The Highs and Lows of Leveraging Change – Part 3

Starting at the personal level and ‘Just bloody well do it!’

From 6th to 8th February 2019, 500 people gathered together at Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg, Germany, for the Leverage Points conference.  The conference was focused on sustainability science and framed around the Donella Meadows concept of Leveraging Points.  The conference aimed to inspire us to identifying the critical leverage points at which we need to put our efforts to trigger and catalyse the change needed to deliver a sustainable future.

Taking a vibrant, creative and dynamic format, the conference was a really exciting and stimulating experience and one that had quite a significant impact on me in a number of ways, both positive and negatively.  The third of three blog posts presenting a set of reflections from the conference, this post describes some of the inspiration I drew from the conference.

The conference had a very significant impact on me, but not in the way that I expected it to.  I had expected that I would gain lots of new ideas and theories and references to follow-up with regards my academic work.  But actually the impact of the conference resonated at a much more personal level and really created quite a shift in the way I think about the endeavour to deliver a sustainable future.  These new and very personal insights were triggered right at the beginning of the conference in the first keynote speeches.

I’m not going to share the whole of the inside of my brain in terms of how I now feel about sustainable futures.  But I will share two pointers that appeared as particularly important to me in terms of how we deliver action for a sustainable world.

The personal sphere as the first frontier.

One of the criticisms that arose in the conference from some of the delegates was a sense of a lack of actual actionable outputs from the vast amount of knowledge and work that academia had been producing over the last couple of decades.  There was a sense for many people in the room that actually a lot of the solutions are already known and yet they are not being delivered.  And as I looked around the room of 500 delegates I started to reflect on this at a more personal level.  The criticism regarding society’s inability to simply deliver the solutions we already had, could also be transferred onto our failure at the individual level too.  To what extent were we as a group of 500 sustainability professionals, academics and activists actually adopting all the personal and individual behaviours that we know/feel need to be adopted to deliver a sustainable future?  How much were we as a community, living the reality of our dreams of a sustainable future today?  There are so many things we can do right now.  Simple little things that nudge society towards a sustainable future, even in the current structure of the systems.  Were we as part of that sustainable movement really committed and embracing those things where they were possible for us?  Re-usable coffee cup, water bottles, bicycles and public transport not cars, environmentally friendly cleaning products, low meat and dairy consumption, reducing food waster, reducing plastic packaging.  To what extent were we adopting these types of practices? And could we do more?

These are all relatively simple and tangible things that are possible within the current system that we live.  But what about some of the more radical things we believe to be solutions for a sustainable future?  Things that are more about the way our culture operates in our vision of a sustainable future.  To what extent were we committed and able to seize those to make a sustainable future part of the reality of today? Things like reducing the length of our working day or working week so that we have more time for self-care, our families, sustainable living practices and our communities.  Things like adopting ‘Slow food’ practices so that we spend more time enjoying, savouring and nurturing one of the most essential parts of daily lives.  Things like spending some time with an elderly neighbour, or a neighbour who lives alone.  Things like making self-care the priority above and beyond our work.

Now of course, not everyone will agree with me that the above behaviour and culture changes are helpful, useful, or even possible, whether individually or more broadly across society.  And I by no means am suggesting here that any of the delegates of the conference that do not adopt, or even aspire to adopt, any of the above are bad people.  I believe that our personal lives are private and it’s only for us to decide, as individuals, the way in which we live our lives.  But equally on that merit I would also suggest that it is only ourselves who are responsible for delivering and living the life we believe in.  And that we should challenge and push ourselves to deliver on that dream.  We should ask ourselves whether we are making excuses and we should be more creative and braver about making those dreams a reality.

And that leads me on to my final point of reflection from the ‘Leverage Points’ conference.

‘Just bloody well do it.’

Where we know there are things we can do.  Where we find creative ways to deliver the future we believe in.  Where we see opportunities for change.  Don’t let fear, doubt, excuses or a not fully formulated plan get in the way.  “Just bloody well do it.”  Do it out of a place of inspiration, happiness and magic.  And do it in a way that is compassionate to yourself.


And to finish, some inspiration from one of the grassroots movements that is putting sustainable futures into practice today.

The Power of Just Doing Stuff – Rob Hopkins.