001

Table of Contents
 
Title Page
Copyright Page
Dedication
Foreword
Introduction
 
PART 1 - A CLIMATE FOR CHANGE?
 
Chapter 1 - WHY DON’T WE HAVE A CLIMATE FOR CHANGE YET?
Chapter 2 - ORGANISING FOR CHANGE: OBAMA AND TRANSITION TOWNS
Chapter 3 - PUTTING ORGANISING FOR CHANGE INTO ACTION
 
FORUMS FOR CHANGE
WORKING IT THROUGH
TRAINING EVANGELISTS
NARRATIVES AND MENTAL MODELS
IMAGINATIVE FRAMING - THE ROLE OF FICTION
THE SLOW MOVEMENT
NEW FUTURAMA
ADVENTURE ECOLOGY
INTRINSIC GOALS AND CHANGING VALUES
SUPPORT GROUPS AND SUPPORT NETWORKS
UTILITIES
MEMES
 
PART 2 - RELOCATING THE DREAMS
Chapter 4 - IF NOT CONSUMERISM, THEN WHAT …?
 
Reconnecting with nature
Community
Lifelong learning
Play
Social production, crafts
Citizenship
Generativity
 
Chapter 5 - RELOCATING THE DREAMS: GROWING OUR OWN, NOKIA
 
GROWING OUR OWN: CONTACT WITH NATURE
GROWING OUR OWN: COMMUNITY
GROWING OUR OWN: PLAY
GROWING OUR OWN: CRAFT AND LIFELONG LEARNING
GROWING OUR OWN: CITIZENSHIP
GROWING OUR OWN: GENERATIVITY
 
Chapter 6 - PUTTING RELOCATING THE DREAMS INTO ACTION
 
CONTACT WITH NATURE
COMMUNITY SHOPS
LIFELONG LEARNING
PLAY
CRAFT
CITIZENSHIP
GENERATIVITY
 
PART 3 - CO-OPERATIVE RESPONSIBILITY
Chapter 7 - THE WALL OF IRRESPONSIBILITY
Chapter 8 - CO-OPERATIVE RESPONSIBILITY: THE POWER OF TRANSPARENCY
Chapter 9 - PUTTING CO-OPERATIVE RESPONSIBILITY INTO ACTION
 
CARROT MOBS
FROM CONSUMER TO CITIZEN
FEEDBACK
CO-OPERATIVE STANDARD SETTING
ETHICAL EXCHANGES
LABELS WITH ATTITUDE
RIGHT DATA IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
THE WISDOM OF GROUPS
PROGRESSIVE STANDARDS
CUSTOMISED STANDARDS
SEEING IS BELIEVING
RADICAL VISIBILITY
SHARED TEXTS
USER-CENTRED POLICY DESIGN
OPEN SOURCE
 
PART 4 - ECONOMIC RESILIENCE
Chapter 10 - WHY THE ECONOMY WORKS AGAINST SUSTAINABILITY
Chapter 11 - ECONOMIC RESILIENCE: GRAMEEN, CCA AND CO-OPERATIVES
Chapter 12 - PUTTING ECONOMIC RESILIENCE INTO ACTION
 
STARTING A SOCIAL VENTURE
RETHINKING OWNERSHIP
ALTERNATIVE MODELS OF GROWTH
INVESTMENT AND DECENT RETURNS
PATIENT AND PRINCIPLED CAPITAL
CROWD FUNDING
RESILIENCE AS GOING OFF-GRID
LOYALTY
VALUES AND VALUE
DIRECT TO CONSUMER
CO-INNOVATION
SOCIAL FINANCES
BARTER - ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS
THE SOCIAL ECONOMY
 
PART 5 - ABUNDANCE
Chapter 13 - THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ABUNDANCE AND (FINANCIAL) PRODUCTIVITY
Chapter 14 - ABUNDANT SYSTEMS; CRAFT GUILDS AND COMMUNITY CURRENCIES
Chapter 15 - PUTTING ABUNDANT SYSTEMS DESIGN INTO ACTION
 
SYSTEMS THINKING
MAXIMISE LAZINESS
DISTRIBUTEDNESS
MULTI-CELLULAR ORGANISATION DESIGN
DESIGNING OUT WASTE
CO-OPERATIVE MARKETS
JOY
ABUNDANCY AS AN ETHIC
DIVISION OF BRILLIANCE
THE EARTH RACE
 
POSTSCRIPT: A CHECKLIST FOR WORLD BUILDERS
Acknowledgements
REFERENCES
INDEX

001

For Cosmo, Yong and the rest of the living world

FOREWORD
JOHN GRANT IS YOUR ARCHETYPAL GLASS-HALF-FULL MAN. Not in some spuriously cornucopian way, ignoring the reality of environmental limits and cruelly persistent injustice across the planet, but because that ’s just the way he is. Genetically predisposed to the upside.
Which makes for a pretty positive read, despite all the latest data on the science of accelerating climate change, and the shrivelling dysfunctionality of contemporary political and economic orthodoxies. Each chapter abounds with specific examples and case studies of people and organisations out there adding to today’s extraordinarily innovative solutions agenda.
John lives and breathes the world of Web 2.0. I have to be honest about this: I don ’t. So my untutored mind has been constantly boggled by its introduction to Twitter trends, Tweehive and Trashon, Joycotting, Crowdfunding and Pledge-Banking, BoGos and Whuffie Banks, Generativity and Us-tainability!
(John is no fan of the geeky language of sustainability; for him, Us-tainability better captures the notion of more and more people getting better and better at co -operating for the common good. Activism 2.0)
If the name of the game is indeed ‘relocating our dreams’ (as per David Puttnam’s challenge to the marketing profession), especially for young people, then the seeds for that process are scattered throughout the pages of this text. John showcases that world with a lot of verve and empathy, drawing people in to his own excitement at what it means to work through ‘a village-scale democracy operating at the global level’.
Framing it that way is really important. Democracy is primarily about citizens rather than consumers. There ’s currently a big buzz around mobilising people as consumers rather than people as citizens. Same people, of course, but swayed by different motivations. At a time when most progressive company strategies are geared (understandably) to people as consumers, and most of the government’s (and even some NGOs’) engagement strategies are also geared to people as consumers rather than people as citizens, it ’s really good to see that orthodoxy challenged.
Take the issue of lighting and super-efficient LEDs - as John does on page 172. The faster we move from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents to LEDs, at scale, in every possible area of the built environment, the bigger the win from a CO2 point of view. (And I mean big!) But LEDs cost an arm and a leg, relative to the price of compact fluorescents, let alone incandescents. So pitching it from a consumer ’s perspective (LEDs may be expensive, but you ’ll get a good return on your investment in terms of the substantial reduction in your energy bills over time) is painfully laborious. Why not look at it instead as a civic responsibility, without a ‘business case’ as such. You know this is the right thing to do, so do it.
John’s route into all the stuff here about economics is from the bottom up, via the innovation of small companies, social enterprises, co-operatives, community initiatives and so on. A positive pluriverse of value -creating organisations. And that’s such a refreshing perspective. Just check out the splendidly provocative comparison between the central precepts of Adam Smith and the analysis of the craft guilds in Chapter 14.
If there is indeed a ‘better world in the making’, it will emerge in large part from this kind of ideas laboratory, where the cost of failure is relatively low, and where it matters more to change what people do, letting their thoughts and attitudes catch up with their actions. No better way to counter today ’s ubiquitous bystander apathy.
There is a generosity of spirit about all this which is highly stimulating - especially at a time of such prevailing doom and gloom. Those who favour the school of eco-asceticism, characterised by hairshirts, horror stories and self-denial won’t get much joy out of this particular text. No spurious cornucopian-ism, as I said, but a paean of praise for the whole idea of abundance, with ingenuity and the genius of the human spirit substituting for today’s suicidal abundance of material flows and cretinous consumption.
And in that respect, beneath all the exuberant bubbles, the campaigning message is clear: do whatever it is you can do today, not tomorrow. Be part of a movement based on ‘the division of brilliance’, whilst there’s still time, rather than waiting around to pick up your very own division of misery.
 
Jonathon Porritt
November 2009
 
Jonathon Porritt is Founder Director of Forum for the Future and author of Living Within Our Means, 2009 - available at www.forumforthefuture.org.uk.

INTRODUCTION
THERE IS AN OLD CHINESE PROVERB: ‘One monk will shoulder two buckets of water, two monks will share the load, but add a third and no one will want to fetch water.’1 A 1980 animated short film called Three Monks, No Water by A. Da spun this out into a story; one with a more hopeful resolution.
At the start of the film we see a young monk living alone in a temple. A sprig in a vase placed before the statue of Buddha is wilting. He goes to the water jar and finds it empty. So he takes the two heavy buckets on their pole down to the lake, fills them and staggers back up the steep hill with the water. He puts water in the vase, the sprig revives and the statue smiles. We then see him fetching water every day and concentrating on his meditation.
A mouse arrives at the temple. The young monk shoos him away.
A second monk arrives. He is thirsty and drinks all the remaining water. The first monk gives him the water pole and buckets. Obligingly the second monk goes to fetch the water. But after several trips he becomes resentful of the first monk being so carefree. As a compromise they both carry the water together. This means each of them carrying one end of the pole, with only one bucket carried in the middle. At first they struggle with this arrangement, but then the young monk measures the pole and marks a spot exactly half way. Hanging the bucket there makes it easier to carry at least.
A third monk arrives. He looks like a big round fish. And he certainly drinks like a fish. After he drinks all the water the other two monks send him down the hill to fetch more. But when he gets back he is so thirsty he drinks nearly all of it again. The three monks fight over the remaining water. And after that there is a sulky impasse. No one monk will go and get water. They even resort to drinking the water from the vase by the statue, which looks sad.
A lightning storm comes and they all rush out with the water buckets. But no rain falls.
The mouse is running around the temple, while the three monks sulk with their backs to each other. The mouse nibbles through a candle. It falls by a curtain and a fire breaks out. Now we see the monks running to get water and working together. With a great effort they manage to put out the fire.
The film ends showing the temple fixed after the fire, and the three monks working together to fetch water. One fills a bucket by the lake. One pulls this straight up the side of a cliff to the top, using a long rope and pulley. The third takes the water from the top and fills the water jar.
This story touches on many themes in this book. Like the monks at the second stage of this story, our production systems have indeed been based on self-interest and precise measurement. And yet when you add up the good that they do, they are often less effective. We ship fruit and vegetables half way around the world, making them stale and tasteless compared to what we can grow in our own back yard. As Nobel economist Amartya Sen discovered and numerous subsequent studies have confirmed, small traditional farms are more productive (of food, as opposed to profit) than big industrial farms. ‘Three monks, no water’ also rings true. ‘What about China?’ people say in response to climate change. ‘What’s the point of our little country making an effort to reduce emissions, if theirs keep growing?’
But as with running out of water, there is no ignoring these problems. Sooner or later we will recognise that climate change, food, energy, biodiversity, poverty … represent a crisis that is a threat to everyone. And then we will have to work together; not only to deal with the crisis; but also to redesign society around more co-operative systems, to serve the common good.
Many of the challenges we face today require co-operation. As Games Theory points out, competition and co-operation are not simple opposites. Rather competition focuses on the immediate needs of individual participants, while co -operation focuses upon global or group needs - i.e. the common good. That may of course end up being better for the individuals too. But pursuing their own selfish interests will never get people to that realisation. It’s the difference between an ‘everyone for themselves’ stampede for exits and an orderly fire drill-style evacuation. The second is more likely to get everyone out alive. Yet it paradoxically requires a suspension of pushing your own interests. Something that only happens when each participant is thinking about - and taking some responsibility for - the bigger picture.
The Co-opportunity title of this book refers to the possibility that being forced to co-operate may lead to a better human society; one which is ‘nicer’ (fairer and more inclusive) and capable of greater progress in politics, knowledge, communities and so on. Many phases of human progress were driven forward by climate. It’s likely that our ancestors left Africa and spread across the world 55 000 years ago, partly in response to climate change.
Climate change is only one of a number of crises - all of which have to do with running out of world and running out of time. Climate change is one of the most immediate large-scale threats to human life though. At the very least climate change could make some densely populated parts of the world uninhabitable, resulting in unimaginable levels of dislocation and conflict. 600 million live at or near sea level and will be at some risk of flooding. That’s over 70 times more than the global refugee population today. And so governments have tried to get our individualised societies behind solutions; either through a ‘leave it to us’ overhaul of energy and other infrastructure (‘carry on driving and flying while we switch to biofuels’); or through encouraging individuals to fall into line with new social norms, positive (hybrid cars as the choice of Hollywood stars) and negative (supermarket plastic bags being antisocial - a bit like litter); or through simple changes in pricing and incentives (green taxes or carbon pricing).
If the changes we needed to make were small then working within current systems and prevailing individualist attitudes would be the right choice. They aren ’t though. The changes we need to make are huge. For instance, according to Nicholas Stern2 the global average household carbon footprint needs to fall by 60% to 2 tonnes per year - whereas today the average footprint per household is 6 tonnes in China, 12 in Europe, 25 in America.
The good news on climate change, poverty, energy, food, water, social justice, biodiversity … is that solutions to all are possible. There are no physical limits caused by the size or basic needs of the human population, whose numbers are large in mammal terms, miniscule in ant terms. We have plentiful new energy from the sun every day and more than enough water, food, minerals and materials to go around and - used wisely - to last indefinitely. The difference is that we are tearing up and trashing our environment, whereas ants perform numerous regenerative services for their ecosystems; globally ants process more earth than earthworms.
The ‘catch’ is that to solve these issues we need to shift the way that society is organised. We are like the addict who ‘only has to give up’ to restore a healthy, connected and fulfilling life. We need a different kind of economy, different kinds of government, business and community. In each case we need to find a configuration whereby resources are used for the maximum common good, and the net effect on ecosystems is positive. In each case this means moving towards greater co -operation.
It’s easy to see the sort of shift that would be needed. Making the shift is another matter - there is fierce resistance to change built into the current economic, political and social systems. No individual or pressure group could hope to change these. Fortunately all these current systems are still subordinate to the general will. There is no organisation in the free world that can stand against its citizens, shareholders, employees, viewers or customers. Hence there is openness to radical change, if everyone wishes it. That would have seemed an impossibility a few decades back. Nowadays the internet has started to function as a lightning rod for joined up social change. Even before the use of information networks, we saw political systems like Apartheid and Soviet communism brought down, corporate policies changed, social movements started by word of mouth. It ’s far from a foregone conclusion though. In times of social stress, central powers can retreat into using force to ‘keep order’ and hence thwart change. It’s up to all of us. Given recent history there are at least some grounds for hope.
For these new velvet revolutions to bring mass change, we would need a general public who were engaged in and restlessly pursuing change - pushing business, governments and communities to go faster and further. Nothing could be further from the truth today. The general public does not yet perceive there to be much real risk. For the examples in this book to coalesce and create critical mass, we need the public to wake up and smell the planet burning. And we need to move to a public consciousness that it is not ‘China’ or ‘America’ which will solve these issues, it is all of us. The true impact of examples in the book may not be in their specific causes and effects, but their general role in waking up a new generation to an active, participative role and worldview. Once people are in the debate, they will likely at least come to similar conclusions to world leaders about how much urgently needs to be done - as Obama says ‘make me do this’.
The shift from competition to co-operation is not as some have portrayed it (the better to resist it) a shift from capitalism to communism. Both those twentieth century ideologies were hierarchical, centralised and massively damaging from an ecosystems perspective. The shift is to a system of parallel co - operation, where most of the real action happens at a local community level.
Co-operation not only works, it also undoes resistance. I was talking to an architect the other day, who used to work in Arup’s San Francisco practice. They had a city project to redevelop an old military base. If you ask people what they want in redeveloping a city area they come up with an impossible list. If you involve them in the planning process then they will compromise and come up with a good mix of balanced solutions. In this case Arup gave locals a map with a 100 -square grid on it, representing the 100 acres for development. They had coloured squares they could place on the map representing different uses. At first there was a tendency to focus on green squares - leisure and community uses only. But then they would discover that these wouldn’t create many local jobs. So they started including some more red squares - commercial uses. And so on. It sounds like a great project. Even more so given that the norm at that time in many cities would have been to build gleaming dockside residential properties and simply displace the locals.
A good co-operative system preserves individual initiative, within a shared goal. We can see the same patterns of co - operation in social media. The big gain in my view is not an average ‘wisdom of crowds’ it’s the distribution of individual brilliance - millions of newspaper editors and columnists (bloggers) digesting and disseminating their take on the news. The breadth of talent and mutual quality control that such open source systems call upon outstrips anything within the corporate model. The decrying of the ‘cult of the amateur’ misses a vital point. It’s the cult that is smart, just as it always had been in systems like academia. It ’s not that such systems exclude mediocrity - rather they filter it. And the participants learn more from writing their own version of the news than they ever did when the elite few covered it. The result is a more flexible, progressive and intelligent global information system.
This book is an attempt to outline what co-operative solutions to sustainability challenges could look like. There have already been some big shifts in this direction; either driven by desperation and lack of alternatives (like microcredit, banking for the world’s poor) or through the new opportunities afforded by media to take part in politics and society as an active contributor, rather than passive consumer (as in Web 2.0). It’s hopefully more than just a commentary; this book is also intended as a sourcebook for social innovators; whether in policy, innovation, business or community. By absorbing examples from disparate fields you can go further in your own schemes. It’s not a matter of ‘copying’. It’s about being closer to ‘the adjacent possible’. And also feeling confirmed - despite being told your plans are ‘unrealistic’ by those defending existing habits of thoughts - by the fact that others are pursuing similar ideas and ideals.
While change could hardly be radical enough to keep pace with the challenges, this book also tends to the view that the greatest change will come from evolving the systems we have, rather than starting again - whether in a ‘back to nature’ or ‘techno-futurist’ sense. The future is not to be found in eco villages, nor in new build carbon neutral cities. It will be found in adapting the way we live in London, Mumbai, Sao Paulo. It won’t be neat, utopian, or perfect either. It will be what we humans do best: muddling through.
There was a moment in late 2008, after the Credit Crunch truly crunched, when anything seemed possible. The systems came crashing down. So did the old certainties. The arrogant elites started making humble, almost apologetic, noises. Everyone seemed open to new ideas. The theme for the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos that year was ‘building a post crisis world’. Although many attending commented that they could actually see no end to that crisis. Some thought it could be the end for Western capitalism.
In sustainability circles at that time, it became common for people to say (in their introduction at a workshop or similar public event):
I see my work now as building the new world.
Not bringing down the old world, patching it up, reforming it, arguing over where it went wrong, untangling the unholy mess of nation state politics, unaccountable transnational corporations, free market economics, market failures, perverse subsidies, media myopia …
… rather building a new world, based on fundamentally different organizing principles. The first principle being mass co-operation for the common good.
Sadly during 2009 some of that sense of possibility seemed to close over again, at least for now. The stock markets bounced back. Corporate results were not as bad as expected. Forecasters are predicting a return to growth next year. Time will tell. More cautious economists still point to similar ‘false starts’ early in the 1930s Great Depression. Meanwhile we - the new world builders - have mixed feelings about a resumption of economic growth and business as usual. It seems a chance for radical change might have been lost. But maybe we weren ’t ready either.
A key word for many who have this mindset is transition.
There are many different stories about what the transition involves: from climate change to restoring a natural balance: from oil addiction to renewables: from the wealth gap to global equity: from economic growth to steady state: from lean and mean to resilient: from global to relocalised. We ’ll meet all of these shifts in the pages that follow. As well as the view (from the Transition Town movement) that we can’t know what the end point is; our job is to get into the transition stage itself. Only when we have started to leave behind some of the current systems, and their accompanying mental habits, can we start to design new ones that actually work.
If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys the government, and the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves … There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
Systems tend to replicate themselves through their tenacious hold on what people think ‘normal’. However systems are also the result of simple rules and conventions. When you tinker with these rules the ballooning change that results can create a kind of runaway train. It’s not what people would have expected, but they do tend to get on board. That was the case with Luther’s 22 propositions (originally intended as sensible reforms within the Catholic Church). It was also the case with the mainly economic liberalisation (perestroika) introduced by Gorbachev in 1986. Frustrated by the bureaucratic old guard, Gorbachev appealed over their heads to the people in 1987. And a process of change was set in motion by 1989 that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Several decades on we ’re also only just starting to appreciate how true it could be that ‘the internet changes everything’.
All of which is to say that small adjustments going on right now, within government targets, corporate regulation, public disclosure of information … may have untold consequences - it could become another runaway train. Although for this to happen it does have to follow Gorbachev ’s demokratizatsiya and appeal directly to the people too.
Why is a great transition needed? If it were only climate change we had to solve we might ‘fix it’ without moving to a different model of society? I know quite a number in the cleantech camp who think exactly that. They see this as an engineering problem and point to plenty of viable engineering solutions.
Unfortunately the evidence (historically) says that we can’t ‘fix it’ by converting to cleaner energy and efficient technologies alone. Studies such as Tim Jackson ’s Prosperity Without Growth? for the Sustainable Development Commission found - counter to what is claimed for ‘green growth’ - that we have failed in ‘angelising’ our economy. However, cleantech is only one solution. Combine this with programmes aiming to promote the natural absorption of atmospheric carbon, like soil sequestration. Add radical moves to halt the decline in forest cover. Add equally radical moves to limit fossil fuel use, probably through carbon pricing and taxation. Then maybe we do have the existing solutions to tackle climate change. Although these radical solutions would require huge economic, political and social changes.
If only we could find a breakthrough ‘technofix’. I had some meetings last year with a group who are convinced that the world’s oceans can be stimulated to absorb 25-35% of all atmospheric carbon. They would do this by seeding the oceans south of Argentina with iron. This would cause the algae to bloom. The algae then sink to the bottom of the ocean taking the carbon with them, destined to become limestone. It ’s happened a number of times in the geological record; when unusual quantities of iron rich dust have apparently led to substantial global temperature falls. And the process has been shown to work in smaller scale tests over the last 20 years. The problem they faced was in convincing regulators that this wasn ’t what some environmentalists labelled ‘toxic dumping’. The idea of tinkering with nature (like Dr Frankenstein) evokes cultural horror; coupled with reasonable concerns about unintended consequences. Another block was that the team ’s plan was to do this financed by carbon credits - i.e. for profit. Assume those resistances were overcome. What would happen if it worked? Would that buy us the time to transition to a safer economy? Or would we just breathe a sigh of relief and put our foot down on the energy guzzling global economy? If we did so we would run straight back up against climate change.
I liken all of this to the human problem of having a close friend with a gambling habit. Should you solve their debt problem by giving them a fully loaded credit card? Or is the only real solution to tackle the actual habit? The answer to that dilemma would probably change if your friend’s gambling debts were about to get them killed by the mafia. There is a view within climate science that we may be so perilously close to triggering runaway climate change - a chain reaction of positive feedback mechanisms - that we probably should consider anything that could pull us back from that brink.
Even so, from a human social point of view no one ‘fix’ can work. We are running out of planet and running out of time. Looming next on the horizon after climate is energy. We are running out of affordable oil. Something we also depend upon for our food supply in its current form. If we fix the energy crisis and the climate crisis and the food crisis … there are many others queuing. Most people in the world already live with the insecurity and constraints of poverty. In the food crisis of 2008 the UN reported that the number of households who could only afford one meal a day (rather than three) doubled. Our monoculture food system is prone to collapse. Human populations are vulnerable to pandemics. We are losing species, mainly through deforestation, at a rate equivalent to a mass extinction. Biodiversity is vital to how adaptable ecosystems are, so this is not just a ‘save the panda’ issue. It’s yet another example of systems brittleness. Our economies seem set to self -destruct. If they do not grow at an accelerating (compound) rate they crash. This used to be a local matter. Even in the 1990s in the Asian financial crisis China acted as a firebreak, being uncoupled from the world economy at that point. Now everything is connected.
This is not to retreat into doom and gloom. It’s simply to say transition is inevitable. Something has to give. The current systems cannot hold. That ’s why those that are convinced of the transition view think that more change could happen in the next 20 years than was experienced over the last 200.
My tentative view on the impending transition itself is as follows.
Firstly it will be a new world. Not a collapse into any old agenda, be it ‘back to nature’ eco villages, nor science fiction futurism in its latest ‘cleantech’ guise. Both of these are likely to be components of a world we don ’t yet know. Even the familiar ingredients will find an unfamiliar configuration. We can’t predict where it will all land, we can only set out and see.
Secondly it could be quite sudden, as previously isolated and unconnected developments join up into a bigger whole. That ’s just how big change in complex systems happens. It ’s called a phase transition. It’s how a gas liquefies. It’s how evolution seems to work ( ‘punctuated equilibria’). It’s also how human innovation seems to be patterned. Big change is sudden change, a kind of buckling or tipping point. Sometimes precipitated by an event, like a financial market meltdown. But ‘caused’ by many mutually reinforcing factors. All the types of mammal (phyla) present today were already evolved 20 million years before the collapse of the dinosaurs. It took a meteor impact to trigger the actual transition. But it was already on the cards. Similarly it may take a singular crisis to shake up the current system. Yet this will not be the ‘cause’ of the change, rather just a trigger for change.
Thirdly I see the transition as involving a shift from hierarchies to what Bill Drayton (founder of Ashoka) calls parallel co-operation:
Since the agriculture revolution, our society has been organized through hierarchy. The new paradigm would be more equitable, organized through parallel cooperation.3
I’m something of a veteran of parallel co-operative systems. I feel at home with them, in the same way that I feel out of sorts with dominant hierarchies. I attended a school organised on these self-managing lines in the 1970s. I was a co-founder of St Luke’s in the 1990s - a radical experiment in workplace democracy, employee shareholding and other such themes. Many of the projects and organisations I work with today have this ‘shape’.
When you recognise this pattern you start to see it everywhere. In social movements like Transition Towns. In the design of public events like BarCamp. In NGO campaigning like ‘Green My Apple’ from Greenpeace. In political processes like MyObama.com. In the reorganisation of companies and their dealings with networks of suppliers, customers or other partners (as in open innovation). In media, particularly Web 2.0 and the developments in peer-to-peer, social production, social networks and so on. The distributed network for parallel co - operation seems to be the organising idea of our age. And while this is partly due to the phenomenal influence of the internet, it is also present in a broader range of examples. It ’s possible to see the internet itself as a prominent product of a mindset that has been taking hold for at least half a century. Many of these ideas hark back to the counter-culture of the 1960s, to postcolonial developments in India and elsewhere, to longstanding theories about the direction of social change such as McLuhan’s Global Village or Toffler’s Prosumer.
It is clear that we are still at the early stages of this transition; it is far from reaching critical mass yet. Although there is a lot already happening and it is starting to gather pace. A ‘joined up’ picture is slowly emerging too and this book is an attempted contribution to that.
Drayton describes ‘parallel co-operation’ as an alternative to the hierarchy. It is self-organising, consensual, self-regulating. I agree with all that. What I don’t necessarily agree with is the idea that society has been (only) hierarchical since the invention of farming. I am more inclined to agree with historian Lewis Mumford who viewed human history as a struggle between two key ideas about organisation. One Mumford called the mega-machine - society itself operating like a machine, with any human individuals as only an interchangeable ‘moving part’. That pattern is familiar since the industrial revolution, never more so than in the mechanised world wars. It was also the worldview that gave rise to the Egyptian pyramids, to the Roman Empire, to the Medieval Church. The other view Mumford called the village democracy. Exemplified by the village council of elders, by the co-operation at harvest time, by systems of gifting, barter and mutual support. This Mumford pointed out is probably the older structure, perhaps typifying matriarchal hunter-gatherer tribes. It has been dominant at other points - in Athenian or Icelandic assembly democracy.
The problem village democracy always had was scale. It works well with hundreds or even thousands of people. Not so well with millions. The significant new development today - with patterns of collaboration and information-sharing (like those enabled by the internet) - is the emergence of a multicellular format. One where we can have both village -style democracy and scale. Mumford’s view, writing in the 1970s, was that the village democracy form was in danger of extinction. Recent decades have seen its resurgence, in Web 2.0 and the open source movement and also in social ventures (such as microcredit) and social change movements.
Except in the hands of Yuri Geller, metal does not buckle without considerable stress. For sudden and complete change - a phase transition - you need not only a more adaptive structure to ‘collapse’ into, nor only triggering events. You also need an unbearable pressure building in the old system. Not to be gloomy. This book is about solutions not problems; specifically about parallel co-operative systems as an answer to key questions being posed by sustainability. Questions the current systems cannot answer.
Hence the book is structured around five of the key sustainability challenges. That’s the only way to understand human systems, I’d argue, not just as abstract configurations, but as having a meaning. Under enough pressure a gas cannot but become a liquid. Yet physicists speak of the molecules having a ‘memory’ of how to achieve this. A reminder that human phase shifts are not just mechanical patterns, they are also about consciousness.
I have found it clarifying to ask: if co-operation is the answer, what are the key questions? In self -regulating systems (where there are no central ‘commands’) one way to express challenges is as bottlenecks. Co-operative solutions are about opening these out to broader collaboration. The structure of this book is based around five key bottlenecks; topics that come up repeatedly in many of the discussions on sustainability:
Creating a climate for change. The bottleneck is that representative democracy said ‘leave it to us’ (a few politicians) and now all of us need to be involved. Centralised information campaigns won’t on their own create a ‘climate for change’. We need to create forums where people can take it all in, reflect on it and come up with their own plans, trade offs and ideas. And we also need ways for people to see each other responding as if there actually is a crisis, so they can take their cue from that. You could read this section to get ideas about new forms of social organisation and campaigning, beyond passive media audiences.
Relocating the dreams. The bottleneck is a narrow definition of the good life. We have come to think of this as individual consumer lifestyle choice-based. By opening out this definition and exploring the many alternatives we can start to create a widely shared dream of a better future; one that is more elegant, wise and enjoyable. People are yearning to reconnect with community and nature. People are curious, playful, restless. There are so many other things they could do than own stuff; so many other services companies could offer to meet their needs too. You could read this section to get ideas about creating desire for brands, campaigns, movements that heal the world.
Making organisations accountable (and hence responsible for wellbeing). The bottleneck is a narrow pass (bristling with banditry) between buyers and sellers. Two billion farmers grow our food, and all we know of what is really involved is glimpses. Even these glimpses (such as documentaries about chicken farming) can transform markets. The opportunity is to make fully known what happens at the other end of the supply chain. And for consumers to encourage improvement through ‘joycotting’. You could read this section and get ideas about new kinds of eco-label, social change campaigns or consumer co-operatives to create change through what they buy.
Economic resilience. The bottleneck is the current free market model whereby speculative investment benefiting narrow interests, rather than common wellbeing, drives the economy. This demands GDP growth at all costs; climate change, poverty and other effects could be seen as ‘manufactured’ by this arrangement. It is also narrow in who it benefits, who has access. The alternative is co-operative economic systems - like microcredit, co-operative societies, community choice aggregation and local economic trading schemes. These work for the common good although viable in economic terms too. You could read this section and come up with ideas for anything from restoring trust in banking, to a community scheme to support renewable energy.
Abundance rather than ‘lean and mean’. The bottleneck is a narrow definition of productivity as a mechanical return on investment or ROI. By shifting to WROR (wellbeing return on resources) different systems designs emerge, which are abundant (for the common good). WROR sounds like business school jargon gone mad, but it is also the fundamental principle of healthy living ecosystems. Not only are abundant systems more productive of wellbeing, they also restore human participation. We’ll see the same pattern applying to regenerative agriculture and also Web 2.0 and social production. You could read this section and come up with new ways of organising for service or supply systems - or equally use it to think differently about the design of the organisations themselves.
Each section of the book divides into three: (1) exploring the issue; (2) looking in detail at a couple of major case examples that have achieved critical mass; (3) taking in a wider variety of tactics - intended as a pick and mix of examples readers could re-apply to their own projects.
There is one further implication of regarding the solution to climate change (and other ‘running out of world’ issues) as mass co-operation. It means we can’t wait for government, big business, or any top -down solution. Large organisations may still play a key role, not least in opening up to participative forms of organisation. But it is up to all of us to build solutions. As Bill Drayton puts it: ‘Everyone a change-maker’.
Opportunities to be a change-maker - and to recruit others to follow suit - have never been as accessible. For instance, it takes minutes to add a new idea at http://www.pledgebank.com. Whatever the external result (how many people join you, what you achieve together) it ’s about being a citizen who can and does come up with solutions. And the question of what one person can do to make a difference has become an open one. Consider the case of Dave Carroll ’s broken guitar. Dave had no luck in his complaints to United Airlines about this, so he made a humorous song and YouTube video of his complaint. Four million views and some extensive media coverage later, United’s share price fell by $180m.4 And Dave got his guitar fixed. It’s not about sustainability, but it’s encouraging as a ‘Dave and Goliath’ example!
I think of the challenge as partly about redefining ‘work’. Many social production phenomena (open source software, Wikipedia) are put together in a serious, methodical, skilled way by unpaid amateurs. Within paid work we have seen a progression from ‘job for life’ to people who tend to have a range of roles and projects. Charles Handy called this portfolio working, and like an investment portfolio it is partly to do with speculating about what will take off. That frees you up to try bolder or more off-beam stuff - pet ideas, collaborations. At a sustainability innovators dinner I went to recently, most people had three to seven projects on the go, in some cases including a ‘fulltime’ job. It’s about seeing beyond a current job to ‘your life’s work’. Tamara Giltsoff, one of the founders of Abundancy Partners (our new consultancy), calls this the ‘slash-slash’ trend. Slash-slash as in ‘I’m a designer/blogger/social venture founder/…’ Tamara wrote to me, in response to an early draft, about her experiences with the green ventures scene in New York: ‘They don’t wait around for policy or the market to enforce decision-making, instead they are a community of their own, shunning the traditional route to riches - MBAs and consulting /city jobs - and instead funneling their energy into creating a new socially led economy. Together.’ There does seem to be a new generation emerging. The Ecologist magazine called this the most politically and socially aware generation of students since the 1960s.
The idea of being a world builder is a commitment to getting on with it. Not protesting (although that has its place). Nor sitting in committees trying to persuade people that aren’t interested in change. But simply making stuff happen. Trying things. Starting small if necessary and working around existing systems. Creating real change that could cascade or otherwise catch on.
Andy Gibson, an award winning social entrepreneur as one of the founders of School of Everything, has in his spare time developed an idea called Mind Apples. ‘What would be your 5 a day for mental health?’ was Andy’s core initial question. He started by asking around (I first heard about it in the kitchen at Social Innovation Camp). Then Andy started getting people including me to use a little quiz widget and stuck their replies on his blog http://mindapples.org. Now the idea is sprouting. It’s no longer just Andy, it’s a team of collaborators. One of their ideas is Mindapple Zones - ‘by tagging places in cities and offices places that make you feel more mentally healthy, like a park, a great view, or a really relaxing cupboard’. They also got some famous ‘5 a day’ respondents to take part; including Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair ’s spin-doctor, who had written a book about his own struggles with mental illness called All in the Mind. The Mind Apple team spread their idea through a blog meme - inviting five bloggers to share their five a day, and then invite five other blog friends to do the same. It’s a really simple idea. I think what ’s really impressive is that they just went out and did it. One reason that ’s possible is that we have public tools to share ideas through; you no longer need £5 m in funding. Even if you want to build your own unique website it’s much more affordable - costing thousands, not millions.
There’s also been quite a shift in tactics from protesting to co-operative change from within. A generation had bought the wristband, waved the placard, signed the petition … and what lasting change did it bring? Greenpeace faced with trying to get Apple to improve its environmental record could have led a boycott. Instead the ‘Green My Apple’ campaign worked with the community and creativity of Apple fans. And it was effective. Apple adopted significant changes in manufacturing and are now far from the bottom of Greenpeace ’s survey of the electronics industry, where they once sat.
Those creative campaigns are catchy and involving. They seem a far cry from what people imagine when they hear the word ‘Sustainability’. It hardly sounds inviting, playful or exciting. You could argue that it’s more of an issue than the name though. ‘Sustainability’ is policy committee jargon (like the word ‘Subsidiarity’). And you could argue that committees, think tanks and corporate departments are precisely where it has got stuck. That it has failed to cross over into mainstream consciousness.
Sustainability ought to be the most popular idea around. I’ve argued we should perhaps rename it ‘Ustainability’ - as it requires all of us co-operating for the common good. The original definition of sustainability that most refer to is from the UN’s Brundtland Report Commission report Our Common Future (1983):
Sustainable development … meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.5
This goes back to the idea that our societies are supposed to be based upon; the government of society for common wellbeing (The Common Weal). You ’ll find that idea in the American Constitution, in the classic historical texts behind both the English Restoration (Hobbes) and the French Revolution (Thomas Paine). According to all modern accounts of liberal democracy, society should be organised to support the common wellbeing. The enthusiasm for modernism was based in the well-intentioned belief that the technologies and machine-like forms of human efficiency would improve wellbeing. But as Prince Charles pointed out in his recent Dimbleby Lecture, at some point we lost sight of this and came to confuse means and ends, seeing GDP growth in particular as an end in its own right. As we explore the effects of climate change, degradation of natural resources, barely functioning communities, brittle financial markets … we realise that our systems not only fall short on wellbeing, but positively work against it. That means that we can’t just deal with the symptoms, we must tackle our systems and the worldview that sustains them. France, following the Stiglitz Report, has recently joined the growing number of countries committed to finding better measures than GDP for national wellbeing and prosperity.
Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen bank (pioneers of microcredit) says that in focusing on self -interest our economics is too one -dimensional. ‘It is the failure to capture the essence of a human being in our theory. Everyday human beings are not one dimensional, they are excitingly multi -dimensional and indeed very colourful.’6 Grameen is featured in a later section on co-operation and economics; we will see that it is both economically viable at a large scale and also abundantly supporting the wellbeing of its customers, who are also its owners. Yunus is an economist, and far from creating a charity, Grameen hasn’t needed external funds since the early 1980s. To create a bank which also provides interest-free, zero collateral, no time limit loans to their very poorest customers - and even gives them free life insurance - is to put human wellbeing in charge of banking (and not as is usually the case, the other way around). Grameen is the kind of bank that the people would have invented. And substantially it is the way it is because its customers are also its owners, and played a big role in shaping it.
The global challenges to wellbeing (like climate change) are so extreme that even those who quite liked the current system, because it did suit their interests, are being forced to take notice. As senior corporate executives on the recent Tomorrow’s Global Company enquiry team noted78