By John Elkington
Even leading capitalists admit that capitalism is broken. Green Swans is a manifesto for system change designed to serve people, planet, and prosperity. In his twentieth book, John Elkington—dubbed the “Godfather of Sustainability”—explores new forms of capitalism fit for the twenty-first century.
If Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Black Swans” are problems that take us exponentially toward breakdown, then “Green Swans” are solutions that take us exponentially toward breakthrough. The success—and survival—of humanity now depends on how we rein in the first and accelerate the second.
Green Swans draws on Elkington’s first-hand experience in some of the world’s best-known boardrooms and C-suites. Using case studies, real-world examples, and profiles on emergent technologies, Elkington shows how the weirdest “Ugly Ducklings” of today’s world may turn into tomorrow’s world-saving Green Swans.
This book is a must-read for business leaders in corporations great and small who want to help their businesses survive the coming shift in global priorities over the next decade and expand their horizons from responsibility, through resilience, and onto regeneration.
Andrew Hill on Financial Times wrote:
"A thoughtful if self-aggrandizing call for sustainable capitalism arrives from social entrepreneur Elkington (coauthor, The Breakthrough Challenge). Expanding on Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2007 book, The Black Swan, an exploration of unpredictable and large-scale events, Elkington introduces green swans, which offer 'systemic solutions to global challenges.' He predicts an approaching crisis in the world economy, with at stake whether democracy and sustainability—a term which, he informs readers, he coined—can coexist with capitalism. The most likely outcome, Elkington posits, is that capitalism will falter or crash entirely, only to reemerge in a more environmentally and socially responsible form. He discusses how the reluctance to face deep-seated issues under a free-market system that privileges short-term thinking can lead to disaster, comparing the oil business’s attitude toward climate change to how the tobacco industry refused to deal with its products’ health risks. In the long term, though, Elkington believes the future will belong to forward-thinking and responsible leaders, such as Marc Benioff, the co-CEO of software company Salesforce, who calls for taxes to go up, not down, on high earners like himself, to aid social spending. Enthusiastic about change, Elkington offers a much-needed shot of optimism. However, the derivative nature of the ideas within, and the author’s inability to skip any opportunity to sing his own praises, is likely to leave readers feeling unfulfilled."
"Inspired in part by economist Mariana Mazzucato, he sees hope in a combination of private, public and citizen sectors to solve 'wicked' problems. His list of those problems — plastics, obesity, antibiotic resistance, climate change and space junk — now looks out of date. Indeed, some climate activists are already worrying that the need to ensure short-term survival of the global economy will set back action to secure the long-term survival of the planet. Still, the idea that 'green swans' might 'rise phoenix-like' from the ashes of crisis, with the help of purpose-driven leaders, is worth clinging to. The current outlook is at best uncertain, at worst chaotic, but, as Elkington writes: 'Once there is enough chaos the opportunity for new, future-fit leaders to break through can grow significantly.' If they do, they may have the greatest opportunity since the war to regenerate, reimagine and reshape capitalism for the better."
- Out of the Blue: Green Swans take off in the exponential decade - article by Elkington on the OECD Forum Network (29 September 2020)
- ‘Green Swans’ Will Kill Some Brands, Boost Others - article by Elkington on sustainablebrands.com (May 2020)
- Personal website of John Elkington
- Project 'Green Swan', an initiative of Elkington's consultancy agency Volans
Table of Contents of Black Swans
- Welcome: Upending Capitalism
- Foreword by Paul Polman
- Introducing: Diving into Tomorrow (the exponentially different worlds of Black, Grey and Green Swans)
- Miracles on Demand (miracles can be impossible within one paradigm, inevitable in the next)
PART 1: THE BLACK SWAN BLUES
(Key trends pushing and pulling us towards breakdown)
- A Wicked World (why the world is becoming increasingly 'wicked', even 'super wicked')
- Black Swan Capitalism (current capitalism robs the future to reward some of those alive today)
PART II: BLACK VERSUS GREEN
(Black, Gray, and Green Swans are battling it out all around us)
- Swanning Round Boardrooms (how incumbent boards and C-suites view the relevant challenges)
- Getting Future Fit (a blueprint for Green Swans: how to create system value)
PART III: NEW PECKING ORDERS
(Green Swans will upend current market realities)
- Incubating Ugly Ducklings (why 'ugly ducklings' seem ugly today - but won't tomorrow)
- Green Swans Take Off (politicians, governments, and markets must boost Green Swans)
- Exponential Migrations (how we get from here to there - faster)
About John Elkington
According to Wikipedia "John Elkington (born 23 June 1949) is an author, advisor and serial entrepreneur. He is an authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development. He has written and co-authored 20 books, including The Young Green Consumer Guide (1989), Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business (1997), The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World (2008), and The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways to Connect Tomorrow's Profits with Tomorrow's Bottom Line (2014). He is a founding partner and chairman & chief pollinator at Volans; co-founder and honorary chairman of SustainAbility; honorary chairman of Environmental Data Services (ENDS, 1978); senior advisor to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre; member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Council of Ambassadors; visiting professor at Cranfield University School of Management, Imperial College and University College London (UCL). He is a member of over 20 boards and advisory boards. He was listed in Who's Who in 2009 as "playing with ideas, thinking around corners, conversations with unreasonable people, reading an Alpine range of books (history to science fiction) and US business and science magazines, risking life and limb as a London cyclist, catch-it-as-you-can photography, art and design, writing all hours, pre-1944 aircraft, New World wines, 20th century popular music–and Johann Strauss II". He coined the terms environmental excellence, green growth, green consumer, the triple bottom line and People, Planet & Profit."