A view from John Sauven

Greenpeace's John Sauven: 'It's better to be slightly headless and unpredictable'

Greenpeace UK's executive director John Sauven's thoughts on integrity, global understanding and balancing intuition with emotions.

We are living in a time of increasing chaos. We armed Saddam Hussein to wage war against our "enemy" Iran. We then overthrew him. Now we are an "ally" of Iran. As US General Dempsey said: "If the environment in which we operate is more chaotic, we’ve got to introduce chaos into the system." But there is a fine line to be drawn between chaos and madness. The former can be liberating, freeing us from outdated frames and ideas. The latter can be costly in terms of money and lives. I try to stay just inside the chaos boundary line.

The ability to change things for the better ebbs and flows. There are moments when the time is ripe, and they are hard to predict. The Berlin Wall coming down; it seemed quite solid until it crumbled. If you sleep, you might miss the opportunity. So I try to stay awake and make use of any opening I can find.

Leave the trees standing. We should always remember, as Charles Darwin said, that the difference between us and other animals is only "one of degree and not of kind". It’s important to be conscious of our place in the world. Are we "natural aliens", or part of the natural world? The latter will ensure our survival, the former almost certainly lead to our demise. I’ve spent most of my time at Greenpeace trying to make sure the trees are left standing in the forest. Trees are like pieces of ecotechnology, storing carbon, filtering water and cleaning the air. But lots of corporations like to chop them down for pulp and paper or space for growing animal feed.

One of my favourite slogans is "Vorsprung durch Technik". This is not so much about the product, more the idea behind the slogan. We are more than capable of building a sustainable society.

As soon as you monetise something in nature, a cost-benefit analysis comes in. Nature always loses.

It’s better to be slightly headless and unpredictable. One book I have found useful as a CEO is The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A Beckstrom. Generally I hate these types of books, but this isn’t bad on organisation.

I love what Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk is doing with electric cars today – making all the intellectual property open source. His next big venture is solar power. He’s one of the most disruptive people in the business community.

Everyone wants to put a monetary value on everything. We are always looking for growth opportunities; increased market share; brand values. But some things just don’t have a price. I always listen to the birds singing when I wake up in the morning. Nature is free. As soon as you monetise something in nature, a cost-benefit analysis comes in. Nature always loses. Much of nature’s value has to do with what is visceral to you.

It’s important to balance intuition and emotions with logic and reason. We live in a material world, but being rich is not about money.

Do no harm. This is the one universal golden rule. It’s an ethic that should extend beyond the medical profession and the human species to include all life. We need solidarity toward the whole of the planet.

Integrity, fairness, responsibility to society, global understanding. I was at a meeting recently with Japanese corporation Mitsubishi, and on the wall, in Japanese and English, were those words as their corporate principles. The company was formed in 1870 and these words were written in 1934. The corporation is still around, perhaps because its principles were built to last.