Feature Article: Catalysing the Second Renaissance: Creating a Sustainable Business Model for a Thriving Planet

Robin Wood

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“…We can address poverty, climate change, and environmental destruction at a very modest cost today with huge benefits for shared and sustainable prosperity and peace in the future…”
Al Gore: Winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and Former Vice President of the United States

“We have reached the beginning of the twenty-first century with a very crowded planet: 6.6 billion people living in an interconnected global economy producing an astounding $60 trillion of output each year. …China is adding the equivalent of 500-megawatt coal-fired plants per week – the total capacity of the UK power grid….. By adopting a number of practical low-carbon technologies, we can bring the climate change problem under control at modest cost, indeed a far lower cost than the horrendous climate risks we face with business as usual.”
Jeffrey D Sachs: Leading Economist and Advisor to United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon

This article is based upon excerpts from a Speech to the 60th Anniversary Celebration of AIESEC by Dr Robin Wood. In attendance were the Vice-President of Europe,Mr Gunter Verheugen, and 300 past Presidents and Secretary Generals of AIESEC. United NationsSecretary General Kofi Annansaid: “The United Nations has long recognised that the imagination, ideals and energies of young men and women are vital for the continuing development of the societies in which they live. AIESEC has contributed to this development by serving as an agent of positive change through education and cultural exchange”

The Last Wake-up Call?

Robin WoodToday we face a crisis unprecedented in human history. We are also being offered an unprecedented opportunity: to shift our entire planet to a sustainable, just and inspiring way of living. On the one hand, if we continue business as usual on earth, we will all end up in the new dark ages by the end of this century. What is business as usual? Failing to move beyond what we are currently doing under Kyoto 1 to change the way in which we run global energy, transport and trade systems, while continuing to devour our natural resources such as the forests and seas at unsustainable levels.

Despite the best efforts of a small but determined group of people over the past three decades, we are in a situation where the Kyoto 1 protocol, together with more sustainable policies at national and local levels and much efforts by some in business, are failing to halt the inexorable rise in greenhouse gas emissions which threaten all of us. Before the end of the century it is possible that between 300 million to one billion people could die as a result of climate change, and billions more will suffer. In Africa alone it is estimated that 184 million people will succumb, while in Asia-Pacific estimates are in the range of the hundreds of millions.

To put this into historical perspective, during the 20th century it is estimated that 1 in 22 people died due to war or politically motivated carnage- in total about 185 million lives were lost. We have the opportunity to avert a disaster on a similar or greater scale in the 21st century, and the question I put to all of us is: what is the right thing to do?

The future of our planet is in both our own hands, as well as the hands of the leaders of a handful of countries/regions- America, Europe, China, India, Russia and the other rapidly developing large nations. If we can get CO2 to stay below 450 ppm in the next 25 years we may have a chance of staving off the worst effects of runaway climate change: the worst case scenario is that we have a planet capable of sustaining 1 billion people by 2100. Even when one life is lost through negligence that is sad- but a few billion lives in less than a century would be unspeakable. And that is the trajectory we are heading toward with business as usual.

To put this into perspective, in 1750, before the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 was stable at 280 ppm. By 1960 it had reached 315 ppm, and is currently (in 2008), at 380 ppm. The earth has warmed by about a degree centigrade since 1750, and even if we kept CO2 at current levels (which is nigh on impossible), the delayed ocean warming effect of all that CO2 will be another 0.5 deg C.

We have already wiped out one-quarter of all species on earth, and the faster the temperature rises, the faster the world’s largest mass extinction will happen, and it will include most of us beyond a 4 deg C warming scenario. In the past 60 years our generation has left a legacy which may prove deadlier than all the wars in the 20th century. The unsustainable growth of our economies during this period has driven most of our planet’s ecosystems to the point of collapse:

  • Two-thirds of our global fishing grounds are over-exploited
  • Half our coral reefs have died
  • 35% of the world’s population living on the 41% of the earth’s surface which are dry lands are now running out of water
  • One-quarter of all species have become extinct, and half of the remaining species face extinction this century
  • We’ve pumped enough CO2 into the atmosphere to ensure a minimum global warming of two degrees centigrade, and are on course to warm the planet by a total of four degrees by 2050.

For human beings, a temperature increase of 6 degrees Fahrenheit is the difference between life and death- for our planet a temperature increase of 6 degrees centigrade is the equivalent of a death sentence for 90% of species, including us. That is the bad news.

Right now we are on course for at least a 3-4 deg C warming scenario. Even without runaway ice cap melting and methane release “doom loops”, we are in for one hell of a ride. We are already experiencing rising ocean levels, massive deforestation, habitat destruction, increased disease transmission, mass migrations, reduced water availability, increased natural hazards especially weather-related disasters, and catastrophic changes in ocean chemistry and ability to sustain life as we know it. That’s the result of 1 deg C warming and our current bad habit of using up every square inch of productive biosphere on the planet and pumping almost all of the hundreds of millions of years of carbon deposits out of the ground and pumping them back into the air in less than two centuries. There is, however, somewhere between denial and fear, an opportunity: to use this crisis to create a second Renaissance on a global scale.

Now for the good news. The combination of peak oil, the emergence of the digital knowledge economy and integral culture and leadership mean that we now have global awareness among decision-makers about the challenges we face, even if they do not agree in detail about the optimal strategy for addressing them. And we have tens of millions of leaders thinking and acting globally, rather than simply trying to make a short-term profit at the planet‘s expense. For the sake of the planet we must empower these leaders by connecting them up with each other and with the new generation of leaders who are being asked to demonstrate a heroism and wisdom beyond their years.

Over the past seven years we have been researching both the challenges and solutions we face as a species and as a planet, learning from leading figures such as Al Gore, Jeffrey Sachs, Amory Lovins and William McDonough as well as NGO’s such as the UN, IPCC, IBLF, WBCSD and businesses such as Shell, HP, Nokia, HSBC, Dow, Interface and dozens of others who have made a big difference in the past decade in this area in their sectors. And tycoons and cultural heroes such as Bill Gates & Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, George Soros, Bono, Bill Clinton and others are leading the way in showing how philanthropy can make a huge difference.

The First Renaissance- A Dramatic Shift in Perspective

Slightly less than 1 000 people started the first Renaissance in northern Italy 500 years ago, not long after and perhaps even as a result of the Black Death which had wiped out one-third of the population of medieval Europe. In contrast to the abundant labour and backward life conditions of the superstitious “Dark Ages”, the resulting scarcity of labour transformed the feudal system into a more liberal regime, and nobles such as the Medici started investing in art, music and architecture as well as voyages of exploration. Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, and Galileo was put under house arrest by the Vatican for suggesting that the sun, not the earth, was at the centre of our solar system.

It was a time of dramatic innovation, spread by the emergence of Gutenberg’s printing press which helped the Renaissance to spread across Europe and become the Enlightenment in England, the low countries and Germany. Elizabethan England flowered with Shakespearean sonnets and global voyages of discovery, leading eventually to the Industrial Revolution, while new continents were being populated and our global trading system began.

All of this happened because there was a dramatic shift in perspective. For example, artists developed the technique of the “vanishing point” and with it the ability to represent three-dimensional scenes on two-dimensional surfaces. People were beginning to see their world in greater dimensionality, and painting had to develop an innovation that reflected this. At the same time we stopped thinking of the world as something one falls off, instead seeing it as something that could be encircled, or even conquered.

The good news is that since 1500 the human race has evolved considerably. Our values, habits and capabilities have changed dramatically thanks to the influence of both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, which led to democracy, universal education and healthcare, scientific and technological breakthroughs, and autocatalytic advances in design and innovation. Today most of the planet has experienced many of the advantages and some of the disadvantages of modernism, and more than half of the planet now lives in an urban environment. In one way, this is very good news for the environment if we can accelerate the adoption of more sustainable ways of living in big cities and urban areas, through all levels for government and all kinds of businesses.

The Second Renaissance- A Moral Imperative

A renaissance is a moment of reframing. We step out of the frame as it is currently defined and see the whole picture in a new context. We can then play by new rules. I believe we are currently living through a shift as profound as the original Renaissance. Our equivalents of perspective painting are the holograph and virtual reality, which allow us to experience not only three dimensions, but to move through them in real time. Even more amazingly, if you take a holographic plate and break it into many pieces, each fragment has a faint representation of the entire image. In this new understanding, unlike that of earlier philosophers and scientists who attempted to comprehend a collective organism, every part of a system in some way reflects the whole thing.

We have not only circumnavigated the globe, but also orbited and photographed it from the moon. Thanks to television images of the Earth from space, we can all see the planet on which we live. And thanks to the atomic bomb, we can even conceive of blowing the whole thing up. Instead of calculus, we have chaos math and fractals – new ways of understanding the relativity of dimension. Zoom in to any portion of a fractal image and you can readily observe its “self-similarity”: every detail, in some way, reflects the whole. Meanwhile, chaos theory teaches us that any tiny part of a dynamical system, such as the weather or even the stock market, can be a “high leverage” point causing change throughout. Each part has an influence on the whole.

Where the first Renaissance brought the extended metaphor, today we have the online web of hypertext, and our equivalents of the printing press are the computer and the Internet; we not only can read, but we also can write documents that are available to the rest of the world. Again, anyone can now broadcast their point of view to the world.

If we are enjoying another renaissance today, then which long buried ideas will be reborn? Probably the ones that the original Renaissance suppressed: holism, feminism, and grounded creativity. The Renaissance was based so completely on logic and observable science, that people lost confidence in intuition and instinct. So we turned to machines for support, security, and reinforcement. We used them to nullify our doubt. As those machines – eventually computers – failed to reckon with the extraordinary complexity of our age, the very modes of thinking they were built to subdue were again free to resurface. So far, these repressed strains of thought and behavior have been emerging in immature forms – mostly in the New Age spiritual and environmental movements, sometimes as conspiracy theory and paranoia.

From the Cultural Creatives to WorldCentric Consciousness, Systems and Processes

There are various responses to the downsides and limitations of modernism. Marxism, Communism, atheism and the post modern critique leave us with little hope and a tendency toward left-wing totalitarianism, accompanied by cynicism and often nihilism- in a nutshell, they offer few if any solutions to the global problematique today. The neo-conservatives and right wing movements are also equally deadly in their over simplifications and militaristic solutions. The third way between these two extremes, championed by Tony Blair in the UK, Jose Zapatero in Spain, and the Scandinavian countries, shows that it is possible to combine humanism with capitalism, caring with competitiveness, and efficiency with empathy. Recent studies show that a new generation of hundreds of millions of cultural creatives born into the “third way” are now taking up leadership positions in corporations, governments and NGO’s worldwide.

But to make this work in the long run, the entire system needs to become more sustainable, “cradle to cradle”, applying the insights of natural design and eco-innovation. Enlightened business approaches and practices plus inspired leadership will be at the forefront of this major shift in our world.

Every second, the sun produces more energy than human civilizations have ever produced in all of human history. The sun produces about 400 trillion trillion watts of energy per second. That’s the equivalent of a trillion 1 megaton atom bombs- every second! We are not short of energy- we are short of imagination, innovation and acceleration of the managerial and technological processes which will enable us to capture this energy and distribute it effectively to the whole planet.

In the next decade we have many options:

  • Renewable energy sources: nuclear, wind, solar and hydro,
  • Emissions Reduction: there are dozens of ways of reducing CO2 and other pollutants from existing processes including
  • carbon capture and sequestration,
  • algae-driven solutions,
  • hybrid/electric/compressed air/hydrogen vehicles,
  • cleaner aircraft/space travel
  • better public transport networks,
  • forestation and tree/plant planting.

Between 1500 and 1600, it took less than one thousand people to start the first Renaissance. They started by engaging in dialogue and expressing their new vision in art, music and literature. They had salons, printing presses and horses to spread the word, and resurrected the texts of Plato, Aristotle, St Thomas of Aquinas and St Francis of Assisi, debating their meaning in Ficino’s Academy near Florence, Italy.

Today, with the power of billions of individuals using the internet and mobile technologies, together with the influence of global business leading the charge toward eco-efficiency and sustainability, I believe it is possible to organize a second Renaissance with even fewer people in much less time. But there are no guarantees that this will happen if we simply continue with business as usual.

This shifts we are seeing in business ecosystems, practices, technologies and innovation convince us that a second Renaissance is already unfolding in some parts of the world. The challenge, however, is that this Renaissance is unevenly distributed: in other parts of our planet the new dark ages have already begun. We need to accelerate, catalyse and amplify the work of those of our leaders who are addressing these challenges most effectively, and that is what Renaissance2 is committed to.

Today we have a unique opportunity: for the first time in the history of mankind we have all the money, power, intelligence and wisdom and 70% of the technology needed to create an abundant future for all. We also have the power to destroy our biosphere and 90% of life on this planet. What we need is to cultivate the will to act and the precision to reach beyond the crises of decision. We not only need to “be the change”, as Gandhi put it, but we also need to “do the transformation” as rapidly and creatively as possible.

Jeffrey Sachs estimates that the budgetary outlay for global sustainable development in order to meet the UN Millennium goals would require 2.4% of donor country GNP. What we lack is the political will and laser-focused talent on these challenges catalyzed by inspired leadership, excellent organization and appropriate funding mechanisms. We can and must enroll those in positions of power and influence to dedicate more of their time and resources to this challenge. That is the goal of Renaissance2. Our mission is to create a sustainable business model for a thriving planet in three ways:

  • Leadership– Connecting legendary leaders to each other and to the new generation of integral and cultural creative leaders emerging around the world;
  • Practices– Developing world-leading practices and strategies in design, innovation and sustainability through our Renaissance2 Academy;
  • Projects– Incubating projects for sustainability in organizations and communities which are led by integral leaders trained on Renaissance2 leadership programmes financed by Renaissance2 sponsors.

We are a network of leaders in the fields of leadership, design, innovation and sustainability with considerable experience in business, technology, government, finance and NGO’s. Our philosophy and practice is making this happen through unprecedented human creativity and innovation, and appropriate investments and lifestyle changes on an accelerated timescale.

We have in our very own hands the ability to create a new Renaissance or a New Dark Age- what is going to be your choice? We need to create sustainable futures now, and each of us has a responsibility to act immediately and wisely. I invite you to join us in catalysing the second Renaissance to create beautiful, sustainable new ways of living on earth today.

Author Profile

Dr. Robin Wood focuses on the development of leaders within global organizations undergoing major change. He brings twenty-five years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies and NGO’s in over thirty countries, re-invigorating their strategic thinking and inspiring their leadership teams to create rewarding, sustainable futures. Robin held a number of senior positions in the UK prior to founding Renaissance2 at Chateau La Tour Apollinaire in Perpignan, France. He is also a non-executive director of Future Considerations Ltd in London, UK.

Robin has worked as a corporate lawyer, Citicorp investment banker, Managing Director at Scient and co-founded Ernst & Young’sstrategy, technology incubator and e-business practices; among other roles. Since 1990 he has also founded two leading–edge consulting boutiques, a knowledge management software company and has advised and invested in dozens of successful start-ups. He is recognized as a leading authorityon innovation, the learning organisationknowledge management and leadership and strategy in complex, rapidly evolving hi-tech global firms.

Robin’s clients in the past two decades have included the leadershipteams and senior executives in more than 40 of the Global 1000includingGlaxo-Wellcome, Pfizer, Novartis, Vodafone, BT, the UK Defense Ministry, ZFGroup, BBA Aviation, Eagle Star, Royal & Sun Alliance, Kellogg’s,Ernst and Young International, UK and South African National Health Services,Hewlett Packard, HP/Microsoft alliance, HP/Intel alliance, Barclays, WorldBank, Unilever, Royal Dutch PTT, ICL, 3M and Shell International. He co-facilitatedthe creation of the firstWorld Bank Policy Guidelines on Sustainable Energy in1992.

Robin graduated from London Business School in 1995 with a PhD inStrategic Alignment. He has been a Fellow at the Centre for ManagementDevelopment since 2002, where he jointly led the Strategy into Actionprogramme for the top 100 global leaders in Vodafone.

Robin wrote the award-winning book: Managing Complexity-HowBusinesses can Adapt and Prosper in the Connected Economy, (Economist Books, 2000). He hasbeen a frequent celebrity speaker at major conferences and events, is a Fellowof the Institute for Coherence and Emergence in the USA, and on the editorialboard of Development and Learning in Organizations. His next book: Catalysingthe Second Renaissance- Creating a Sustainable Business Model for a ThrivingPlanet, will be published in 2009.


Dr. Robin Wood can be contacted at: +33468 92 43 02 or by e-mail at:

Join Us! From October 25-28 2008 we are piloting the Galatea Program at Chateau La Tour Apollinaire between the mountains and the sea in the beautiful Pyrenees-Orientales surrounding Perpignan, France. For further details visit us

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  • Known as “GHG”, principally carbon dioxide or “CO2” along with methane.
  • 60 million died in world war 2 and about 80 million due to communism.
  • PPM stands for “Parts per Million”
  • Still not yet “hard” enough evidence for the IPCC consensus scientists, though the Greenland ice caps are melting at twice the predicted rate right now- see the most recent writings and book :”With Speed and Violence”, by James Hansen of NASA.
  • See, for example: and

We all know the headlines of the causes of climate change, and it is widely known where the greatest adverse impacts will be:

  • Geographically: in the tropics and subtropics, where most of the developing countries are. There are already adverse effects on water, energy, human health, agriculture, and biodiversity. Most of the arid and semi-arid areas will become drier. Climate change will also have adverse effects on the reliability of hydropower, a key energy source for many developing countries.
  • Human health: An increase in vector-borne diseases such as malaria and water-borne diseases such as cholera. An increase in the number of people that would die due to heat stress, and also an increase in the number of people that would be malnourished due to a reduction in agricultural production throughout the tropics and subtropics.
  • Biological diversity: We have already seen species move up in mountains in altitude, and move towards the poles. We have seen changes in bird migration patterns and the mating habits of birds. We have also seen increased incidence of mortality in many coral reef systems.

In Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, Jeffrey D Sachs, Penguin Press HC, The (March 18, 2008)

The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, New York: Harmony Books, October, 2000
by PaulH. Ray, Ph.D. and SherryRuth Anderson, Ph.D.

Cultural Creatives (CCs) are called that because they are coming up with most new ideas in US culture, operating on the leading edge of cultural change. They tend to be middle to upper-middle class. A few more CCs are on the West Coast than elsewhere, but they are in all regions of the country. The overall male-female ratio is 40:60, or 50 percent more women than men.

The CCs subculture represents the appearance of new values and worldviews that were rare before World War II and were scarcely noticeable even a generation ago. That new subculture includes people who perceive all too clearly the systemic problems of today, all the way from the local level to the national and to the planetary. It also includes people who have higher standards for spirituality, personal development, authenticity, relationships, and toleration for the views of other people than the members of either Traditional or Modern cultures. Faced with those other two cultural forms, the CCs’ response is also a withdrawal of belief in the old forms. But unlike the alienated Moderns, the CCs are well on their way to creating something new.

Today, bearers of the culture of Traditionalism, the Heartlanders, are 29 percent of the population, or 56 million adults. Bearers of Modernism are 47 percent of the population, or 88 million adults. And Cultural Creatives comprise 24 percent of the adult population, or 44 million.

CCs have two wings: Core Cultural Creatives and Green Cultural Creatives. Core CCs (10.6 percent, or 20 million) have both person-centered and green values: seriously concerned with psychology, spiritual life, self-actualization, self-expression; like the foreign and exotic (are xenophiles); enjoy mastering new ideas; are socially concerned; advocate “women’s issues”; and are strong advocates of ecological sustainability. They tend to be “leading edge” thinkers and creators. They tend to be upper-middle class, and their male-female ratio is 33:67, twice as many women as men. Green CCs (13 percent, or 24 million) have values centered on the environment and social concerns from a secular view, with average interest in spirituality, psychology, or person-centered values. They appear to take their cues from the Core CCs and tend to be middle class.

For more information on Integral Leadership, see the following resources: with articles such as:Developing Leadership Capacity: Searching for the Integral-By Mary Key, Ph.D. & Robin Wood, Ph.D.