What am I studying again?

A quick run-down on what I am actually studying:

Some people (actually pretty much just the one guy, at first) about 15 years ago, thought that all the debates about sustainability were getting bogged down in the details of what level of what chemical was toxic for which species…and all the associated disagreements and reductionist scientific distractions from what is humainty’s most pressing concern.

So, they decided to come up with some consensus statements to define what sustainability would actually look like. The idea being, that we can’t work towards something and succeed, until we understand the ‘rules of the game’ and ‘how to win’. So, after an enormous amount of work (and ongoing revision and review) they eventually got consesus on 4 statements that clearly, concisely, and at a high level define the basic conditions for sustainability. They actually chose to pose them in the negative, as in: what we are doing right now that makes us unsustainable – the idea being that we can then be creative within these basic constraints (rather than being told we can only do certain things).

No one had done this before! And now we have these public domain, freely available, published, peer-reviewed statements that simply define what is sustainable, and what isn’t! Hoorah I say: suddenly, here is a lens through which anyone can look at everything from the whole of the earth, down to the watch on your wrist and say what parts/actions/processes are sustainable, and what isn’t. And, many businesses, communities and governments have similarly rejoiced and started to use these principles to guide them towards true sustainability.

And, the reason these principles are so useful, is because then you can ‘backcast from principles’. That is, instead of forecasting ahead based on existing trends towards a set scenario; you are know able to define you desired future based on principles you must meet (but, otherwise your creativity and vision is unrestricted). I think my friend George explains it well: http://www.strategiesforsustainability.blogspot.com/

If you’re not in this field, let me just say the lack of these guiding principles and the ability to backcast is like the difference between a 20-person team of brilliant specialists who all speak a different language and don’t have a compass and a focused, trained, 20-person yacht crew blazing towards the finishing line. In the rudderless bunch, it is everyman for himself with no guiding principles or direction and making little headway. On the other boat, everyone knows how the boat works, and what they can do as an individual specialist to get the boat turned around and sailing in the right direction ASAP.

The impact of these principles and this framework on my thinking, and the clarity with which I can view all sustainability issues and all the related frameworks, strategies, tools and concepts has improved 100%. These ideas don’t make the difference on their own though, and the way you apply the prinicples, prioritise your actions etc. etc. are all incredibly important. So, for the rest of the course, I get to exxplore all the details, how it all relates to everything else, and how I can practically combine it with all I have learnt previously to make a serious contribution to a more just and sustainable world. Another Hoorah!!

For those who want to learn more, follow the links below to the best sorts of overviews of this framework:

For a good overview of the framework for sustainability that I have briefly described above, and how many other sustainability concepts relate to it, see the Journal of Cleaner Production, issue 8 (2000) pp. 243-254. Navigate through from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/09596526

The Natural Step Website, an environmental NGO working towards sustainability, and whose ideas inform the course I am doing: http://www.naturalstep.org/ From this international gateway page you can navigate through to http://www.naturalstep.org/learn/understand_sust.php which contains a comprehensive list of publications from funky overviews of the concepts through to peer-reviewed papers and PhDs….

Also worth a look if you are coming from a community-based perspective is http://www.newsociety.com/bookid/3841 a great book full of stories.

And, for the less academincally-minded, check out the Whistler website for some lovely ‘Flash’ animations…the very pictures and presentations that first introduced to this stuff 4 years ago: http://www.whistleritsournature.ca/ Click on ‘The natural step framework’.

A future blog will be packed full of my funnest, most inspiring sustainability links : )

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