Guest Articles

Boris Pomroy on harnessing 18th Century ideas and the need to stand naked

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A new age of industrial enlightenment.

As a teenager, growing-up in a small coastal village in Essex, the ramifications of the Industrial Revolution, taught *ad-nauseum* throughout my compulsory education were rather lost on me. How I cursed the names of Arkwright, Newcomen and Wedgewood and their spinning-jennies, steam-powered engines and mass-produced pottery as I stared out of the window and longed for double-games.

But now, as we look forwards to the beginning of a new industrial revolution, I find myself peering back in time and wondering what we might learn from our ancestors. Why did the revolution come to pass? Why here in the UK? What relevance does it have in finding solutions to todays energy and carbon challenges?

Back in the early 18th century, Britain and most of Europe was in the midst of an energy crisis. As populations grew, wood became less practical as a primary energy source, it was expensive, difficult to transport and could not be chopped-down fast enough to satisfy demand. The search was on for a cheaper, more efficient, alternative.

That alternative was coal. The commercial exploitation of which changed the face of the world.

However, the roots of what is seen primarily as an industrial revolution lay further back, to the 17th century and the English civil war. The resultant (semi)-independent parliamentary monarchy broke from the religious and political censorship of old Europe and decentralised its markets, embracing free-trade and actively seeking to support its merchants, with the force of the worlds largest Navy if necessary.

It was this time of “Industrial Enlightenment” that allowed scientists and “men of action” (the word entrepreneur not reaching UK shores until the 1820’s) to collaborate – developing and marketing the innovations that drove the industrial revolution. As well as giving birth to those history-lesson stalwarts such as the spinning-jenny and Watt’s engine, it helped build much of the physical and business infrastructure we use today.

In little over a century, over 15,000 miles of ‘turnpike’ roads were laid, 4,000 miles of canals dug, and hundreds of factories built. The London stock exchange was created, allowing more people to invest in new ideas, driving a rapid expansion in the middle classes and allowing the likes of Wedgewood to exploit the beginnings of what would be known as consumerism.

The Industrial Revolution, quite simply changed everything. But whilst coal fuelled the revolution, it was an abundance of ideas, a keenness to collaborate and the freedom to generate a profit that were the real driving forces.

It is in this spirit of Industrial Enlightenment we’ve put together our programme for Green Corporate Energy ’13 on the 26th June.

Our aim is to create an environment, similar to the coffee-houses and dinner-clubs of the 18th century, where the crowd can gather to share ideas and make new connections.

We hope the end-product will be a transformative menu of ideas that will help drive forward the next generation of energy strategies.

Here are just a few highlights to whet your appetite.

  • Professor Jeremy Black will discuss the historical link between knowledge sharing and innovation.
  • FTSE100 British Land will “go naked” on its carbon and energy strategy – the crowd has already generated 80 pages of analysis and ideas, and CEO Chris Grigg will share his thoughts live.
  • Our Energy Idea Idol competition has crowdsourced a menu of 28 transformative ideas, with the three finalists presenting to the crowd.

With rising prices, the carbon agenda and security of supply, there is little doubt that business in the 21st century faces some major energy challenges. But we believe, by harnessing the spirit of their 18th century ancestors, our crowd can usher in not just a new industrial revolution, but a new age of enlightenment.

by Boris Pomroy

Green Corporate Energy will be held on the 26th June in London.

Since 2008 Green Mondays has been helping the diffusion of social business models. As we enter an increasingly social era of business, organisations need to learn from each other, and our Going Naked, Idea Idol and Changemakers formats draw on the collective power of crowds to achieve change.

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