Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Institute’s Global Forum on the Culture of Innovation, co-presented by The Urban Land Institute. The Culture of Innovation struck me as a fantastic topic to explore, since we are living in an era challenged to reinvent itself before it implodes under the obsolete economic paradigm of the first industrial revolution. As I arrived, I thirsted for inspiration and new ideas to fuel my own efforts as an entrepreneur, employer, and would-be economic innovator. The Forum offered morsels of genuine insight – particularly from Fast Company founder Alan Webber, himself a walking embodiment of thinking outside the box (or realizing there is no box). IDEO’s Fred Dust also offered some unique and interesting perspectives that enlivened the event. There was much talk of livability in cities, of fostering innovation to drive economic development, and of the future of office culture in a mobile society.
But what struck me most remarkably was the almost entire absence of any serious talk about sustainability. Sure, I’m a sustainability guy, so my filters are a little hyper-attuned. But if your ship has a hole in the hull and is taking on water, what they’re serving in the galley that night is sort of beside the point.
When the subject is culture and innovation, you’d think someone would talk about sustainability since the planet is besieged by the growing social, political, and economic impacts of climate change and resource scarcity. Where were Bill McDonough or William Kunstler when you need them? (…and trust me, I’ve heard from both of them enough to be constantly on the watch for new voices to keep the momentum moving forward!)
Urgent needs for innovation
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just reported that July 2012 was the hottest month in the lower 48 states since the government started keeping temperature records in 1895. The hot July also contributed to the hottest 12-month period ever recorded in the United States.
For this reason, when I hear the words “Culture of Innovation,” here are some of the questions that spring to mind for me:
- How can we change the way science is performed to accelerate the commercialization of new clean tech and renewable energy opportunities?
- If it’s true that we can meet all our energy needs for years to come with wind, water and solar energy, then what cultural momentum enables us to accept natural gas extraction that creates earthquakes in Ohio or coal extraction that literally dumps mountaintops in Appalachia into nearby streams?