What story do we have to tell ourselves in order to save the planet?
by Rachel Kropa, Managing Director, Footprint Coalition
For as long as I can remember, we environmentalists have told stories that shame and guilt and reproach humans about the world falling apart around us. Some people find that useful, and some rage against it…but most people just feel tired and overwhelmed. So what story can everyone get behind in order to fix this thing?
Well, what story did we tell ourselves about COVID-19 that made our response effective enough to #flattenthecurve? We trusted science because of the immediate fear of personal harm. (It certainly wasn’t for the side effect of having less air pollution, fewer cars on the road, and more people out in nature than in office buildings.)
Why can’t the story about the environment be the same kind of story, despite that fact that the recent coronavirus event WAS environmental, and personal harm WILL become more and more of a regular occurrence?
The answer is: even if the world can recognize that COVID-19 was an environmental battle, we have to tell a different story because of the sheer duration of this multi-generational war for the planet. The Greatest Generation was still only one generation. For a fight of many more generations, you can merely start the story with fear. Fear is the first paragraph; it sets the stage.
Remind me, what are the elements of a story?
1) Characters – There should be no more compelling characters than ourselves, but there are other players, too. Humans like to pretend we live outside an ecosystem. And we haven’t done a good job of personifying other species or the planet itself, simply because of a vocalization quirk. It’s best, for this story, if we think of ourselves as the outnumbered, underdog humans.
2) Setting – Any of the millions of places on the planet where things are made. Picture the underdog humans all working simultaneously on doing our best trick – using tools.
3) Conflict – The planet is in trouble -- most of us know it now [about 8 in 10 Americans say that human activity is responsible*]. And every country outside of America treats it with certainty, not debate. The common enemy is actually the same as our hero – the Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll. The stakes are that this league of underdogs could lose everything, of course.
4) Plot – After toiling against the clock, in bunkers all over the world, with some failures but ultimately success, our underdog heroes bring technological inventions to light that drastically improve entire segments of industry or human behavior as we know it.
Now, would you be more interested in that story?
Footprint Coalition exists to realize that story. We need the hope of creativity, and we need as much imagination as there is on the planet. We need intermittent glimpses of the better future and how we are measurably getting there with occasional markers of success.
From COVID-19, we know we can just buckle down and go without…for a while. We can react to the urgency of being faced with death – but after a certain amount of exposure to that story, people will ultimately wear down and determine to go on spring break. If we have a constructive story and get positive reinforcement, we can have stamina for generations. The journey needs to be satisfying.
In our lives, we are all so often swimming upstream, not knowing why; or we are being dragged along by a current we can’t control. We don’t want to be told about that. Instead, let’s take stock in our environmental story and go thoughtfully downstream now: plotting our future points better, understanding what can be done efficiently for the biggest impact, and making innovations for what’s most important to us.
If you are a human, you are a maker. And you also stand on the shoulders of other makers – scientists, engineers, chefs, carpenters, auto-mechanics, plumbers, architects, and more. If you turn on the tap, if you take medicine, if you drive a car, if you use a phone...you use invention and human ingenuity. You enjoy the story of making. And it can get us out of this if we do it together.
Rachel Kropa is a scientist and spent the last 15 years in an entertainment agency, meeting every environmental organization she could. She joined the Footprint Coalition to try a different tactic and tell a different story.
Why do we invest?
by Jonathan Schulhof, Managing Partner, Footprint Coalition Ventures
Footprint Coalition Ventures invests in technology companies that address environmental challenges, mitigate corporate ESG risk, and deliver enhanced value to consumers.
The human and economic devastation of COVID-19 lays bare the “Tragedy of the Commons," and compels us to address predictable catastrophes before they happen.
We are on a quest for people and companies that can imagine a more sustainable and resilient way forward, for humanity and for Mother Earth.
We believe that:
• Consumers buy great sustainable products at prices they can afford.
• Supply chains that are good for the planet make us less vulnerable.
• Our health and the health of our planet are tied together.
Come with Us.
Jonathan Schulhof is Managing Partner of Footprint Coalition Ventures. He is an investor and entrepreneur who started several sustainable technology and media companies including Loom Media, Motivate, Glori Energy, and ColdWatt. He also created a merchant bank with considerable investment experience in India, as a founder of GTI Capital Group.