First big steps – Hallbarhet Day 1

Today we took our first steps on the Hallbarhet2009 sustainability learning journey. And it really is ‘we’. For me, months of traveling alone have given way to reconnecting with people who speak the same ‘language’ and have a great depth of shared experience and perspectives.

Already, in our morning meeting about the evolution of The Natural Step (as an organisation) in Australia and the afternoon introductions with the wider group, the magic of what we have already achieved became apparent. With no budget, no central management, no two people in the same geographical location (or time-zone) and just a compelling vision we have managed to gather people from around the world in Australia, but also to connect at other parallel ‘regional’ gatherings.

Some of the things we managed to co-create across the oceans (thanks skype!) included: detailed menu plans to be made with local food, an impressive carbon emission minimisation and offset strategy, plans for sourcing biofuel for the bus, a zero waste strategy….all in addition to an amazing agenda of events, speakers and a three day intensive retreat.

The evening opening event was another example of the learned ability of alumni of this Master’s program to be entrepreneurial, leverage our networks and show real leadership. Hosted and driven by University of Technology Sydney, but seeded by two MSLS alumni (Richard and Shawn) over 100 people turned up to hear Alan AtKisson speak via webcast from Sweden, and participate in a conversation about how we make sustainability mainstream.

Alan’s presentation was a recording of an earlier presentation to a gathering of the influential and successful Sustainable Seattle initiative, but also include lots of singing and performance, His on-stage sills are a really unique way to introduce systems thinking, exponential rates of change, and the urgent need for us to think ‘within the box’ of global ecological and cultural constraints.

In the Q&A session, Alan fielded questions on the opportunities that economic downturn presents for transitioning to a zero-growth sustainable society; the opportunities for young people moving into this field, the importance of doubling advocacy efforts to push at opening doors (e.g. on the back of Obama and Rudd’s election), and reframing the population challenge as an example of one area where global society has actually done pretty well by bringing population growth well below projections. Through all these questions, what stood out for me was AtKisson’s positive, humorous and creative way of engaging with the questions. Certainly if we are considering how to scale up the uptake of these ways of thinking about our global situation, having engaging, articulate people like Alan as role models is a good start.

The other speakers were also great.

  • Scott Grierson from our group but also Director of TNS Australia spoke from a strategic perspective, and linked it to his personal experience of rapid change in Australian attitudes and awareness, driven by a rapidly warming climate and severe drought in Australia.

  • Cynthia Mitchell from ISF talked through her organisation’s approach to transdisciplinarity and the interesting projects on Phosphorous (see my previous post on pooh, or perhaps this more informativeĀ  site). Increasing our collective acceptance of multiple ways of investigating and knowing is critical in a situation when we know we need to think creatively, laterally and collaboratively.

  • Nik Midlam Manager of the Environmental Strategy for City of Sydney talking about the Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan. The plan seemed like it had a really thorough consultation strategy, some significant changes (70% cuts in carbon emissions by 2030) and strong support from the CEO and councillors. Perhaps an example for other cities to follow?

All these presentations were very pragmatic and positive and got me excited about where the conversation and action are in Australia, but my enthusiasm was somewhat tempered by individual conversations. New friends who had all been living in the UK, and are now involved in corporate compliance work, Landcare and doing strategy consulting to large private businesses all suggested that Australia was years behind the UK. This question of the Australian context, and what is the real need in this space will continue to be a question I hold over the next 10 days…and perhaps 10 years.


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