In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights Series video, Bonnie Schneider speaks with Justin Bean, a corporate leader with global expertise in impact-focused initiatives and the author of the new book “What Could Go Right.” Justin’s book challenges conventional thinking and invites readers to reimagine the future by ditching cynicism and embracing hope as we transition to a more sustainable, equitable, and abundant economy.


Bonnie Schneider: I’m Bonnie Schneider. Thanks for watching Digital CxO. Joining me now is Justin Bean. Justin is a leader with global experience in impact focused initiatives and the author of the new book, “What Could Go Right.” Justin’s book challenges conventional thinking and invites readers to reimagine the future by ditching cynicism and embracing hope as we transition to a more sustainable, equitable and abundant economy. Justin, thanks for joining us.

Justin Bean: Thanks for having me, Bonnie. Happy to be here.

Bonnie Schneider:
Great. Well, tell us a little bit about your background and how this book came about.

Justin Bean: Sure. Yeah, so I’ve always been interested in how we can build a sustainable future and what the future might look like. There’s just an abundance of new technology, and new information as we as we bring together all the perspectives from around the world and understand each other’s cultures and backgrounds and everything else. And so I wanted to find out, what might the future look like, if we get it right? There’s so much doom and gloom, when we look at the news, when we look at movies, and all of our stories of the future. They’re all very dystopian, and they don’t really give us anything to look forward to, let alone anything to build. And so I wanted to, you know, really interview some people who are out in the space and leverage a lot of the experience that I have working with tech executives and startups and investors out there to articulate what the future might look like if we get it right, and help empower people with some tools and some practical frameworks, to think about how to build that future and really empower readers to go out and be a part of building that future they want to see.

Bonnie Schneider: Well that’s really fascinating. And I think it’s something that’s very timely as we face these uncertain economic times, and so many crises that are happening in the world. But starting from the beginning, you mentioned Maslow’s hierarchy of personal needs to social needs. Can you explain that concept and how it relates to the content in your book?

Justin Bean: Sure, yeah, this is one framework that I thought was really interesting. So you know, in psychology one on one, we learn about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? We need to have our physiological needs met, and then our safety needs met. And then community and esteem needs all the way up to self actualization as a as an individual person, to be at our maximum level of thriving and happiness in life. And so I thought about what might that look like for a society? Are there similar dynamics in the super organism of society that we’ve experienced as an individual person? And it seems like there’s a lot of similarities there. So what might it look like if a society’s physiological needs are met, and I’m happy to say most people around the world today are getting closer and closer to having their basic physiological needs met in terms of food and shelter, and protection from the elements. There’s still plenty of people who need that help. But many of us, especially in developed countries are not worried about that. Then comes safety and security, and how do we go about public safety in a way that’s holistic, and not only attacks, the issues and problems that we face in terms of crime, but prevent them from happening in the long term and think holistically. And then as we move up, we think about community needs and esteem and how we might leverage the technology and knowledge that we have today to improve education and make education a much more effective way of helping people to empower themselves, reach happy and fulfilling lives and better relationships. And then all the way up to self actualization. What might a society look like? If we reach post scarcity? Then what do we do with our time, right? And with all the automation and all the technology that’s coming down the line, we may have to confront that problem sooner than we think. And I think it’s it’s less of a problem, the transition will be difficult for us in a mind shift. But really, it empowers us to really think deeper about our lives and what brings us meaning and share time with each other and in relationships, and really spend time on innovating and creating new things and really reaching our reaching our true potential as a as a civilization.

Bonnie Schneider:  Well, moving on to sustainability. Can you elaborate on the role that both public and private sector investments are playing in driving growth and climate tech and reducing risk, especially now that we’re in this, as I mentioned these uncertain economic times?

Justin Bean: Sure. Yeah. You know, with any new innovations, there’s a risk, right? And that’s why venture capital gets the big returns, right? Because they take the big risks. And so what we’re seeing in climate tech is really a combination and a perfect storm for growth and reduction of risks. So in one way the the regulations coming from the government are pushing for more sustainable technologies and business and systems. And at the same time, you have consumers demanding more and more sustainable products, services. and solutions and more awareness of the the effects of climate change and what we might face in the future from it. But really, there’s an enormous opportunity there, right? I think the issue of sustainability and climate change is often framed, again, in a very dystopian way, hey, it’s our responsibility to do something. And that’s true. But we’re missing the big opportunity. This is a transition of the entire economy, and every part in it into more sustainable ways of going about producing things and consuming things and recycling things and reusing things and healthier ways of living in our lives. And so it’s really about abundance, not about all these reductions and ideas that we have to live in these cold, dark, small apartments and feel guilty about consuming, we can create the most abundant economy we’ve ever seen and do it sustainably. So there’s an immense amount of money out there, there’s billions and billions of dollars in venture capital for startups that are moving into climate tech, climate tech actually outperforms the market in terms of growth and in terms of capital available. So for entrepreneurs, and even for corporates, and anyone who wants to get involved, this is actually one of the biggest opportunities of our generation. And it’s one that, to your point spans these crises. So we did see last year a 3% reduction in the amount of funding for climate tech startups. But we saw 35% reduction in overall funding from venture capital.

Bonnie Schneider: I was just going to ask you that. That’s right.

Justin Bean: Yeah, so there’s still much more money available for climate tech than the the general market for startups. And even without that, I think there’s there’s just so much innovation available and ways that we can reduce costs, save businesses money, generate new revenue streams, and gain access to new feedstocks through recycled circular economy type solutions. So there’s a ton of there’s a ton of opportunity out there for startups for corporates, and anyone who wants to get involved.

Bonnie Schneider: Well, let’s talk about ESG reporting. What are you seeing in that? It seems like it’s coming to the forefront more so than ever before? And I know you write about that in your book.

Justin Bean: Yeah. And it’s kind of a hot topic, right. And I think there’s a, you know, there’s a necessary questioning of how it works. And we need more transparency and more. We need it to be more standardized for us to measure apples to apples and compare oranges to oranges. And so that’s exactly what’s coming down the line from the SEC, and from European regulatory agencies. There, there are so many different ways of measuring ESG now and different companies in different sectors that get measured differently. And so the example that’s often pointed to is that, you know, shell is often you know, one of the top performers in ESG, while Tesla got kicked off of one of the rating systems. And you know, Tesla’s creating its overall product is meant to decarbonize the transportation ecosystem, while oil, while necessary for our lives is part of the a big part of the climate change problem. And so I think we’re having a good healthy conversation as a society right now about how we need to report on it, and what standards need to be in place and how we should responsibly and transparently, and from a standardized perspective, report about our emissions both from our productions on site to that of our suppliers, and how do we as companies become more sustainable in a way that we can report on transparently and not greenwash. But also not green hush, which is this new trend. There’s so many companies out there. They’re doing great things in the area of sustainability and ESG. But they’re afraid to talk about it because they’re afraid of being accused of greenwashing. And I think there’s a danger in that.

Bonnie Schneider: I haven’t heard that. That’s interesting. They’re afraid that they’re going to, but if they’re doing it, isn’t it a positive thing to put it out there?

Justin Bean: It is. But once it you know, once they put out a press release, they’re just afraid that, you know, in the public conversation, an accusation is almost as bad as the conviction. And so they would rather stay away from the topic entirely and just do the work internally and get it done. And then announce it once it’s, you know, complete and much further down the line. And it’s completely tied up and wrapped up with a bow.

Bonnie Schneider: Yeah, I was just gonna ask you about the regulations. How much of the regulation’s coming from California? And of course in Europe, and how much now that we’re in 2023? Do you think that’s going to be more driving force to have ESG in the forefront?

Justin Bean: I think it will. I think there are many companies that are already getting started. And most companies have some kind of sustainability report, but it’s not consistent. And so I think these regulations will just help provide more guidance around how to do that reporting, and to do it in a way that will prevent greenwashing that will make it more consistent and easier for people to understand what it means, because because right now it’s a, it’s not Wild West, but it was a few years ago. And that doesn’t help us get there any faster, but I think the regulations will help. And in addition, just the demands of customers, and consumers are really pushing these companies in the free market to become more sustainable themselves.

Bonnie Schneider: Well, Justin, we have many people in corporate leadership that are watching this now. And I know you talk about the empowered mindset, I thought that would be a positive note to conclude on. Do you have any final tips on how to maintain that empowered mindset?

Justin Bean: It can be tough, right? Especially as we see things on the news and, you know, get dragged back into some of the doom and gloom. But I think keeping an eye on your perspective, when we think about these trends, we’re often thinking in terms of quarters or years, or at most, a decade. But, you know, if we take a look back, only 100 years, that’s only a couple of generations, a few generations. We were living in a drastically different world and a much harder world to live in. And then if you look back 150 years, right, go back to the old west, and you know, complain to them about smartphones and you know, the heater not working sometimes, and you know, they’ll throw you out on your keister. We’ve actually achieved incredible things. And this is what human beings do. We’ve dramatically reduced child mortality. We’ve increased literacy literacy to almost 100%. We’ve developed technologies around vaccination and around disease control and around medicine that really help people live healthier, happier lives, and we have so much more knowledge available to everyone. So I think zooming out and thinking about the bigger picture and the perspective that we’re you know, the trend lines are always fluctuating, but the overarching long trend line is upwards. And we can you that need to continue that legacy that our forefathers and mothers bequeath to us.

Bonnie Schneider: Well, thank you so much, Justin. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you Justin, being the author of the book,  “What Can Go Right.” All right, well, stay with us. We have more coming up on Digital CxO.