Futurologist Hails Chartered Foresters as Shining Example
(Image: Mark Stevenson with Outgoing ICF President Fenning Welstead)
When futurologist Mark Stevenson accepted an invitation to address the recent Institute of Chartered Foresters’ National Conference, little did he think that he would leave the event heralding the delegates and speakers as some of the most innovative industry thinkers that he had come across.
The conference, which took place in Glasgow earlier this month, brought together over 20 of the UK environmental sector’s top professionals who addressed the 150-strong audience on the theme of Woodlands and the Green Economy: Capitalising on Ecosystems Services.
Mark, who is renowned as a future narrator, writer, thinker, comedian and is founder of Flow Associates – a company that facilitates and promotes creative learning and critical thinking, enthusiastically took his place in the audience on the first day of the conference before taking to the stage that night as after-dinner speaker. Guests were rewarded with an entertaining, inspiring and passionate speech, which created a huge buzz that pervaded the rest of the two day event.
Talking about being open to ideas and embracing change and innovative thinking, Mark said that those working within the forestry industry and the world of ecosystems services and natural capital were a “remarkable bunch” in terms of industry innovation but they needed to engage more with those outwith the profession. Speaking after the conference he said:
“The ICF is probably one of the world’s best kept secrets. Want a masterclass in creating a sustainable industry? Come here. Our technologies are nothing without good thinking and the ICF offers a shining example of the kind of thinking the world needs.”
Mark’s message to attendees was to stop being so humble about the ground-breaking work they were doing, because the world needed them more than ever – not just to help save forests but to help save their thinking. He told attendees that he spends a lot of his time being asked to stimulate organisations to be more innovative but that was not an issue here; it was more about getting the message out, and engaging with the wider world.
Mark highlighted a quote from the 2013 UN State of the World’s forest report:
“Most people understand that forests could play a role in a green economy, but not many people realise that this role is not optional – for a sustainable world, it is mandatory. Without forests, the global ecosystem would collapse.”
He added that, thankfully, things were slowly beginning to change and that people were realising the importance of forest ecosystems. In the words of Paul Polman, Chairman of Unilever, businesses were asking themselves “how long can we steal from the future?”. Mark said organisations were acknowledging they needed to think differently. And he argued they needed to think more like foresters.
He told ICF members, “You’re a quiet bunch: professional, thoughtful, diligent, restrained. You don’t like to blow your own trumpet. So, I’m going to do it for you. You understood and grappled with the sustainability agenda years ago. As the famous quote goes ‘The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment’ …and as a profession you’ve been quietly working out how to account for and manage ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’ – working out the complex interplay of human society and our environment and our economic systems. Presentation after presentation today has shown careful thinking, tied to innovation and diligent pragmatism.”
He added “As a futurologist I can only admire the foresight and systems thinking you’ve been modestly employing for over a century. This whole conference is testament to your insight and farsightedness and your desire to continue thinking ahead of the curve. If you want a masterclass in how to build an economically viable, environmentally sustainable industry who would you pick as the leading example? Probably Forestry.
“There is a Chinese proverb ‘The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.’ I’d like to suggest a modern version – ‘The best time to talk to a forester was twenty years ago. The next best time is now’.”
Ending the speech with a toast, he persuaded delegates to raise a glass to themselves with the words “We are foresters, and we are awesome”. He acknowledged that many would find it uncomfortable saying this but maybe it was time to let the world know just how true it is!
Emma Thomson, Marketing Officer
1. The Institute of Chartered Foresters organises a programme of events throughout the year to support the continuing professional development needs of its members. These events include a National Conference (including this event in conjunction with other partners) and a National Study Tour, regional events through the ICF’s network of member-led local groups, and partnership events with other organisations.
2. Mark Stevenson is the author of An Optimists Tour of the Future. His early career saw him mixing two jobs; one as an expert in both prime number cryptography and computer aided systems engineering, the other fronting a pop band, enjoying brief notoriety in Japan, France and much to his surprise, Chile. Today he combines two other more related careers – one as a successful writer/ comedian (writing for stage, radio and print) and another as an expert in future narratives, institutional innovation, engineered serendipity and learning – working with everyone from schoolchildren to the boards of multinational corporations. He is co-founder and director of cultural engineers Flow Associates and the science communication agency ReAgency. Mark is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Nibmaster General at the Ministry of Stories and a founding member of the League of Pragmatic Optimists.
3. The ICF national conference attracts top tree professionals from home and abroad for two days of debate, discussion, learning and networking. This flagship event took place on 1 and 2 May in Glasgow and delivered a programme packed with exceptional speakers and corporate clout including:
• Quentin Clark, Head of Sustainability and Ethical Sourcing at Waitrose Ltd.
• Dr Peter Glaves, Director of Enterprise and External Engagement, Northumbria University
• Judy Ling Wong, Honorary President of Black Environment Network,
• Simon Petley, founder Director at EnviroMarket Ltd, specialising in risk and finance
• Tom Tew, Director and Chief Executive of The Environment Bank
• Eva Zabey , World Business Council for Sustainable Development
• Stephanie Hime, Lead Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Specialist at KPMG
• Pat Snowdon MICFor, Head of Economics & Climate Change, Forestry Commission
• Dafydd Fryer, Urban Forestry and Landscape Architect, Natural Resources Wales
• Andrew Heald MICFor, Manager – Sustainable Plantations, UPM
• Alistair Yeomans MICFor, Director of Forestry, Sylva Foundation
• Nick Grayson, Nature Conservation + Sustainability Manager, Birmingham City Council
• The conference opening address was given by Paul Wheelhouse MSP, The Scottish Government’s Minister for Environment and Cl