“The writing started very early. Neither of my parents were writers, although my mother wrote constantly – long, beautiful letters. I wrote short stories in prep school and later read to the younger boys to keep them quiet. Then I started writing in magazines and newspapers, and published a regular magazine for business focused on environmental issues.
It was never an easy ride. My wife reminds me that in 1973, I’d written lots of articles; none of them published. Then I finally wrote one on an extraordinary trip we made to a new city in the Arizona desert, and that was accepted. Things rolled on from there. The books kicked off in 1980. It was a hobby done in evenings, when the children were asleep, and at weekends. Most writers will tell you a similar story: that getting onto the path in the first place was not easy; then the books write themselves to some degree.
I’m now working on my 21st book. People often go back to their first books 20 years later and wonder how they could have been so naïve. I don’t have that feeling. I remember what it was like at that time, looking at the agenda through the lenses that were available. Books are not children, exactly, but they’re stepping stones along an evolutionary path. It’s nice to hear updates on what they’re up to every now and then. People have found them in New York’s MOMA, up the Himalayas, and in a shrine to books alongside a Norwegian fjord.
Writing is my excuse to learn, to open my horizons. Books have also been a great feedback loop when working with business. But beyond the books, I’m delighted to have coined terms like ‘environmental excellence’, ‘green consumer’ and ‘triple bottom line’. When we set up SustainAbility in 1987, that word didn’t appear once in the big reports of the day. People would send us letters addressed to ‘Stainability’ or ‘Survivability’. It was all over the place and nowhere. Now it’s everywhere.”
“It feels a bit like surfing. You know that the wave is not going to continue forever and that you’re going to end up in the sea at some point.”