COSUST Special Issue: Sustainability Transformations

Originally published at

A COSUST special issue, co-edited by cCHANGE’s Linda Sygna, explores the social transformations needed to meet the 1.5°C climate target.


A recent COSUST special issue, co-edited by cCHANGE’s Linda Sygnaand University of Canterbury Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, brings together over 100 of the world’s leading researchers on sustainability transformations to explore the kind of social changes needed to meet the 1.5°C climate change challenge.

The twenty articles (many of which are free to download) combine insights from the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts and highlight the diverse ways climate change responses can be understood in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

The authors shine a light on different approaches around the world (India, China, and Africa), across different sectors (agriculture, urban environments, innovation, investment, and the arts), and across different scales of governance (multilateral organisations, local governments and communities). They also consider the role of narratives and storytelling to explore the “what” and “how” of social transformations.

What should sustainable social transformations look like?
Many of the articles point to the need for holistic, inclusive and systematic approaches for social transformation towards a 1.5°C warmer world. Without considering diverse approaches to transformation, we risk oversimplifying the problems and underestimating society’s capacities to influence systemic change, whether positively or negatively.

How can we achieve them?
It is clear that such far reaching transformations will require collective empowerment and political will for a just and sustainable transition. Several of the articles call for a critical re-examination of climate governance in an increasingly complex and uncertain future. In some cases, they surmise that the current governance structures are far from adequate to even respond to the current challenges.

Taking transformations seriously
While offering fresh insight on meeting the 1.5°C challenge, the articles in this special issue also showcase that the research community itself is willing to take transformations seriously. The authors take intellectual risks to encourage innovative and solutions-oriented policy making and look critically at their own role in producing knowledge on transformations towards sustainability.

Special Issue:
Sustainability Governance and Transformation 2018
Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST)
Edited by Bronwyn Hayward and Linda Sygna
Volume 31, Pages 1-160 (April 2018)
View Contents Page

Forthcoming Launch of an MS in One Planet Leadership

by Tony Cooke, CEO, One Planet Education Networks

We’re really excited to be announcing that, after months of hard work behind the scenes,  our partners at Texas A&M University-Central Texas, the world’s first One Planet Business School, are preparing to launch their new Master of Science in One Planet Leadership. OPEN Fellows Professor Jody Fry and Professor Barb Altman have been heavily involved in its development, with support from the OPEN team including Professor Jonathan Gosling, Dr Sally Jeanrenaud and Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud.

The first class-based cohort will start in the Fall. An online cohort will then follow in the Spring 2019.

This program is designed for practising managers and leaders interested in developing the knowledge, mindset and competencies to successfully lead organisations towards a sustainable future.

With a focus on sustainability principles, it’s a program that challenges students to explore the complex task of creating and leading learning organisations that seek to maximise employee well-being, social responsibility and performance excellence – the triple bottom line or ‘People, Planet, Profit’.

The program draws heavily from our book ‘Sustainable Business: A One Planet Approach’ (in fact, there will be a module by the same name) with a core focus on leadership responsibilities, competencies and ethics, as well as a focus on developing skills for cross-sector partnerships and driving change. The full program breakdown is shown below:

  • Research Methods
  • Organisational Behaviour
  • Sustainable Business: A One Planet Approach
  • Responsibilities and Ethics of Leadership
  • Designing Organisations for Sustainable Effectiveness
  • Global Leadership for Sustainability
  • Leadership Development and Formation
  • Sustainable Operations and Service
  • International Management for Sustainability
  • Cross-Sector Partnerships for Sustainability
  • Development and Change for Learning Organisations
  • Graduate business or management elective

The introductory leaflet for the program can be downloaded here MS One Planet Leadership_July2018


ONLINE COURSE: Introduction to Environmental Sociology

by Dr Kim Smith, OPEN Fellow

Have you wanted to expand your sustainability knowledge about social and environmental issues through a sociological lens? Consider taking this on-line summer course through Portland Community College.

Offered by sociology professor and OPEN Fellow, Dr. Kim Smith, Introduction to Environmental Sociology provides an overview of the core structural and cultural variables that shape our world. Using regional, national, and international examples, students will gain insights on historical and current sustainability issues, as well as learn how to analyze them and make a difference.

Course Description

This course examines the relationship between societies and the environment, with a focus on how industrialization and our increasing demand for natural resources have significantly impacted the planet’s ability to meet the needs of humanity and other species. We will explore the structural and cultural causes and consequences of such topics as production, consumption, population, development, pollution, materialism, inequality, and environmental justice and how to respond to these issues through policies and actions. Hopefully, this course will help students develop their “sociological imagination,” increase students’ awareness about environmental issues and human behaviors and attitudes, and enable them to critically evaluate sociological solutions related to the natural and social worlds.

The course is on-line, so students can participate from anywhere. There is still room in this 10-week class, which starts next Monday, June 25, so be sure to register soon. 

To register, click here.

Please share this on-line summer course opportunity with others.

#INFOCUS Conference Update

Today I spoke on a panel at the United Nations in Geneva at #INFOCUS, a social innovation and entrepreneurship conference hosted by the UN and the Russian Government. Sharing the stage with me were social entrepreneurs working on refugee and gender issues, alongside the founder of a Russian publishing empire, a policymaker and a Russian Minister…an interesting mix to be sure.

The ensuing debate was enlightening, mostly as it revealed an appetite for disruption of the status quo that I hadn’t expected from a sovereign state. There was an acceptance that emergent technologies like blockchain were going to enable a networked community of change agents for sustainability to self-organise around social and environmental problems and that it’s for governments and investors to think much harder about how they become enablers rather than barriers.

Most surprising was the Russian Government’s interest in social entrepreneurship as a vehicle for nation-building to compensate for the exodus of brains, entrepreneurs and investment they’ve seen since the collapse of communism. It would seem that the Russian diaspora are not being relied upon to do the right thing – to return and invest in their motherland. Rather, their Government is seriously interested in investing in developing the heads, hearts and minds of the next generation of Russians and from an early age, as early as primary school. Those at the conference seem to understand the importance of emotional connectedness to the issues, of social mission being at least as important as entrepreneurial competencies and intentions, of the relevance of entrepreneurship to all sectors of society (including government) and of the need to create radical transparency via enabling platforms that share data and insight to overcome the information asymmetry experienced by most social entrepreneurs when developing their ideas.

Come to think of it, it’s not the first time that I’ve heard of an interest in the disruptive possibilities of technology from a country without the heavy reliance on multinational corporations for its tax revenues (I seem to remember the Indian Government expressing a similar interest when I was in Delhi).

We could well be surprised where the investment comes from to catalyse a transformation in how we self-organise for sustainability and it could very well turn out to be the next frontier of state-sponsored national competitiveness.




Autonomous vehicles and the hype cycle? 

by Professor Rita Gunter McGrath, Columbia Business School

(re-posted from original on as we thought it provides a note of caution and calm to the current hype frenzy around autonomous vehicles)


Many of the technologies behind autonomous vehicles are at the peak of what consultancy Gartner Group calls the “hype cycle,” among them technologies for true level 3 autonomy.

A feeding frenzy

In the early days of a major shift, organizations commonly make bigger bets than make sense. In the Gold Rush, after all, the goal was to be the first to stake a claim. However, many a corporate investor has lived to rue the day they aggressively poured resources into nascent ideas that might – but haven’t yet – changed the world.
Consider, the current investing frenzy related to autonomous vehicles. According to a Brookings Institute report, total investment in autonomous technologies topped $80 billion in the three years from August of 2014 to June of 2017 alone. Everyone who touches the automotive industry, from car manufacturers to auto suppliers, to tech firms are betting big.

Learning the limits of autonomous technology

Autonomous vehicles are now being let loose to mix with human-driven vehicles, other autonomous cars, bicyclists, pedestrians, pets, construction, detours and anything else one might find on a public roadway. While these experiments have shown that autonomous cars can indeed mimic the performance (or even improve on the performance) of human drivers for the most part, they have also shown that even modestly unpredictable situations can throw them off course. One of Google’s cars, for instance, was flummoxed by a bicycle rider at a four-way stop rocking his bike. More seriously, the nascent technology has led to unexpected and sometimes tragic outcomes, including two deaths.

Too early in the inflection point?

We are early in the transition from vehicles owned, insured, parked and driven by people to vehicles that drive themselves. Investing big now, I would argue, is premature. And I’m not alone – the Gartner Group places the deployment of truly autonomous vehicles at least 10 years or more into the future, pointing out that the technologies underlying them are at the very peak of what Gartner calls the “hype cycle”.

A useful analogy here is to how the internet changed retail. In 1995, when Amazon shipped its first book, observers said the retail environment would be transformed in short order. Consumers would buy anything and everything and enjoy the convenience of having it shipped to their doorsteps. Retailers, heeding the early warnings of their impending doom, rushed into buying .com addresses, setting up web pages, building banner ads and otherwise trying to capture the opportunity this potential inflection point offered. This is what survivor of all this and AOL Founder Steve Case refers to as the “hype” phase.

Cast your mind back to the Internet of 1995, only 40% of American households even owned a computer. Access to the Internet was via dial-up modem. People didn’t know how to pay for things. The shipping costs for an internet good could be more expensive than the item itself. In short, there were a lot of missing pieces to the model. Sadly, a lot of the early retail experimenters drew the wrong conclusion – namely, that this Internet thing was just an overhyped technology. They went back to trying to beat each other up with discounts, sales and coupons and business returned to what they saw as “normal.” There was just one problem – the inflection point was real. High-speed, always-connected modems improved the on-line experience. The ecosystem for ordering, payments and shipping fell into place. Now, conventional retail is in full-scale retreat.

A stepping stone strategy

Although breathtaking advances have been made, the complexity of situations in which driverless cars are expected to operate are something like the Internet back in the days of dialup modems. Every road surface is different, not standardized. People routinely don’t behave the way they “should” (by jaywalking or walking where they aren’t supposed to). Other drivers can be unpredictable. And the services and other activities that surround driving as we know it – everything from car insurance to liability laws – have not yet been created. Not only that, but the average age of a carin the United States is over 11 years, meaning that even if fully autonomous vehicles were offered for sale (to whom? At what price?), it would be a decade or more before the existing fleet were retired.

In short, the ecosystem for fully autonomous vehicles at this stage is incomplete, just as the ecosystem for internet retail in 1995 was incomplete. That doesn’t mean that if you are in the auto business, you shouldn’t be paying attention – of course you should. It does mean, however, that you need to be careful about making major, irreversible investments under such a high degree of uncertainty. To proceed in such situations, what I call a stepping stone strategy makes a lot of sense.

Stepping stones are investments made when both technological uncertainty and market uncertainty is very high. Technological uncertain involves not only whether a given technology works at all, but also affects the constellation of legal, regulatory, standards and institutional agreements necessary for a technology to be launched. Market uncertainty involves the extent to which end customers will pay for a solution to a problem, how much they will pay, what channel they will use and so on. That’s where autonomous vehicles are at the moment.

What you don’t want is to do nothing. That is the business equivalent of leaving yourself with no options at all, with a looming substantial inflection point just around the corner. You also don’t want to over-invest. The stepping stone response is to find a segment of the market that can benefit from deployment of the new technology (or solution) as it exists right now, to address a pressing and costly problem that customers are keenly aware of, and yet for which no alternative solution exists. The stepping stone metaphor is deliberate – what you are looking for is a market that is perhaps not your ultimate target market, but rather allows you to take a step toward that market, building acceptance and an ecosystem along the way.

This is how Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology was commercialized – by first using the technology in less challenging environments such as animal ear tags than the ambitious early possibilities envisioned. This is how nano-technology was first built out – not with super-challenging applications like pills that do surgery, but with more reachable ones such as wrinkle-free Docker’s pants. And this is how 3D printing began to take root in medical applications, by using the technology and the body’s own cells to make implantable organs that would not experience tissue rejection.

Where autonomy pays off, right now

To stake a claim in the autonomous vehicle space, if one doesn’t happen to have Ford or Google sized budgets, will require smart and insightful understanding of relevant stepping stone markets that can provide that early point of departure.

  • The first criterion is that the problem to be solved has to be extremely costly or painful to potential customers.
  • The second is that they have funds to pay for the solution offered.
  • The third is that the technology, in its current form, solves the problem.

These guidelines can help your strategists identify the kinds of markets and segments that might be worth early exploration.
Let’s take each in turn. What kinds of markets might have costly, painful problems that only an autonomous solution can address? Well, the obvious places to look are those in which the risks of having a human being behind the wheel are much greater than the risks of an autonomous solution. Military markets come to mind, in which the fewer soldiers exposed to danger just to drive a vehicle for some purpose, the better.

Lockheed Martin, for example, is piloting a semi-autonomous solution involving 2 human drivers in a ‘lead’ vehicle followed by up to 7 vehicles that ‘follow’ their human leaders. That translates to 14 fewer humans put at risk just to get vehicles from point A to point B, a considerable benefit. A second application Lockheed is exploring is what they call the Squad Missions Support System, essentially a small vehicle that acts like a robotic Sherpa, traveling with troops and hauling supplies and equipment without tying up a soldier to do the driving. Guaranteeing safe supply lines and reducing the risks of people involved has enormous value.

Does the military have the funds to pay for a solution that potentially saves troop lives and enhances its fighting capability? Absolutely. That meets our second criteria. And our third is met by the willingness of the military to use technologies that are somewhat – but not completely – autonomous as major benefits can be derived regardless. Thus, while the capabilities of the technology are not yet sufficient for these vehicles to be running around city streets on their own, they are well enough developed to deliver valuable benefits to a controlled, military application.

A final thought on the opportunity represented by autonomous cars is that, manufacturers are starting with the current situation and extrapolating forward from that. What we are basically seeing is a car (which itself was derived from the ‘horseless carriage’) with lots of tech strapped to it. It is, nonetheless, still a car. If you were to attempt to gain the benefits of autonomy beginning with a blank sheet of paper, my recommendation would be to start fresh, without the legacy of what a “car” means in the existing regime. In fact, it would not surprise me at all if the benefits of autonomous vehicles first made their appearance in technologies derived from robotics, rather than the automotive industry.

Willful Blindness

The idea of ‘willful blindness’ has its origins in the legal system and refers to situations where a person (or persons) seek to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally keeping themselves unaware of facts that would render them liable. ‘I didn’t know’ is the last desperate line of defence. For this reason it is also sometimes known as ‘contrived ignorance’ or ‘Nelsonian knowledge’ after the British Admiral who famously put his telescope to his blind eye and declared ‘I see no ships’.

In business the idea of ‘willful blindess’ was popularized by the writer and management guru Margaret Heffernan in her book of the same name. In it she argues that the real threats to business viability and ongoing success are precisely those things that are deemed so material, so integral, so critical to the business model, product or service that they are considered ‘beyond question.’ The flaws that might drag down your company are hidden in plain sight. It’s just culturally or commercially (or both!) impossible to talk about them.

Sustainability offers a stark choice. You can stick with the existing business model, product or service. Devise clever ways of proving progress: decarbonizing, lightweighting packaging, improving the ethical provenance of ingredients etc. All of which are laudable but are essentially about doing pretty much the same thing slightly more responsibly and efficiently. But if the fundamental proposition of your business is effectively indefensible from a sustainability perspective, you can only embrace this incrementalism by also embracing willful blindness.

You can see this tension playing out all around us. Major fossil fuel companies persist with further exploration for new reserves even though we know we already have five times more fossil fuel reserves listed as valuable assets on global stock exchanges than we can actually burn if we wish to constrain climate change within two degrees. That is a sub-prime ‘unburnable carbon’ bubble of staggering scale. That’s not just short-sighted, it’s white stick, dark glasses and friendly labrador territory.

Or bottled water businesses whose carbon intensive model of trucking ‘natural mineral water’ around the world in plastic, often to places primarily already awash with affordable decent quality, potable water, is highly profitable, but also highly problematic in the context of climate change, ocean plastic pollution (1M plastic bottles produced per minute) and perceived ‘need’. Especially when most brands champion their ‘natural purity’…or more supreme guff such as “[bottled water] offers us the mythical vitality and potency of nature, combined with the safety of science and a reassurance of our place in the world”. Yes. Of course it does.

The alternative to these ‘marginal gains’ strategies (do the same old stuff a little leaner) is to go back to a genuine sense of business purpose. For fossil fuel majors this is obviously ‘providing energy’ or for a water business ‘providing hydration’ or ‘access to water’. And then creatively and strategically rethink how that fundamental need and purpose is best met through radical sustainability innovation.

That sounds complex. But is doable with courage and a determination to do what’s right and needed when your eyes are wide open. DONG (Danish Oil & Natural Gas) Energy has made this transition from black to green energy and rebranded itself as ‘Ørsted’ (after the Danish inventor of electromagnetism Hans Christian Ørsted) to mark this transformation. If an energy company can change its ‘what’ this dramatically then every business should be paying attention.

And with the explosion in public awareness and concern around oceanic plastic pollution post Blue Planet 2, the movement to ‘ask for tap’, restaurants offering free chilled, filtered and sparkling water, cities like London installing new systems of water fountainsand the refillable water bottle becoming the keep-cup/jute bag du jour, something also has to give in the world of water.

This is where the enlightened self-interest kicks in. As we’ve noted time and again with clients – you do not decide whether to disrupt your own business model or not, you either do it to yourself, or someone else does it to you. The path of commercial corporate history is littered with the casualties of those who failed this disruptive innovation test, from Kodak to Blockbuster. Which is why I only half joke about ‘insultancy’ – the art of being strategically rude to clients in order to bust open the lazy collusion of mediocrity that willful blindness leads to.

Trust me, your willful blindness and incrementalism is not just an unhealthy risk. It could be a death sentence – ‘disrupt or die’. And no-one will come to your funeral.

SCC Webinar 25 April 2018

“advancing curriculum and faculty development
sustainability in higher education”

International Series continues with Leanne Denby of Macquarie University

SCC Webinar

Note international time zones and start times:

Wednesday, April 25
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm (Eastern US)
2:00 pm (Pacific)
11:00 am (Hawaii)

Thursday, April 26
7:00 am – 8:00 am (Sydney)
5:00 am – 6:00 am (Chongqing, China)

“Using the SDGs to progress sustainability at Macquarie University”

Leanne Denby
Director of Sustainability, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
President, Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS)

***This webinar continues the SCC series on “International Perspectives” with host Kim Smith of Portland Community College and the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network (GPSEN).  International leaders in sustainability in higher education present to the SCC audience each month.
At Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia, we are taking small yet significant steps to align our work with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. But this has not been an easy task. To date, we have done work to understand what our high-level University goals, objectives, strategies and policies are saying; we have looked at our research priority areas to map our strengths and gaps; and we have mapped our sustainability in learning and teaching framework to the goals and identified some positive and some negative findings. So what has all of this told us? In this webinar, Leanne will go through work to date, presenting the outcomes, the challenges and the questions that have arisen, whilst positioning next steps for the University. While the webinar will present the findings from all the work done, the focus will be on Macquarie’s curriculum efforts, with a few lessons from the Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS).

Leanne Denby has been working at Macquarie University as the Director of Sustainability since March 2008. Reporting to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academics and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer, her primary responsibility is to strategically embed sustainability into policy, process and practice. This involves working across the campus with the various Faculties, departments and offices within four key areas:

• Leadership and Governance: Enhancing skills and guiding leadership towards more sustainable decision-making processes and outcomes
• Learning and Teaching: Embedding sustainability holistically across the formal and informal curriculum
• Partnerships and Engagement: Providing avenues for active participation and awareness building for staff, students and community members
• Facilities and Operations: Improving resource efficiency through implementation of practical initiatives in support of small and large-scale projects
For the past seven years, Leanne has also held the role of President of Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS), a not-for-profit organisation committed to advancing sustainability best practices within the operations, curriculum and research of the tertiary education sector in Australia and New Zealand. As the President, Leanne has doubled the capacity of the association, developing and adopting significant programs of change, and positioning ACTS as a national and international player in the sustainability field.

Previous to her role at Macquarie, Leanne worked as a Project Director with the Australian Research Institute of Education for Sustainability (ARIES) and as a casual teaching academic at the University of Sydney.

Pre-register at: <>