The answer to financial chaos lies on an island in Sweden

The financial crisis is actually a monetary crisis, and you can do something about it now.

On an island next to Stockholm, leaders in systemic solutions to financial chaos are gathering at a sustainability festival. Join them at the Future Perfect festival in Stockholm on 23-26 August, and hear a panel on monetary reforms and innovations for sustainability, and a workshop for executives who want to start, scale or participate in alternative means of exchange.

Panel: “Currencies of Transition: monetary reforms and innovations for sustainability.”

Chair: Professor Jem Bendell (Lifeworth Consulting, Community Forge and Griffith Business School)

Ben Dyson, director of Positive Money, which campaigns for a systemic solution to monetary crises, by full reserve banking.

Josh Ryan Collins, New Economics Foundation, the Brixton Pound and co-author of “Where does money come from?”

Lynnea Bylund, Board Member, Ormita, the international business barter network.

Matthew Slater, Board Member, Community Forge, a leading provider of open source software for community currencies, and editor of Community Currency magazine.

The panel will address the questions: Is a fair and sustainable economy possible with our debt-driven money system? If not, what needs to change? What is being done already? What can we do to get involved, personally and professionally? How can we make this a movement? What mistakes can we avoid?

Workshop: “How alternative exchange systems work and how to get started”

Trainers: Professor Jem Bendell and Matthew Slater

The trainers work with Community Forge, which provides free open source software for community currencies. This video explains why, what and how Community Forge operates.

You will be able to interact with these experts and others attracted to the topic, at a world class music festival! To book your tickets to the festival, visit

The workshop will also be offered in Greece in the second week of October. Contact the European Sustainability Academy for more information.

Fixing the Global Jobs Crisis: time to leave assumptions behind

Mass unemployment is becoming a headache for all world leaders. At the World Economic Forums (WEF) in Davos, Bangkok and Istanbul, people were talking about how to address growing unemployment.

To find real solutions to this global jobs crisis we need to be clear on the cause of the problem. Some of the conversations I heard at the WEF revealed widely shared yet questionable assumptions about key causes of unemployment. The key myths are, as follows:

Myth 1: “Unemployment is due to falling demand.”

Are people’s needs really falling? Or just the amount of money in circulation to employ people/assets to meet those needs?

Myth 2: “Unemployment is due to technology displacing human labour.”

Could we not design systems of ownership and revenue distribution so that the income from technology frees us to work creatively and caringly for each other? How can we govern technology to release us to a world of service, not a life of redundancy?

Myth 3: “Unemployment is due to the cost of hiring and firing.”

Why then do some countries with high wages and labour standards, like Scandinavia, have less % unemployment? Where would competition between nations to lower costs of hiring and firing lead us?

Myth 4: “Unemployment is due to a lack of skills and appetite for the new types of work.”

The world has more skilled labour than ever before, and more labour mobility than ever before, and many people with Masters degrees can’t get a job.

Myth 5: “Unemployment is due to the option to claim benefits.”

Why then was the existence of benefits not keeping people out of the workforce before the recession? Why do some countries with the most supportive welfare states, like Scandinavia, have less % unemployment?

These assumptions may arise from a general lack of understanding about the first key function of a currency, which is to help connect assets, including people’s time, with needs. If a currency becomes scarce in an economy, then there is less ability for exchange. That means needs go unmet, and assets go underutilised. Its called unemployment.

I recorded a short interview for the social media corner of WEF in Istanbul to explain where we need to start looking for real solutions to the global jobs crisis.

Job Creation Without Austerity or Debt

In the face of financial crisis and mass unemployment, do you believe we have to choose between either austerity or debt-funded economic growth? Its a false choice, based on false assumptions. My video-keynote at a forthcoming conference in Denmark, explains how we can achieve job creation without austerity or more debt, by redesigning our monetary systems.

If you are near Denmark, go join the conversation at Rebuild21.

Want to learn more? Access more materials.

You have to go to this festival

Am stoked to be speaking at the world’s best sustainability festival this summer in Sweden. Once you go, you wont want to go to conferences again… and music festivals might even seem a bit has-been!

What’s Future Perfect Festival?

World-leaders in sustainable enterprise, science, design, media and more; at a world-class summer music festival; with high-quality health and well-being experiences; using creative and collaborative facilitation; enabling personal action and social enterprise. FuturePerfect Festival 2012 rises from the water on 23-26 August, at Lillsved, on the island of Värmdö in the Stockholm archipelago, Sweden. Pack your paddles, dancing shoes, sunglasses and dreams for three incredible days and nights of inspiration, creativity, exchange, passion, and relaxation offering. This is for professionals and public, young and old, individuals and group, it’s the next stage of the conversation on living well without compromise – a celebration of potential and practical change. Lifeworth is pleased to be participating in making FuturePerfect.

Check it out at

Or see last years, to get a better sense of how the programme is going to develop:

Get your organisation to send a group of you… its great inspiration.

Learning About the Monetary Crisis

Ive been delighted in the interest generated by my TEDx talk on money in September. In addition to general enthusiasm, some friends and others have asked me about monetary systems, or challenged me on my depiction of them. These conversations have not got onto what to do about flawed monetary systems, as they are stuck in simple misunderstandings about the history of money, the current nature of money, and its implications for our economy, society and environment. As I mentioned in my talk, we have so many unfounded assumptions about money. Im amazed at how many high flyers in various walks of life confidently make outlandish statements about the history, nature or effect of monetary systems. We need a better understanding of these issues to then have an informed debate about solutions, and to know where to put our efforts. Ill write more about those solutions and how to get involved in a future post, but for now, here are some resources to wise up on money.

Books on the problem of debt-money:
The End of Money and the Future of Civilisation, by Thomas Greco Jr
The Future of Money, by Bernard Lietaer
The Ecology of Money, by Richard Douthwaite
The Lost Science of Money, by Stephen Zarlenga

Videos on the problem of debt-money:
Money as Debt
Money as Debt II
Money as Debt III, available from
Money Masters
Also see The Money Fix, Lets Make Money, and 97% owned, which can be ordered online after searching.

Interviews with an academic explaining monetary systems:
Professor Richard Werner

For proposals, training, action and analysis of action, focused on complementary currencies (rather than other solutions to the debt-money problem) see:

Value for People
International Journal of Community and Complementary Currency Research
Community Currency Magazine
Community Forge
And there’s a list of more blogs on complementary currencies.

For information and campaigns on monetary reform:
Positive Money campaign in the UK
American Monetary Institute in the USA

A multi-stakeholder dialogue on the future of finance, that includes sub-groups working on this issue is the Finance Innovation Lab

A couple of entrepreneurs looking at business opportunities from these issues include:

(For transparency: I co-developed the concept for The Finance Lab when at WWF-UK in 06/07 and am an advisor to Community Forge since 2010).

Once you read into some of this you might start wondering if its all to big to tackle… but it isnt, there are many things we, and importantly, our organisations, our employers, our local governments, can do right now. More on that in future blogs.

My ted talk is online.

Feel free to add more links to relevant resources.

TEDx talk on the need to re-design money to solve both financial crisis and environmental crisis

Why is the whole world in debt? How can we end these crises? Here is a TEDx talk on the hidden cause of the financial crisis. The real crisis is in our monetary system – the way our money is created. The solution is to redesign the way money is created. This is the underlying reform required to end the financial, environmental and social crises afflicting our societies. In this TEDx talk, Professor Jem Bendell calls on assembled broadcasters from across Europe, to expose the true nature of our current crises, and how to solve them.

Also see a transcript of the speech, delivered September 30th 2011 in Rome, at TEDxTransmedia.

Follow me at

TEDx Talk on the REAL cause of the Financial Crisis

On September 30th I gave a talk at TEDxTransmedia, in Rome, about the real story behind the financial crisis. The video will appear soon, but here is a transcript I wrote up….

“I’m going to rip apart your ideas about money. I’m going to show you how, behind the headlines on the financial crisis, and behind the ecological and humanitarian crises, lies a hidden crisis. That is, a crisis in our monetary system. A crisis in the way our money is created. I’m going to reveal to you how some people are using the latest technologies to create sustainable currencies, that serve us, not the banks, and how you can get involved.

To understand how the way money is created affects our lives, I’d like you to do a thought experiment. Imagine you are living in a village way way back in time. Lets say 3000 years ago. Some of you look after chickens, some of you fix clothes, some of you bake bread. You all swap things amongst yourselves. Then one day an Imperial Knight arrives to your village. He suggests you use his tokens to trade with. You decide to give it a try, so he lends you each 10 tokens. This is great, you no longer need to directly swap your eggs for their loaves. Your transactions are faster and you have way more time. The Knight agrees you can keep the tokens with one condition – that he has the option to take from you 11 tokens at the end of the year, or seize your assets if you default. As you find the tokens so helpful, you agree. A few months go by, and then suddenly you realise you need to have 11 tokens to show the Knight. So you start asking for more tokens to fix their clothes, and you start hoarding them. You find some of your neighbours are doing the same, so there are suddenly less tokens circulating and people wont swap their stuff so easily. On one day you even go hungry, but at least you feel safe with your 11 tokens. Then the Knight returns and of course not everyone has 11 tokens, and one of your neighbours loses his farm to the Knight. Could you have come to see the tokens as wealth, rather than your relationships, your community, and your local environment as your wealth? Could it be that the technology of tokens or “money” has transformed how you relate, what you value, and how you even feel about life?

Fast forward 3000 years and our monetary system is like that, but on cocaine; literally, if some reports are to be believed.

The Bank of International Settlments

Whatever you work on this is critically important to you. For 16 years I’ve helped large companies, charities and UN agencies team up to address global challenges, like over-fishing, deforestation, child labour, and HIV/AIDS. We’ve created some cool coalitions that improve the social and environmental impacts of billions of dollars worth of business worldwide. But after all this work, some of us have come to realise that if we want to widespread and lasting change, in the way business does business, we have to change the way money makes money.

Now there aren’t yet many clients or funders on monetary issues, so to work on it more, I had to outsource myself to India. There I worked with the association Community Forge, which provides free open source software for communities to run their own currencies. I learned there are thousands of alternative currencies around the world, created by communities. Some use a unit of hours, some mirror the national currency. And advances in social networks and mobile payment systems means we could soon be using alternative currencies for all manner of goods and services, both locally and across the world. Soon you will be able to go into your local store and pay the bill in an alternative currency with your phone, by sms, web or near field communication. It’s already happening in some places, like Brixton in London, which launched such a system yesterday.

I’ll return to say more about these currency innovations, but first, what was key for me in India was I had a variety of myths about money exposed. Someone asked me “where does money come from?” I’m a Professor, of management not economics, but still, its a very simple question and I was stuck. I thought money comes from governments. Well no, in nearly all countries of the world, about 3% of money comes from government mints, that make the notes and coins. Because of something called fractional reserve banking, 97% of money is simply numbers on computers, created from nothing by private banks, when they issue loans. Did you think that when you get a loan from a bank that they actually have the money they lend you? Well no, they create it out of nothing when we borrow. As banks create the loan, but don’t create the interest to be paid on that loan, there is more debt in the world than money. So we still owe more tokens to the Knight than there are tokens to give. So although individually we might pay off our debts, collectively we are in debt forever. Collectively, we are paying compound interest forever.

This causes many problems, but for time, ill mention just two. One problem is that paying interest on perpetual debt means increasing inequality is a mathematical certainty. And so it gets worse, with the richest 2% of the world’s people now controlling over half the world’s wealth. Another problem is environmental. As there isn’t enough money to pay all the debts, the amount of lending must continually increase or people will default. Yet more and more lending requires more and more things to trade, which requires more and more consumption of our natural resources. In a world of limited resources our ingenuity is merely delaying the ultimate crash that’s been pro-programmed by our flawed money system.

Well that’s the theory. But lets see how it feels. Let me see your money. Take out some money! I’ve got a 20 euros. So you know its just paper right? [showed a 20 euro note]. As paper its not that useful to us. You could scribble something on it, maybe put it under your pillow and pray. Together we choose to make it mean something more than paper or metal and to be able to swap it for real goods and services. But its still just paper. [ripped the 20 euro note] It’s still just money [ripped again, falls on the floor]. We are the wealth… our skills, our desire to do stuff for each-other. Money, if designed for us, should simply be our mechanism for exchanging things of real value. So it is a delusion that money has value in itself . If we run our societies as if money is the goal, haven’t we gone completely mad? Yet turn on the TV and it seems we are pursuing economic growth – an increase in money – as if its the meaning of life.

I was so deluded I thought anyone talking about money in this way was a nutter. Perhaps you can relate to that now when listening to me…! My desire to be relevant, and my fear of being ridiculed, held me back from working on these issues. And I’ve come to recognise that the mass media, many of you guys, define what is relevant and what is ridiculous, and so play a key role in whether people are open to discussing the need for sustainable currencies. I searched and found that 42,000,000 webpages mention “financial crisis”. Guess how many of those pages mention “monetary reform”? 136,000, or just 0.3%. There is a massive silence, almost a taboo, on informed debate on monetary systems and what we can do about it. But what if media embraced its responsibility to challenge assumptions? What if media dug deeper? What if journalists asked top politicians “where does money come from?” You would get some funny replies. It could make good TV.

Fortunately, new media means independent voices can reach audiences of millions. Home-made films such as “Money as Debt” have been watched over a million times on youtube. And social media means campaigners for monetary reform and the innovators of new sustainable currencies can connect with each other. At the Finance Innovation Lab, co-run by WWF, participants have been sharing information on the latest initiatives. Ending the licence of private banks to create money from nothing, is one necessary reform. But we’re not holding our breath. Already, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are trading in currencies that their own communities run, from slums in Rio and Nairobi, to business hubs in Brussels and Bristol. You can find our more, by searching for Timebanks in the US, the WIR in Switzerland, LETS in the UK, or Regiogeld in Germany. You could look up bitcoin, a digital currency that has become huge within a year. You could look at how some collaborative consumption websites, where neighbours share their stuff with each other, are now introducing their own currencies. New technology means we are on the verge of a massive leap in the volume of transactions using such currencies. Find those in your area of work or your town and we in our global village we might not need an Imperial Knight.

The emergence of new currencies that are not controlled by banks or governments, means we need to understand what kind of money systems are good for us. So that doesn’t mean going back to scarce metals as our money, or waiting for Facebook credits to become a new global private currency. A central principle must be that money be stable mechanism of exchange, that is issued as a public utility, and not for private profit.

The old money system has been ripping up our world, and appears even to be ripping itself to pieces [knelt down and gathered some of the euro pieces]. Yet with new technologies new forms of money are within our grasp. We can create and use sustainable currencies that weave together communities, not tear them apart. So we don’t need to kneel to the banks, [stood up] we can stand up for what we really value. We can end these crisis, starting by ending our delusions about money, and seeking real reform and using real alternatives.”

… it seemed to be well received. Come back to see the video! I will be making an art work out of the ripped 20 euro bill. My focus now is on communicating this more widely, researching the way large organisations can enagage in CCs, and other related stuff.

Thanks to Nadejda Loumbeva for the picture of me at tedx, and frenzypic Chris Hoefer for the pic of the Bank of International Settlements. Thx to Matthew, Ramin, Wolf, Beate, Bern, Ian, Folke, and Elaine for feedback in preparing the talk.

Good Cause Trouble

Keynote at Syinconnect, October 16th, Singapore…

I’m pleased to be here as I’m in Singapore because the world is changing fast. You are the fasting growing economy in the world and have the 4th highest GDP per capita. The people who have traditionally taken a role in global affairs and addressed social and environmental problems around the world, whether rightly or wrongly, are mostly Europeans and North Americans. That’s going to change. And that can be a good thing, but only if we see more globally responsible leaders coming from places like Singapore. We need to see more compassion and action on the state of the whole world, from newly emerged powers. So I think inititives like Syinc are so important, as they are helping you, future leaders, to explore ways of contributing to your community, and then hopefully beyond.

We’re here at the weekend. Its a saturday morning and none of you have to be at work, and your lecturers dont have to be. The 2 day weekend is a great idea, a good social innovation. Any idea where it came from? I think it important to reflect on how change happened if we are to get insights into how to make it happen. So I looked into the history of the 2 day weekend. In the early 1800s in the UK, where Im from, the was a mostly a one day weekend…Sunday, the sabbath, and it was meant to be spent observing religious ideas. But there was a problem for the religious leaders, and also the growing breed of industrialists. As it was the only day off, a lot of Brits were doing what they like to do – getting drunk. So this made them bad church goers, and also meant they often skipped Mondays because they were hungover. So the church and industrialists got together and decided to give people a half day off on saturday, so they could get drunk then, and snooze their way through church on sunday, and be ready for work on Monday. So the half day Saturdays that I hear you had as you weekend here in Singapore until about a decade ago, you can thank the drunkard Brits for.

So where did the 2 days come from? There was one Cotton mill around 1900, where half the staff were christian, so took sunday off, and half were jewish, so took saturday off. The christians got upset with other people working on sunday, so the owners said sod it, we will close both saturday and sunday. Then, in 1926 the great car maker Henry Ford decided to give his workers 2 days weekends. He realised he needed to not only pay his workers enough for them to afford the cars they made, but also that they needed reason to buy a car. If they were only ever going to work on the bus, and then to church on a sunday, why would they need a car? However, if they had a whole day free to be able to go to the beach, or countryside, or visit relatives and so, then of course theyd want a car, not just a faster horse! So there was some enlightened self interest there. But many other industrialists werent happy with Ford. And so it took a the radical Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America to start a campaign for it in 1929. The history of trade unions is such that this campaogn meant people would have been harrassed, fired, beaten up, and certainly frowned upon by some. There was a struggle for weekends to become normal. But then the depression hit and so industrialists gave in, because there wasnt the cash flow to warrant full production. The innovation in 2 day weekends then spread around the world due to international business, trade unions and the International Labour Organisation, which had been established in 1919. Thats why it was the international firms in Singapore were the ones who in past decades gave staff 2 day weekends not the 1 and a half that local firms gave until recently. So, the history of the weekend, a major social innovation, which enables you to be here right now, shows that social innovations are often messy. They come about because of fudges between institutional interests, some enlightened self interest of elites, often a lot of struggle and strife, and then champions and advocates – all types of action were involved in getting the 2 day weekend to become normal. In that process some people will have been praised, but its important to see how many people will have had to suffer in that process, at the very least, losing their job or losing approval of their parents or peers for being activists. Its a theme Ill return to.

I’ve been asked to say a few words on why get active on social issues. So why get active? Well, first up, because there’s issues. Second, because they arent being addressed in ways that will sort them out, mostly because they are being caused by the normal way we do things, think of things. Third, because u can achieve things if u choose to. Fourth, because when trying u will sometimes hurt and fail, and thats important in life. Fifth, because to be active on matters of the world is a normal way to be, its about being conscious, alive, connected and not boring. I act not to save the world, but to make my species seem worth saving and my life worth living.

So what are the problems out there? Im writing a new book and decided to shrink some issues down into one day, so produced some statistics. They’re a bit depressing. In the last 24 hours, 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest have been lost. In a day, over a million tonnes of toxic waste have been released into our environment. In just the last 24 hours, 98,000 people on our planet died of starvation, tens of thousands of them children. In one day, 137 species have been driven into extinction. These problems, these people, are calling out for our action.

The second reason to get active is because these problems are not being addressed in ways that will sort them out, mostly because they are being caused by the normal way we do things, think of things. Traditional ways of organising to address problems have been undermined by globalisation. Governments now focus on being competitive in international markets, and so look at that beyond other issues – social and environmental issues can only be afforded within that framework. This means leadership is often lacking. Our money systems mean that more cash gushes up to elites than trickles down to the many. We have market fundamentalism where everything is about making money. We have hyper modernism where anything new and techie is great, so we dont easily stop and question whats the purpose of our rushing around. We have a mass media thats jingoistic and superficial about its news, and is celebrity obsessed, so kids now want to be famous when they grow up – for whatever reason doesnt matter, they just want fame.

Then forms of action that have a strong tradition in many parts of the world – protest – dont seem to work anymore. A million people marched in London against the war in Iraq before it started and when Blair was still saying all we needed to do was put pressure on Saddam so war was not inevitable. People didnt believe it.. a million people.. we had not seen that before. But it achieved nothing. Its unclear whether online activism is much of a substitute. Its easy to say you like or dont like something, through a tweet or status update or clicking like, but its much harder to actually do something about it. So in that context we need to be much more imaginative and creative about how we act on social issues. Its not a lost cause because we are an ingeneous species, and can come up with new ways of acting.

Which is the third reason for getting active on social issues – because we can have an impact. And that is why Ive been asked here, having taken unusual paths to prompt some largescale changes. I left Uni and went to work for WWF UK immediately when I was 23, just slighly older than most of you. I joined the Forest Unit and worked with a group of companies that had committed to sourcing all their wood and wood products from sustainable forests. The group was key to developing market demand for a certification system for sustainable forests, which is called Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC. WWF had been pressuring governments to agree to do something about tropical deforestation for years, and hadnt got anywhere, so along with other NGOs they had turned their attention towards companies that were buying the products. Some NGOs attacked the companies, and WWF positioned itself as a partner to help the companies ensure their wood was from good sources. It was an open plan office, and a chap from the WWF International endangered seas campaign was there and was overhearing the work I was doing. We had a few lunches and decided to see if the same idea of certification could be applied to fisheries, and so I helped develop the concept for the Marine Stewardship Council or MSC. Today forests certified under the FSC framework are 134,595,610 hectares. 4,000 seafood products are now available with the MSC ecolabel, sold in over 60 countries around the world. I decided this was all rather important work, and so cowrote a book about it when I was 24 yrs old. That book got in the hands of the head of Kofi Annan’s office at the UN, and they decided to do the same thing at the UN, and created something called the UN Global Compact, which is the largest corporate responsibility initiative in the world now, with about 10000 members. I didnt play a useful role in these developments because im well connected, I wasnt, and didnt achieve things because im super organised, rather, other than luck, which is always important, I think its because im a bit odd – Im rather fanatical about what I do. Although I was fairly shy back then, when it came to my views on what was wrong and how we need to act, I was very bold. But that is a double edged sword.

I got sacked from WWF. I ruffled feathers and didnt play the long game. I was always thinking about how could our impact be maximised. And always wondering about whether the NGO was being compromised. I wasnt in there to get on, it didnt occur to me. I saw that the size of the group of companies that were working to buy wood from sustainable sources was limited by the resources of wwf, which were basically me and an older consultant, who had a background in Shell. It had been an interesting career change for him. He was working 3 days a week from home and managed the membership of 40 something companies. I didnt think it would be right for the companies to pay fees to WWF to cover the costs of membership, as this would compromise the independence of WWF. But I didnt think the group should not grow. I thought we should go to a thousand companies, why not? So, I suggested to my colleagues we accredit an independent consultancy to run the group, and deal with the companies, and that WWF would inspect the operations of that consultancy to ensure the standards were being upheld. The consultancy could charge a fee per member company. This was one in a number of ideas that I was putting forward, way beyond my station as a lowly newby doing data support and analysis. As Id been doing the WWF International work on the MSC I was probably a little cocky about my ideas. Because I didnt have a personal agenda I was confident in my views being good for the organisation. Well, the older consultant didnt like this from me, I was becoming a worry for him. He liked his part time job with a small group of companies. So maybe thats why he exploded one day over something very minor, and then said to our boss he couldnt work with me anymore. The boss, an ambitious guy, always travelling, much younger than the consultant, had bigger things to focus on, didnt get involved to sort it out, so fixed the problem by letting me go. Maybe that was the best decision for him and the project given other priorities. At the time it energised me even further, and I set up a consultancy and wrote the book and various articles that then helped the wider movement of corporate responsibility.

Change isnt always easy or funky. Even creatives say that. Francis Ford Copolla, the famous movie director, says the best work you do will get you attacked the most, and probably fired. The same things that made me succeed also made me fail. But thats the fourth reason to get involved in social change – to push things as far as you can until you fail. Because you need to fail in other peoples eyes sometimes to be part of a movement of people creating something new. You have to be able to take risks, not do this for your own advancement but for a bigger cause. And set backs teach you and energise you. But I do wonder whether that set back may have energised me TOO much, and made me even more fanatical about creating change, putting the other aspects of my life, and other people, to the background. Thats something you have to watch for as you get passionate about a cause.

The fifth reason to be active on matters of the world is that is a normal way to be, its about being conscious, alive, connected and not boring. I act not to save the world, but to make my species seem worth saving and my life worth living. I say that because we dont know if its too late with cliamte change. Its most likely too late for us to avoid major suffering. Unfortunately because pride and profit have shaped our response we have launched an approach to climate policy which is fundamentally flawed, called carbon markets, and will take another 5 to 10 years to be more widely accepted for the nonsense that it is. So Im not in this field with a goal attachment – save X species, stop climate change, and then go on holiday. Its about being fully engaged in life, and learning along the way. Ive had to face up to how things I considered successes might even be failures. For example, despite those grand stats I mentioned, less than 12% of global forestry is part of any certification scheme, and it has been a massive distraction for forest campaigners from other activities to try and prevent deforestation. Were we misguided? What could have been achieved if we had put all that time an effort into another approach? We dont know, but we have to keep asking the questions, and unless we do that courageously, rather than in a way that seeks to justify our selves, our choices, our nice lifestyles, then we are not really engaged in social change, we are just profiting from others concerns for that.

Change requires trouble makers. The world isnt so sorted, people havent got all the answers. So its ok to cause a little trouble sometimes. After all, that’s probably what got you your weekend, so we can be here now, working out how to push things forward some more, meeting social needs in innovative ways.

Integrating Personal and Global Wellness

(A keynote given by Jem Bendell at the Wellness Summit, Singapore, October 14th 2010).

I want to thank the team at Spa Asia and the Wellness Summit for making sustainability a theme this year. It has been rather challenging times for many in the industry these past 2 years, and that could have led some to focus purely on the near term, rather than providing a space for reflection on what it is we are doing and why. The location is also refreshing. We do not have to put ourselves in concrete jungles to be smart and serious. We are part of nature, and when we are in sight of nature we are more relaxed and thus more creative… and the science on that process is in.

I am here because I think wellness professionals can be leaders in the transition to a fair and sustainable world. You can be part of what I term in my latest book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement – A movement that is pursuing a transition to a fair and sustainable economy through new approaches to enterprise.

I was invited partly because of a report I researched and wrote about sustainable luxury, for the environmental group WWF. In Deeper Luxury, we mapped out the sustainability challenge, and how luxury brands perform, the commercial reasons why they can do more, and some examples and tips for companies. The report took off around the world. I even ended up pictured in Tatler; a dubious indicator of success for an environmentalist perhaps.

Wellness services target the same market as many luxury brands, and many wellness services are themselves luxury brands. The luxury industry has been under an increasing spotlight on its social and environmental performance. From the sourcing of metals and stones in jewellery, to the working practices for models, to the use of endangered species in its products. More and more luxury brands have made steps to improve practice, and some luxury groups have even decided to make major investments in buying niche ethical luxury brands, such as LVMH buying half of Edun, which focuses on ethical clothing. The trends they are responding to are trends that also affect wellness industries – a growing realisation amongst people around the world of social and environmental malaise and how our consumption affects that, and how our choices at work matter. If you are in a business where the products and services are highly discretionary, and where personal motivation of staff is key to your success, then these broader public issues affect your business, because they affect customer and staff mood.

I’m new to wellness, and I need some. Having flu at my first wellness conference maybe tells me something I need to hear. I’ve been working on sustainability for 15 years and it is a huge agenda. It can seem complicated, with more stuff to have to think about, to check on, and so on. But actually its quite simple. At its most basic sustainability is about people being in harmony with nature, including our own natures. As our societies have developed our work and ways of living have separated us from that harmony with nature, with each other and with our true selves. You have likely heard that before. Right now I’d like us to take a moment to sense what restoring that harmony could feel like. You may find it helpful if you close your eyes for the next few moments.

So, now with you eyes shut, try to recall a moment when you think you won an argument, or clinched a deal, or got promoted. Think of how it felt at the time.

Still with your eyes shut, next, try to recall a moment when you were in nature, perhaps looking at a sunset, or where you completely lost yourself in the moment of something you enjoy doing. Try to taste that feeling.

Now contrast that feeling with the first – the feeling generated within you when you won out on something.

Consider whether that first feeling is one of self-promotion – a worldly feeling, while the second feeling comes from somewhere else, something some would call your soul.

This is a reflection recommended to us by Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest from India. He says the worldly feelings control us, and make us controllable, and don’t provide the nourishment and happiness from when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. He suggests we are weighed down by these worldly motivations for approval, popularity, and power.

That is also a sustainability message. Because sustainability is not so much a challenge out there, but in here. It comes down to how mindful we are in our work. A sustainable wellness industry will flow from a sustainable wellness profession of people inspired by creating experiences that generate well-being for everyone involved, not just the client, and restoring the biological diversity and balance of our planet in the process.

The good news is that more and more people want that from us.

This time tomorrow you will hear from Adam Horler of LOHAS Asia, some new data on consumer attitudes to the environment and consumption, from across South East Asia. So I wont go into the data I have from last year. The positive news is that contrary to myth, middle class urban Asian consumers are concerned about the environment and would prefer better options on that issue. But today, Ill share with you some statistics on why it is so important we try to meet those consumers’ aspirations and help them turn it into behavioural change.

Since the conference opened here at 9am yesterday morning, just 24 hours ago, over 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest have been lost. Over a million tonnes of toxic waste have been released into our environment. Since 9am yesterday, 98,000 people on our planet died of starvation, tens of thousands of them children. In just a day, 137 species have been driven into extinction. In that time, up to 200,000 sharks have been killed, many of them endangered species, by removing their fins to flavour our soup. Perhaps it is no wonder then that an estimated 2 million people around the world took a day off work yesterday due to stress or depression.

We are exposed to bad news in the media on most days, and it seems so abstract and unconnected to us. It can make us numb, partly because we don’t know what to do. But if we repress certain feelings then that can come out in other ways, damaging ourselves and others. The numbness can also hold us back from acting on what we know and what we care about. There’s an American poet Drew Dellinger, who I particularly like for the way he reaches through this numbness. Suffering with this flu, I was bored in bed and listening to his poetry. One poem reached me in the middle of the night. It goes something like this:

“It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do while the earth was unravelling?
Surely you did something when the seasons started failing
when the animals, reptiles and birds were all dying?
Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
What did you do?
Once you knew…”

When that touches us, even if its painful, we can be grateful for that, because we are feeling our extended self, our fuller self, expressing itself.

We are lucky we are not one of the people who suffered in the last 24 hours. We are probably lucky we are not our great great grandchildren. But we are also guilty. Not of inaction or apathy. Because we are already active in causing the problems I’ve described, through what we buy and what our savings get used for, who or what we work for or on. The problems in the world are not there from an absence of human action, but because of human action, in pursuit of profit and pride. The building, the lights, the food, our clothes, credit cards, the works, its all of us involved in all the difficulties I’ve just described.

Am I making you feel well? In raising these issues am I providing a wellness service? The sustainability agenda must make us question what we mean by wellness.

Some may cynically surmise that such malaise may mean a growth in demand for wellness services. But wellness seems to be more than health, moments of happiness and thin veil of calm. Rather, wellness is a form of contentment and balance, a way of being where one is both healer and whole. Providing people opportunities to awaken to their higher selves can be part of the wellness agenda. It might be unsettling, but ultimately can be deeply affirming. In any case, new evidence confirms that personal wellness and well-being is often affected by collective wellness and well-being.

Personal and collective wellness are connected in two key ways – environmental and social. A US government study published last month found a strong, consistent correlation between adult diabetes and particulate air pollution. There are also scientific studies published this year that correlate levels of air pollution, such as nitrous oxides, with levels of personal happiness. Studies also correlate more traffic congestion with less sense of well-being. We probably didn’t need scientists to work that one out.

Our proximity to nature also matters. Studies have found that post-operation patients housed in rooms with views of nature require less time in hospital and require fewer pain killers. In a study by the University of Illinois “those who lived in housing units with no immediate view of or access to nature reported a greater number of aggressive conflicts with partners or children than their peers who lived near trees and grass.” Our natural world is our common well-being.

The second way that personal and collective wellness is connected is through social factors. One study reported this year finds that if you are not in a good relationship, your injuries will take twice as long to heal, than if you are in a positive and nurturing relationship. Studies show correlations between unemployment, or poverty or economic inequality, with higher rates of crime. It is not surprising then that one study found that in the most economically unequal of states of the USA, 35 to 40 percent of the population feel they cannot trust other people, compared to only 10 percent in the more equal states. Not trusting each other, and being anxious of our rank in society, and what will happen if we slip back, is one explanation for why growing GDP has not correlated with growing levels of happiness, beyond a fairly low threshold. Even UN studies report more unequal societies are more unhappy, top to bottom.

Can one be well when many are not? Apparently not.

There are two major implications for the wellness industry from recognising this connection between personal and collective wellness, or from now on, between personal and global wellness. First, are implications for the relationship with the client. Second, the relationship with everyone else involved, and the environment.

Let’s consider the client. Instead of retreat many people seek reconnection. Jeorg DeMeuth, who runs Organic Spa and who you heard from yesterday, told me that he finds more “people are looking for a holistic experience, where they experience soul, mind and body. The new Spa is a kind of dreamland for new ideas and life concepts”. For those clients who don’t yet have this awareness, as professionals with access to the latest science on the relation between personal and global wellness do we have a responsibility to help lead more people towards that thinking, as it is in their own interests? Serving people by proposing something they don’t yet know they want is an old challenge. Henry Ford knew it well when he famously said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d tell me a faster horse.” We can serve customers by seeking to lead them.

How to lead customers in this way is an important questions. I want to learn about that, and am looking for examples to include in my next book, on sustainable luxury, so Id welcome chatting after, if you have tried it. I think one subtle way of leading consumers is to communicate how you are providing your services in more responsible ways. Demonstrating a practical manifestation of values can be a good teacher. This also connects to the the second main implication of the connection between personal and global wellness – unless you are supporting collective wellness through the actual operations of your wellness business, you are not really helping your clients’ individual wellness. If the products you use have no contaminants but their manufacture polluted the air we breath, rising our rates of diabetes, destabilising our climate, then that’s not so ‘well’.

I hear that there are many companies embracing this agenda, and some of them we are hearing about at this conference.

There are a variety of initiatives bringing people together to make this happen, such as The Campaign for Greener Healthcare, The Green Occupational Therapy Network, The Green Yoga Association and the Authentic Luxury Network which I launched with some people in the luxury world. There are also initiatives such as Green Globe’s standard for environmental management of Spas, which the luxury resort chain Six Senses developed with them. What is exciting is that we do not have to only focus on making less impact on the planet and people, but we can create products and services that make a positive impact on people and nature. For example, I’m an advisor to The UN’s Biotrade initiative, which is working with skincare and fragrance companies to develop product lines that create new revenues to pay for the conservation of species and their ecosystems. One participant is the Swiss fragrance firm Firmenich, who worked with the NGO Care International, to improve the lives of Vanilla farmers in Uganda, and incorporate that into the brand proposition for a new perfume by Estee Lauder and Donna Karan, called PureDKNY.

This is not about companies offering charity. It is about upgrading normal business operations. The sustainable wellness agenda is about how you make your money not how you give it away. It may seem complex but you can start anywhere, for instance by empowering your staff to become aware of issues and how they relate to their values and their healing practices, and then together discover ways of reducing negative impacts and making more positive contributions. You can look for guidelines and standards, and you can take lots of notes during Jeorg’s skills development session tomorrow.

In summary, I think wellness professions are important to sustainability and vice versa. It will soon be impossible to separate personal wellness from working on collective or global wellness. We will only integrate these properly if we have a heartfelt intention to serve all life through our work. That is an intention most of us share, but it gets covered up with all the stresses and strivings of everyday life. The reflection from Anthony de Mello at the start, helps us see that our world needs from us simply what we deeply need for ourselves. To be authentic, soulful and purposeful. We don’t have to be whole to heal – we just have to be on the way. Thank you.

[References to the data mentioned will appear in my forthcoming book, “Higher Ends”. Thanks to Lifeworth’s Hanniah Tariq and Sara Walcott for research assistance, and comments from Matthew Slater and Ian Doyle on an earlier version. A video of the talk will appear soon].

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