PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON: Speaker Hugh Knowles On Sustainability And New Models For Fundraising

PSFK CONFERENCE LONDON: Speaker Hugh Knowles On Sustainability And New Models For Fundraising

The Principal Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future shares ideas about creating a more sustainable society.

Michael Brooks
  • 24 august 2010

On the morning of September 10, PSFK will gather the people behind some of the most inspiring British and European projects that we have covered on These brilliant creative minds will present their work that explores innovation at intersections of fields that include art, design, branding, retail and technology.


One of our speakers will be Hugh Knowles. As the Principal Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future, he works with partners across the public and private sector to build capacity for sustainable development using futures and innovation techniques. Currently he is leading a project to encourage people to gatecrash the UK energy sector and create systemic change. In advance of the talk, we asked him about his current creative projects and inspirations:

Are there any specific challenges that you’re working on which have uncovered particularly interesting obstacles?

As an organization pushing for a rapid transition to a more sustainable society, one of the major obstacles that we face at the moment is that radical change rarely comes from within the current system or from companies enjoying success in that system. In fact there is a tendency amongst incumbents to fight vigorously to maintain the status quo. Yet to do our work we require funding and the current system is the one with the money. So how do we fund the rapid change that needs to happen?

What emerging trend, idea, or technology are your excited to see develop in the future?

Really excited by rise of collaborative finance models. The funding of Diaspora (open source version of Facebook) on Kickstarter was astonishing. They asked for $20k and within about 15 days got $200k from over 6000 people. The level of trust required to hand over $200k to four unknown programmers with no return and no guarantee of delivery is very high – but that trust was distributed through the community. Each person was responsible for about $30 of ‘trust’. This funding model combined with open source software and hardware is pretty mind-boggling. Makes you think that the radical change I mentioned above is fundable in a very distributed way.

What other projects are currently inspiring your work?

Always interested in what John Robb at Global Guerrillas is up to – particular his work on resilient communities. Interested to see the results of his new project Momentum – an ‘information terrain visualizer’ that scans ‘social media and uses advanced algorithms to enable you to get in front of rapidly evolving social trends’. – nonprofit online magazine that tells the story of sharing. What a great community that clearly demonstrates that the view that humans are purely selfish is pure nonsense.

Do you have an opinion on how 3D printing can potentially impact a more sustainable environment, or any important challenges to consider that will arise as 3D printing becomes more pervasive?

Obviously the current use of 3D printers – producing plastic/metallic prototypes – is not that sustainable. The opportunity to do more with advances in materials presents some fascinating opportunities to reduce the transport of goods. I think the idea of every home having a fabricator is very seductive. However, that obviously has huge consequences from an energy and materials perspective. Might be better if they were distributed at a community level like libraries or post offices used to be – perhaps with some kind of integrated materials recovery system to create a closed loop system for the community.

Thanks Hugh!

Hugh Knowles

Forum for the Future



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