Change is hard. We know this. However, however hard change is, systemic change is by definition orders of magnitude harder. But that is what is needed if we're to come to terms with climate change. And that is precisely the mission of North Star Transition - to accelerate systemic change.
How does any single company take on this mission, and why? To answer those questions I invited North Star Transition co-founder Jyoti Banerjee to come on the podcast to talk me through their thinking.
This was a truly fascinating episode of the podcast and as always, I learned loads, I hope you do too.
If you have any comments/suggestions or questions for the podcast - feel free to leave me a voice message over on my SpeakPipe page, head on over to the Climate 21 Podcast Forum, or just send it to me as a direct message on Twitter/LinkedIn. Audio messages will get played (unless you specifically ask me not to).
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And remember, stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane!
Music credit - Intro and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper
I was, why is it that when we see such fantastic work being done by very committed people? Why is it we see absolutely no evidence that there's any change happening in a positive direction, on climate on biodiversity loss, or on social inequality.Tom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening wherever you are in the world. This is the digital supply chain podcast, the number one podcast focusing on the digitization of supply chain. And I'm your host, global vice president of SAP. Tom Raftery. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the climate 21 podcast. My name is Tom Raftery, with SAP and with me on the show today I have my special guest, Jyoti, Jyoti, would you like to introduce yourself?Jyoti Banerjee:
Well, Tom, thank you for inviting me onto your show. My name is Jyoti Banerjee. And I'm a co founder of Northstar Transition, I guess I've spent about 10 years in the tech industry with a couple of startups that got involved in impact investing about 20 years ago. And then over the last 10 years, I've also been involved in helping reshape the direction of travel for corporate reporting, as part of the team that created the integrated reporting framework. But now I'm focused on the work of Northstar transition, which is exploring how to create and accelerate ystemic change.Tom Raftery:
Okay, so let's dive a little deeper into that. What do you mean by systemic change?Jyoti Banerjee:
So right now we have, we have all sorts of change that is hitting us if you, if you look at our front pages of newspapers, it almost always going to talk about climate, we have issues around biodiversity loss, we have huge challenges with social inequalities. These are the challenges that manifest themselves day by day by day in our lives. And as far as we can tell, the story only ever seems to get bad, it doesn't seem to get better. And even though we have 1000s, and 1000s of initiatives out there, that are all about creating change in the significant areas, particularly carbon, which at the moment is definitely flavor of the month, probably flavor of the year or decade even. But where's the evidence that all the fantastic work that has been done across these initiatives is actually lowering anything with regard to where the carbon numbers are going? So our question was, why is it then we when we see such fantastic work being done by very committed people? Why is it we see absolutely no evidence that there's any change happening in a positive direction, on climate on biodiversity loss, or on social inequalities? And when you start diving into that question, what you get is a sense that actually, we can try and shift the needle on any one of those issues. But it doesn't actually seem to make a difference. Because the system as a whole, whatever we want to call this system, this socio human economic system that we live in, seems to absorb all the little changes that are happening. And they just dissipate and disappear. So I've started likening it to the fact that we live in a great big plastic ball. And this ball is racing down the road at high speed. And inside the ball, we're all little balls. And our little balls are looking at the direction of travel that the big ball is taking and think oh, my goodness, we don't want to be there. We don't want to go where this ball is going. And we're moving our little bolt around, and nothing shifts because the big ball is flying down the road. And so I guess the question about systemic change is really to ask, how would we shift the working of that big ball? How do we get it to shift its trajectory, its direction of travel, the speed at which it's going, what can we do to shift that system?Tom Raftery:
Okay. What can we do to shift this direction of travel of that system? Well,Jyoti Banerjee:
I guess when when you start looking at the actions that are being taken, we could say that, you know, there are at least two big chunks of actions that modern corporate organizations are involved in. One has to do with shifting on carbon. So how do we get to zero carbon? How do we get to net zero? All of these issues are wrapped up in one bunch of habits. We've also got efforts around what you could describe the sustainability in some places, or responsible business or reshaping capitalism or whatever angle you want to put around it. It's about Encouraging businesses to move away from simply thinking about profit maximization in the short term, to thinking about other challenges. And you know, a number of businesses have got variations on that. Now, if that isn't working, what is it that we can do? Because there's very little evidence that any of that stuff is delivering the goods. So we started exploring, what is it that allows a system to shift and a nonfat transition, we came up with a number of core principles, if you like, that we think are needed if we're going to shift the system. The first is we have to find people who recognize that the system needs to shift, there is absolutely no point wasting time with people who don't want the system to shift. And there are loads of people who don't want the system shared. Because actually, the system is a very efficient system. It does a lot of great things. And there are great arguments why we should continue doing whatever we're doing. There's no point continuing the conversation there. So the first thing is find the people who believe that we do need to change. The second part is get them to listen to each other. And this is really interesting and challenging. Because the right answer for you may well be absolutely the wrong answer for me. And this is what we've been finding. So we've been running what we call a transition lab, across Wales, the country of Wales. Sure, we picked Wales, because it's, it's a small enough place, you know, it's got 3 million people, it's a small enough place where you can get the leaders together to discuss really significant issues about how to reconfigure the working of a nation, it's a big enough place, because it's got 3 million people that it's worth trying to do something and see if you can create change that at that level. And so we started bringing together people from across food and how the nature and environment and business and education and so on. And we started exploring, you know, if we could reconfigure net whales to bring together these issues of food, health and nature, which are often so disconnected from each other, how would you do it? And what would be the answers and was fascinating to hear the different perspectives that come from the farmers who want a particular direction of travel from the environmental people who want who believed that the farmers have destroyed biodiversity and whales and want a different direction of travel and from the water companies who feel that either there's no way we can keep water in the soil if we if we continue our current practices and and you talk to the insurance people who are saying we desperately need to keep water in the soil, because if we don't do that, we're gonna end up with flooding in the cities downstream of the rivers. You know, the the versions of what needs to happen are completely different. So we think the second part of our challenge is how do you get people to listen to each other. And listen, in a way we call it deep listening, listen in a way that really allows them to empathize with somebody else's situation, and realize that they're not there just to push their own position. The third issue that we we then talk about is how do you imagine together a new future that could accommodate these multiple perspectives from vastly different stakeholders? If you can start to imagine together? You know, it's not going to be the answer that simply says, We've appointed x y, Zed expert, because they really know their way around carbon. And we're going to get them to solve the problem for us, because it's probably going to be the wrong answer for the farmer or the insurer or for the, the university or whatever it is. And so emergent thinking is really key when you want to imagine together what this world could look like. And then the thought part of it is how do you actually take those brilliant ideas that emerge from the from the sort of thinking, and how do you engineer communities of practice, so that these ideas become credible, and they become valid alternatives to what we have today. And so to me, those are our four paths, to convene people who are the right people to engage in this discussion from across multiple perspectives, to get to listen to each other, to get them to imagine together and then to engineer the communities of practice around these ideas that we can actually build something that is substantially and substantively different from what we have today.Tom Raftery:
Sounds complicated. Yeah, welcome to my daily, daily work. I mean, if you are bringing together such a broad swathe of people That's great. And if you can get them to buy into outcomes even better, and agree on and outcomes even better, but because they come from such vastly different backgrounds with different priorities, getting to a point where they all agree on action items must be really tough.Jyoti Banerjee:
Absolutely, yes and absolutely no. Okay, so I want to explore the dichotomy there. Most people are not used to engaging on issues that they believe have nothing to do with them or their sector. So why would the health sector engage with with how food is grown? Well, perhaps they should. Because across Wales, and I'm learning a lot about Wales, I don't live in Wales, but I'm learning a lot about it because of the work we're doing with the Wales transition lab. But across Wales, the health sector spend 450 million pounds every single year on diabetes. And it thinks that around two thirds of that bill is avoidable, because it's type two diabetes caused by lifestyle choices, etc. However, the people who spend the money on dealing with type two diabetes have zero visibility of the drivers of that spend. So why is it that that number keeps rising every single year? Why is it that more and more people are eating food? That is calorie rich, but nutrient poor? Why is it that our schools don't teach kids about healthy lifestyles? Why is it Why is it Why is it? I mean, you can keep asking these questions? Why is it that our food processing businesses create the kinds of foods that push us towards more and more type two diabetes, rather than take us into Healthy Places? The challenge we have is that when you pick up an issue, like dealing with diabetes, and of course, diabetes is not a disease in itself, it also has huge follow on impact in terms of strokes, and cardiac issues, and so on and so forth. So, if there's a big bundle of challenges in the health sector, and all they can ever do is prepare for that number just getting worse every year. So how can they shift that they can shift that if they're prepared to start engaging with, say, the food businesses, but when I was engaging with people who are from senior execs in the health sector, and I was asking them, how much time do you spend engaging with food processing businesses? Are the big food companies, senior execs from them? And the answer is zero. They don't engage with them. They're just not involved in them. They don't attend the same conferences, they're not hearing each other's views. absolutely zero. Well, how can we shift this one area? Just pick this one area? How can we shift this one area, if that's the, if that's the approach that we have? So what we have is, is loads and loads of deep, deep silos, and people operate very comfortably inside that little silo? And then make the best decision inside that silo? But actually, what if we could look across the silos? In this kind of comprehensive, you know, deep dive system wide view? Will that change the conversation? So let me give you an example of what's happening in Wales. Okay. There are a couple of schools that are now wanting to engage with the kids on issues around, you know, the right choices with food. And these schools have now made a connection with a local supermarket. And that supermarket supplies them with food that is about to go waste. So that food which is going to be binned is now made available in the car box of these two schools, and people who belong to the communities that the schools are based and can come and buy the food for whatever they feel is a fair price. They can even just take it away for free. It's a very poor area, and they can benefit in this way. So that's one little part. But the other the next part of it is that the school has a training program for the kids that they Learn how to use food items that are actually going bad. In a home that only eat processed food, you don't have to worry about food going bad. But here, you need a different set of recipes, you need different education to deal with this. So the kids start cooking the food that they are working with. And they provide that food in what they call junk food cafes, to their parents, so that everybody enjoys this stuff together. But now the school is also starting a food literacy program for kids, you know, up to the age of 11, so that they learn about the impact of the choices that they're making with with the foods that they eat. Now, what's also happened is because the farmers were listening in on on what the schools were doing, the the guys in the National Farmers Union of Wales was saying, why can't we get every single farm in Wales to make available say an acre of land to every school, so that the kids in schools have the opportunities to come and learn about nature and growing food, and you know, the implications of the choices that they make. And the the local health authority said, if you guys are going to be doing work on on food literacy, why can't we come and help you with it, because it's really important. So they're not going to be involved in it. And then we had a discussion with the University Health Board, there are seven of them. Seven University, there's seven health boards across Wales. And, you know, each Health Board might train two or 300 doctors every year. And across a three year training period, guess how much time a trainee doctor focuses on nutrition. Two hours, two hours and three, three, that just because there's so much more that they have to learn. So there's no time on it. But actually, because there's very little time spent on nutrition, and then very little time spent on on the nature issues that nature and environment implications, very little time spent on wellbeing, because there's so much time spent on disease management. Actually, we're seeing the outflow of all these choices, through all of these issues. And when you get them together, they are all looking at each other and thinking there's got to be a better way to do this. So you're absolutely right. You know, it is very complicated to get them to do things differently, because it's challenging business as usual. But when they get together, they just looking at each other and thinking that this doesn't make sense how we do it stuff today doesn't make sense. Can we do it differently? Nice.Tom Raftery:
Nice. How does How do you scale something like this? I mean, you're talking about one school in a, an underprivileged part of Wales, you know, doing that Junk Food Cafe exercise? How do you get that from one school in that particular area of Wales, to all of Wales to all over the UK to all of continental Europe to you know, you see where I'm going?Jyoti Banerjee:
Absolutely. Well, I'm really sorry to disappoint you so far, because we're only a month and gone as far as we could. But what is interesting is that what started out in two schools and Wales has already expanded to 10. And the question we want to ask is, how do you get it to stretch across 1500 or 1700 schools or however many schools there are. And when you get the health boards, collaborating with the schools collaborating with the with the supermarkets, and the food processing, business, collaborating with the farmers, and, and so on, you have the opportunity to start thinking at scale. And that's the whole thing that we want to do. We don't want to do little pilot projects that show sparkles of innovation here, then everywhere in an otherwise dire sea of darkness. What we want is to look at these little sparkles, but look at how we can scale them up. Because it's in scaling up that you can really create systemic change. There's enough fantastic fantastic innovation stuff happening in different corners of the world. So I come across farms that describe themselves as regenerative. And they are doing fantastic work. But most farmers don't see that model of regenerative farming as being a credible thing for them. So how do you get it to create how do you create enough of a business model in Africa Have a community of practice that the mainstream can see that as a valid alternative. So yes, we now have 10 schools that do this thing called Big Box Boyd. And it's really exciting to see that it's growing. But we have to find the mechanism that will enable it to grow across 1000 schools. You're absolutely right. That is the huge challenge. But you know, where the transition lab is the first of what is now three different programs of change that we're engaged in. And the second program of change isn't in one geography. We're actually asking the question, how can we shift the working of the global financial system, so we're just taking Planet Earth as our as our as the home base for this particular project.Tom Raftery:
And my small on ambitious project, there you go, you know what,Jyoti Banerjee:
up in the morning, if you don't have Planet Earth to go after? The idea, there is a straightforward one, which is, right now, in capital markets, we have across the world, something like $90 trillion being invested every single year. And that 90 trillion is being invested in what is largely a degenerative system. So it continues to enable that degenerative system to prosper, and and to expand its operation. So I want to ask the question, what does the regenerative system look like? How would we get it? And what is the role that finance can play in creating an accelerating catalyzing a regenerative system? And I think that's a question we need to ask because right now, we have loads of people focusing around cop 26 on carbon. And carbon and finance is a big challenge for cop 26. And I get the feeling that somehow if only they can solve this little carbon problem, it's like a Jenga tower, and we pull out the carbon block, and we replace it with a renewable energy block, somehow the rest of our tower works beautifully. And we can just continue doing stuff as before, you know, making out as bandits, as we always did. You know, Atomy, that is just not a credible model, you pull out that energy system, it, it takes apart loads and loads of different pieces. And we've been seeing that in the agriculture system. Because the farmers that we've been talking to about, you know, why wouldn't you shift to regenerative or organic farming? And they're saying to me, Well, you know, we'd love to do it if we could. But actually, it's really complicated to do it. Because right now, our farms are not going to support organic farming, because the soil, or the organic soil content is just too low in the, to enable this. So if we had to drop using genetically modified seeds, and fertilizer, and pesticide, and let's say all the irrigation tied up with it, and the machinery that we need to get the system to work, well, then we have a challenge, which is our farm will not work with the stuff we need for organic agriculture. But let's say you're willing to make the shift, then a farmer has to accept the fact that it might be four or five years before their farm gets to the point where the soil is restored in some way. So they can have organic farming operating in it. So then the question becomes, who's going to fund them for the four or five years, when they're making that shift? How will that transition take place. And I was speaking to one farmer, who said to me, when I went and said, I no longer wanted the genetically modified food, the seeds, it turned out, that my pesticides, my fertilizer, everything, including the leasing for the machinery came from that one source. That's how it was financed. So when I didn't want that one piece, I lost all the other options. And by the way, the the crop real crop insurance people didn't want to enjoy my crop anymore, because I wasn't using the genetically modified seed and the fertilizer and and and so you see how those different pieces work together? it it's how the system works. It's been beautifully, beautifully constructed to be as efficient as possible. But to shift it requires all these different pieces to move. Wow.Tom Raftery:
So you mentioned a while ago, one of the things you mentioned was business models, and I want to just come back to that, but ask you about North Star ventures business model? Because, you know, while you're trying to boil the ocean here, how are you funding doing that?Jyoti Banerjee:
So north south transition was created as, as a company limited by guarantee, which is a UK not for profit model. So for us, we have been self funded for the nearly one year that we've been, we've been going so far our bigger interest is in how do we get the resources needed to enable the kind of big picture systemic scale change that we want to see take place. And that's not about that's not going to be solved by getting, you know, 50,000, or 500,000, or even 5 million. This is stuff that is going to require serious investment by loads and loads of different participants in the system. And this isn't just about investment that comes from the outside to enable something to happen. This has got to become business as usual, this is how, you know the health boards need to work, because they shouldn't be spending the 450 million every year. So we need to find a way to redistribute how that money gets spent. But it requires other people to make investments along the way as well. It perhaps requires the insurance companies to rethink how how they are going to be dealing with. With insurance. They just the other day, I was talking to someone from the insurance company that says when we get to four degrees of warming, there's no point having insurance anymore. Not because we don't need it. It won't make sense to provide it anymore. Oh, so. So there's no point messing around with, you know, how does nordstar transition get funded? We have a huge and serious crisis that's coming to us. And we have to think about it in that way. And if along the way north star transition can add value, we'd be delighted toTom Raftery:
Okay, supurb. You mentioned three, I think you only explained two things that you're working on new if I cut it right, is there is a third that you want to talk about.Jyoti Banerjee:
You've been paying attention to. Right, so we talked about one that we have a Wales transition lab, which is about reconnecting food health in nature and Wales, we've got the finance transition lab, we are bringing together financial institutions to explore what regenerative finance model could look like. And we have support for that from three universities as well. So, University College London, University of Cambridge and Yale University. So it's, it's, it's really great to see some fantastic people getting together around that. The third area is is nowhere near as advanced as the other two which are clearly far more mature, given that they're seven months old. But the third area that we're looking at as a transition lab is really exploring strategy and governance. If you think about it, the corporations today are facing some of the most serious existential crises that we face, not because of their own actions, or their own businesses, they might have contributed to it in some way or the other. But really, because as a planet, we're facing existential crises. And yet, to my mind, the tools that they use in to deal with strategy and governance, in the face of these crises are 20th century tools. They're yesterday's. They are not going to help us get forward. So the number of companies I, I talked to who are saying, you know, what, we've we're making huge progress on this issue. We're 8% better on our emissions compared to last year. And I'm just listening to them talk and think, really, is that what that is this going to solve the problem for us, you've made the first three steps on your journey. And I'm proud of the fact that you've made those steps. I want to commend you for that. But by the way, your journey is 500 miles long. And taking the first three steps is not going to get us to where we need to go. So we want to ask the question, what is strategy and governance look like? In a world of climate emergency in a world of biodiversity loss in a world of socials, deep social inequality, what strategy and governance look like and to me, the tools that we need to explore looks completely different. So we've just begun the process of bringing together people who think that Yeah, we can't continue doing I don't want to mess around with conversations about, you know, incremental change to capitalism or new reporting models. To me, if you want to do it, go ahead and do it. It's not going to change the huge challenges we have ahead. Let's go and deal with those.Tom Raftery:
Again, this, this seems very much like, you know, you're really boiling the ocean or, you know, lots of Oceans isn't Isn't this the kind of thing that, you know, is better suited to an organization like the UN or to governments or things like that? Why? Why not start transitioning?Jyoti Banerjee:
So you're absolutely correct that, you know, why should a tiny little startup that has a dozen people working in it, why should we be involved at this? You're right, United Nation should do it? Except? What is their track record? Like, in dealing with huge systemic change? What is the track record that governments have in tackling the crises that we have? We have? Sadly, it's just not good enough. And so and why would that be one, because in the United Nations, you have to bring everybody with you. Whereas right at the start of the conversation, I said, there's no point having some people around at the table, because all they want to do is preserve the existing system. And in the United Nations, you have loads of them. So. So that's not going to work. They can continue the conversations, but we need to find a different way. Secondly, why can't governments do this? Well, we've we've known this stuff about the climate emergency for the last 20 or 30 years, and they haven't acted, I look at the British government, the first government to to legislate for net zero by 20/51 government in the world to do it. And they did it a couple of years ago. And the first election that was held after bringing the legislation into play the first election, the Conservative Party, which is their ruling party, their manifesto had nothing in it, relating to the netzero obligations. Why? Because that, you know, that's 2050s problem. We'll worry about it then. So I look at the time horizon on which governments operate, and they operate on a very short time horizon, they don't have the ability to think, over the next 10 years, or 15 years, or 30 years, or 50 years. And sadly, the challenges we're facing today, it may not look, the world may not look that different next year, if we don't do a whole bunch of things. And so it's easy for a government to just get by without making the change needed. So that's my response to why it can't be the UN, or why we can't just depend on government. But we absolutely need the government's to get involved, because one of the challenges with just trying to operate differently is that these systems have been constructed on a regulatory platform and a legislative basis. So a great way to shift the working of the system would be to get a carbon tax in some way. So that we pay a fair price for carbon. And once you start paying the fair price, we'd see the market shift really, really quickly. So governments could do that. But what I find is that you have to create the direction of travel. And, you know, gift, wrap it and put a nice little ribbon on it so that when you hand it to a politician, they can say, Oh, well, it's ready to go. I think I can do this. If you need them to do the thinking, to get the people together to work out how it's going to happen. I don't think it's going to happen. So nonstop transition is not seeking to become the de facto change agent. But we know that to get change going, you have to catalyze it in some way. And perhaps that's all we get to do is to be the catalyst we offer an approach for dealing with systemic change. And we get people started on it. Hopefully others will pick up with it and run.Tom Raftery:
God we are coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question I've not asked you that you wish I had or any topic we've not touched on that you think it's important for people to be aware of?Jyoti Banerjee:
Well, you've you've claimed that we're trying to boil the ocean. So that covers pretty much everything. But I would say there's one one issue that might be worth exploring. And that is as individuals do. We have any agency In creating, causing enabling systems change. And for me, I often find this to be one of the most challenging areas, because so often we look at the crises that we're facing, and we think, oh, my goodness, as an individual, what can I do about it, I can't do anything. Because it you know, surely in Tasmania, the United Nations, or it needs governments or whatever to do that. And if they did it, it'll be fine. But I'm just going to focus on you know, sorting out my plastics, or eating less meat, or whatever my choice happens to be. And I think that in many ways, as individuals, we have to focus on the way in which we participate in the system that enabled it to continue. And what are the choices that we could make that would help shift the working of that system? So can we make different choices in terms of where our pension money goes, because when you find that, what funds the existing system is huge amount of pension money, which is all of our money being used and misused for absolutely the wrong objectives. In fact, the way the pension system is designed, we will not want to live in the world that is going to exist, we will not want to be spending our pension money in that world, because we wouldn't want to live in it. So let's ask some simple questions about the resources that we have. Let's ask simple questions about what is it that our companies do? Because, you know, for most of us, we are employed, we live in companies we operate in in them? What is it that our company is doing that is keeping the status quo in place? What is it that we can be doing that is going to enable it to shift? And we're part of communities? What can we do that together as a community we can create? We can create some change, get get conversations going among with our neighbors and with others around? Can we challenge our politicians on the actions that they're taking? Why is it that in governments that are committed to net zero by 2050, they have nothing to show in terms of what they're going to be doing right now? Well, let's challenge our politicians on it. Let's get involved in the discussion. The future that exists for our kids, and our grandchildren is at stake right now. And I don't want my kids to turn around and say to me, Dad, what were you doing when all of this went out? So that's that's where I am so not sad transition is my you know, we can shallow response to that I'm delighted to have a partner in the business, Olivia batavus, based in Brussels, and they're another dozen people in different parts of the world who are collaborating. For us. It's us trying to take hold of the little bit of agency that we can have, but we need loads of others to do their bit wherever they are.Tom Raftery:
Super, super Jyoti. If people want to know more about yourself, or about North Star transition or any of the topics we discussed today. Where would you have me direct them? Well,Jyoti Banerjee:
we do have a website. So Northstar transition.org is the is the website. And of course they can look for me on LinkedIn. Be another place to get hold of me.Tom Raftery:
Superb great. Jyot , that's been fantastic. Tha ks a million for coming o the podcast today.Jyoti Banerjee:
Thank you for the invitation.Tom Raftery:
Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about digital supply chains, head on over to sa p.com slash digital supply chain or, or simply drop me an email to Tom email@example.com. If you'd like to show, please don't forget to subscribe to it and your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks. Catch you all next time.