What I’m currently working on

Welcome to my website. If you are looking for a bio and background on my work, click here.

I work as a consultant and advisor on sustainable development. That work takes many different forms, from giving keynote speeches, to facilitating or moderating large events, to developing strategic plans, to managing small teams of researchers to produce reports. The topics I focus on change as the priorities of the global sustainability movement evolve. I always aim to work on the leading edge of that movement — and help accelerate that movement as a positive “wave of change”. For me personally, building knowledge and expertise on the science, economics, and politics of sustainability is tightly linked to work on change, strategic planning — and inspiring people to engage with this work and to persevere. For me, sustainable development is the greatest challenge of our generation.

Here is a review of some of the topics I am actively working on, right now, either with clients, or as part of internal AtKisson Group projects:

Promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Promoting the SDGs is currently at the core of everything I do, because the SDGs are now at the core of the global sustainability transition. Within AtKisson Group, I manage the 17Goals partnership, which runs a website and social media channel providing news and free resources on the SDGs. In the coming months I will be doing a number of keynotes and presentations where the SDGs (Better Cotton Initiative, European Maritime Day, Club of Rome Europe, Design Management Institute, CSR Greenland …). All of my talks and keynotes have some kind of link to the SDGs. As does the rest of this list.

Raising the profile of the oceans in the global sustainability movement. I’m working on this topic through several different initiatives, in partnership with many other people and organizations. “Ocean is the new climate,” I keep telling people (I keynoted European Maritime Day using that title, and published an article about this general topic here). The ocean is just as important, just as global — and its sustainability just as threatened. Current projects include:

Working with WWF on their strategies to promote a more sustainable approach to the ocean economy, also known as the “Blue Economy“. I’ve also been helping them develop an initiative around ocean investments.

Raising awareness on the urgent, enormous problem of plastics in the ocean, through our globally crowdfunded exhibition in Stockholm “Out to Sea“. We are also running a number of evening programs in Stockholm, in connection with that exhibition.

Building a web and social media channel, SDG14.net, to help promote and support the coming UN Ocean Conference (which is the first summit of its kind) on 5-9 June. The aim of that conference is to advance “Global Goal” (SDG) #14, to conserve the oceans and ensure that we are using them in a sustainable way.

Supporting the United Nations secretariat as they work on helping developing countries build their capacity to implement the SDGs. I’ve been working in this area for a few years, since before the SDGs were even formally agreed. Working with the UN — specifically its Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNDESA, in New York, but also other pieces of the UN, like the UNECE in Geneva — seems especially important now, with political winds blowing as they are. UNDESA, which is comprised of numerous divisions (such as Sustainable Development, Statistics, Policy & Analysis, Population, Forests and more), is increasingly focused on advancing a more integrated approach to policy making. I am happy that I can play a role in facilitating that process.

I pursue a similar goal in my work with Niras, a company that has a large contract with Sweden’s development agency, SIDA. As a guest lecturer and occasional advisor to the program, I work on helping to train officials from governments in Africa and Asia in sustainable development, systems thinking, integrated planning, and how to be better agents of change.

Assisting the countries around the Baltic Sea find new ways to collaborate on the SDGs. The Baltic 2030 initiative, which is part of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (a kind of “mini-UN” for northern Europe), used to be called Baltic 21. Baltic 21 was my first client in this region, many years ago, and has been a client numerous other times over the years. It’s a privilege to be helping the international officials, national officers and experts frame a new way forward together on the SDGs.

Helping people see the Arctic in a new way, and respond to its rapidly changing circumstances with sustainable economic solutions. This relates to a project I’ve been working on with colleagues and clients in WWF’s Arctic program for over a year now — a report on the “Blue Economy” of the Arctic. Since 2/3 of the Arctic is ocean, and so much of the accessible land is coastal, The Blue (marine-based) Economy is a huge piece of the overall Arctic economy. As the region melts (faster than anyone thought possible), larege investments are moving in, and larger ones are expected over time. Is the region ready for that? What will it take to guide economic development in the Arctic in the direction of increasing sustainability and resilience — economically, socially, and ecologically?

Helping designers and architects embrace the SDGs as a design challenge. This is an internal project, connected to our 17Goals initiative (above). And we have a wonderful partner in that work: Design and Architecture Norway, a government agency that is the main sponsor of the Oslo Manifesto, a document that translates the SDGs into design language. The SDGS need to speak to designers, and engage them. The Oslo Manifesto document (which people and institutions can sign), and the accompanying inspirational web platform, together with the strong position of DOGA in the global design community, are helping to spread the word about the SDGs into a crucial professional community.

Working with leading companies to help them refine, advance, or develop their sustainability strategies.  Most of this work happens within the boundaries of confidentiality agreements, but all of it remains closely tied to the science of sustainability, and to the promotion of the global consensus on the world’s future which we call the SDGs.

Promoting books to empower change agents. As an author, promoting books is a necessary part of my job. But like most authors, it’s not the part I do best. The most recent little book I wrote, together with my friend and business partner, Axel Klimek, is called Parachuting Cats into Borneo. It is full of tips, tools, advice and experience related to making systemic change happen, especially in large organizations. The reviews and endorsements have been excellent, but we want the book to reach more people. So here comes the promotional part: Please read this book, tell your friends, write a review on Amazon, order a box for a class or training group …

Making music continues to be an integral part of my work. Sometimes, I still add a song or two into a presentation (the informal presentations, anyway). Sometimes, I even put on a whole musical show. But I’m pleased to report that other people are now using my music, in their work. For example, my pop song and music video about the SDGs (We Love the SDGs) now has a choral arrangement which was first performed by a choral group at Arizona State University, as part of their Sustainability Solutions Festival. They have made the sheet music available to choirs and other vocal music groups (click here for more info).

Finally, if you are interested in how I think about the work I do, you can hear me talking about it (and singing a bit) in this live stage interview with GreenBiz founder Joel Makower. And you can follow my regular column about sustainability issues on the GreenBiz platform, North Star.

2 thoughts on “What I’m currently working on

  1. Alan, you’ll be glad to know that the Sustainability Alliance in AZ is using the SDGs as the structure for our Community Dashboard of Indicators (still in development). We started our analysis with The Natural Step but not surprisingly they nested well into the SDGs. Thanks for all the work you do.

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