Book Quotations – From “Sustainable Frontiers”

Sustainable Frontiers

Book Title: Sustainable Frontiers: Unlocking Change Through Business, Leadership and Innovation

Authors: Wayne Visser

Publication details: Greenleaf Publishing, 2015

For more information: See the Book Profile


  1. So much of making a successful transition to a more sustainable future depends on letting go
  2. We must find ways to let go of an industrial system that has served us well, but is no longer fit for purpose
  3. We have to let go of old styles of leadership & outdated models of business, high-impact lifestyles & selfish values
  4. We must learn to let go of cherished ideologies that are causing destruction
  5. We must learn to let go of beliefs about ways to tackle problems that are failing to resolve crises
  6. We are scared to let go, because we are comfortable clinging to our consumptive habits & selfish behaviours
  7. The future is uncertain – and our greatest fear as humans is a fear of the unknown
  8. We would rather trust (and fight to protect) the present we know than gamble on the future we don’t know
  9. Civilizations that fail to change are civilizations that ultimately fall
  10. The decline of civilizations starts with the failure to open the public and political mind to new possibilities
  11. People become trapped in a paradigm – a pattern of thinking – and are closed to a different, emergent world-view
  12. If we are to reach sustainable frontiers, it must begin with changing our collective minds
  13. First, we must change our collective minds – and only then will we change our collective behaviour
  14. We will all have to let go of cherished beliefs and strategies that are not working
  15. Sustainability I’ve discovered to be many things, but not an effective strategy for change – at least, not yet
  16. The essential idea of sustainability is about as exciting as watching lettuce wilt under the midday sun
  17. Sustainability has won many battles, but has lost the war for the hearts and minds of the people
  18. Sustainability has been warning of scarcity & survival, when what people want is prosperity & thriving
  19. The sustainability movement has failed to understand what it means to be human
  20. As human beings, our lives are all about change – about growth & development & making things better
  21. Sustainability “wonks” believe that they are all about Progress with a capital P. The world remains unconvinced
  22. Sustainability is like a geeky, pimply teenager who has come to our party & turned off the music
  23. Sustainability folks keep telling us that we would really be much happier if we stopped having so much darn fun!
  24. The key to having a good time, declares the sustainability mantra, is to practice a lot more self-restraint
  25. All those on board the sustainability austerity train, say “Hell, yeah!” … What, no one?
  26. If we are to survive (let alone thrive), the world is going to have to change – dramatically, radically & irreversibly
  27. When change does turn our lives upside down (as it will), how can we become more resilient?
  28. Change is all about connection. In other words, connectivity is the underlying catalyst for change
  29. Learning only happens when synapses are formed: they connect the neurons to each other
  30. Scaling the number of networked relationships is at the heart of change, including biological & social evolution
  31. If we want to save the sustainability movement, we will have to get much smarter about change
  32. We desperately need transformational leadership in order to advance the frontier of sustainability
  33. Calamitous leadership led us all, Pied Piper-like, into the 2008 global financial crisis
  34. The global financial crisis was ushered in while leading companies happily chanted “greed is good” in unison
  35. To survive in the sustainability era, companies will have to move beyond their aggressive tendencies
  36. Companies need to become genuinely concerned about the perspectives & wellbeing of all their stakeholders
  37. Stakeholders, if maltreated, can bite bite back – & even the most macho multinationals can bleed
  38. Too many companies have grown used to speaking to stakeholders only on a ‘need to know’ basis
  39. There is no shortage of companies that mistake ‘telling’ for ‘dialogue’ & get backchat from angry stakeholders
  40. Our incumbent global cadre of executive leadership is being forced to shapeshift, like it or not
  41. Those that have the foresight to change fundamentally are more likely to survive and thrive
  42. When it comes to sustainability, we are actually talking about changing a vastly complex system
  43. It takes a complex mix of different players to bring about lasting change for sustainability
  44. The bottom line is that we are gambling with our climate future, but we can still spread our bets
  45. If we want real transformation in society, our best chance is to keep spinning the wheel of systems change
  46. If there is one reason why organisational change fails, it is because we underestimate resistance to change
  47. Resistance to change comes from inertia – and inertia happens because change is like an iceberg
  48. Shifting our habits, attitudes, beliefs and values is the real secret to making change happen
  49. Changing a leader’s world-view is the first step to changing an organisation
  50. Sustainability reports are practically burping with all the ‘low hanging fruit’ companies have gorged on
  51. As humans, we are always ‘chasing the blue’ – so we have to be convinced that where we are going is sunnier
  52. Most people in most parts of the world don’t believe a sustainable future is necessarily a better future
  53. A blue skies strategy means being willing to take a risk as a leader & to set big hairy audacious goals
  54. Blue-sky leaders know that we are only inspired by reaching for an impossible dream
  55. We desperately need more Apollo-like sustainability missions that the public can get genuinely excited about
  56. Impacts that are far away, or in the future, are like smoldering fires in the distance: not action-worthy
  57. People need to feel the heat: directly, personally, here and now. That might mean lighting a few fires
  58. If you’re trying to make change happen, use burning platforms to create the urgency for change
  59. Use blue skies to create the reasons to change, baby steps for momentum & big beliefs to sustain energy
  60. Unlocking change is not only about what you do, but also whether you are tapped into your own power
  61. There are deep psychological – even existential – reasons why we “do” sustainability
  62. Sustainability allows us to feel that our work is aligned to our personal values
  63. Sustainability is a bit like chess – it is complex, dynamic & challenging, like an earth-puzzle that needs solving
  64. There are four sustainability leader archetypes – experts, facilitators, catalysts & activists
  65. Experts, facilitators, catalysts & activists each represent a different kind of sustainability change agent
  66. In the world of sustainability superheroes, you should know which cape and tights fits you best
  67. Aligning with your inner superhero allows you to be more professionally effective and purpose-inspired
  68. For change to be sustained and transformational, we need the joint efforts of the sustainability Fantastic Four
  69. The sustainability Fantastic Four superhero powers are knowledge, collaboration, imagination & compassion
  70. The first step to overcoming short-termism is to challenge the prevailing wisdom
  71. Sustainability must be recast as being fundamentally about the way a company does business
  72. We must keep identifying & promoting actions that question shareholder supremacy & financial speculation
  73. Trust comes from investing in long-term relations, rather than attempting to buy positive opinions
  74. Companies lose the trust of stakeholders because they over-promise and under-deliver
  75. Only if there is a genuine strategic commitment to sustainability from the top will we see meaningful change
  76. Stakeholders remain skeptical of companies’ motives & commitment to societal improvement – & rightly so
  77. To overcome stakeholder skepticism, companies must commit to bold strategic social & environmental goals
  78. To succeed, sustainability has to be translated into the language of the business or sector or functional area
  79. Unless sustainability is built into the company’s compensation schemes, middle managers will not align
  80. We need sustainability leaders to be consistent role models & to put their money where their mouths are
  81. When employees feel proud of their organization’s sustainability efforts, they become its biggest champion
  82. Unless the C-suite is on board with sustainability, all other efforts are bound to fail
  83. Sustainability leaders are able to think systemically, to see interconnections & to bridge silos
  84. Sustainability leaders will always find a way to put their values to work, no matter what industry they’re in
  85. We all share responsibility for inspiring & supporting each other to create a better world
  86. Revolutionary change is more often the result of new ways of thinking than new ways of doing
  87. CSR & triple bottom line efforts have been criticised as little more than window dressing & corporate spin
  88. Employees believe they work for great organisations when they trust the people they work for
  89. We must create work environments that support women who do not want to trade-off their career & family
  90. Creating a family-friendly enterprise requires a shift in leadership perceptions & organizational culture
  91. Let’s celebrate workplaces that support not only you & your job, but also your family & your quality of life
  92. Promoting cycling among employees is not only good for personal health, but also good for the planet
  93. It is a popular myth that CSR is not relevant, too expensive or not incentivized for SMEs
  94. Implicit CSR includes informal ethical practices that are not dependent on size or financial muscle
  95. I look forward to the day when “small is beautiful” applies as much to sustainable business as economic activity
  96. Understanding virtual water – embedded in the things we trade – is critical as our global water crisis increases
  97. To get us through the day, it takes about a hundred times our own weight in water [in industrialised economies]
  98. We all have footprints. But we can lighten the tread & ensure they are heading in a more sustainable direction
  99. Research shows that businesses with more women on their board of directors bring a string of sustainability benefits
  100. The circular economy – where closed-loop production brings us closer to zero waste – is a real business opportunity
  101. Our economy is so inefficient that less than 1% of the resources we extract still exist as products 6 months after sale
  102. Scaling up the circular economy requires concrete measures to meet mult-stakeholder sustainability targets
  103. The circular economy represents an annual $380-630 bn material cost saving opportunity in the EU
  104. If we fail to achieve a sustainable technology revolution, we will face “overshoot and collapse” as a civilization
  105. Not only is technological innovation booming, but it is rapidly shifting twoards sustainable solutions
  106. Many of the World Economic Forum’s top 10 most promising technologies have a clear enviornmental & social focus
  107. The market for clean energy technologies is projected to grow from $248 bn in 2013 to $398 bn in 2023
  108. More patents have been filed in the past 5 years than the previous 30 for climate change mitigation technologies
  109. Contrary to what some may think, emerging markets cannot be assumed to lag on sustainable technological innovation
  110. What does the future hold? The sustainable technology innovation wave is only just building
  111. According to McKinsey & Co., resource productivity opportunities could save us $2.9 trillion by 2030
  112. The challenges of the 21st century will stretch our collective capacity for innovation like never before
  113. To ensure food security, we need to find 175-220 million hectares of additional cropland by 2030
  114. To ensure food security, we need to increase total food production by about 70% by 2030
  115. We have to tackle the problem of 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted every year – a third of all food produced
  116. Resource productivity opportunities show that reducing food waste could return $252 bn in savings by 2030
  117. Creating a sustainable “cold chain” in the developing world could eliminate 25-50% of food wastage
  118. The sustainability revolution is as much about changing perceptions, attitudes & behaviours as changing technology
  119. Agricultural demand will require a 140% increase in water supply over the next 20 years compared with the past 20
  120. It is estimated that the global biofuels market could double to $185.3 bn by 2021
  121. We are all, with our modern lifestyles, hooked on chemicals, for energy, colourants, food, health & beauty
  122. The WHO estimates that the chemical industry causes around a million deaths globally every year
  123. Chemicals are harming people, yet because of their benefits & the world’s addiction, they cannot be eliminated
  124. The cost to the global economy of chemical pollution has been estimated at $546 bn, rising to $1.9 tn by 2050
  125. Can the chemicals ever be sustainable? The answer is maybe. The big leap forward is green chemistry
  126. The “green” label has been so abused over the past few decades that it is wise to suspect PR spin or greenwashing
  127. The green chemistry market is set to grow from $2.8 bn in 2011 to $98.5 bn by 2020, saving the industry $65.5 bn
  128. The top benefits from implementing sustainable technology are resource productivity & economic development
  129. The top barriers to sustainable technology adoption are the local of local qualified workers & institutional capacity
  130. The marketing benefits of demonstrating sustainable technologies in developing countries can be significant
  131. Major reductions in the environmental impacts of the chemicals industry can be achieved by adopting best practices
  132. Resource scarcity & human rights issues surrounding metals extraction mean the industry is facing some tough realities
  133. People living in extreme poverty could drop from 1.2 billion in 2010 to under 100 million by 2050
  134. An environmental disaster scenario could mean 3.1 billion more people living in extreme poverty by 2050
  135. Unless the world’s booming economies can lighten the weighty anchor of resource consumption, we will all sink
  136. The largest metals & mining companies have environmental external costs of $220 billion, 77% relating to carbon
  137. The picture that emerges is of a metals sector under seige, an industry that is soon to be the victim of its own success
  138. Iron & steel energy efficiency & end-use steel efficiency could deliver $278 billion in resource savings by 2030
  139. The sustainability impacts of the extractive sector are serious – sometimes even tragic & catastrophic
  140. Technology, the source of so much destruction in the mining & metals industry, can also be its saviour
  141. Today, less than a third of 60 metals analysed have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50% & 34 are below 1%
  142. The best available sustainable technology is not always the most applicable, especially in developing countries
  143. Technology can help to rescue the high-impact extractives sector from its siege by the forces of sustainability
  144. Extractives companies need to recast themselves as resource stewardship companies
  145. Extractives companies must become experts at circular production and post-consumer “mining”
  146. Customers & governments need to give up their compulsive throw-away habits & embrace the take-back economy
  147. Necessity, rather than an unexpected attack on conscience, will drive the transition to a circular economy
  148. Sustainable technologies are transforming our outdated industrial model, which is no longer fit for purpose
  149. Without innovation, we are unlikely solve many of global social & environmental problems
  150. Eco-innovation is the next evolution beyond eco-efficiency, to strategically transform the whole business model
  151. When it comes to reinventing capitalism, eco-innovation is one of the next waves business will want to surf
  152. Technology presents citizens with far greater opportunities to engage with sustainability issues than ever before
  153. Hyper-connectivity makes responsiveness more possible – and less likely
  154. Value-action gaps make stakeholder feedback more collectable – and less valuable
  155. The wisdom of the crowd can – without validation – also become the tragedy of the commons
  156. The proliferation of sustainability standards has led to market confusion for investors & consumers
  157. What is missing across the sustainability standards arena is greater clarity & more co-ordination
  158. It is inevitable that advances in “big data” analytics will start to be applied to sustainability databases
  159. Sustainability data structuring, searchability & signposting will become at least as important as a qualitative narrative
  160. What really matters for the fututre of transparency is how sustainability data is organised & made accessible
  161. Sustainability reporting is only one face of the transparency coin; on the other side is sustainability ratings

Cowboys, spaceships and CSR 2.0

Cowboys, spaceships and CSR 2.0

Article by Wayne Visser

Written for GreenBiz.

The following is a synopsis of Sustainable Frontiers by Wayne Visser, from Greenleaf Publishing

When we think of frontiers, two images often come to mind: cowboys and space.

And as it happens, both hold clues to how the world is simultaneously facing the most severe crisis since the threat of nuclear annihilation and being reinvented through business pushing the boundaries of possible solutions.

One of the first to realize that a radical rethink was necessary was U.S. economist Kenneth Boulding.

In 1964, Boulding described how most companies behave as if they are riding on the infinite plains of a “cowboy economy,” where there are no restrictions on growth, resource consumption or waste generation. Their endless appetite for expansion and profits is seen as just reward for being the “quickest draw” in a free market where gunslingers are king.

A few short years later, the 1972 Limits to Growth study aimed its foreboding critique directly at those cowboy executives who thought that the good times could last forever. It is not surprising that space — “the final frontier” — also has captured the public imagination, with Kennedy’s Apollo mission finally succeeding in putting a man on the moon in 1969.

Once again, Boulding had foreseen the power of this metaphor and proposed the “spaceman economy” as an alternative to the reckless “live-fast, die-young” model of the “cowboy economy.” These were some of our first glimpses — along with Barbara Ward and Buckminster Fuller’s “spaceship earth” metaphor — of the sustainability frontier.

Now, over 50 years later, the cowboys are still with us and, if anything, they are bigger and more dangerous, with their multinational reach and multibillion-dollar budgets.

But sustainability also had advanced rapidly and is now pushing the limits. In fact, sustainability is now fundamentally changing the way business functions in society across eight vital frontiers.

In “Sustainable Frontiers,” I explore how we must find ways to let go of an industrial system that has served us well, but is no longer fit for purpose.

Sustainability frontiers

The Transformational Leadership Frontier is where we are starting to understand that all change begins with leaders who are willing to place an inspiring purpose at the heart of their company’s mission.

In research I conducted with Cambridge University, we identified key characteristics of leaders for sustainability. Yet a study by Cranfield University shows there is still a massive generation gap between current and future leaders’ belief that they are adequately delivering a social purpose through business.

The Enterprise Reform Frontier is about the wave of alternative business structures that are challenging the notion that companies must exist exclusively to serve shareholders and make profits.

Whether it is the hundreds of thousands of cooperatives that employ 250 million people worldwide, or the 1,200-plus new brand of B Corps (for benefit corporations), we are learning that we can remake companies to reflect our values and to drive positive change in society.

Online fashion retailer Zappos is a good case in point, with their promotion of “holacracy” as a self-organizing company structure, where they have a hierarchy of purpose rather than a hierarchy of management.

The Technology Innovation Frontier is where breakthroughs in process and product design are making the aspirational goals of zero negative or net positive impact less of a dream and more of a reality.

This is also where we are learning about the power of collaborative, open innovation, whether from X-Prize or Virgin Earth Challenge type initiatives, or from multi-stakeholder partnerships such as the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA) Project.

The Corporate Transparency Frontier is driving reporting down to a full value chain, product lifecycle level, with early runners such as Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles and Nike’s “Making” App, powered by the Nike Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), a database that was created using publicly available data on the environmental impacts of materials.

Meanwhile, transparency in the supply chain is being championed by sites such as and

The Stakeholder Engagement Frontier tracks how social media is changing the game of how companies interact with interested and affected parties.

Crowdsourcing platforms such as Convetit and Wikipositive are providing a new way to consult with experts on social, environmental and ethical issues, while self-organizing activist sites such as Knowmore, Star Communities and are raising the knowledge and power of customers and communities.

The Social Responsibility Frontier is rapidly shedding old-style defensive, charitable and promotional CSR in favor of more strategic and transformative approaches. Companies around the world are applying the five tests of CSR 2.0 — creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity — with hotels such as Kandalama and garment manufacturers such as Bodyline in Sri Lanka showing that transformative CSR is not just a Western phenomenon.

The Integrated Value Frontier is showing that companies can go beyond integrated reporting to integrating social, environmental and ethical criteria across their whole business — from stakeholder needs assessment and leadership goals alignment, to risk and opportunity analysis, business process redesign and management systems integration. As the name suggests, integrated value creation is also good for business — cutting costs, increasing stakeholder satisfaction and growing new markets.

Finally, the Future Fitness Frontier is where businesses are developing compelling visions for a better world — that is safe, smart, sustainable, shared and satisfying.

Take Elon Musk’s vision, for example, which is to “help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy toward a solar electric economy” through Tesla Motors — and now also Tesla Energy.

Simultaneously, business is developing resilience strategies for coping with a more volatile future.

Let it go

So much of making a successful transition to a more sustainable future depends on letting go.

How we will need to let go of old styles of leadership and outdated models of business, along with high-impact lifestyles and selfish values. How we must learn to let go of cherished ideologies that are causing destruction and beliefs about ways to tackle problems that are failing to resolve crises.

It is no wonder that we are scared to let go. Many of us are comfortable clinging to our consumptive habits and selfish behaviors. Besides, the future is uncertain — and our greatest fear as humans is a fear of the unknown. We would rather trust (and fight to protect) the present we know than gamble on the future we don’t know.

And yet, as academic Jarred Diamond has documented in Collapse, civilizations that fail to change are civilizations that ultimately fall. Similarly, historian Arnold Toynbee points out that the decline of civilizations starts with the failure to open the public and political mind to new possibilities.

People become trapped in a paradigm — literally, a pattern of thinking — and are closed to a different, emergent worldview, despite mounting evidence supporting the new reality.

If we are to reach sustainable frontiers, therefore, it must begin with changing our collective minds — and only then will we change our collective behavior. How we accomplish such a global mind-shift is the subject of this book.

It starts by admitting that those of us at the vanguard of the sustainability revolution also have to change. We will have to let go of cherished beliefs and strategies that are not working — starting with the way we communicate our vital, life-saving mission.


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Cite this article

Visser, W. (2015) Cowboys, spaceships and CSR 2.0, GreenBiz, 23 May 2015.

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