Co-opportunity. Join up for a sustainable, resilient, prosperous world – John Grant

This is a book that is bang on the moment. Not in a fashionable way though. John has brought together a huge amount of thoughts and resources that a lot of people are being touched by and given them all a brilliant terms of reference – co-opportunity. It’s a primer to start to do that thing that humans are naturally good at – working together in groups – to create the change that business and government simply can’t do based on old flawed models about what opportunity and wealth means.


John himself has been highlighted as a change maker. His previous book ‘The Green Marketing Manifesto‘ addressed the need for marketing that actually delivers on green objectives rather than using the “new religion of green” to create just a commercial opportunity.

But it’s Jonathan Porritt’s opener in the foreword “John Grant is your archetypal glass-half-full man” that really sets the tone for the relentless optimism presented throughout Co-opportunity.

Any person giving thought to climate change, peak oil, sustainability etc will see the impending disaster that will hit sometime in the future. John clearly sees this with a lot more depth and experience than most of us. However, what’s really refreshing here is John’s motivating exploration of all the creative ways people can make a difference. There’s such a collection of positive grassroots projects curated in one place. I have so many folded corners on the book to take me back to the places that sparked ideas that I will be reading the entire book again.

There’s persistent references to how today’s media opens up the possibilities of collaboration, many of the projects involve Web 2.0 in some way. So much so that you’re left feeling that it’s possible this could be the backbone through which Co-opportunity could happen.

A couple of things that struck was the observation of two key themes emerging around what the next generation of the web might mean (I can’t quite bring myself to call it Web 3.0). Prosocial networks, communities of people collectively achieving something worthwhile, together with networks that extend real world interactions as opposed to just online interactions. These seem to fit with an approach that needs the co-operation and intelligence of the globe with the ability to act on and affect the local.

The book is arranged in five parts. Part 1: A Climate For Change? Suggests why the obvious signs, some laid out here, are not being heeded because the communication isn’t right and isn’t working because in itself it can’t create a climate for change.

Part two of the book is named after a quote from David Puttnam, “Marketers will have a role to play in helping society to relocate dreams.” Relocating dreams is about re-defining what a better future looks like. One that is more ‘elegant, wise and enjoyable.’

It begins by challenging consumerism. The assumption that ‘selling more stuff’ shouldn’t be questioned in a business sense. In a ‘relocated’ world do people want ‘more stuff’?. The rational economic assumption that a healthy economy only works through persistent growth generates a perpetual desire that may not be in our nature. I’m no economist (and probably not that rational either) but constant growth has to end somewhere. John rightly picks on the fashion industry, a business model that is reliant on rapid cycles of obsolescence and disposability. There are of course moves against this such as howies who produce the hand me down range.

Part 3: Co-operative Responsibility uncovers how transparency in business can create change. As a citizen seeing how things really work can change your behaviour. Remember the small glimpse into the world of battery chicken farming from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall changed the mainstream view?

Another interesting development comes from Wal-Mart (yep!) who propose their 100 000 suppliers have to disclose information about the sourcing of their ingredients. Amazingly Wal-Mart want to compile this information into a database and make it open source. This means any organisation can use the information to create sustainability ratings standards. A revolution from an unexpected source for sure.

“Economic growth elevates emissions; what is the point of making a fetish of growth if it in some large part diminishes welfare?” This quote by Anthony Giddens, former Director of the London School of Economics is the opener to Part Four: Economic Resilience. For me, addressing our obsession with economic growth feels like a cornerstone in changing our attitude towards the planet and each other. John looks at the work of Tim Jackson one of the leading questioners of the economic growth myth. He moves on to look at other formats such as microcredits using the Grameen Bank, whose founder Mohammed Yunus won a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of a new way of doing business, as a light, and shows how social ventures work.

For those of us who work in marketing, there’s some good reference around crowd funding, co-innovation and particularly a short but sweet section on loyalty. The latter reminds us of the in-elegance of acquisition as a model for sustainable marketing, a tough cookie in an industry designed to help people sell more, not look at the benefit of selling less.

The fifth and final part of the book is about abundance. Perhaps because I’m not someone with a background in the trends of green language it seemed a strange word and concept to come across. It does however make perfect sense.

John suggest his model of thinking about abundant systems as “being like sailing. It’s about catching abundant resources from your surroundings, rather than chugging away with a motor (i.e. high energy inputs). And because of this you need a sailor’s eye for patterns in the systems around you: weather, tide and so on.”

Designing a system which is abundant means it works for the common good, it gives a ‘wellbeing return on resources’. This is against the mechanical ‘return on investment’ definition of productivity. I can hear lots of marketing people who make ROI their core product switching off there, but some of the principles of abundant systems are central to some of the case studies we all love. Distributedness, for example, is the core behind Craigslist, YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr and Facebook. Small, smart contributions by members working better than a centrally organised corporation. John picks up on ReCaptcha, that lovely little service that proves you are human when subscribing to a web service and uses your human intelligence to digitise old books one word at a time.

The book ends with abundancy as an ethic. A shared ethic that unites communities rather than central control. “…an aligned group working towards something they believe in.” John suggests that an ethic goes beyond a purpose, agenda, target or mission because many central government and big business actions can be aligned with these. Where they differ though is that “they do not share the passion for grass-roots involvement. Conversely the genuis of Web 2.0-style social production systems, highly relevant to sustainability, came out of a belief in a more democratic, distributed arrangement of society.”

It’s worth pointing out that the book itself is a demonstration in collaboration. John worked with the readership in an experiment of collaborative editing as well as drawing from “many of the inspiring conversations and characters I’m in contact with.”

I couldn’t recommend a book much higher than this, but I am indeed an idealist. I think for anyone working in the creative and marketing fields who sometimes find it hard to square what you do with how you feel,  it’ll consolidate a lot of things you may have heard about and suggest that you should use your skills to play a role in how we evolve from here.

Title | Co-opportunity. Join up for a sustainable, resilient, prosperous world.
Author | John Grant
Publisher | John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Publish Date | 2010
ISBN | 978-0-470-68436-8

Reviewer | Steven Bennett-Day

Buy from Amazon: Co-opportunity: Join Up for a Sustainable, Resilient, Prosperous World

Buy from Amazon: The Green Marketing Manifesto

Other links:

Leonora Oppenheim posted a brilliant really in-depth review of Co-opportunity on Treehugger.

The Co-opportunity blog.

And a short intro video to Co-opportunity on YouTube.

Slideshare presentation on the ‘Pro Social Internet’ given to the APG by John.

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