Change the World

Let’s change the world, let’s shift it
Let’s shake and remake it
Let’s rearrange the pieces
The patterns in the maze
The reason for our days
In ways that make it better
In shades that make it brighter
That make the burden lighter
Because it’s shared, because we dared
To dream and then to sweat it
To make our mark and not regret it
Let’s plant a seed and humbly say:
I changed the world today!

Let’s change the world, let’s lift it
Let’s take it and awake it
Let’s challenge every leader
The citadels of power
The prisoners in the tower
The hour of need’s upon us
It’s time to raise our voices
To stand up for our choices
Because it’s right, because we fight
For all that’s just and fair
For a planet we can share
Let’s join the cause and boldly say:
We’ll change the world today!

Let’s change the world, let’s love it
Let’s hold it and unfold it
Let’s redesign the future
The fate of earth and sky
The existential why
Let’s fly to where there’s hope
To where the world is greener
Where air and water’s cleaner
Because it’s smart to make a start
To fix what we have broken
Our children’s wish unspoken
Let’s be the ones who rise and say:
We changed the world today!

Wayne Visser © 2018

Book

Seize the Day: Favourite Inspirational Poems

This creative collection, now in its 3rd edition, brings together favourite inspirational poems by Wayne Visser. The anthology takes us on a journey through the peaks and troughs of life, celebrating the indomitable human spirit.. It includes many old favourites like “Poets Must Be” and “Chasing the Blue”, as well as brand new poems like “The Writer” and “Making Ripples”. Sages through the ages wisely say: / Carpe Diem – seize the dawning day / Oh, would that I could assuage that thirst / But the day conspires to seize me first! / With the hurry and scurry / Of home’s frantic flurry / And the hustle and bustle / Of work’s tangled tussle. Buy the paper book / Buy the e-book.

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Mind the Gap: Seven Reasons Why We Pursue Self-Destruction by Failing to Act on Sustainability

Mind the Gap: Seven Reasons Why We Pursue Self-Destruction by Failing to Act on Sustainability

Article by Wayne Visser

First published on Huffington Post

I recently watched two sustainability documentaries – Cowspiracy, about the devastating environmental impacts of the agricultural industry and our meat-and-dairy intensive diets, and Before the Flood, Leonard Di Caprio’s impassioned plea for us to realise the seriousness of climate change and take urgent action.

Both films got me thinking about why we as human beings are so bad at acting on sustainability, when failure to do so threatens our own wellbeing, not to mention the lives of billions of other people and species. We truly are living in ‘The Age of Stupid’ (as another sustainability documentary put it), but why?

We are not stupid. We are incredibly smart and we can be amazingly compassionate. What’s more, we are more knowledgeable, connected and empowered than ever before. So why do we act as if we are dumb? Why are we consciously speeding our own demise and the sixth mass extinction?

Mind the Gap

On reflection, I believe that our inaction in the face of sustainability threats is due to a breakdown between causes and effects. Evolution has hardwired us to understand the impact of our actions –fight or flight in the face of danger is a case in point – but sometimes this survival instinct fails. And as far as I can tell, it fails for one of seven reasons:

1. The Time Gap

Our actions now may only have impacts in the future.

So there is a lag or delay between cause and effect. And we would rather choose certain pleasure now, even if it means possible pain from the impacts later. For example, we may choose to smoke or eat an unhealthy diet of fast foods or processed foods today, even though it will most likely cause cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes or a stroke later in life.

2. The Distance Gap

Our local actions may only have impacts somewhere else.

Or our actions may impact someone else who we don’t care about. So there is a physical dislocation or an emotional disconnect between cause and effect. For example, we are quite willing to buy a cheap T-shirt from our favourite discount store, even though it probably means it was manufactured under sweatshop conditions in Asia.

3. The Scale Gap

Our individual actions may be fairly benign but still have collectively destructive impacts.

Or we may not believe that changing our individual actions will result in any significant change to our collective impacts. For example, consuming palm-oil (in one-in-ten of the products we buy) does not seem individually irresponsible, even though it is causing tropical rainforest deforestation at a catastrophic scale in Indonesia and Malaysia.

4. The Cost-Benefit Gap

The perceived benefit of our actions may exceed the perceived cost of our impacts (for ourselves or others).

We may also believe we can avoid or isolate ourselves from the impacts of our actions, or mitigate against their effects. For example, the convenience of driving a petrol (gasoline) car seems to far outweigh the effort of cycling, taking a train or the investment cost of buying an electric car, let alone the nebulous future impact of air pollution or climate change.

5. The Causal Gap

The link between our actions and impacts may be unclear, ambiguous or unconvincing.

So the evidence for causality between cause and effect is weak or confused by contradictory opinions. For example, people may wonder: is my consumption of fossil fuel energy really linked to the increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes across the world? Maybe that’s just from El Niño or El Niña. Besides, we just had a cold winter. And wasn’t there some manipulation of the climate data anyway?

6. The Incentive Gap

There may be a lack of incentives to be accountable for the impacts of our actions.

Or there may even be perverse incentives, which nudge us in the wrong direction. So we are not being rewarded or punished appropriately. For example, why should I pay more for sustainable products and green electricity, while the government is subsidising the agro-industrial and fossil fuel companies? And how can I be expected to make long-term decisions for the planet when my shareholders are only looking at the next quarter?

7. The Belief Gap

Accepting the impacts of our actions may contradict our ideological beliefs or vested interests.

So there is a paradigm conflict between cause and effect, resulting in an ‘inconvenient truth’. For example, people may reason: why should we welcome refugees if we believe they are a threat to our security, jobs and culture? Or why become vegetarian or vegan when eating meat is so much a part of our lifestyle and cultural identity?

Bridging the Gap

These seven cause-and-effect gaps are the keys to changing humanity’s kamikaze-like death spiral of self-destruction. For it is only by acknowledging each of these psychological drivers – and finding ways to bridge the gaps they represent – that will stand any chance of overcoming our present failure to act decisively on sustainability. So what might bridging strategies look like? Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:

  1. The Time Gap – Appeal to intergenerational responsibility, since people do care about whether their actions will harm their children and grandchildren’s future. Also, make likely future impacts as visual and visceral as possible, using multi-media.
  2. The Distance Gap – Encourage educational travel and emphasise our common humanity. Show that someone living in China or South Africa or the United States is really not that different to us; they feel the same emotions and they share similar struggles and aspirations.
  3. The Scale Gap – Focus on individual responsibility (Gandhi’s ‘be the change you want to see in the world’) and explain how tipping points work, namely that large-scale change can happen when a significant minority changes (research on flocking suggests as little as 10%).
  4. The CostBenefit Gap – Work hard to make the full costs and full benefits clear. This means improving not only the business case for sustainability, but also the personal case and the moral case. We need to get better at ‘selling’ the upside of sustainable living.
  5. The Causal Gap – Improve the traceability of products and materials and tell the story of products, including their journey across the full life cycle, as Patagonia did with their Footprint Chronicles. Communicate the evidence of causal links between consumption and sustainability impacts.
  6. The Incentive Gap – Lobby governments to correct perverse incentives, tax unsustainable or irresponsible economic activity and subsidise clean, green and ethical technologies and products. Also, find ways to reward customers for making more sustainable choices.
  7. The Belief Gap – Expose the vested interests of companies, politicians and the media and challenge inconsistencies between the actions of groups and their professed values. Also, give people a positive alternative belief system. We need a compelling mythology (meta-narrative) of sustainability.

Together, we need to figure out the best strategies for bridging each of these seven gaps and so I welcome your thoughts and suggestions. What have you found works best in engaging people to take action on sustainability? And what doesn’t work? If we learn from each other, we can turn the Age of Stupid into the Age of Inspiration!

 

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/article_mindthegap_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] Mind the Gap (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” new_window=”false” link=”http://sustainablefrontiers.net/”]Link[/button] Sustainable Frontiers (book)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2016) Mind the Gap: Seven Reasons Why We Pursue Self-Destruction by Failing to Act on Sustainability, Huffington Post, 8 Nov.

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Book Quotations – From “Sustainable Frontiers”

Sustainable Frontiers

Book Title: Sustainable Frontiers: Unlocking Change Through Business, Leadership and Innovation

Authors: Wayne Visser

Publication details: Greenleaf Publishing, 2015

For more information: See the Book Profile

Quotations

  1. So much of making a successful transition to a more sustainable future depends on letting go
  2. We must find ways to let go of an industrial system that has served us well, but is no longer fit for purpose
  3. We have to let go of old styles of leadership & outdated models of business, high-impact lifestyles & selfish values
  4. We must learn to let go of cherished ideologies that are causing destruction
  5. We must learn to let go of beliefs about ways to tackle problems that are failing to resolve crises
  6. We are scared to let go, because we are comfortable clinging to our consumptive habits & selfish behaviours
  7. The future is uncertain – and our greatest fear as humans is a fear of the unknown
  8. We would rather trust (and fight to protect) the present we know than gamble on the future we don’t know
  9. Civilizations that fail to change are civilizations that ultimately fall
  10. The decline of civilizations starts with the failure to open the public and political mind to new possibilities
  11. People become trapped in a paradigm – a pattern of thinking – and are closed to a different, emergent world-view
  12. If we are to reach sustainable frontiers, it must begin with changing our collective minds
  13. First, we must change our collective minds – and only then will we change our collective behaviour
  14. We will all have to let go of cherished beliefs and strategies that are not working
  15. Sustainability I’ve discovered to be many things, but not an effective strategy for change – at least, not yet
  16. The essential idea of sustainability is about as exciting as watching lettuce wilt under the midday sun
  17. Sustainability has won many battles, but has lost the war for the hearts and minds of the people
  18. Sustainability has been warning of scarcity & survival, when what people want is prosperity & thriving
  19. The sustainability movement has failed to understand what it means to be human
  20. As human beings, our lives are all about change – about growth & development & making things better
  21. Sustainability “wonks” believe that they are all about Progress with a capital P. The world remains unconvinced
  22. Sustainability is like a geeky, pimply teenager who has come to our party & turned off the music
  23. Sustainability folks keep telling us that we would really be much happier if we stopped having so much darn fun!
  24. The key to having a good time, declares the sustainability mantra, is to practice a lot more self-restraint
  25. All those on board the sustainability austerity train, say “Hell, yeah!” … What, no one?
  26. If we are to survive (let alone thrive), the world is going to have to change – dramatically, radically & irreversibly
  27. When change does turn our lives upside down (as it will), how can we become more resilient?
  28. Change is all about connection. In other words, connectivity is the underlying catalyst for change
  29. Learning only happens when synapses are formed: they connect the neurons to each other
  30. Scaling the number of networked relationships is at the heart of change, including biological & social evolution
  31. If we want to save the sustainability movement, we will have to get much smarter about change
  32. We desperately need transformational leadership in order to advance the frontier of sustainability
  33. Calamitous leadership led us all, Pied Piper-like, into the 2008 global financial crisis
  34. The global financial crisis was ushered in while leading companies happily chanted “greed is good” in unison
  35. To survive in the sustainability era, companies will have to move beyond their aggressive tendencies
  36. Companies need to become genuinely concerned about the perspectives & wellbeing of all their stakeholders
  37. Stakeholders, if maltreated, can bite bite back – & even the most macho multinationals can bleed
  38. Too many companies have grown used to speaking to stakeholders only on a ‘need to know’ basis
  39. There is no shortage of companies that mistake ‘telling’ for ‘dialogue’ & get backchat from angry stakeholders
  40. Our incumbent global cadre of executive leadership is being forced to shapeshift, like it or not
  41. Those that have the foresight to change fundamentally are more likely to survive and thrive
  42. When it comes to sustainability, we are actually talking about changing a vastly complex system
  43. It takes a complex mix of different players to bring about lasting change for sustainability
  44. The bottom line is that we are gambling with our climate future, but we can still spread our bets
  45. If we want real transformation in society, our best chance is to keep spinning the wheel of systems change
  46. If there is one reason why organisational change fails, it is because we underestimate resistance to change
  47. Resistance to change comes from inertia – and inertia happens because change is like an iceberg
  48. Shifting our habits, attitudes, beliefs and values is the real secret to making change happen
  49. Changing a leader’s world-view is the first step to changing an organisation
  50. Sustainability reports are practically burping with all the ‘low hanging fruit’ companies have gorged on
  51. As humans, we are always ‘chasing the blue’ – so we have to be convinced that where we are going is sunnier
  52. Most people in most parts of the world don’t believe a sustainable future is necessarily a better future
  53. A blue skies strategy means being willing to take a risk as a leader & to set big hairy audacious goals
  54. Blue-sky leaders know that we are only inspired by reaching for an impossible dream
  55. We desperately need more Apollo-like sustainability missions that the public can get genuinely excited about
  56. Impacts that are far away, or in the future, are like smoldering fires in the distance: not action-worthy
  57. People need to feel the heat: directly, personally, here and now. That might mean lighting a few fires
  58. If you’re trying to make change happen, use burning platforms to create the urgency for change
  59. Use blue skies to create the reasons to change, baby steps for momentum & big beliefs to sustain energy
  60. Unlocking change is not only about what you do, but also whether you are tapped into your own power
  61. There are deep psychological – even existential – reasons why we “do” sustainability
  62. Sustainability allows us to feel that our work is aligned to our personal values
  63. Sustainability is a bit like chess – it is complex, dynamic & challenging, like an earth-puzzle that needs solving
  64. There are four sustainability leader archetypes – experts, facilitators, catalysts & activists
  65. Experts, facilitators, catalysts & activists each represent a different kind of sustainability change agent
  66. In the world of sustainability superheroes, you should know which cape and tights fits you best
  67. Aligning with your inner superhero allows you to be more professionally effective and purpose-inspired
  68. For change to be sustained and transformational, we need the joint efforts of the sustainability Fantastic Four
  69. The sustainability Fantastic Four superhero powers are knowledge, collaboration, imagination & compassion
  70. The first step to overcoming short-termism is to challenge the prevailing wisdom
  71. Sustainability must be recast as being fundamentally about the way a company does business
  72. We must keep identifying & promoting actions that question shareholder supremacy & financial speculation
  73. Trust comes from investing in long-term relations, rather than attempting to buy positive opinions
  74. Companies lose the trust of stakeholders because they over-promise and under-deliver
  75. Only if there is a genuine strategic commitment to sustainability from the top will we see meaningful change
  76. Stakeholders remain skeptical of companies’ motives & commitment to societal improvement – & rightly so
  77. To overcome stakeholder skepticism, companies must commit to bold strategic social & environmental goals
  78. To succeed, sustainability has to be translated into the language of the business or sector or functional area
  79. Unless sustainability is built into the company’s compensation schemes, middle managers will not align
  80. We need sustainability leaders to be consistent role models & to put their money where their mouths are
  81. When employees feel proud of their organization’s sustainability efforts, they become its biggest champion
  82. Unless the C-suite is on board with sustainability, all other efforts are bound to fail
  83. Sustainability leaders are able to think systemically, to see interconnections & to bridge silos
  84. Sustainability leaders will always find a way to put their values to work, no matter what industry they’re in
  85. We all share responsibility for inspiring & supporting each other to create a better world
  86. Revolutionary change is more often the result of new ways of thinking than new ways of doing
  87. CSR & triple bottom line efforts have been criticised as little more than window dressing & corporate spin
  88. Employees believe they work for great organisations when they trust the people they work for
  89. We must create work environments that support women who do not want to trade-off their career & family
  90. Creating a family-friendly enterprise requires a shift in leadership perceptions & organizational culture
  91. Let’s celebrate workplaces that support not only you & your job, but also your family & your quality of life
  92. Promoting cycling among employees is not only good for personal health, but also good for the planet
  93. It is a popular myth that CSR is not relevant, too expensive or not incentivized for SMEs
  94. Implicit CSR includes informal ethical practices that are not dependent on size or financial muscle
  95. I look forward to the day when “small is beautiful” applies as much to sustainable business as economic activity
  96. Understanding virtual water – embedded in the things we trade – is critical as our global water crisis increases
  97. To get us through the day, it takes about a hundred times our own weight in water [in industrialised economies]
  98. We all have footprints. But we can lighten the tread & ensure they are heading in a more sustainable direction
  99. Research shows that businesses with more women on their board of directors bring a string of sustainability benefits
  100. The circular economy – where closed-loop production brings us closer to zero waste – is a real business opportunity
  101. Our economy is so inefficient that less than 1% of the resources we extract still exist as products 6 months after sale
  102. Scaling up the circular economy requires concrete measures to meet mult-stakeholder sustainability targets
  103. The circular economy represents an annual $380-630 bn material cost saving opportunity in the EU
  104. If we fail to achieve a sustainable technology revolution, we will face “overshoot and collapse” as a civilization
  105. Not only is technological innovation booming, but it is rapidly shifting twoards sustainable solutions
  106. Many of the World Economic Forum’s top 10 most promising technologies have a clear enviornmental & social focus
  107. The market for clean energy technologies is projected to grow from $248 bn in 2013 to $398 bn in 2023
  108. More patents have been filed in the past 5 years than the previous 30 for climate change mitigation technologies
  109. Contrary to what some may think, emerging markets cannot be assumed to lag on sustainable technological innovation
  110. What does the future hold? The sustainable technology innovation wave is only just building
  111. According to McKinsey & Co., resource productivity opportunities could save us $2.9 trillion by 2030
  112. The challenges of the 21st century will stretch our collective capacity for innovation like never before
  113. To ensure food security, we need to find 175-220 million hectares of additional cropland by 2030
  114. To ensure food security, we need to increase total food production by about 70% by 2030
  115. We have to tackle the problem of 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted every year – a third of all food produced
  116. Resource productivity opportunities show that reducing food waste could return $252 bn in savings by 2030
  117. Creating a sustainable “cold chain” in the developing world could eliminate 25-50% of food wastage
  118. The sustainability revolution is as much about changing perceptions, attitudes & behaviours as changing technology
  119. Agricultural demand will require a 140% increase in water supply over the next 20 years compared with the past 20
  120. It is estimated that the global biofuels market could double to $185.3 bn by 2021
  121. We are all, with our modern lifestyles, hooked on chemicals, for energy, colourants, food, health & beauty
  122. The WHO estimates that the chemical industry causes around a million deaths globally every year
  123. Chemicals are harming people, yet because of their benefits & the world’s addiction, they cannot be eliminated
  124. The cost to the global economy of chemical pollution has been estimated at $546 bn, rising to $1.9 tn by 2050
  125. Can the chemicals ever be sustainable? The answer is maybe. The big leap forward is green chemistry
  126. The “green” label has been so abused over the past few decades that it is wise to suspect PR spin or greenwashing
  127. The green chemistry market is set to grow from $2.8 bn in 2011 to $98.5 bn by 2020, saving the industry $65.5 bn
  128. The top benefits from implementing sustainable technology are resource productivity & economic development
  129. The top barriers to sustainable technology adoption are the local of local qualified workers & institutional capacity
  130. The marketing benefits of demonstrating sustainable technologies in developing countries can be significant
  131. Major reductions in the environmental impacts of the chemicals industry can be achieved by adopting best practices
  132. Resource scarcity & human rights issues surrounding metals extraction mean the industry is facing some tough realities
  133. People living in extreme poverty could drop from 1.2 billion in 2010 to under 100 million by 2050
  134. An environmental disaster scenario could mean 3.1 billion more people living in extreme poverty by 2050
  135. Unless the world’s booming economies can lighten the weighty anchor of resource consumption, we will all sink
  136. The largest metals & mining companies have environmental external costs of $220 billion, 77% relating to carbon
  137. The picture that emerges is of a metals sector under seige, an industry that is soon to be the victim of its own success
  138. Iron & steel energy efficiency & end-use steel efficiency could deliver $278 billion in resource savings by 2030
  139. The sustainability impacts of the extractive sector are serious – sometimes even tragic & catastrophic
  140. Technology, the source of so much destruction in the mining & metals industry, can also be its saviour
  141. Today, less than a third of 60 metals analysed have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50% & 34 are below 1%
  142. The best available sustainable technology is not always the most applicable, especially in developing countries
  143. Technology can help to rescue the high-impact extractives sector from its siege by the forces of sustainability
  144. Extractives companies need to recast themselves as resource stewardship companies
  145. Extractives companies must become experts at circular production and post-consumer “mining”
  146. Customers & governments need to give up their compulsive throw-away habits & embrace the take-back economy
  147. Necessity, rather than an unexpected attack on conscience, will drive the transition to a circular economy
  148. Sustainable technologies are transforming our outdated industrial model, which is no longer fit for purpose
  149. Without innovation, we are unlikely solve many of global social & environmental problems
  150. Eco-innovation is the next evolution beyond eco-efficiency, to strategically transform the whole business model
  151. When it comes to reinventing capitalism, eco-innovation is one of the next waves business will want to surf
  152. Technology presents citizens with far greater opportunities to engage with sustainability issues than ever before
  153. Hyper-connectivity makes responsiveness more possible – and less likely
  154. Value-action gaps make stakeholder feedback more collectable – and less valuable
  155. The wisdom of the crowd can – without validation – also become the tragedy of the commons
  156. The proliferation of sustainability standards has led to market confusion for investors & consumers
  157. What is missing across the sustainability standards arena is greater clarity & more co-ordination
  158. It is inevitable that advances in “big data” analytics will start to be applied to sustainability databases
  159. Sustainability data structuring, searchability & signposting will become at least as important as a qualitative narrative
  160. What really matters for the fututre of transparency is how sustainability data is organised & made accessible
  161. Sustainability reporting is only one face of the transparency coin; on the other side is sustainability ratings
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To survive in a volatile world businesses must build in resilience

To survive in a volatile world businesses must build in resilience

Article by Wayne Visser

Part of the Unlocking Change series for The Guardian.

In a changing world it is not the fittest who will survive; it is the most adaptable.

If you have landed on this page wearing your superhero outfit – and I admit, I may be partly to blame – I’m going to have to ask you to remove your mask, cape and tights now. Don’t get me wrong, when the world needs saving and I’m done paying off my mortgage and carrying out the trash, I’ll be the first one to dial-a-superhero. But in the meantime …

You see, the world has this nasty habit of changing without our permission; in fact, without us having so much as poked it in the eye. And so we – as individuals, organisations or whole nations – often find that we are no longer the agents of change, but rather its victims. Change happens! And we are left somewhere between mildly irritated and battling for our very survival.

According to Business Week, the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company is between 40 and 50 years. One-third of the Fortune 500 companies in existence in 1970 had vanished by 1983 – acquired, merged, or broken to pieces. Looking across the full spectrum of companies, large and small, the average life of companies may be as low as 12.5 years.

Can we really afford to talk about long-term sustainability, when short-term survival is so hard to achieve? The sobering fact is that we face a future in which saving the world may have to wait, while we save ourselves first. Chances are, we will even have to give up the smooth and swanky practice of sustainability, while we get down and dirty in the trenches of rough, rude resilience.

The bad news is that our silky green spandex outfits are probably not going to survive the trip. The good news is that resilience can be learned and planned for in advance. In a world of increasingly volatile sustainability challenges, there are five strategies for resilience that can dramatically increase our chances of survival when the waves of disruptive change come crashing in. They are to: defend, diversify, decentralise, dematerialise and define.

A defensive strategy can take on many forms, the most obvious of which is to insure against catastrophe, whatever form that may take. This only works if the crash is not systemic, but it is a good start. Other tactics include having a crack-squad of trouble-shooters trained to respond in times of crisis, and building up reserves for the proverbial rainy day, which may turn out to be a tsunami.

A diversification strategy applies to people, products and markets. For example, if you bet your corporate life on being a fossil fuel company, rather than an energy company, or if you are locked into a local market without any global investments, you are highly vulnerable. Likewise, if you hire an army of clones, your lack of diversity will leave you brittle in the face of change.

A decentralisation strategy is based on the same rationale that inspired the Internet. By decentralising information and building in redundancy on local servers, the internet is far less vulnerable to being taken out in a single hit. In the same way, by decentralising operations, infrastructure and solutions – as with decentralised energy for example – we can be better prepared to cope with disruption.

A dematerialisation strategy means moving to an industrial model that reduces dependency on resources. The only viable way to do this in the long term is to shift to renewable energy and to optimise the circular economy. Hence, anything we can do to decouple economic growth from environmental impacts is a step in the direction of greater resilience.

A defining strategy is about giving people a purpose to believe in. Victor Frankl, survivor of four Nazi concentration camps and psychiatric author of Man’s Search for Meaning, gives compelling evidence that our resilience under extreme circumstances often comes down to having an existential belief about something worth living for. Can sustainability offer us this compelling cause?

By pursing these five resilience strategies, individuals, organisations and even countries will be much better placed to endure the creative destruction to come. However, preparing for change is not the same thing as surviving it. Resilience is not a strategy, but an ability – one which is shaped and tempered in the fire of extreme experience.

At its heart, this ability to be resilient is about adapting when everything around us is changing – like an aspen tree. Aspen forests are able to survive frequent avalanches that literally flatten them. The trees survive and spring back up because they have an interconnected network of underground roots and their trunks and branches are highly pliable.

This brings us back full circle to the message of my first article on unlocking change, namely that the secret to transformational change in the world is connectivity – to which we can now add that dexterity is also absolutely critical. After all, Darwin never claimed that the fittest would survive, only the most adaptable.

 

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/article_unlocking_change5_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] To survive in a volatile world businesses must build in resilience (article)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2013) To survive in a volatile world businesses must build in resilience. The Guardian, 28 October 2013.

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Finding your inner sustainability superhero

Finding your inner sustainability superhero

Article by Wayne Visser

Part of the Unlocking Change series for The Guardian.

For change to be sustained and transformational we need to tap into the powers of different types of sustainability superheroes.

Have you ever wondered why do we do it? The sustainability hokey cokey, I mean. Most of us – whether we are sustainability professionals, academics, consultants, students, activists or wannabes – could have pursued different career paths. For my sins, having studied marketing, I could have become a spin-doctor or an ad-man. So what makes us choose sustainability instead? What makes us tattoo the S-word to our foreheads (metaphorically speaking, I hope)?

My research shows that there are deep psychological – even existential – reasons why we ‘do’ sustainability. And you may be surprised to know that it is not because we want to save the world, or because we care about people, or even because we want to ‘make a difference’. At least, not directly. The real reason is because it gives us personal satisfaction – not of the sugar-rush or warm-cuddly variety, but of the purpose-inspired, life satisfaction kind.

If we dig a bit deeper, we find that six motivational forces drive our work in sustainability. First, it allows us to feel that our work is aligned to our personal values, whether these are faith-based or humanistic. Second, we find the work stimulating. Sustainability a bit like Sudoku for hippies – it is complex, dynamic and challenging, like an ultimate earth-puzzle that needs solving. Most sustainability enthusiasts share these two drivers.

The other four drivers tend to be distributed across the sustainability tribe. Some find meaning in giving specialist input, while others prefer empowering people. Some are motivated to come up with effective strategies, while others feel most satisfied if they are making a contribution to society. These drivers translate into a set of sustainability leader archetypes – think of them as our very own Fantastic Four, namely: Experts, Facilitators, Catalysts and Activists. Each represents a different kind of sustainability change agent.

Sustainability Experts tend to be focused on the details of a particular issue, with a deep knowledge and understanding, often of a technical or scientific nature. They like working on projects, designing systems and being consulted for their expertise. Their satisfaction comes from continuous learning and self-development. They are most frustrated by the failure of others to be persuaded by the compelling evidence, or to implement systems as they were designed.

Sustainability Facilitators are most concerned with using their knowledge to empower others to act, using their strong people skills to make change happen. They like working with teams, delivering training and giving coaching. Their satisfaction is in seeing changes in people’s understanding, work or careers. They become frustrated when individuals let the team down, or when those in power do not allow enthusiastic groups to act.

Sustainability Catalysts enjoy the challenge of shifting an organisation in a new direction, using their political skills of persuasion to change strategies. They like working with leadership teams and articulating the business case for sustainability. They are often pragmatic visionaries and are frustrated when top management fails to see – and more importantly, to act on – the opportunities and risks facing the organisation.

Sustainability Activists are typically passionate about macro-level issues and their impacts on society or the planet as a whole, using their strong feelings about justice to motivate their actions. Their satisfaction comes from challenging the status quo, questioning those in power and articulating an idealistic vision of a better future. They tend to be great networkers and are mainly frustrated by the apathy of others in the face of urgent crises.

As you reflect on what type of sustainability superhero you may be, I expect all four will resonate to a greater or lesser extent. This is because we are composite beings when it comes to making sustainability change happen. But we do gravitate more strongly to one archetype, based on what gives us the deepest personal satisfaction. And there are three good reasons why you should know which cape and tights fits you best.

First, aligning with your inner superhero means embracing a mode of action in which you are most professionally effective and purpose-inspired. Second, it allows you to check that your formal role, or the direction of your career, is consistent with your archetype – the mask must fit the cape and tights. And third, it encourages you to consciously put together teams with a balance of Experts, Facilitators, Catalysts and Activists – the ideal earth-crime fighting force.

So it is not enough that all change begins with individuals. For change to be sustained and transformational – for sustainability to be a force for good in the world, and to save the earth from humans – we need the joint efforts of the Fantastic Four, each with their particular superpowers: knowledge for the Experts, collaboration for the Facilitators, imagination for the Catalysts, and compassion for the Activists. Will you join in the heroes’ crusade?

 

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

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Visser, W. (2013) Finding your inner sustainability superhero. The Guardian, 21 October 2013.

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Unlock Change with Big Beliefs, Blue Skies, Burning Platforms and Baby Steps

Unlock change with big beliefs, blue skies, burning platforms and baby steps

Article by Wayne Visser

Part of the Unlocking Change series for The Guardian.

You’ll need a range of strategies to overcome the inevitable and much-underestimated resistance to sustainable organisational change. Here’s how to make it happen.

I know I’ve been banging on about “changing the world” in this series about unlocking change, but let’s be honest, for most of us, that is a bit like shooting for the stars. In practice, the moon we’re most likely to hit is changing our own organisations. Easy to say, hard to do. If there is one reason why organisational change fails, it’s because we underestimate resistance to change. As Hunter Lovins once told me, “Only a baby with a wet diaper wants changing, and even then, it cries throughout the process.”

Resistance to change comes from inertia – and inertia happens because, as Bob Doppelt, author of From Me to We, puts it, change is like an iceberg. It is futile to keep pushing against what is above the surface – the things we can see and control directly, such as rules, policies and procedures. Shifting the volume and weight of what lies below the surface – our habits, attitudes, beliefs and values – is the real secret to making change happen.

Unfortunately, this requires the intrinsic drivers of human behaviour to be rewired, which is what makes it so much more difficult. And yet, when we succeed, the scale and speed of change can be profound. Turning carpet company Interface into the first truly restorative business on the planet began with founder Ray Anderson’s “spear in the chest” revelation. Changing his worldview was the first step in changing his organisation.

Change was possible because Anderson was able to combine decades of experience as an industry leader with the fire-in-the-belly that came from his conversion to a new belief system. And, as with Steve Jobs, if a leader has true conviction, he or she can create a “reality distortion field” in which others get swept up in the cause.

Sadly, these missionary-type leaders with their big beliefs are about as common as Greenpeace activists serving on the management boards of oil companies. Most organisations have to rely on three other strategies to overcome inertia: burning platforms, blue skies and baby steps, which echo the elements of Gleicher’s formula for change.

Let’s start with baby steps, because this is usually the easiest strategy. Most organisations do not need much persuasion to commission a pilot facility, construct a demonstration project or develop a showcase product, especially with the giddy prospect of good PR-spin. In fact, sustainability reports are practically burping with all the “low-hanging fruit” that these companies have gorged themselves on.

The reason these baby steps for sustainability have never become giant leaps for humankind is because there is no real incentive to stride out. For that, we need the other two strategies, starting with blue skies. The fact is, as humans, we are always “chasing the blue”. But first we have to be convinced that where we are going is sunnier. Yet, for most people in most parts of the world – as crazy as it seems – we don’t believe that a sustainable future is necessarily a better future.

Veteran environmentalist Jonathan Porritt is hoping he can still change our minds. His new book, The Future We Made, sketches a vision of a what he calls a genuinely sustainable world in 2050 and why it is so much better than today. It’s a change management tactic that we could all learn from – the kind of thinking that inspired Elon Musk to invent Tesla Motors. Until then, nobody believed that electric cars could be not only green, but fast and cool too.

A blue skies strategy means being willing to take a risk as a leader, to set big hairy audacious goals. Whether it is Unilever’s plan to double in size, while reducing its environmental footprint and helping a billion people out of poverty, or Google’s ambition to make all the world’s knowledge free and accessible, blue-sky leaders know that we are only inspired by reaching for an impossible dream. That’s why we desperately need more Apollo-like sustainability missions that the public can get genuinely excited about.

The combination of big beliefs, baby steps and blue sky strategies will almost certainly get us moving forward, but if we want a pace to match the urgency of our global challenges, organisations need a burning platform. Someone else’s burning platform – HIV/Aids in South Africa, Amazon destruction in Brazil, or corruption in Russia – won’t do the trick. Impacts that are far away, or in the future, are like smouldering fires in the distance: noteworthy but not action-worthy. People need to feel the heat: directly, personally, here and now. For organisations and leaders, that might mean lighting a few fires.

In summary, if you’re trying to make change happen in your organisation, use burning platforms to create the urgency for change, blue skies to create the reasons to change, baby steps to create the momentum for change, and big beliefs to sustain the energy for change.

 

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

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Visser, W. (2013) Unlock change with big beliefs, blue skies, burning platforms and baby steps. The Guardian, 14 October 2013.

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Systems Change Requires Multiple Agents and Dynamics

Systems change requires multiple agents and dynamics

Article by Wayne Visser

Part of the Unlocking Change series for The Guardian.

If Shakespeare was right that “all the world’s a stage”, then consider this cast of characters: Svante Arrhenius, Al Gore, Franny Armstrong, Inez Fung, Mercedes Bustamante and Colin Beavan. Now imagine the stage is set with a few props – the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) and the Copenhagen Accord. Finally, weave in some plot twists, such as Hurricane Katrina, Chinese solar subsidies and Fukushima.

We now have all the ingredients for an intriguing play about climate change – or, to be more precise, a story about how whole systems change happens.

Let’s begin with the individuals. Each represents a different type of person that is needed for societal change to be effective. Svante Arrhenius, the Swedish scientist who discovered the greenhouse effect in 1896 and linked it to fossil fuels, is typical of what we might call a genius heretic, someone who changes our paradigm, the way we see the world.

Al Gore, former US vice president and star of An Inconvenient Truth, might be regarded as an iconic leader, someone who uses charisma to communicate ideas and persuade us to change. Franny Armstrong, on the other hand, with her documentaries like McLibel and The Age of Stupid, as well as her 10:10 climate campaign, is more like a freedom fighter.

So here we have three cast members and three different kinds of change agency – paradigmatic, charismatic and activist. Each individual is fairly high profile and offers the possibility of bringing about relatively rapid transformation, using ideas, persuasion and action. So how are next three individuals different?

Ines Fung is a professor of atmospheric science at the University of California, Berkley, who has been working on climate change ever since she won the MIT Rossby Award for outstanding thesis of the year in 1971. She is what we could call a systematic scientist, patiently and persistently studying how things fit together.

Mercedes Bustamante is a director in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation in Brazil and coordinator lead author of the 5th IPCC Assessment report on mitigation. Her work is all about finding leverage points to change behaviour in society – and especially in agriculture and forestry – so that we can prevent dangerous climate change.

Colin Beavan is neither scientist nor politician. However, he does do experiments. He is most well known for No Impact Man, a documentary account of his attempt to live in New York City for one year with as close to zero environmental impact as possible.

Again, we have three individuals, all advocating different pathways to change – what I call Cartesian, Newtonian and Gandhian strategies. They are typically not high profile people and the process of change is much slower, but they form essential spokes in the wheel of systems change.

Now what of our props and plots? The IPCC also represents a relatively gradual change strategy, but operates at a collective level using the principle of consensus. The EU ETS uses a different mechanism, creating price signals as incentives for behaviour change.

Meanwhile, the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, while disappointing to many, may still turn out to be the tipping point when all the world’s major nations – including developed, emerging and developing countries – finally agreed that deep cuts in global emissions are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

These three types of change – consensual, incentivised and pivotal – are slow societal processes that help to build the momentum towards more dramatic change. Our final trio represents revolutionary change, with catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina, combining with rapid growth trends like the way massive Chinese government subsidies have halved solar panel costs since 2010.

We also have butterfly effects, things we could not have predicted, such as Germany’s policy response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, putting it on a fast track to renewable energy. We can call these three types of change cataclysmic, exponential and chaotic.

So, taken together, what does it mean? By recognising the multiple agents and dynamics on the wheel of systems change, we start to see how shifts occur in society. At any one time, there needs to be activity in all four change triptychs – let’s call them invention, intention, evolution and revolution – as is happening with climate change.

We know the story of climate change is far from an end. If it were a three-act play, we’re undoubtedly still in act one. It is one of the issues that has caused the most disruptive change to society in recent decades and – as the recent IPCC 5th Assessment Report confirms – it will probably get worse before it gets better.

The bottom line is that we are gambling with our climate future, but we can still spread our bets. If we want real transformation in society – by choosing a plus two degree rather than a plus six degree world – our best chance is to keep spinning the wheel of systems change.

 

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

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Visser, W. (2013) Systems change requires multiple agents and dynamics. The Guardian, 7 October  2013.

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The Sustainability Movement Faces Extinction – What Could Save It?

The sustainability movement faces extinction – what could save it?

Article by Wayne Visser

Part of the Unlocking Change series for The Guardian.

We all want to change the world, but where to begin? A good start would be getting as far away from sustainability as possible. If you are already in its clutches, don’t despair: it’s not too late to turn around, walk away and never look back. Forget you ever heard the s word and take a vow of silence never to speak it again. Once you’ve done that, you might consider joining a tech company (infotech, biotech, cleantech – it doesn’t matter which; they will all be indistinguishable soon). I’m betting that would be a good way to kickstart your world-changing mission.

I say this after 20 years as a professional in sustainability (capital S if you’re a devotee), which I’ve discovered to be many things, but certainly not an effective strategy for change – at least, not yet. The reason is fairly simple: the essential idea of sustainability – that we must endure, perpetuate, hold on to the past and drag it into the future – is about as exciting as watching lettuce wilt under the midday sun. As Michael Braungart, co-author of Cradle to Cradle, likes to say: “sustainability is boring”.

I imagine your expressions of shock and horror, but it’s true. Sustainability has won many battles – for best-new-jargon-inventor, for most-likely-to-make-you-feel-good – but has lost the war for the hearts and minds of the people. It has pinned its colours to the mast of scarcity and survival, when most of the world is far more interested in prosperity and thriving. I’d go so far as to say that the sustainability movement has failed to understand what it means to be human.

Let me explain. As human beings, our lives are all about change – about growth and development. At best, life is about making things better. Even as a civilisation, we’re all about evolution, although we prefer to call it progress. Now, as it happens, sustainability wonks believe that they are all about Progress with a capital P. Unfortunately, the rest of the world remains unconvinced.

Sustainability is like a geeky, pimply teenager who has come to our party, turned off the music and told us that we would really be much happier if we stopped having so much darn fun! The key to having a good time, declares our party-pooper, is to practice a lot more self-restraint. All those on board the austerity train, say “Hell, yeah!” … What, no one?

Make no mistake; if we are to survive (let alone thrive), the world is going to have to change – dramatically, radically and irreversibly. The question is: how will it happen? In this “unlocking change” series for the Guardian, I’ll be digging into the nature of change and what role we play in making it happen – in our societies, our organisations and as individuals. And when change does turn our lives upside-down (as it will), how can we become more resilient?

To begin, let me plant a seminal idea, which is that change is all about connection. In other words, connectivity is the underlying catalyst for change.

We are living proof of this. The first neurons in our brains, called predecessors, are in place 31 days after fertilisation. In the early stages of a foetus’s brain development, 250,000 neurons are added every minute, and, by the time a baby is born, there are about 100bn neurons, which remain roughly constant through life. Learning only happens when synapses are formed: they connect the neurons to each other. At birth, the number of synapses per neuron is about 2,500; by age two or three, it has risen to 15,000 and some neurons later develop up to 50,000 connections each.

Hence, the dramatic changes in the early years of a child’s life – all those remarkable feats of learning and development – are due to increasing connectivity, or, as scientists like to call it, complexity. And we see this same pattern at work in society. The first computer, Charles Babbage’s analytical machine of 1837, would have had the equivalent of 675 bytes of memory. By comparison, according to Cisco, between 1984 and 2012, the internet generated 1.2 zettabytes of data – that’s 1.2 with 20 zeros after it.

The point is that scaling the number of networked relationships is at the heart of almost all change, including biological and social evolution. My contention is that, if we wish to save the sustainability movement from an ironic fate of extinction, we will have to get much smarter about change: better at riding the waves of science and technology, better at becoming intelligently connected, and better at designing change efforts that align with evolutionary dynamics.

 

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-quest-for-sustainable-business”]Link[/button] The Quest for Sustainable Business (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this article

Visser, W. (2013) The sustainability movement faces extinction – what could save it? The Guardian, 30 September 2013.

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