Designing Inspiring Futures: Six Lessons of Sustainable Innovation

September 8, 2013 • Emerging Ideas, INNOVATION, SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS

Sustainability remains the key term for our future world. As Steven P. MacGregor and Tamara Carleton embark on a major new research work which aims to gain insight into sustainable living in 2050, the authors distill key lessons from their recent treatise on sustainable innovation: lessons that can be applied both at company level, and to all individuals who have the power to shape an inspiring future.

Sustainability and Results

When futurist and engineer Buckminster Fuller faced personal tragedy in 1927, he resolved to ‘find out what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity’.1 Sustainability was key to his personal vision and renewed his hope in life. Fuller’s often philosophical—and at times obscure—work on synergetics and his various inventions distill to one basic precept: create more with less. Over time, Fuller’s work as a single individual has influenced and provoked how different groups have considered models of transportation, city planning, and homebuilding.

As we face our own future of possibilities, we take inspiration from Fuller who designed arguments that were never dull.2 Some may see an impending future in which sustainability requires a compromised life on all levels, while others see sustainability as a chance to combine long-term goals with a more responsible society. For us, sustainability offers a way to amplify our individual results and provides a powerful lens for accelerating innovation. Our own experience of design has shown that a reduced solution space may actually increase creativity, and so innovation may, in certain circumstances, work well with limitations. Emerging issues around resource scarcity are already beginning to produce the necessary focus in companies such as Unilever. A view on sustainability encourages a long-term mindset, as people gain more awareness of their actions operating within a broader ecosystem over time. By drawing on Fuller’s personal experiment in discovering how a single individual can make a difference, we too can adopt a similar outlook and learn from a growing number of examples in order to create and innovate system-level change that truly leads to an inspiring future.

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