I just had the pleasure and privilege of doing the opening keynote at Sustainable Brands Bangkok 2016. The “Sustainable Brands” concept has truly spread around the world. What’s brilliant about KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz‘s creation is the way it attracts a broad business audience: not just the “true believers” in sustainability and CSR, but also the curious, and the mildly skeptical. It inspires them all to engage — and engagement is step 1.
sustainablebrandsbkk-princessIf my speech was an energizing waker-upper (I had the audience do a couple of short change games with me), the following talk — delivered with compellingly serene sincerity — was a call to reflection and deep thought. A member of Bhutan’s royal family, HRH Princess Kezang Choden Wangchuk (pictured, from my Instagram account), focused on ethics and called on businesses to consider their “ultimate purpose,” in the context of Bhutan’s “national happiness” concept. Whenever I’ve lectured on ethics (and I have), I doubt I have ever received the rapturous attention that this crowd seemed to give Her Royal Highness. Then she floated out of the auditorium, with an entourage of a dozen people, as though she had been urgently recalled to the Himalayas. (Probably she had some Thai royals to visit.)
During the speeches that came after, it finally got through to me what this conference is about. I thought “Activating Purpose” was just the conference’s title. Somehow I’d missed the fact that “Purpose” is the new “CSR,” or “sustainability,” or “corporate citizenship”. It’s not just a word, but a concept — though still a “fragile” one, said Wander Meijer of Globescan. He showed data that confirmed what you might guess about how much the average person in our world (in 25 countries) trusts the average corporation: exactly 0. (Fortunately the number is not negative, which is possible on their scale.) Corporations that are identified with some sense of purpose that is not just making money do better, in pure return-on-investment terms, than those that don’t, just as has been previously proven for sustainability, CSR etc.
But “Purpose” is “the new black” in the sense that everyone can wear it, it looks good on everyone, it’s not hard to explain. In some ways, sustainable development has gotten easier to digest as a company, because you can just download the 17 SDGs. “Use them all, or pick some subset, and make that your purpose. Easy!” said Steve Young, chair of the Caux Round Table. But he also acknowledged that explaining the 17 goals and 169 sub-goals (or “Targets” in UN-speak) is probably more complicated than just saying “Purpose.” Since he also managed to tie the financial advantages and the SDGs to essentially all the great religious and moral traditions of the world — in 15 minutes! — I think could manage to make anything look easy.
As I write this, my moment at Sustainable Brands has actually just begun. I still have a workshop to lead, and there is another day of speeches, and there are books to sign (I was launching Parachuting Cats into Borneo in Asia here). But it’s already introduced me to a whole new strain of the sustainability movement — where I’ve lived for three decades — that I did not really know existed. I guess that’s one reason why I’m here.
Nice to have a sense of Purpose.

offworldI woke up early this morning, pre-dawn. Storm, wind and rain. For some reason, I had a strong urge to watch a bit of the classic film “Blade Runner”. I was surprised to note that the future it depicts so compellingly is dated November 2019 — just around the corner. Fortunately, our world does not yet look the way it was portrayed in that dystopian vision from 1982, full of smoke and flames and killer living robots. But in some ways, Ridley Scott got it right.

This same morning, I read an article about Elon Musk and his plans to send paying customers off in a giant rocket to colonize Mars, in less than 10 years. Link to article & video

“Start a new life off-world, in the colonies!” says a big advertisement blimp in the opening sequences of “Blade Runner”. (See photo) Maybe we’ll be seeing ads like that pretty soon.

And if the Republican candidate wins the US election, I’m betting Elon Musk gets a line of ticket buyers to Mars outside his door, longer than the queue for a new Tesla.

hillaryclintonforpresident“The word ‘debate’ loses its meaning when one candidate is serious and the other is a vacuous bully.” So wrote the New York Times in today’s edition, and I could not agree more. I am breaking with my usual habit of staying publicly neutral on US electoral politics and strongly endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. I hope you will too, and if you are a US citizen, please be sure to vote, and please encourage others to vote. This is the most crucial US election of our lifetime — I certainly hope the ugliness of the campaign and the risk factor attached to a major candidate (the Republican candidate in this case) never gets this bad again. The Times’ editorial endorsement echoes my own thinking.

Read the New York Times endorsement of Hillary Clinton

greeneconomyvote-switzerlandYesterday, Switzerland held a remarkable vote. The question: whether to legally limit the country to living within its share of the ecological limits of our planet, by 2050. Currently, Switzerland uses three times the sustainable level of resources; so passing this law would have required the whole country, legally, to start a march toward physical sustainability and reduce its use of resources by 2/3, by 2050. (I learned about all this from Swiss-born Mathis Wackernagel, one of the originators of the ecological footprint and head of Global Footprint Network, because it did not even register in the global news.)
A couple of months ago, the “Green Economy” referendum was leading in the polls by 61%. But then came the attacks and scare-mongering, with opponents saying it would lead to “cold showers” and the end of cocoa imports. (Say goodbye to chocolate! In Switzerland!) The Swiss council of ministers advised the public against supporting the proposal. Support fell … but in the end, 36% still voted for it. And in Geneva (where there are many UN and international offices) it actually passed by 51%.
Was this a loss? Mathis, an optimist like me, does not see it that way. This is the first time *ever* that a whole nation has grappled with this fantastically difficult problem. More than a third of them were ready to make that commitment, despite the fear-mongering. And one of the world’s major thought-leading cities, Geneva, voted yes.
There is far, far to go, but just the fact that this issue of reducing our footprint on the Earth is getting serious, national-level attention of this kind in an advanced democracy is cause for at least a little celebration … and to Mathis, whose work no doubt inspired the whole thing: well done!

A few important facts that Americans must keep in mind as we head to the voting booth in 2016:

The Republican candidate has said publicly, “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” adding, in other appearances, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works,” and “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing to us.” (Links to sources provided below.) Regardless of what one thinks of this candidate, one should never forget that the candidate has strongly advocated torture.

The US is a party to at least four ratified international agreements against torture. Ordering the use of torture can be construed, in armed conflict situations, as a war crime.

Advocating torture is universally considered immoral. If elected, it means the candidate could also be ordering the women and men in national service to commit war crimes.

And it is clearly established that it doesn’t “work” as a way to get reliable and actionable intelligence. The US Senate concluded an in-depth study on “enhanced interrogation techniques” — a deplorable and Orwellian way to say “torture” — less than two years ago (Dec 2014). The results were published and are easily available, and they are summarized here:


These facts should not be drowned out during the rest of this campaign season’s deeply unfortunate noise.




deplorableWatching this US presidential election cycle, from my vantage point in Sweden, has been among the most painful political experiences of my life.

It is truly excruciating to observe the constant mendacity, meanness, and boastfulness of the Republican candidate (I am a dual US/Swedish citizen and grew up Republican, but currently have no party affiliation). It has been a bitter disappointment to see such callow campaign methods win popular support.

If he wins, he has vowed to tear up many of the US policies I hold dear, including the Paris Agreement on climate change and the disavowal of torture. If he loses, he will nonetheless leave behind a deep well of poisoned civility, further polarising a nation.

Recent interviews with committed voters for the Republican candidate indicate that many are aware of the risks and dangers inherent in the candidate’s positions and reckless character, but they “don’t care” because they just want change, and preferably dramatic change, of any kind. (See link below.) They are genuinely hurting, and the Republican candidate is exploiting that pain.

The Democratic candidate was recently criticized for a thoughtless statement that included the word “deplorables”. It is useful to look at the definition of that word, “deplorable”: “deserving strong condemnation; completely unacceptable” and “shockingly bad in quality.”

In my view, the Republican candidate’s campaign, including the positions he has taken and the statements he has made on many issues of deep concern to me — related to climate change, human rights, the US’s global responsibility, the role of women in society, and many more — is deplorable.

Note: This is copied from my public Facebook page and is the first in a series of short posts on current US politics. I do not usually comment on politics but the stakes of this US presidential election are extremely high and make silence unethical. We need to speak up for honesty, integrity, knowledge, humility, and wisdom in politics and public discourse, and not cede the ground to baser methods of public campaigning.

Link:  New York Times article, “We Need Somebody Spectacular


A “pushmi-pullyu”, imagery via Wikipedia

Remember Dr. Dolittle? He was a vet who could talk to animals. One of the rarest was the “pushmi-pullyu,” a llama with two heads (one head was where the tail ought to be).

The pushmi-pullyu was a gentle creature that did not like to be stared at. And yet the other animals in Africa convinced him to go with the good Dr., and be put on display in Europe, because Dr. Dolittle was a kind soul who needed money to look after all the animals in his care.

Already you can begin guess why I chose this story to begin a commentary on two large conferences under way this week: the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, and the Global Green Growth Week in Jeju, South Korea.

Dr. Dolittle’s two-headed wonder is an obvious metaphor for the problem of trying to conserve nature while encouraging growth. If both heads want to go in opposite directions, nothing happens. If one head wins out, you get more of one thing (economic growth or nature) and less of the other.

In both congresses, the aim is to find win-win solutions, to “have your cake and eat it too.” The agendas even overlap to some extent: IUCN has sessions like “Driving green growth at a landscape level” while the Green Growth folks will explore topics like “Innovation in Water Governance and Conservation.”

But one would almost prefer that these groups were meeting together, rather than separately, because the overall impression from reviewing their respective agendas is that we still have a “pushmi-pullyu” problem. Green Growth is a wonderful innovation; but we have a long way to go before we can be confident that more of it will also lead to reversing the general decline of nature: species, ecosystems, and global climatic stability.

The Green Growth conference agenda is, of course, inspiring to an old “sustainability wonk” like me. It is covering wonderfully important topics like gender empowerment and new energy policies; and many friends are there. The conference is even debating the question “can economic growth be inclusive and green?”, which at least acknowledges that the jury is still out.

But that’s the conference for Green Growth thinkers. At the “summit” session for Green Growth policy-makers — ministers, bankers, insurance executives — the agenda reads quite differently. That agenda is entirely focused on money, with every session reading something like this: “Is International Green Finance Flowing to the countries and regions that need it?”

In other words, the folks with actual power are not talking much about the “green” part of the agenda, just the growth.

Meanwhile, the IUCN is meeting at a moment when the alarm bells for disappearing species and ecosystems have never rung louder. New research tells us that African elephants have lost 30% of their population in less than ten years. Four out of the six great apes are “one step away from extinction“. Those are the “charismatic megafauna”, but their plight reflects the general trend for nature: continued rapid decay.

The outlook for green growth is, frankly, much better than the outlook for nature. The Global Green Growth Institute’s budget has grown year on year, and the amount of money being invested in our world that carries some kind of “green” badge is definitely growing (“green bonds,” for example, have gone up from about US$ 11 billion in 2013 to 100 billion this year according to one forecast). I should be celebrating this revolution in investment, but the headlines from IUCN leave me feeling more sobered than celebratory.

Clearly, at the moment, the “growth” head of the global conservation/green growth push-me-pull-you is winning. “Nature” — a word that is not even mentioned in the Green Growth conference agenda, except as part of the phrase “natural resources” — is losing.

So I wish that some folks from the IUCN Hawaii gathering, with deep knowledge of these collapsing ecosystems, could be parachuted into the heart of the Green Growth summit. Of course I want green finance to grow; but I also want the people thinking about green finance — about finance and investment and economic growth generally — to spend equal amounts of time trying to reverse the “degrowth” in precious living creatures and irreplaceable ecosystems that I have observed over decades, from childhood enchantment to middle-age melancholy.

To be honest, I’m a little mad at Dr. Dolittle. He helped me fall in love with animals, which makes witnessing their disappearance all the more painful. (Bruce Cockburn, the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter, has an amazing song about this: Beautiful Creatures.)

By the way, if you read the original Dr. Dolittle — you can read the whole 1920 book free online — you’ll discover it’s different from the sweet family movie that so captivated me in 1968, or the less-captivating Eddy Murphy remake from 1998. The book is full of disturbing racial stereotypes, as well as colonialist (as well as sexist) language about relations between Africa and the land of the White Men. It serves as a reminder of why we in the rich nations have a moral duty to take Africa’s development and conservation challenges very seriously.

In short, we still have a lot of work to do. We don’t need Dr. Dolittle. We need a whole army of “Dr. Do-a-Lots” — doing a lot more than we are doing now to save nature, transform the global economy, and reinvent “growth” as prosperity for all.

Before we lose the elephants, the apes, and much more besides.





Photo from Wikimedia.org

Be afraid. Be very afraid … of the Anthropocene.

This is the message from Clive Hamilton writing in Nature, the preeminent science journal, in his recent editorial (see sources below). Humans are unequivocably a planetary force for change, and a group of scientists with the authority to decide such things now agrees that this new planetary epoch deserves that special new name. But it should only be framed negatively, insists Hamilton. “The idea of the Anthropocene … should frighten us. And scientists should present it as such.”

That’s wrong: scientists should present theory and evidence. The rest of us then decide what to feel, and do. Leave the incitements to fear to … well, Clive Hamilton.

Meanwhile, the Guardian prevents a more balanced approach, in the person of former UK Royal Astronomer Martin Rees. He doesn’t downplay the enormous risk, the possibility of the “darkest prognosis.” But as he also notes, wryly, “It’s surprising how little we can confidently predict.” And there is also an “optimistic option,” Rees writes. “Human societies could navigate these threats, achieve a sustainable future, and inaugurate eras of post-human evolution even more marvellous than what’s led to us.”

Whether it means the end of human civilization, or the beginning of a new era of galactic conquest, scientists still have to decide when, exactly, it started. But the leading candidate for a starting date is around 1950, when nuclear weapons, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and other massive imprints on the planet began leaving their signature for future generations to find.

What do you think? Will being fearful of our new responsibility for managing (some prefer stewarding) the whole planet help make the “optimistic option” more possible? I don’t think so.

Personally, I’m committed to the “bravely-face-problems, navigate-safely-through-danger, achieve-sustainability” option that Martin Rees outlines so eloquently. Even if I also believe we have no idea exactly where we are going.

And if we succeed — that is, after we achieve sustainability, against all the admittedly scary odds — who knows what might happen?


Hamilton on fear of the Anthropocene (but he makes good points about how to identify it):

Guardian news story on scientists assessing the new epoch:

Martin Rees on “darkest prognosis” and “optimistic option”:

Also see BBC News on the Anthropocene meeting and the search for a definitive start date:

Parachuting-Cats-into-Borneo-Cover-small“Fascinating” (Paul Polman, CEO Unilever) … “Highly Recommended” (Maureen Hart, ISSP) … “Indispensable” (Michael Kobori, Levi Strauss)

The Center for Sustainability Transformation and the AtKisson Group are pleased to announce the publication of a new book by our co-founders, Axel Klimek and Alan AtKisson.

Parachuting Cats into Borneo – and Other Lessons from the Change Café  offers the reader a complete Master Class of tools and approaches for promoting positive change, in the form of an easy-to-read business book.

The book has been drawing praise and endorsements from reviewers the world over, including Unilever CEO Paul Polman, German social scientist Ortwin Renn, former African Union Commissioner Bience Gawanas, and green business guru Joel Makower, among many others (see below). Publisher’s Weekly in the US called it “a shrewd and discerning look at systemic change” that was “insightful” and “particularly valuable” — both for making change happen and dealing with daily work life.

Parachuting Cats into Borneo takes its name from an historic, cautionary tale about what can go wrong: about two-thirds of efforts to make positive change in organizations and institutions end up in failure, according to studies cited in the book. Klimek and AtKisson bring over fifty years of combined experience to the table, to help readers avoid common obstacles and equip themselves for greater success.

While aiming to support positive change of all kinds, the authors build on decades of experience working with the special problems of sustainability transformation in companies, governments, cities and institutions. Sustainability has been an especially valuable learning arena, note Klimek and AtKisson, “because achieving [sustainability] requires altering some very deeply embedded human habits, concepts, and attitudes.” The closing chapters are devoted to building capacity for leading change in one of the most demanding, and increasingly essential, challenges of our time: making sustainability real.

To order the book, please visit your favorite bookseller (such as Amazon) or the publisher’s website.

If you would like a review copy for a publication or for an organizational bulk order, please contact the Center for Sustainability Transformation (CforST.com).



by Axel Klimek and Alan AtKisson, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016

“A fascinating account of the cultural, psychological, and institutional barriers that prevent more change programs from succeeding – and how to overcome them.”

–Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever


“I’ve been waiting for this book, from these gentlemen, for years. Decades of distilled experience, insight, wisdom, guidance, and delight about engaging the most challenging parts of change―people and groups of people. (Technological innovation is simple by comparison.) Only one in three change initiatives succeed, the authors tell us. This little book, and the thoughtful systems and tools it offers, might just help you boost your odds.”

–Gil Friend, chairman and CEO, Natural Logic, Inc.


Parachuting Cats into Borneo takes change management off the white board and places it into your own hands―inviting you into a café conversation with the authors, who put together a thoughtful collection of practical tools that I found valuable even after 25 years in the sustainability and social change field. Grab a pen and some paper (and a coffee!). This book will take you on a thought journey, best when you have a change process and goal in mind. And who doesn’t?”

–Gillian Martin Mehers, managing director, Bright Green Learning; coauthor of The Climate Change Playbook


“Welcome to the world café―where it’s raining, well, cats. Axel Klimek and Alan AtKisson are hosting. Slow down, relax, and prepare to change the way you think about change.”

–John Elkington, co-founder, Environmental Data Services (ENDS), SustainAbility, and Volans; coauthor of The Breakthrough Challenge


“We live in times of continuous accelerating change―as I have personally experienced―and yet we have difficulty adapting to it. That’s human nature: We like the comfort of stability and predictability. Here Klimek and AtKisson draw a short and very easy-to-read roadmap for implementing sustainable change. A great effort and recommended reading.”

–Nani Falco Beccalli, former President and CEO, GE Europe


“Change is difficult, and usually takes time, but this book gave me hope that change will happen, whatever time it takes, and guided me through the appropriate sequence of steps I should take to achieve my mission―slowly but steadily. The book presents a combination of concern, determination, and faith: concern about people and nature, the determination to continue the path, and the faith  that what we are doing is right. I received this book on June 11 and started reading it the morning of June 12. I powered off my mobile, and I went on reading ‘til the afternoon of June 13. At that time I discovered that it was my birthday; I think that this book was the best birthday present I had this year!”

–Boshra Salem, director, Office of International Relations, Alexandria University; member, Women in Science Hall of Fame (Egypt)


Parachuting Cats into Borneo is a great guidebook for leaders and individuals who want to create transformational changes in any society, community, organization, workspace, or family they are a part of. The authors have done a great job illuminating not only the most up-to-date ‘skills and knowledge’ on change processes, such as a system approach and coaching, but also ‘attitude and being,’ or how leaders can develop themselves and cultivate organizational cultures. I have been using these approaches in Japan and elsewhere in the world, and they have proven to be effective in work for many clients across sectors.”

–Riichiro Oda, president and CEO, Change Agent, Inc. (Japan)


“The one thing we all have more and more of is CHANGE, and we all need to become more skillful in navigating through it. Klimek and AtKisson are great companions to have with you on your change journey, providing guidance, great stories, and good company.”

–Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership, Henley Business School; chairman, Renewal Associates (UK)


“This book is a must for anyone who is involved in change processes toward a more equitable, humane, and environmentally friendly world. It is not the usual ‘how to do and get what you want’ instruction book. No recipes, no safe or proven success guidelines, no software program for making changes happen! It is a book about personal and group empowerment. It orients readers to become agents of change based on their own resources and their own creative ideas. And all this for a common purpose: to reach a more sustainable future for all.”

–Ortwin Renn, scientific director, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (Germany)


Parachuting Cats is a small book with a really big bag of tools for the change agent’s toolkit―describing how, when, and where each can best be used. Some are tools for personal change that make one a more effective change agent; others are tools for helping organizations and communities create lasting change. Highly recommend for all sustainability professionals or anyone working to make the world a better place. I could and will reread this book at least ten times and get more out of it each time.”

–Maureen Hart, executive director, International Society of Sustainability Professionals (USA)


“An apparently endless stream of conferences and workshops is applauding the big transformation toward sustainable development. And is tiring. Real action is not following suit. I see a growing disconnect between advocacy and personal behavior (and the behavior of advocates’ home institutions). Yet never before has humankind been in a better position to successfully end hunger and poverty within the limits of ecological boundaries. Never before have there been so many experts and campaigners dedicated to making this planet a better place. But, strangely enough, all this does not yet deliver. Action is often halted. Advanced thinking is often restricted to special interest groups. Experts are arguing within the boundaries of their own unconnected communities. That is why this book is timely. The authors bridge change attitudes on the personal level and the structural level. They help us understand (and change) the patterns of our very habitudes―and, fortunately, they never forget the importance of changing vested interests and political structures in a democratic society. Absorbing Klimek and AtKisson’s recommendations has added value to both my thinking and acting.”

–Günther Bachmann, secretary general, German Council for Sustainable Development; advisor to the Global Network of National Councils for Sustainable Development


“Spanning change management, leadership, strategy, and spirituality, Klimek and AtKisson’s volume is an indispensable guide for current and would-be sustainability leaders.”

–Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability, Levi Strauss & Co.


Parachuting Cats offers a deep dive into what it takes for our economies and our families to flourish within Earth’s finite limits. For all the attention paid to technologies, policies, leadership, and ‘corporate social responsibility,’ creating the change we want to see in the world means understanding how societies and institutions transform. In the end, it’s the system, stupid, that needs transforming. Klimek and AtKisson tell us how to do that. This is a vital read for our turbulent times.”

–Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor, GreenBiz Group; coauthor of The New Grand Strategy


“Many of us need to change ourselves or to bring about change through our work but always get stuck in a rut because we need confirmation to do the right thing. This book helps us enter into conversations to see within and around us and to make that so-needed transformation.”

–Bience Gawanas, former commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union


“As a funder, I was drawn to organizations that had both a clear vision for the future and an approach to the inevitable difficulties of change. If this valuable toolkit had been around, I would have sent a copy with every grant check.”

–David Grant, former president and CEO, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; author of The Social Profit Handbook


ParachutingCats-IconOn September 1, my latest book — written together with my dear friend and business partner Axel Klimek — hits the shelves, both physically and digitally.

Parachuting Cats into Borneo distills our many years of working together into very readable little book on how to make change happen, and also how to avoid the common pitfalls that prevent change from happening.

“But what about those cats?” you may immediately be wondering. “Did they really parachute cats into Borneo? And why is that the title of the book?”

The short answer to the first question is yes. I won’t give away the story here, because I want you to buy the book. You can even follow the footnotes to the academic sources and the evidence about what actually happened. (But you may already know this story from many other sources, including the song I wrote about this historical event from the 1950s.)

And why this title? Two reasons: (1) To draw attention to the book, and (2) to reinforce a key point. All too often, when trying to change things for the better, we end up changing them for the worse. And then we have to take even more drastic action to try to fix the new problems we have inadvertently created.

“Parachuting Cats into Borneo” is a true story, but it’s also a metaphor: it’s something we always want to avoid having to do! We have loaded up this book with tools, methods, advice, coaching, and stories to help you increase your chances of success as you try to make your organization, or your corner of the world, a better place.

So that you don’t have to parachute cats into Borneo … or anywhere else!

With over 60 years of experience between us, Axel and I believe that this little book can truly be helpful — to anyone trying to start, lead, manage, or fix a change process. In almost any context.

And that means: helpful to just about everyone.

And hopefully, also, a pleasure to read. (I am glad to report that the early reviews are very positive.)

On September 1st, the cats are coming!

You can pre-order Parachuting Cats into Borneo today at the publisher’s website, at Amazon, or via your favorite book-seller.

%d bloggers like this: