Chief of the Onondaga Nation, Oren Lyons: Investing in the future of humanity through sustainable innovation

It was a privilege and a pleasure to be able to listen and learn from Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation and chairman of Plantagon, the Urban Greenhouse innovators.

Chief Lyons started by pinning down what it takes to be successful in new sustainable businesses:

“It takes a lot of courage and dedication and once the hurrah is over it is all about the grit to see it through that is what matters.”

Chief Lyons then went on to shed light on other projects in the pipeline including ‘Plant a phone’, which is about turning cell phone towers into lush green areas and ‘Plant a car’ which is a research project investigating running cars on wood pellets which involves a bio-digester small enough to fit inside a car, pretty amazing, creative and out-of-the-box innovation. Chief Lyons did not mince words and made a strong call to action:

“Oil is over, if you don’t start making changes now, you will be caught flat-footed” and “Business as usual is over now, now it is cooperation not competition”

Chief Lyons was asked by Patrick Dixon, in 20 years time, what will people be discussing with respect to the earth and the journey towards sustainability.

“Two paths; if we are collectively innovative and work together and cooperate, and we prepare for immigration problems, food and water shortages and prepare for it now, we can meet the problem, if we don’t then….”

Chief Lyons also framed the urgency of the environmental challenges we face by pointing out that there is too much discussion around negotiating with nature and coming up with a compromise;

“You know who is going to win the debate, nature is going to win the debate, the question is how we respond to the demands of nature.”

A key issue that was raised is that new business models for sustainability require a different approach to achieving success; they must be fundamentally about clever partnerships, unexpected connections and a commitment to work together  to achieve a common purpose and of course reap the huge economic benefits that can come from doing so;

“Collective thinking is crucial for solving future sustainability challenges.”

Plantagon, a Swedish company owned by the Onondaga Nation of the United States of America really points to collaborative business models for the future that do not separate but genuinely integrate economic, social environmental and even spiritual dimensions to create true synergies.

In a fitting conclusion to Globe Forum 2010, Patrick asked Oren about his legacy for the future and Oren responded with the following:

“By future generations…I want to be known as the one that tried as hard as possible to ensure that life is as good in seven generations as it is for those alive now.”

This is not just idle words. As part of the commercial ventures set up by the Onondaga nation, 10% goes towards ensuring a desirable future for those alive in seven generations. This is supported by an innovative ‘futures contract’ system where investors and individuals can buy a stake in the future of humanity, a true legacy investment. This goes back to the heart of Native American philosophy in which notions of intergenerational equity and sustainability are deeply ingrained but as Chief Lyons aptly pointed out;

“This is an effort to teach people that they can do things differently and that 10% for future generations is good business.”

So with that remarkable piece of wisdom, I shall conclude and hope that you have been inspired as I have by Chief Oren Lyons to do things differently and always think about the legacy you will leave for those alive seven generations down the line.



  1. Posted August 1, 2010 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    We have to be concerned with the ones which come after us. For all to prosper, Think of others and what is happening around us all

  2. Richard Stooker
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    For a business to be sustainable, it must make enough money to cover all expenses, including salaries. That is, it must make a profit. If not, it will need go out of business without an infusion of cash, making it more of a charity than a business.

    And in nature, of course there’s plenty of competition. Although there’s also a lot of cooperation between non-competing species.

    And in business, competition forces effificiency and innovation. And it can also inspire joint ventures for mutual profit.

    The urban greenhouse product does sound interesting. Many city residents would like to grow some of their own food, for health and economic reasons, but don’t know how to do so in small apartments or houses with tiny yards.

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