The Gaia Prize For Fertile Failures

The Gaia Prize For Fertile Failures

The Gaia Prize For Fertile Failures

by John Elkington

John Elkington (British, born 1949) is cofounder of Environmental Data Services (ENDS, 1978), SustainAbility (1987), and Volans (2008), where he is executive chairman. He has written seventeen books, sits on over twenty boards or advisory boards, and blogs at

Let’s develop a global prize for fascinating failures in the field of sustainable business, markets and governance – encouraging faster sharing of what is working and, even more interestingly, what isn’t and why. And also encouraging stretch ambitions, experimentation and outcomes. But it is worth recalling that if sustainability transition requires massive experimentation, the inevitable consequence will be a massive increase in the failure rate. None of us like to fail or to lose our jobs or investments, so let’s help move the needle toward long-term success by celebrating and learning from the inevitable fascinating, fertile failures.

This is an embryonic idea that surfaced during the course of the 2052 Glimpse Authors session in Cambridge, during 2013. In a way, it could be a counterpart to Peter Diamandis’s X Prize platform, catching at least some breakthrough innovators as they fall – and encouraging them to get back up on their feet and try again. In the same way that Icarus blazed the trail for aviators, so today’s sustainability pioneers are pathfinders for new forms of value creation and politics. Their successes will help drive the sustainability transition, no question, but so too may the lessons flowing from at least some of their failures.

The purpose of the Gaia Prize for fertile Failures would be to short-circuit the processes of innovation, massively accelerating the evolutionary processes that have taken life from slime toward the stars in 3.8 billion years. This embryonic idea may well wither on the vine, but if there is interest in incubating and developing it, my email address is

This Idea is included in Disrupting the Future – Great ideas for Creating a Much Better Future. This book is a remarkable collection of ideas and proposals by a diverse set of thought-leaders, each of which has responded in their own creative way to Jorgen Randers’ concluding challenge in 2052: ‘Please help me make my forecast wrong. Together we could create a much better world.’

You can find more information on this book and a possibility to order here.