Bob Doppelt – The Power of Sustainable Thinking

powerofsustainablethinkingThere are great resources available on the importance of sustainability. There’s more than people and profit, a planet to take care of. Bob Doppelt‘s book The Power of Sustainable Thinking helps people decide why and how to make climate-positive decisions. He takes you through a series of fairly predictable stages experience a significant transformation in your thinking and behavior:

  1. Disinterest (I won’t change): usually lack information about issues such as global warming, and frequently make it a point to remain ignorant at all costs.
  2. Deliberation (I might change): People begin to acknowledge that they might have a problem and start to seriously consider whether to change their thinking and behaviors.
  3. Design (I will change): People have concluded that the benefits of becoming a sustainable thinker significantly overshadow the costs, so they design a plan for adopting new thinking and behaviors inthe near term.
  4. Doing (I am changing): Teams and organizations in the doing stage are explicitly taking action to modify thinking and behavior that affects the climate, natural environment or social well-being. The doing stage requires a great deal of commitment because,while previous stages mostly occurred internally, doing means that overt changes are visible to others.
  5. Defending (I have changed): People must work hard to defend their new approach in the face of resistancefrom others and need to continue to overcome obstacles and recover from setbacks.The ultimate goal for any person, team or organization making a change to sustainable thinking is for the new patterns to become fully integrated within their mental frame.

Paradigms that block this transformation, Doppelt identies:

  • straight line thinking (resources are consumed; waste is ignored)
  • quick-fix thinking (however, short term solutions won’t fix root causes)
  • technology can save us (extends straight line thinking; innovations will enable more people to consume even more than today)
  • more is better (larger homes, bigger cars & machines, though lean would be better in reality)
  • less bad is good enough (think of the 2% reduction of CO2 emission targets)
  • cheaper is cheaper (the costs of cheaper goods are often the same as for expensive alternatives; the difference between fixed and variable production costs)
  • away means gone (no, waste is a huge problem!)
  • all for one and none for all (We eat so much of our favorite fish that it is fished to extinction;we drive bigger vehicles and emit more carbon dioxide, potentially restricting everyone’s ability to drive in the future.)
  • my actions don’t matter (however: To think sustainably is to acknowledge that everything is linked and everymove we make has a consequence)
  • iron-cage thinking (People believe they can do nothing to prevent conditions from growing worse. It is a myth promulgated mostly by those who get the most benefit from the existing system).

As keys for a succesful change, the author identifies:

  1. Knowthe Stage of Change and Use Appropriate Change Mechanisms
    1. disturbances
    2. awareness building
    3. choice expansion
    4. supportive relationships
    5. emotional inspiration
    6. self-appraisal
    7. make a firm and public commitment to change
    8. reinforcement
    9. substitution
    10. structural redesign
  2. Build Tension for Change and Enhance Self-Efficacy.
  3. Emphasize Benefits Early and Deal with Downsides Later

Remaining blind to the ways in which our thinking and behaviors affect the systems we depend on is a surefire way to disaster. A new ethics based on sustainable thinking is needed to resolve today’s systems breakdowns. It is no longer possible to allow people the freedom to do as they please if those actions degrade the systems upon which all life on Earth depends. The fundamental moral and ethical imperative of protection for Earth’s sources, sinks and communities must form the basis of all personal and organizational codes of conduct from this point forward. Sustainable ethics apply universally and must become a moral and political force. Humanity must rapidly alter its thinking and behavior if we are to avoid the worst forms of climate change and the social and political distress that it will most certainly bring.

About the author

Bob Doppelt is executive director of Resource Innovations, a sustainability research and technical assistance
program, and executive director of The Climate Leadership Initiative, both part of the Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon. He is also courtesy associate professor in the Department
of Planning, Public Policy andManagement at the University of Oregon. Doppelt’s expertise is in systems
dynamics and change for sustainability. He also wrote Leading Change toward Sustainability: A Change Management Guide for Business, Government and Civil Society.

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