The Future is Turquoise
After years of Covid darkness, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the end of last year traveling around and talking to people about design and its role in the future of social welfare, business, and issues related to climate.
One of those conversations was with the country of Wales, and in particular Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and her team. Described by the Guardian as the “World’s First Minister of the Unborn”, Sophie’s role is to provide independent advice to the Government and other public bodies in Wales on delivering social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing for current and future generations. She’s a committed advocate for the voices of young people and in particular, for tapping into youth culture as a tool for creating societal change.
Sophie invited me to take part in an event she was hosting at (COP26), the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow late last year, and so off to Scotland I went. My mother, who passed away a few years ago, was from Glasgow, so returning there was bittersweet. I had not been back for over 50 years. I hardly recognized it.
To enter the conference itself, you were granted a pass to one of two “zones” — the Blue Zone or the Green Zone — loosely bundled as policy and culture. My role was to represent government and creativity in equal parts, so I was granted access to both. The contrast was startling.
The Blue Zone teemed with heads of government and policymakers. Everyone in skinny suits and pointy shoes. Cohorts walking with tremendous urgency, discussing their “key talking points.” I attended a few sessions — lots of clip art of globes, lots of numbers, lots of rhetoric, lots of the same old same old. Death by mathematics. I left the sessions thinking they were necessary, but overwhelmingly incremental, data-driven, and to be frank, massively unimaginative.
The Green Zone was the unplugged, acoustic version of the conference. Even outside the energy was different. As I walked in, a lady dressed as Evita, sang“Don’t feed the greed, Argentina, The truth is you give them Nature. All through your wildlife, Your green resilience, Just keep your glaciers, And save the planet!” This zone was full of color and life, installations of melting ice, a whiteboard entitled “What is The Feminist Future We Are Fighting For?” filled with wishes, poetry, and art. It had a kind of plaid-and-braids Taylor Swift “Evermore” vibe. I heard the participants of this zone referred to as “youth with claws”.
Back to Wales. I’d been invited by the Welsh team to moderate a conversation alongside their Poet in Residence for the Future Generations Commissioner of Wales, Taylor Edmonds. She was young and filled with heart and energy. They paid homage to a deep-rooted Welsh tradition called “Chairing of the Bard’’ that dates back to an 1176 Welsh storytelling festival wherein the Chief Bard tells stories and reads poems about the future. Edmonds’ chair, made for the occasion, was carved with the future hopes of school children. We called the event “Climate, in the Visceral Sense.” Before she spoke, we screened a short film, “Ynys Blastig Blot-Euwedd,” made by Welsh school children, about a girl who befriends and then loses mother nature. Then Taylor composed and recited a poem on the spot, called “Riverbank Guardian.” It ended thus:
Our town was built around the Oak Tree,
her underground map of roots,
her peeling bark, her curling branches.
Each day I walk to the riverbank,
standing guard, my still sanctuary
of ground where in Spring,
acorns will sprout green.
Ask yourself — will your great grandchildren
dip their feet to the low river of summers
and walk the streets you walk today?
As I walked around the Green Zone I was struck by the fact that so many businesses had a presence — IKEA, Sainsbury’s, many others. They’d built artful exhibits out of cardboard and other natural materials; there were posters inviting participation, seeds to be taken away and planted, pledges to sign, stories to carry with you. It felt hopeful, modern, joyful even.
I kept thinking to myself, why have we set up this polarity between the Blue and Green zones? One math, the other poetry. To understand the complex systems challenge of climate change, and start a global movement to address it, don’t we need both?
We Need a New Zone. Let’s call this aspirational plane The Turquoise Zone — a place where the logic of blue meets the imagination of green. Looking toward COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in the U.A.E., I’m hoping for a more holistic, integrated approach: imbuing the science, rigor, and public and private sector leverage with what makes us feel alive — music, art, movement, poetry.
This new thinking will help us design events that address the climate crisis and the movement it is giving rise to. The language of this plane is dynamic, sometimes lashingly so. It contains a million colors. The Turquoise Zone turns the flatness of linear and binary thinking into something immersive and incandescent — azure, glinting, shimmering, alive in its depths — like the ocean itself.
As human-centered designers, our mathematicians and poets know that durable climate solutions must appeal to both the head and the heart. Would you join us in bringing the brightest blue and green thinking together to create a vibrant turquoise future? We’d love to hear from you.
Read more about IDEO’s climate work: cantwait.ideo.com/climate