’s both using renewable energy and going to a circular economy. This means that everything needs to be input into something else.
Either we use biological materials that can harmlessly go back to nature or technical materials manufactured essentially, like chemicals, plastics, metals, etc. But then they have to go back into manufacturing. They have to go in a continuous loop.
The second social transition we need is going from disease to revitalization of our health. This can be achieved through the well-being economy.
The data shows that about 70% of people die from non-infectious diseases like heart attacks, strokes, cancers, and diabetes. Most are lifestyle-related diseases, and so 40% of them are preventable.
By changing our lifestyle for the better—moving away from toxified environments, improving our diets, moving towards more plant-based less meat, improving our activities, performing more exercise, and less smoking—we can radically improve our health outcomes.
This applies to mental health too. Today, one in every ten people suffers from depression or severe anxiety. Sadly, this number continues to go up. Thus it is also a big challenge in the second transition related to society.
The last two are economic transitions. The first is going from disconnection to rewiring through technology in the digital economy.
The final transition is from disruption (through crises and catastrophes) to resilience (which allows us to endure and bounce back after crises). We can do this through the risk economy because it’s mainly about minimizing the risks and helping people to adapt and bounce back after crises.
Are there any other ways that we can do to thrive?
Absolutely. In fact, we need solutions that present more than one pathway to thriving, and every part of our society should be moving in this direction.
As individuals, there are many choices we can make, mainly about what we buy, how we get around, how we power ourselves, and what we eat. These are the five things over which we have control.
For what we eat, we can cut down on meat (especially red meat) as it can cause a massive reduction in your carbon footprint. For how we travel, we can move towards electric vehicles, flying less, and making offset flights.
For what we buy, we can stick with organic fairtrade or sustainably certified products. For where we work, we want to work in a purpose-driven organization. This accelerates solutions for the problems we want to solve.
Besides, we also have to choose how we power our lives or where we get our energy from. This is where we have the choice to go 100% electric and 100% renewable energy. This is also where we need to reduce our energy consumption.
Aside from the things we can do as individuals, we also have our role in business or work. This is where a lot of innovation can come, and we need purpose-driven companies that want to bring solutions and accelerate these transitions.
Since all sectors have to make these massive transitions now, governments also need to participate. They must set the standard for a better future and create strong policies to give us the targets we need to aim for. They also need to facilitate strengthening the incentives for businesses to get there.
The last area we also need to focus on is leveraging the power of social movements. We can all join and amplify the voice of social movements aligned with our passions. The leaders in power should make the kinds of changes we need urgently.
What are your favorite resources to stay on top of sustainability?
One media resource I like is Fast Company magazine, which mainly discusses innovation for social and environmental change. Here in the UK, we also have The Guardian, which is always very progressive on these issues.
In the United States, one nice resource I like is GreenBiz. Aside from this, we can also find great organizations like the World Resources Institute and the World Economic Forum, which produce good reports.
I hope you enjoyed my talk with Wayne and that you took away some value. If you want to listen to the entire interview, click play below or head over to your favorite platform (Apple, Spotify, or Google.)
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