At SB’19 Madrid last week, a diverse array of innovators in various fields demonstrated the notion that asking the right questions and being willing to use imagination to find solutions to the climate crisis and other pressing global issues can turn a Moonshot into reality.
We have reached a critical stage where what worked in the past won’t work in the future. We have the technology to solve the problems, but we need a change in human thinking and behaviour. How? Through Moonshot thinking — the combination of innovative technology and innovative thinking to solve a challenging problem.
The power of both personal conviction and collaboration came through loud and clear throughout SB’19 Madrid (Oct 17-18), with the need for personal drive towards common goals. When the ‘personal me’ and the ‘professional me’ combine, the mission is unstoppable.
50 years ago, the Apollo mission was an example of vision, co-operation and openness — involving 400,000 scientists and engineers, and 20,000 companies. With a mix of inspiration, emotion and revolution, SB Madrid attendees were launched into their own mission of change, alongside innovators creating game-changing engagement and overhauling global systems for the better.
A response to the climate emergency: Time to rebel
Extinction Rebellion's Andrew Medhurst | Image credit: Sustainable Brands
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“We are a band of pirates,” was keynote speaker Andrew Medhurst’s rallying cry to attendees.
A new approach is needed to tackle today’s ecological crisis, according to Medhurst, who, for his part, left his 30-year banking career to join Extinction Rebellion — a non-violent, direct-action civil protest against the climate emergency worldwide.
Medhurst claims Extinction Rebellion follows the tradition of civil disobedience, citing Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks. While described as non-violent, the movement is willing to be disruptive and break the law to get attention, as was evident in the latest International Rebellion, with 1,600 arrested at the London protest earlier this month.
By outlining the business and moral rationale to act, and giving the audience a licence to rebel, SB’19 Madrid was off to a dynamic start.
Needed: More giant leaps for humankind
Jim Adams | Image credit: Sustainable Brands
If disruption is needed to gain attention, what is required to turn a Moonshot into reality? During an onstage conversation with Quiero’s Sandra Pina, Jim Adams — a retired NASA Deputy Chief Technologist — said NASA doesn’t actually use the word “Moonshot,” because everything it does involves overcoming a major challenge. However, he identified the key ingredients for Moonshot thinking:
“You need a clear vision and perseverance. While disruption is useful, you also need a group to do the work over a long period.”
Clear leadership is necessary to mobilise an idea into action. “With any new idea, 10 percent will be against the change and 10-20 percent at the other end will say, ‘Let’s move forward.’ 70 percent of people will be in the middle, looking to see which way they should go. That’s where good leadership comes in,” Adams explained.
He was visibly moved as he related the experience of President Johnson visiting NASA and asking a janitor “What are you doing?” To which the janitor replied: “Helping America get to the moon,” illustrating the leadership and collective ambition of the mission. “It gets me every time,” Adams breathed.
Secret ingredients of an effective entrepreneurial mindset
Bas Van Abel is an award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of Fairphone — an ethically made, modular phone. The latest Fairphone uses Fairtrade Gold, recycled plastic and ensures fair conditions for workers. What’s surprising is that Van Abel sold 25,000 phones before he had even worked out how to make a phone.
Van Abel’s Moonshot thinking was to follow the phone from the ground — e.g. from its mined components — to the end customer, and see how production could be made more sustainable along the way. With the encouragement of a corporate order for 1,000 phones, Van Abel set about finding a factory to make them. His request to the factory was: “We want to be able to show how the phone is made and to improve working conditions.”
The next stage was crowdfunding, with a campaign offering people a more sustainable phone within six months. 25,000 people bought the phone before it even existed.
“It felt like flying a plane, when you’re still building it and you don’t know how to fly,” Van Abel admitted. At one stage he thought he would have to give everyone their money back. However, his wife encouraged him to continue; and the first Fairphone was launched later that year. Eighteen months later, over 60,000 Fairphones had been sold.
What was his secret to success? “Firstly, be strategically naïve,” Van Abel said. “Naivety is fine as long as you know you are naïve. Secondly, be vulnerable — open up and show things. So, if there is child labour in your supply chain, show it — but also show what you are doing about it.
“Finally, surface the dark matter — the things behind the product. If people have no understanding of the products they use, they will never change behaviour.”
Climate Take Back: Interface’s Moonshot to be carbon negative by 2040
Sometimes change comes from asking the right questions. 25 years ago, Ray Anderson — CEO of commercial flooring manufacturer Interface — famously asked a single question: What are we doing about the environment? As a result, in 1994, Interface made a pledge to have zero impact on the planet by 2020. In his Thursday keynote, Jon Khoo, Regional Sustainability Manager, UKIME and Nordics at Interface, reflected on the benefits of setting ambitious targets.
“The goal allowed Interface to galvanise and inspire its employees. For example, the R&D team found a way of fixing floors with less glue. The sales teams loved being the carpet reps that wanted to talk about the environment.”
25 years of sustainable progress later, Interface is on track to meet its target. But now it has a new mission, called Climate Take Back — a strategy to not only have zero impact but to work towards reversing the effects of climate change. The aim is to make every flooring product carbon neutral, either in production or by offsetting the balance, at no extra cost to the customer. Khoo asked:
“If we can do this, why not make carbon neutral a standard? Why doesn’t everyone?”
Interface has also developed Proof Positive, the first carbon-negative carpet tile. Using plant-derived carbon, this concept tile actually prevents two kilos of CO2 going into the atmosphere. Still in a pilot phase, the product is expected to be released to market in the next 12-18 months — proof that asking the right questions and being willing to use imagination to find the solutions can turn a Moonshot into reality.
Un-doing and re-doing food in the age of empowered consumers
Friday afternoon explored ideas from two innovators determined to knock our existing food system off its axis.
Honest Tea's Seth Goldman | Image credit: Sustainable Brands
“Over the course of its lifetime, a honey bee creates only 1/8 of a teaspoon of honey. Likewise, one person doesn’t create enough change on their own; but if you give people a chance to make a small change, it contributes to a larger change,” began Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea and Executive Chair of Beyond Meat.
Goldman is encouraging people to make a small change in their food consumption for the greater good. With increased access to information, consumers now have greater power than ever, and are insisting on different options in-store. People are moving away from mainstream food offerings, towards what Goldman describes as “the un-doing and re-doing of food.”
The un-doing of food is about transparent sourcing and authentic ingredients. Goldman created his first beverage, Honest T, because he was looking for a healthy drink. He brewed five Thermos flasks of tea in his kitchen and took them to his local Whole Foods store, and they agreed to take 15,000 bottles. Honest T was the first organic bottled tea; the brand was sold to The Coca-Cola Company in 2011.
Meanwhile, Beyond Meat — which has used proprietary science to redefine “meat” — is re-doing food. Meat is essentially an assembly of amino acids (proteins), lipids (fats), water and trace minerals, which are processed by an animal. Goldman asked: “What if we leave the animal out of it? What if we use heat and pressure and cooling to make meat?” In doing so, they created a meat alternative, which is skyrocketing in popularity.
“We see an enormous expansion of retailers selling it in the meat section of the grocery store. We are now reaching a much wider audience,” Goldman said.
“In the future, our kids will just ask, “Is it meat protein or plant protein?”
Foodshot Global's Victor Friedberg | Image credit: Sustainable Brands
“My personal moonshot started in Central Market, Valencia, Spain, in 2012. I ate a peach and realised that the peaches I had eaten my whole life were a shadow of this peach,” said Victor E. Friedberg, co-founder of S2G Ventures and founder/Chairman of FoodShot Global.
It led him on a journey to consider why this Spanish peach tasted better, and the broader question of ‘What is food?’: “Food is nutritious and safe. If it isn’t nutritious and safe, it isn’t food,” he concluded. “Between those two words lies the entire frontier of food.”
A lack of safe and nutritious food is causing problems, he said.
“We are bankrupting our healthcare system with our food system. How can we create nutritious and safe food without damaging the planet?”
A moonshot for better food led to Foodshot Global and the idea to start from the ground up — with soil. Soil, or the degradation of soil, is becoming a food security crisis. Soil is the nexus between agriculture, climate change and nutrition. As more carbon goes out into the air, it is pulled down into the soil, crowding out vital nutrients.
“We need a new soil operations system (Soil 3.0) to sustain 10 billion people and protect the planet,” Friedberg argued. “From healthy soil comes nutrition. We need to change from a diet based on cheap calories to one based on affordable nutrition.”
Another key focus is protein. The existing protein production system is known to have negative impacts on the planet, leading to the rise of new protein systems such as regenerative meat, cellular meat (like that produced by Beyond Meat), fungus and fermentation.
“I believe that if we can get food and agriculture right over the next decade, it will put us on a more peaceful path,” Friedberg concluded.
Getting moonshots off the ground
So, you’ve got a dream. A moonshot. How do you make it a reality? In interactive workshops across both days, Friederike Riemer — Futur/io’s Co-Creation Future Scientist — introduced the Moonshot Thinking framework from Futur/io.
1. The Challenge
It’s important to be personally connected to the moonshot, so the framework starts with an individual task. In the first workshop, the task was to imagine a child you love, send them into 2040, and create a Future Human 2040 profile of that child, now an adult — imagining their work, activities, biggest fear and biggest dream. Then, identify a challenge they might face.
In the second workshop, which had an ocean theme, the personal question was, ‘What is your favourite ocean memory?’; followed by the challenge, ‘How might we make fish a main protein source for people in a world where meat consumption is highly restricted by 2040?’
The next step is to create ideas to meet the challenge. Ideation 1 was silent brainstorming. Ideation 2 then encouraged people to think through the lens of someone else — e.g. a superhero or a brand. What would Superman do? How would IKEA solve this challenge?
2. The Moonshot idea
Having come up with a range of ideas, the next step is to choose your Moonshot idea. It must be relevant, hard to do, and breaking business as usual. If people hearing the idea say it’s impossible, you’re on the right track.
3. The Moonshot mission
Building a Moonshot mission means transforming the idea into a mission, with a measurable outcome. The Moonshot mission canvas helps to identify the breakthroughs, measurements, community and deadline of the mission. With a mission in place, you are ready for lift off.
How to create a massive, transformative global movement
Finally, the energetic Jack Sim — founder of the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) and BOP Hub — wowed the crowd with a humorous and inspiring video that showed his passion for providing toilets for all.
“If I see a problem, I try to think of a solution. If I can’t think of a solution, it’s not my problem. If I can think of a solution, it becomes my problem,” Sim said, admitting that this gives him a lot of problems. However, he exhorted: “Everything can be done if you get other people to do it. Mutual exploitation is collaboration.”
This particular problem is a lack of access to sanitation for 2.4 billion people. Open defecation spreads disease; diarrhoeal diseases — a direct consequence of poor sanitation — kill more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. One billion toilets are needed, but there is no supply.
So, Sim created the WTO, and then leveraged hard.
“You can make a change with no resources. You just have to use other people’s resources. Figure out how to align your interests with the interests of someone else, to get a win-win situation.”
For example, to persuade governments to build more toilets for female workers, he told them they were missing out on taxes because women earned less money if they had to queue for the toilet at work.
His successes include the creation of a UN Official Day, World Toilet Day, on 19 November. He created the World Toilet Summit in 2002 and now gives hosting rights to cities every year for $50,000. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Clean India Mission’ built 110 million toilets for 600 million people.
With his infectious enthusiasm and toilet humour, Sim closed the event with a standing ovation.