How Positive, Practical Thinking Is Already Changing The World

Phrases like “change the world” and the “new industrial revolution” can be inspiring, but sometimes they can end up sounding, to some ears, intimidating or even downright daunting. With so much waste in the current system, and with so many areas sorely in need of a fresh approach, the notion of real solutions can seem very far away — the path to reach them arduous and overwhelming. Especially at such moments, it’s good to remember that this means there’s tremendous room for improvement, and a growing number of intelligent, deeply committed thinkers who are working hard to bring positive change into being, here and now.

In my role with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, I’m fortunate to spend a great deal of time in the company of change-makers, so I see firsthand just how possible world positive change is. In fact, it’s already happening.

Last month I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Near Future Summit in La Jolla, CA, organized by the visionary Zem Joaquin, founder of ecoFabulous (and a member of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute board).

It was an all-around inspiring event, with a highly curated audience of 250 attendees and speakers — entrepreneurs, inventors, influencers, entertainers, investors and innovators — all of whom are advancing the fields of medicine, food, design and more. Over the course of our three days together, we shared stories of game-changing work, made meaningful connections, ate crickets — the future of protein? — and forged partnerships with great potential for people and our planet.

I encourage everyone to get involved at @NearFutureNow and #WORLDPOSITIVE and would like to highlight just a few of my favorite moments.

The second day’s session on design was truly rousing, not in small part because our own William McDonough was a key speaker. In our work here at the Institute, we emphasize smarter, better design as a key to transforming human impact on the world. Great design can lessen the negative aspects of that impact while generating exciting, out of the box solutions that open new doors and empower us to do more than we once thought possible.

Bill’s speech was a strong call to action to join forces as we continue to rethink the creation of products with a cradle to cradle mentality — doing away with the old cradle to grave attitude — which has already done so much harm and won’t be able to sustain us much longer. And he underscored one of Near Future’s central themes:

Interconnected, holistic thinking is essential in order to facilitate systems-level change in response to the most pressing issues facing us today.

Another stellar moment: seeing our friend Claire Bergkamp of Stella McCartney take the stage to speak about leadership in sustainable supply chains and the luxury brand’s work as a partner to Fashion Positive. As head of Stella McCartney’s sustainability group, Claire is setting new trends in the fashion world and beyond. At Near Future, she pledged that by the end of this year, the brand will only use viscose sourced from traceable, managed forests — an achievement that shows to the rest of the industry what’s possible. We couldn’t be prouder to be their partners in this beautiful initiative.

A spirit of pragmatic optimism also guided the food session, curated by Christiana Wyly, sustainability advocate and a leader of the world’s first study on the impact of meat consumption on the environment. One of the most astonishing segments came from Memphis Meats, a San Francisco-based company with Tennessee roots that is taking a pioneering approach to meat production. Their concept is the farming of meat cells, rather than animals — a process that promises to be safer, healthier and more sustainable than conventional methods.

That collision of tech and agriculture was also the theme of a motivating talk by Kimbal Musk, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, environmentalist and co-founder of The Kitchen. He passionately believes that there’s great opportunity for young entrepreneurs to replace the industrial food system of the 1960s and 1970s with a vastly smarter system. Good, real food isn’t a pipe dream or a luxury that belongs only to a select few. The land is available, and new technologies abound, to make it a widespread reality.

I’d like to think we all left La Jolla with a new appreciation for solutions that are all around us. Crickets, I learned, are crunchy and savory, like nature’s corn nuts, and use only a fraction of the resources consumed by typical animal proteins.

Zem’s own words still ring in my ears:

We can all be “the pieces of a less puzzling future in which we consciously work together to develop technologies and pathways that create a more sustainable, secure, equitable and vibrant world.”

To read more work from the Near Future Summit, check out the publication on Medium.

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