Pre-register now to SAVE 40% on all ticket types

We have a global case of carbon tunnel syndrome…and it’s obscuring the way forward

John Elkington is an eminent environmentalist and author.  Born into the baby boomer generation, he’s worked with businesses on climate concerns since the early years of environmentalism itself, and came up with the term “triple bottom line” – an expanded focus on more than just commercial gain: people, planet and profit.  

A prolific writer, alongside his work with advisory firm Volans, John is set to publish his 21st book “Tickling Sharks” next year and joins us at Blue Earth Summit with fellow author and Founder of, Paul Hawken.  Together they’ll lead a discussion which proposes a rethink of corporate climate goals and strategies.

We have a global case of carbon tunnel syndrome and it’s obscuring the way forward.  

Carbon is one of the key greenhouse gases responsible for destroying our planet and its ecosystems but the focus is in danger of becoming obsessive.  Whilst it’s undeniably a good thing to squeeze down carbon emissions, it means that people are failing to notice the wider agenda.  The burning of fossil fuels is just one problem among many – and even within this, the issues are myriad.  If you follow carbon, as an example, through its lifecycle, you’ll see that not only does it contribute to global heating, but that our oceans suck up that heat and the carbon itself, which means that they become more acidic, which then damages marine life. 

So what you see, taking in the wider picture, is that the impact of pollution results in a huge number of damaging dynamics – many of which are not properly considered when the world is solely focused on reducing carbon use.  It’s a key part of the picture, yes, but there is so much more required in terms of nature-based regeneration.  It’s time for businesses to stop taking the low road, and start appreciating the magnitude of the climate disaster we’re facing, before switching to higher roads.

AI has its critics, but in the environmental field, it might just save us.

There’s a reason we’ve become so tunnel-visioned about climate concerns.  The real picture is so enormous, the unassisted human brain simply cannot grasp the complexity of the situation.  There are always downsides to new technology but I truly believe that AI has the potential to help us make sense of planet management in a way that would be impossible otherwise.

The fact is that everything in the world is now linked to everything else.  The exponential effect of trying to consider the implications of each action on the rest of the planet is mind blowing.  For example – and this is a tiny example of the incredible complexity we’re now facing – AI has uncovered that urban air quality is closely linked to antibiotic resistance in humans.  The more polluted the area you live in, the more resistant you are likely to be.

It’s only when you have the processing power to start to spot some of these linkages that you can move from managing one element to managing the whole system.

Maintaining the status quo is no longer enough.

We have a global resilience problem.  The fundamental building blocks of modern life are crumbling – it’s not just the environment that’s in trouble.  We have unstable economies, damaged communities, a raging war – and, all around us, the seemingly indestructible NHS is coming apart at the seams.  Many of the systems we’ve relied upon are no longer strong enough to sustain us, so on the principle that everything is linked, we need to begin again with a global regenerative process.

The triple bottom line was a good way to make businesses consider sustainability – but sustaining what we have is no longer enough.  We need to regenerate and businesses need to ask themselves how best to do that.  Keeping on keeping on is a betrayal of emerging generations who deserve better.  The challenge now is to re-engineer the concept of sustainability to not only protect our planet but repair these key systems and the functions of our society.  It’s time for the Regenerative Economy, and a subset of that, Regenerative Capitalism.

This is a key opportunity for entrepreneurs – it’s a disruptor’s market.

Fundamental change usually only comes about as a result of global financial depressions or world wars.  We need to be ahead of the curve this time and fix these problems before they trap us.  Therefore it’s the market disruptors, the visionaries, the big thinkers who will capture the zeitgeist and achieve what we need done.  It’s part of the reason I’m so excited to be attending Blue Earth Summit.  Harnessing the energy, inspiration and resources for change in this event has the potential to be truly groundbreaking.

I believe we will see more change in the next 10-15 years than in the last 50.

We’re teetering on the edge of the fourth industrial revolution.  

At the same time, a lot of younger people feel we’ve made zero progress with climate consciousness in big business. Not true. In my five decades of working in this field, I’ve seen us evolve from a starting point where environmentalism was a dirty word, to a point where we see a growing proportion of businesses owning their environmental responsibilities.

Expect a period of stunning disruptive change.  Technology is moving very rapidly and we need that.  With exponential challenges, we need exponential mindsets and exponential solutions.  Digitalisation is enabling this for most forms of evolving technology and AI is a great example which will only accelerate in its power, abilities, applications – and risks.  On the upside, renewable energy is also on an exponential curve, and we’re seeing real success in synthetic biology, creating meat substitutes. Wherever you look, solutions are emerging with real potential to change the world.

However, these solutions aren’t yet being put forward by most of our biggest corporations – they are still locked into the past. It’s the innovators stealing the show. Tomorrow’s insurgents are running rings around today’s incumbents.

Now education needs to catch up before we let the next generation down.

A key issue is that most business schools have been singularly poor at training students in the skills and perspectives they now need for this new order. 

I’ve worked within business education for over 30 years and taught all over the world but many of the relevant establishments are only now waking up to the need to think differently.  They must move away from considering just the business case for action, instead collaborating to create tomorrow’s strategic and business models which can power us through this period of transition – and be profitable too.  

My call to businesses today is to understand that intergenerational collaboration must be a key part of what comes next.  Consider how you can bring young people – not just otherwise diverse people – into close quarters with your board or your C-suite to help both sides better understand the new dynamics.

The rising generations have a much more immediate perspective: after all, this is their future much more than it belongs to the Boomers. Their input can be invaluable – and will only improve over time.  The task ahead of them is mind-boggling.  But at the same time, today’s graduates will benefit from one key achievement of the last 50 years: that business leaders increasingly accept that this is their responsibility – and their organisations’ future too.

Catch John and Paul’s discussion in person on the Main Stage at Blue Earth Summit, 11 October, 2023 at 2.30pm.


Learn more
about Blue Earth

Blue Earth create industry leading impact events that connect people on a mission to transform the way the world works, united by the belief that business can be a force for good. Through our events - Summit, Forum, and Futures - all inspired by the great outdoors, we foster meaningful connections and drive positive change.

You can view and purchase tickets for our Summit on our Ticket page or register to attend on of our upcoming Futures events

Blue Earth partner with the world's most progressive businesses, from global brands - to innovative start ups. View our current Partnership Opportunities

All rights reserved ©2024