Big-picture strategic paradigms:
in the Race to Sustainability
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Philip Sutton
Green Innovations Inc.
Tel: +61 3 9486 4799
3 May 2006
Version 2.g/w:i


If we are to achieve sustainability we need to engage everyone.  We also need big picture strategies to tie together all the myriad changes that are needed.

So it might be useful to have a set of paradigms out there that we can share. We could take this even further and create teams around these major paradigms - to do the hard intellectual and high level organising that can help to make action on the paradigms possible.

I have tried to identify a suite of paradigms that capture the diversity I see within the sustainability movement - see below.

Although I can imagine teams working on specifically on each of these paradigms (indeed some of them have people doing that quite consciously now).  I can imagine lots of people using these paradigms more like colours on a palette - to 'paint' the future they want, by combining some or all of the colours (paradigms) in unique ways.

Do these paradigms work for you as a description of the range of main options available (not necessarily options that you would support personally)?  Are any important paradigms missing?  Are they appropriately characterised? Have they got the right name to convey the full power of the paradigm?

Big-picture strategic orientations towards sustainability

1. Give it a go - based on starting where we are, not having any big goals, but making step-by-step changes towards a better world (this appeals to pragmatists)

2. Radical simplicity/Abandon affluence - based on a simplification of the economy and life, and a reduction of economic activity, as measured by GDP and local versions thereof, in rich countries.  (This appeals to two entirely different groups: those who believe that the rich countries have appropriated too big a slice of the Earth's finite resources, and those who wish to move away from mainstream society to simple humans scale, ecologically engaged societies.)

3. Mainstream Big Goals - 'official' goals driven - ie. it uses the strongest goals it can find that have been put forward by governments and industries and then tries to make these goals come true ie. moves beyond greenwash and also tries to push governments and businesses to take on even tougher goals over time - (This appeals to people who feel that they want to work in the system with a clear major stretch-goals-driven approach)

4. Innovation avalanche - based on fast innovation for massive change without detailed long term plans and goals (This appeals to lots of fairly radical [but not planning-orientated] people in business)

5. Red/Green - a futures approach that places the emphasis on creating a new, socialist political structure that values the environment and social equity. (This appeals to people who still or once used to subscribe to socialist visions and recognise the importance of political change.) 

6. Personal transformation (Individual ethical or spiritual transformation) - an inner growth and change-through-enlightenment approach, based on conversion of more and more individuals. (This appeals to people with either a spiritual approach and/or a belief in the importance of individual change) 

7. Mainstreamers leaping to sustainability - based on radical elements of 'the system' engaging the mainstream to get to a sustainable condition very quickly - to minimise the damage to people and the rest of life of the unsustaining conditions applying during the transition. (This appeals to people engaged in or with the mainstream who want to see sustainability actually achieved very quickly.

Author:  Philip Sutton
First posted:  2 May 2006
Content updated:  3 May 2006 (2)
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