Please indulge me as we move into a different way of thinking, as we consider how we can and often do aspire for ambitious action on sustainability. This isn’t about new buzz words or new branding schemes to further confuse those involved in this ubiquitous and all-encompassing space; nor is this about how to engage with grumpy executives. It is about us, as passionate people, and how we can continue to be driven to be truly creative, inspired and good people. It’s about wanting to be in many more of those rare situations that have given us goose bumps. It is about beauty.
Whether from an epiphany moment such as Ray Anderson’s “spear in the chest”, an everyday activity such as a client discussion that we know is moving in the right direction, or something new and incredibly out of the blue; beauty drives us to be more and better than how we currently see ourselves. It may very well be the most positive, constructive, and thought-provoking driver for disruptive ‘do different’ (rather than ‘do better’) behavior.
Beauty engages us, intrigues us, and makes us feel as though we want to see and do more – so as to be inspired and to help us understand how we can become better thinking, doing and inspiring people.
“What is beautiful?” seems less of an important question to address than understanding the degree to which we see beauty in the world, and if/how we are both inspired and attempt to emulate these twinkles of brilliance through others spheres of our lives. Many times I have caught myself getting into mindsets of mostly considering what was wrong with a practice, situation or system; rather than focusing on what is working well (as practiced with appreciative inquiry) and how to do things differently – i.e. how to change the game through concepts such as biomimicry, rather than incremental considerations.
I was recently inspired by The Artist, a movie whose concept interested me greatly given my love for simple stories and old fashioned romance. But I was also a bit skeptical about how a silent movie could truly engage people, and have the qualities of an Oscar-winning movie. Despite seeing the movie on a plane, and my initial mindset, the movie provided me with a tremendous sense of joy and optimism.
The Artist was a perfect example of how beauty allowed for the total package to be valued at much more than the sum of its parts, and unlike many of the other Oscar-nominated films of the year (many of which were very entertaining) this brought about a truly unique and powerful emotional response. It was as if it was the first time casting my eyes upon La Grande Jatte, feeling the yearning that came from reading Love in the Time of Cholera, tasting my mother’s unmistakably own seafood chowder, or melting to the seductive voice of Emily Haines. After watching it, I knew that this movie deserved all of its accolades, and will be remembered.
As an uneasy sustainability thinker, aspiring inspirer and occasional doer, there have been new and powerful sustainability concepts such as integrated reporting, governance and materiality that I (and many other experienced practitioners) have ‘deep dived’ in recent years. I have even crafted new tools, research pieces and practice methodologies to help improve business approaches towards sustainability. These dives came as a result of both passion and necessity and while they will likely continue to be important, there will be newer and better concepts that I hope to discover, share, refine and integrate that will sometimes come as a result of serendipitous inspiration.
A completely unrelated and unexpected event inspired me to write my first ever online editorial / thought piece, and got me to think about beauty as a critical aspect of sustainability and innovation, by applying it in a very broad and intentionally ambiguous way. Now, as a result, I cannot fathom a mindset that is more critical and interesting to approach than what will undoubtedly be an endless search for beauty, and the inspiration, out-of-box thinking and ambition that it will bring.
Wesley Gee is a Senior Sustainability Consultant at Stantec Consulting Ltd, supporting many organizations (including Stantec) in identifying focused and ambitious approaches towards sustainability. Wesley is also Board Chair of AIESEC York and the Canadian Baha’i Business Forum, father of a beautiful 2 year old daughter, and proud supporter of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series as an occasional facilitator.