Foto: Gerhard Kassner

“The question is not what have I learned today? But what will I do differently tomorrow?” 

Bernd Kolb aptly closed his presentation, “Opportunities resulting from consequent thinking and acting” with the above takeaway to set the tone for TYPO Berlin 2012 Sustain.

The former CEO of Deutsche Telekom and founder of the sustainability-minded think tank, Club of Marrakesh, addressed these questions himself after seeing Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth presentation in 2006. Starting off this year’s TYPO with a litany of depressing statistics on global warming, Western consumption and waste, dispersion of wealth, etc. Or, “what we know.” But, Kolb, followed, “Given the fact that we know it, what do we do about it?”

Clearly a man who found success in business, Kolb did not eschew capitalism in search for a solution. “There is nothing wrong about consumption, but what and how.”

To find solutions, Kolb proposed we look back 1,700 years to a Greek monk. Just as many of our current challenges can be matched up with the seven deadly sins, fortunately the answers may be found in the seven virtues.

“It’s high time to do good,” Kolb said. “This is the last chance we have, we have to do good things.”

We can’t think in terms of the “ego-systems” that drove the Industrial Revolution, separating humans from nature. Instead, think in “eco-systems” of participation, collaboration and sharing. Humans should begin to act like the cells and organs in their bodies do, working together in a “balance of interest.” He pointed out that it’s a good thing our organs don’t compete! Our species has developed solutions like this in recent years, such as wikis, crowdsourcing and recycling, but we can do more.

Most importantly we must stop being “verbraucher” and start being “gebraucher.” This author, unfortunately, listened to this speech in English, so I asked German-speakers for the subtle translation. The gist is we must stop being wasteful consumers and become conscious users.

Using an example of having shared drills for an apartment collective, versus each individual household in the building, Kolb advised “don’t think drills, think holes.” Listing out the virtues of such co-operative consumerism, he challenged the business world to “earn money differently.”

By taking the new action of thinking of the future, instead of dwelling on past mistakes, we can inspire ourselves to transform. By evaluating our internal actions through a virtuous lens, we’ll be able to change ourselves toward sustainable practices first before we take on the world.

Although this topic, as evidenced by the first half of Kolb’s presentation, can seem grim, the reality is creative thinking is a critical necessity in planning for a sustainable, hopeful future. The TYPO audience is surely the right crowd to take this charge.

Text: Meghan Arnold