A little unconventional

21 Jun 2016

It can certainly be difficult to embrace the paradox that people, business and government are both the problem and the solution, when it comes to creating a 2 degree world. Yet this is a truth that is hard to ignore when considering the trifling progress that has been made towards creating sustainable transport and low carbon cities, especially in light of the amazing technical solutions that we have at our fingertips; low and zero carbon transport solutions like platooning vehicles, autonomous electric vehicles, electric straddling busses, solar cars and planes, vacuum tube trains and drones; technologies that were truly inconceivable only 20 years ago, are now a reality today

With all of this amazing technology an important question arises as to why it’s not being used extensively; especially given the sustainability benefits that these technologies offer. Could it be that we as people and institutions are putting the brakes on our own sustainability progress?

Well current evidence would suggest that indeed, we are.

Commitments like the Paris Agreement and the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals seem great on paper, but there are major challenges in implementing such agreements; signatories are not required to incorporate them in their law and the agreements themselves can often be unfeasible.

Perhaps it is time to look at solutions for addressing this paradox that are a little less conventional.

Enter Brandalism and Indaba.

In a near perfect disruptive coup, Brandalism hijacked over 600 outdoor advertising spaces around Paris to coincide with COP21, providing satirical commentary on corporate sponsors of the climate talks and questioning their social licence to operate.

While the campaign had undoubted street appeal, its effect on big business and private and public decision-makers is harder to quantify. What we do know is that corporate social responsibility is a factor in determining the success of businesses today and those institutions that fail to maintain a social licence to operate often pay a hefty price financially. So this form of social commentary is definitely an avenue worth considering.

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum is Indaba, a negotiation technique which has been attributed to real success in the global arena in recent years.

Inbaba is traditionally used by the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa. It works particularly well in cases where negotiations are complex or when stalling techniques have been used. 

The encompassing philosophy is that every party is allowed to voice their opinion but must arrive at consensus quickly. The key to its success is that arguments can only be expressed once. Points of view are aired in an open circular forum with everyone’s bottom line or threshold clearly stated. At the same time, each party is also asked to provide solutions to find common ground.

The UN first used this negotiation technique in Durban in 2011 and has had subsequent success with its use during the COP21 in Paris.  All parties, including opposing parties huddle together and speak directly to each other or are within earshot. This highly participatory and transparent process quickly allows participants to get to the central issue to move on to explore common ground. And it would seem, more often than not, that this form of negotiation breaks through major differences that would otherwise result in deadlock.

Considering the existing paradox of business being both the problem and the solution, isn’t it time we considered trying something new?

Harnessing our global connectivity, and using collaborative negotiation techniques such as Indaba could be the means to bridging differences in the debate that will ultimately facilitate or delay transitioning to the required next generation of sustainable transport within a low carbon built environment.

Will this transition become a reality before it’s too late? 

Tony Watson, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Associate Director Sustainability