50 Years Ago This Month

Gil Friend
4 min readJul 25, 2022


…my life pivoted in profound and powerful ways. While most of my friends ran off to the Rockies for the first Rainbow Family Gathering (a sort of proto-BurningMan!), I ensconced myself in the libraries and campus of Southern Illinois University for the first World Game Workshop with the legendary Buckminster Fuller and his crew. Led by Medard Gabel and Howard Brown, 80 of us from around the world spent four 80 hour weeks exploring the challenge of how to

make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense, or the disadvantage of anyone.

I fondly remember the process was a week of “whole systems brainwashing” followed by three weeks of a design charrette for the planet:

  • carefully describing the “present state” of humanity with read to food, energy, water, housing, transportation, education, re-creation, and other concerns;
  • describing, with equal care, the “preferred state” — what would indicate the “world that works” (for the Food & Ag team, for example, that meant how much food to support how many anticipated people);
  • and then — in a conceptual breakthrough that boggled and delighted my 23 year old mind, and has remained a key tool in my toolkit ever since — instead of building a plan to get to future goals, we stood in the imagined success of a world that works and reverse engineered the mission (much as NASA did for the Apollo moon landing).

I came away with two profound learnings, in my bones and in the data, which have guided my work ever since:

(1) there is no necessary physical barrier to human well-being on this planet; the barriers are matters of will; and

(2) in many (most?) cases, the most effective strategies were local, place-based, adapted-place.

(Oh, and (3) I met my wife and partner of the past 50 years. ;-)


…I found myself at the forefront of what was to become the sustainable business movement — advising some of the worlds best companies by making the business case for sustainability as a source of innovation and value, and as a strategic driver, not just a nice-to-have — and in the process uncovering billions of value for our clients, large and small.


…one of those clients begged me to cut through the complexity — and, as they put it, “Just tell us the truth! What do we really need to do?”

I sat down and just wrote for 30 minutes, and found before me the Declaration of Leadership for Sustainable Business — born entire, like Athena from the head of Zeus. We released it at the Commonwealth Club in 2005, and since then we’ve shared it with hundrerds of CEOs, CSOs, asset managers, consultants, activists — and the readers of my book, The Truth About Green Business, and the audiobook version, The Green Business Field Guide. We’ve designed two “suitable for framing” poster versions to make it easy for people to have this visual reminder right in front of them — in the board room, office, cubicle, break room, shop floor.

Don’t have one yet? You can download your own poster right here — and, if you like, you can order a framed version as well.


…after a half century in the sustainability game, I find myself focusing increasingly on two things:

  • working individually with leaders & emerging leaders to help them build their effectiveness AND maintain their peace of mind
  • deploying “private equity for good” — using those dread tools of not in service of the financialization of everything but in service of a world that works — by building a holding company to acquire, transform, and transition growth stage small and mid-sized companies into ecologically-grounded, employee-owned, community-rooted businesses. (We like to think of it as investing in the picks and shovels of the next economy.™)

Have I ever done anything like this before? Well, yes; we know — from our consulting experience identifying billions of dollars of hidden value for our clients — that we can lift the value of just about any company, in just about any industry. And, no; I’ve never built a holding company…yet! But, as Pablo Picasso said, “I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

And besides, maybe one of you reading this *has* built a holding company or run a private equity firm, and is looking for a way to deploy your talent, experience, and resources in support of a world that works. (If that’s you, please call me today!)

Oh, and I’ve slightly rewritten Bucky’s “world that works” formulation to more clearly incorporate the challenge we now face: To build

“A world that works
for the ongoing well-being of the living world to which we belong,
and the beings with whom we share this world,
in the shortest possible time,
through spontaneous cooperation,
without ecological offense,
or the disadvantage of any.”

Or, as I’ve been asking lately, “What might it be like if we did business — and everything else — as though we actually belonged to the living world? (And to each other?)”



Gil Friend

Gil Friend is CEO of Natural Logic Inc., founder of Critical Path Capital, and an inaugural member of the Sustainability Hall of Fame.