Like many, I am torn. I am very clear that we are at a Rubicon for human life, we are rapidly changing the environment and damaging the eco-system. The geological record demonstrates that changes of this magnitude in the past have been catastrophic, particularly for the earth’s dominant species. While contemplating this I remembered a quote from Jurassic Park “Life will find a way!”; and although the dominant species on earth have been lost a number of times in the past, others better adapted to the new conditions, survive and flourish. The rise of the dinosaurs came after volcanic eruptions led to conditions which wiped out 95% of the species on earth with a global temperature rise of about 7oC. The strike of a meteor led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals. A rise of 3-5oC may be enough to see the end of hominids, us.

I feel my own responsibility for the situation. I have consumed, benefitted from cheap energy, travelled on business and for pleasure to far flung places. My lifetime carbon footprint will be in the top 25% of the world population despite my efforts now to minimise it. I have three children who are very aware and are taking decisions which will mean their impact on the world will be positive.

What should I do in this contrite state? Should I wear a hair shirt, carry around my guilt, or go and live like a hermit?

The reality is that no matter how much I do personally, on my own, it will have a completely negligible effect on the problem. UK carbon emissions are less than 1% of global emissions. I am one of 66 million people in the UK. On the other hand, how can I encourage, debate or support others to reduce their emissions without being willing to act and experience the process myself. Taking the wood out of my own eye before I try to take it out of the eyes of others.

The answer, I feel, to the limitation of an individual impact is multiplication. Multiplying each effect by ten, by a thousand, by a million, etc. Through support and work with organisations which advocate for change, apply pressure and do positive things at scale. I can make choices about what I do and buy and communicate those choices. These actions get us to the 100s may be the 1,000s. To get further though I need to be involved in the leadership of change. By leadership, I do not mean getting others to do things.

I am talking about developing new, fresh leading ideas and using know-how, skill and energy to make things happen. I am talking about ambition, scale and the courage to be at the front of the pack, not hanging back and waiting to see what might be popular, what others might do, it is about forging a way forward ahead of current thinking with ambitions and aspirations beyond those of the current trends.

“The ability of an individual or a group of people to influence organisations and society.“

How could every building be carbon neutral, how could we replace every coal and gas power station? These ideas are part of leadership but I believe leadership needs to go further than influence. The ambition needs to link the influence with the capability and energy to deliver.

When my son was in Junior school as part of a project, we did a historic walk around my hometown, Newbury. I remember vividly reading about a workshop, just behind the Methodist Church, which during the Second World War was used to make components for the eponymous Spitfire. Just a small reminder of the scale and organisation required to help us defeat what seemed an unbeatable enemy. The ingenuity, the leadership, the ambition, the delivery.

In our Design to Value approach, we have found that it is not enough to come up with a great conceptual design which in principle delivers great value. Without the maintenance of the energy and ambition which delivered the design, the value can simply be frittered away. You must take up the mantle and do things you have not done before, engage with people not engaged with before; like a carpentry workshop making aircraft parts. The outcome, the delivered value is the driver, not the process.

As the impacts of global warming and destruction of the natural world become clearer to us all, we should not hide away, or simply feel guilt, or try to push it away and dismiss it. We should use our energies to connect, collaborate, innovate. If we are truly the dominant species we should and need to demonstrate the fact, through leadership and adaptation of what we do as individuals, but more importantly how we can come together to find expansive solutions to the problems we have caused. 

In the edited words from a memorable speech: -

We shall go on to the end, 

We shall fight with the power of the sun, winds, atoms and oceans,

We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in our abilities, we shall defend our world, whatever the cost may be,

We shall fight for the sea, reefs and beaches,

We shall fight for the fields and the forests,

We shall fight for all people and all creatures,

We shall never surrender, until, the world, with all its beauty and majesty becomes our sustainable home.


CGI of world map with trees where water would ordinarily be situated

Professor John Dyson spent more than 25 years at GlaxoSmithKline, eventually ending his career as VP, Head of Capital Strategy and Design, where he focussed on developing a long-term strategic approach to asset management.
While there, he engaged Bryden Wood and together they developed the Front End Factory, a collaborative endeavour to explore how to turn purpose and strategy into the right projects – which paved the way for Design to Value. He is committed to the betterment of lives through individual and collective endeavours.
As well as his business and pharmaceutical experience, Dyson is Professor of Human Enterprise at the University of Birmingham, focussing on project management, business strategy and collaboration.
Additionally, he is a qualified counsellor with a private practice and looks to bring the understanding of human behaviour into business and projects.
To learn more about our Design to Value philosophy, read Design to Value: The architecture of holistic design and creative technology by Professor John Dyson, Mark Bryden, Jaimie Johnston MBE and Martin Wood. Available to purchase at RIBA Books.