If we create a culture that promotes well-being and prosperity for all,
then we will be in a position to discover who we really are.
                                                 Martin Seligman

With a few shifts in our thinking, we can become much more powerful as a social change movement. Perhaps the most important shift is

1 Accepting transitioning to a life-sustaining society as a shared goal.

We do want to live in a life-sustaining society, do we not?

Here are two more suggestions:

2 Shifting from silo thinking to aiming for whole system change.

3 Thinking in terms of empowering the movement rather than just building our own organisation.

1 Shifting from silo thinking to whole system change

Understandably, many of us tend to think in terms of silos. We see things in isolation, without seeing the patterns of connection. To a great extent we were educated that way. In addition, thinking in terms of silos has the advantage that we can set concrete goals and generate concrete results.

Now more and more people are applying systems thinking. This is good news. We go beyond looking at symptoms to understand the set of dynamic forces that produce the symptoms.

If we ask what makes global warming, ocean acidification, or any major environmental issue worse, it turns out that the operation of virtually the whole of mainstream society is involved. Trade agreements, advertising, poor industrial design, retail therapy and unresolved emotional issues all contribute to the production of excess ‘stuff’ that increases CO2 emissions and environmental toxins. In order for things to have a hope of coming right we need to solve all of these – a ‘whole system change’ to a life-sustaining society.

Understanding Whole System Changemakes the idea of whole system change mentally manageable in a way that supports real-world transformative activity.

2 Empowering the movement rather than just building our own organisation

I believe that communicating to engage mainstream commitment is essential for success. To me this means intentionally talking with our friends and neighbours, and communicating about systemic change through our networks.

There are a few organisations that champion whole system change. Among them are the Tellus Institute, Pachamama Alliance, and Be The Change Australia (of which I am a Board member). The reach of any of these organisations is inherently limited. No organisation can expand indefinitely, and most organisations reached a saturation point of interested people fairly quickly, and only grow slowly after that.

There are millions of organisations that are working for healthy change. Each pursues their own initiative, whether it’s developing solar energy, permaculture, blocking fracking, or campaign finance reform. And each of these initiatives is important; they are how whole system change to a life-sustaining society shows up in the real world.

Taken together, however, our efforts are not adding up to a successful transition to a life-sustaining society. As Joel Makower of GreenBiz commented, “Despite its real achievements, the sustainability movement is failing." CO2 emissions are going up, and global sustainability indicators continue to worsen. It is not much use having local successes if the operation of mainstream society overall takes us over the ecological cliff.

I suggested that those of us who care about a positive future can become an extremely powerful force for mindset change by each of us focusing a portion of our efforts on communicating about whole system change to a life-sustaining society with our networks. We can do this without forming a cumbersome administrative structure or peak body. Instead, millions of us can simply recognise that communication is necessary, and get on with it.

Be The Change Australia is instigating Inspiring Transition. Its purpose is to support a community of practice in engaging thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of organisations in championing communication to reach a mainstream audience.

The Inspiring Transition initiative website has open source tools to make communicating as easy as possible. Perhaps the most interesting of these is Tabletop Presentations. It uses innovative physical models to help people keep track of the conversation. People like the models!

Stewart Wallis of the New Economics Foundation commented, “We have been playing our own instruments to our own scores in different orchestras, and the result has been noise.”

By adopting the goal of successfully transitioning to a life-sustaining society, and seeing that communicating to engage mainstream commitment is key, we can come into alignment while still pursuing our own initiatives.