“Somebody thought of it, and someone believed it” – a generation steps forward at London Sustainability Jam

Being Human, Collaboration, Sustainability

The room is dark. About fifty people sit with silent and energetic expectation. The screen shows a sky full of bright stars. A couple walk arm in arm, and as their faces are lit by the projected starlight, a voice comes through the darkness:

“Imagine it’s 2015, and you’re taking an evening stroll down a street in London, looking up at the stars..”

So began the presentations this evening at the end of the London Sustainability Jam. This first idea, called “StarGazing St.” aims to encourage people to turn off the lights in office buildings.

It is just one of many great ideas that were thought of, researched, prototyped, and in some cases even developed between 7pm on Friday evening and 3pm on Sunday.

It’s hard to pick favourites, but there were some which maintained their focus on simple, actionable, deliverable, measurable ideas and as such stand out from the rest a little more:

  • Stranded Wisdom asks the question: What piece of wisdom would you like to tell your grandchildren?
  • Cyclinks creates micro-jobs and fitness opportunities by re-disrtributing bikes in city-bike-hire schemes (aka ‘Boris Bikes’ in London) from full docking stations to empty ones.
  • FreeFlow makes freecycling as easy as using Twitter or Instagram.
  • StarGazing St uses a range of positive motivations to save energy consumed by buildings.

This event was put together by Rob Maslin and many others (who’s links I neglected to get, sorry), who was kind enough to invite me to be amongst a number of us to be mentors and judges: Luke from Carbon Culture, Amy at Secret Seed Society, Alexie from Thomas Matthews, Rob at Beagley Brown, Emma from Futerra, Claire from Alertme.

What I found so hugely, hugely inspiring is that so many people – strangers at first – came together, formed groups, and worked together to co-create improvements to humanity’s / the planet’s situation. They took it as the default that a) this is what needs to be done, and b) they were the ones to do it, and c) they were even prepared to pay for the experience.

At least three teams are going to keep on working on their ideas, and have asked me to keep mentoring them. That makes me hugely proud, and reassured that I’m a human being doing.

As I walked home I was listening to the Muppets Green Album, and the song “Rainbow Connection” came on. The lyrics seemed particularly appropriate:

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions,
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Who said that every wish would be heard
and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us star gazing
and what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

All of us under its spell. We know that it’s probably magic.

Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that called the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

I looked for stars, but I saw only one. Only one from the millions and millions there are out there to see. And yet this delight of being able to stargaze is only temporarily denied us. For there are people who hear the voices calling their name, beckoning them to tell new stories of what we can do together.

That’s what’s so amazing that kept me stargazing tonight.


Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons


  1. Hello Ed! It was nice to read your review about the event, this sure has been an incredible experience!
    Thank you for your insights and comments about our project. I was on the Ubuntu team, ¨the most ambitious¨ one. I couldn´t stay for a chat at the end, for I had to return home, but your comments surely made me think about what you meant. I am actually doing a Msc in sustainability and dream (ambitiously) for better conditions in my country (Mexico), and completely have faith, in the fact the first step towards becoming, is to understand, and believe this happens through experiences. This surely has been a great step towards finding another piece in the puzzle and finding out how to put it together with the other ones, and your comments will surely be taken in account.

    Here is a link of a philosophical perspective I wrote about sustainability, due to momentum, I was keen to share.


    It was nice and inspiring meeting you, and other people who truly have the passion for making a difference.


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