From The Mouths Of Babes, A ‘Red Flag’ Vision Of The Future

Nic Jooste

‭At home‭, ‬I have two really amazing‭, ‬special edition Generation Z encyclopedias‭. ‬Luca‭ (‬born in 2000‭) ‬and Milan‭ (‬born in 1997‭). ‬Need‭ ‬to know anything about climate change‭? ‬Ask Milan‭. ‬Looking for information about how pollution is causing havoc in the seas and skies‭? ‬Luca knows it all‭. ‬Creating a new world order‭? ‬The two boys can give you a two-hour lecture about why the world leaders suck‭. ‬Whilst I consider myself to be educated and well-read‭, ‬I simply cannot win an argument with my two sons when it concerns the‭ ‬Millennial goals such as environmental sustainability‭, ‬social inequality and eradication of poverty‭. ‬

Which brings me to the point of this column‭. ‬Often when thinking about the challenges of working with young consumers‭, ‬one tends‭ ‬to focus only on the commercial questions‭, ‬such as‭ ‬‘What should I do to make money from this group‭?‬’‭ ‬and‭, ‬‘What can I do to make them buy my product‭?‬’‭ ‬The most important question‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬‘What makes them tick‭?‬’‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬is often brought up only in terms of how business can influence their buying behavior‭. ‬But are we really interested in their‭ ‬concerns and beliefs as human beings‭? ‬The more I engage with my own sons‭, ‬the better I understand the challenges of understanding them‭. ‬

From this mindset‭, ‬I was really happy to read a column written by Clem Sunter‭, ‬in my opinion one of the world’s greatest visionaries and scenario planners who formed my thinking‭. ‬Sunter spent most of his working life at Anglo American’s Gold and Uranium Division‭, ‬which was the world’s largest gold producer in the 1990s‭. ‬In the early 1980s‭, ‬he established a scenario planning function for Anglo American‭. ‬A highlight of his life was a visit to Nelson Mandela in prison to discuss the future just before Mandela’s release‭. ‬Sunter is an icon in his field and a model of mental litheness‭.  ‬

Sunter says his opening question on the course he teaches is for pupils to consider the three greatest drivers for change‭ (‬he calls them‭ ‬‘flags’‭) ‬they have experienced in their lifetime‭. ‬Once such flag‭  ‬often named‭ (‬albeit unsurprisingly‭) ‬is the invention of smartphones‭. ‬The second and third flags named by the students surprised him greatly‭. ‬

Sunter writes‭: ‬‘The second one was that global population had surpassed the milestone of seven billion‭, ‬and we were now displacing millions of other species in the animal and plant kingdoms critical to the Earth’s future wellbeing‭. ‬The third was climate change leading to extreme weather conditions‭, ‬rising sea levels through the melting of‭ ‬ice in Antarctica and Greenland‭, ‬and drought causing parts of the planet to become uninhabitable‭.‬’

Sunter then records an insightful discussion which he had with a young person about these flags‭. ‬He calls her‭ ‬‘GZ’‭. ‬

CS‭: ‬I find it very interesting that two of the three flags relate to the environment‭. ‬In my generation‭, ‬very few people would have chosen them‭.‬

GZ‭:‬‭ ‬That is because your generation will have departed from this planet when life starts getting really hectic as a result of those‭ ‬flags‭. ‬We are already experiencing tomorrow today with record temperatures being set around the world‭. ‬It is ironic that we are‭ ‬called Generation Z because we may actually be the last generation to grace the history of humankind‭. ‬After a few hundred thousand years‭, ‬we become victims of the sixth extinction that is taking place around us‭.‬

CS‭: ‬Population growth is falling with urbanization and higher living standards‭. ‬The latest UN projection is that population will‭ ‬be tailing off to a total figure of just more than 11‭ ‬billion at the turn of this century‭. ‬Perhaps the world can accommodate that‭.‬‭ ‬

GZ‭:‬‭ ‬How can you say that when seven billion inhabitants are already causing such widespread destruction‭? ‬Nobody knows what the maximum number of people this planet can bear for it to survive indefinitely‭. ‬I was told the other day that if Chinese people had the same standard of living as Americans‭, ‬you would need four planets similar to the size of Earth to sustain their consumption‭.‬

CS‭: ‬Do you think it is possible for rich nations to persuade poor nations to lower their carbon footprint by using energy systems which do not involve fossil fuels‭, ‬even if it is more expensive to make the switch‭?‬

GZ‭:‬‭ ‬No‭, ‬especially when the rich nations were responsible for the problem in the first place with their industrial revolutions‭; ‬and‭ ‬especially when the principal measure of international success is the performance of your economy and being more competitive than your neighbor‭. ‬Equally‭, ‬developing countries are obliged to provide the cheapest form of energy to all their citizens‭.‬

CS‭: ‬Yet the whole issue of climate change is becoming more publicized‭.‬

GZ‭:‬‭ ‬The pathetic thing about most major media outlets is they reinforce the view of business as usual by spending most of their time covering political and money matters‭. ‬Even my dad says the environment comes a very poor second with just the occasional article or program to maintain political correctness on green issues‭. ‬On top of that you have the climate change denialists saying we‭ ‬are all crazy when it is genuine scientists providing the information‭. ‬Would you contradict a cardiologist about matters of the‭ ‬heart‭?‬

Of his discussion with GZ‭, ‬Sunter says the following‭: ‬‘We parted company having exchanged a high five‭. ‬At least‭, ‬I had given her the power of debating the future in an imaginative way‭. ‬Statistically‭, ‬she has more of it ahead of her than I do‭. ‬And maybe she’s right to put forward such a negative scenario‭. ‬Al Gore’s‭ ‬inconvenient truth‭ ‬is now screaming at us from all quarters of the globe‭.‬’

Makes you think‭, ‬doesn’t it‭? ‬

For more information on Clem Sunter please visit ‭    

Nic Jooste is the director of marketing and CSR at Cool Fresh International‭, ‬a Rotterdam-based global marketing organization for‭ ‬fresh produce‭. ‬



The Latest from PBUK

Subscribe to PBUK!

Get regular produce industry insights, sign up for our email newsletter below.