Philip Sutton
Director, Policy and Strategy
Green Innovations Inc.
Tel & fax: +61 3 9486 4799

Revised 15th June 1996. (First version 25th April 1996) - Version 1.f.w:ii

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The challenge

It has become clear that the way that humans live on the planet is ecologically unsustainable. Urgent action on a massive scale is required to remedy the situation. While there are many ideas about how particular aspects of the problem might be addressed, it is not clear how the problem *as a whole* can be tackled most effectively nor is it clear how responses to particular problems should be framed so that they mesh to produce an effective overall result.

We face a dilemma that action that is not backed by careful thought may be ineffective, but, with a problem of this scale and urgency, action cannot be delayed until all possible research has been completed.

A response

It is therefore proposed that a project be launched through the International Society for Ecological Economics to encourage researchers and activists to develop scenarios that realistically describe "a successful process for catalysing a timely transition to an ecologically sustainable economy, globally". After careful analysis, key strategies from preferred scenarios would be tested by being tried in real life and a careful process of evaluation would be used to provide feedback for improvement.

The project as a catalyst

It is hoped that the project itself will be a catalyst for the achievement of the core aim of the scenarios by: a. fostering research into the best methods for catalysing a timely transition to an environmentally sustainable economy, globally b. testing key strategies from preferred scenarios in real life, and c. by disseminating the results in a way that maximises speedy and effective follow- through action.

The term "environmentally sustainable economy, globally" is meant to cover either fairly independent local ecologically sustainable economies that cover the whole globe OR an integrated world economy that is ecologically sustainable OR hybrids of the two.

A program of research and action

The project will be a *program* of research, development and action rather than a single project. It will involve research and real life experimentation across the globe. Because of the complexity and magnitude of the task of creating an ecologically sustainable economy globally, the project will not focus on just one set of assumption about what constitutes effective action. Multiple sets of assumptions will be framed and tested simultaneously. As the project proceeds the sets of assumptions themselves will be revised, proliferated or reduced in number as the participants see fit.

The sets of assumptions will be grouped into coherent packages using a scenario building approach.

Teams of researcher/experimenter/activists will work on each scenario. They will be encouraged to provide feedback to the other scenario teams.

Where major, unresolvable disagreements develop within a scenario team, the team will be encouraged to split so that each sub-group can press ahead with its own vision. In this way the time and energy that could go into unproductive conflict can be redirected and the differences of opinion used to advance the overall research.

Timetable and reporting

The project will have an open timetable. However, project groups will be urged to provide the results of their experiments and their research as quickly as possible so others can make use of the results for implementation/experimentation or further research. The biennial ISEE conferences will be used as major reporting and discussion opportunities and ISEE periodicals will provide additional opportunities for communications.

The outcomes

The intellectual outcome of the project over time will be the creation of a new form of development economics dealing explicitly with environmental sustainability that can be applied to all countries, not just the so-called developing nations.

The activist output will be better and better attempts to create a ecologically sustainable economy, based on a more informed and reflective approach.


15th June 1996. Version 1.i. (First version: 11th May 1996)

(The 'procedures' are a bit like a constitution for background use in the case of uncertainty or dispute. They are not written to be part of a public relations document.)

1. The purpose of the project is to: a. create and refine scenarios that realistically describe "a process for successfully catalysing a timely transition to an environmentally sustainable economy, globally"; b. explore or 'scope' issues at a general level before examining them in the context of particular scenarios; and c. as part of the learning process to test, in practice, and evaluate the most promising strategies that emerge from the scenario evaluation process.

2. A Project Management Group will be established with the following functions: a. to elicit support for and involvement in the project globally b. to serve as the project facilitator and manager c. to develop, and improve as necessary, a set of core objectives to be shared by all of the project's scenario building, testing and evaluation activities d. to register current defining-assumptions for scenario series, Scenario Managers, individual scenarios and strategies-to-be-tested e. to maintain an archive and clearinghouse relating to the development, testing and evaluation of each registered set of current defining-assumptions for scenario series, individual scenarios and strategies-to-be-tested f. to assist interested people and organisations to develop, test or evaluate sets of current defining-assumptions for scenario series or individual scenarios (eg. by preparing guidance materials and by running workshops) g. to assist with the task of disseminating the results of the work of Scenario Managers in a way that maximises the chance that there is a successful and timely transition to an environmentally sustainable economy, globally h. to facilitate the real-life testing of what it sees as the most promising strategies to emerge from the project.

3. The scope of a set of current defining-assumptions or a scenario may cover one or more of the following areas: a. defining what ecological sustainability means in practical terms b. designing and evaluating strategic technological options c. designing and evaluating strategic lifestyle changes d. designing and evaluating key mechanisms for change, including incentive schemes, etc. e. designing and evaluating key strategies for the identification and mobilisation of relevant agents of change. The current defining-assumptions for a scenario series and the scenarios must indicate their intended scope.

4. If a set of current defining-assumptions for a scenario series, or a scenario, or a strategy-to-be-tested is to be part of the project, it must be based on the shared core objectives and be registered with the Project Management Group.

5. In general scenarios should be specific to particular geographical, cultural or organisational contexts so that they can provide a basis for effective action.

6. Any person or organisation can create a set of current defining-assumptions for a scenario series or an elaborated scenario and make it available to the project.

7. A set of current defining-assumptions for a scenario series or an elaborated scenario are only activated once an individual or group registers with the Project Management Group that they have taken responsibility for their development, testing and evaluation. That person or organisation then becomes the Scenario Manager.

8. Apart from the requirements of these procedures, it is up to each Scenario Manager to decide what methods and procedures will govern their project activities.

9. Scenario Managers should document the development, testing and evaluation of their set of current defining-assumptions, scenarios and promising strategies so that this information can accessed by all project participants via the Project Management Group. Scenario Managers should emphasise the generalisable aspects of their work that may be useful to others. The content and rationale for major changes to scenarios or strategies should be well documented.

10. Scenario Managers may revise their set of current defining-assumptions or their scenarios at any point and with respect to any detail other than the core objectives. Scenario Managers may recommend changes to the core objectives to the Project Management Group.

11. Obtaining resources to support their project activities is the responsibility of each Scenario Manager. (See references below in 15 & 16.)

12. Any person or organisation can approach a Scenario Manager to seek inclusion in a scenario team. The Scenario Manager must acknowledge the approach. The Scenario Manager however has the right to decide whether that person or organisation will be included in their team.

13. Any person or organisation can: a. take an existing set of current defining-assumptions or a scenario and develop it further as an independent set of assumptions or scenario in its own right. (The person or organisation doing this becomes the Scenario Manager of the new set of assumptions or scenario.) b. independently test or evaluate any of the sets of current defining-assumptions, scenarios or strategies-to-be-tested that are registered with the project. These practices are encouraged.

14. Where they are not the Scenario Manager, a person or an organisation testing or evaluating, as part of the project, a set of current defining-assumptions, a scenario or a strategy-to-be-tested must document the methods and procedures used and the results obtained and must make this information available to both the Scenario Manager and the Project Management Group.

15. Scenario Managers are encouraged to test the effectiveness of the most promising strategies outlined in their scenarios by trying them out in the real world. While Scenario Managers should behave ethically and respectfully in this testing process, the project itself does not assume responsibility for the outcomes. However, the project needs to actively learn from the real life experiments. (See reference above in 10.)

16. Normally it is the responsibility of Scenario Managers to obtain the resources necessary to test key strategies arising from their scenarios. However, if the Project Management Group has the capacity to do so, it may give support to the real life testing of what, in its opinion, are the best strategies to emerge from the scenario development work. Scenario Managers may apply to the Project Management Group for such support. (See reference above in 10.)

It needs to be acknowledged that it will be extremely difficult to test some strategies in real life. Before the Project Management Group's scarce resources are committed to strategies that are difficult to test the related scenario and the strategy itself need to be carefully evaluated. However, if the environmental benefit flowing from a strategy is expected to be very large its real life testing should not be rejected simply because the task appears to be difficult.

17. Scenario Managers should take responsibility for disseminating the results of their team's work in a way that maximises the chance that there is a successful and timely transition to an environmentally sustainable economy, globally. The Project Management Group will assist with this task too.


15th June 1996. Version 1.b. (First version 18th May 1996)

The aim

The aim of all the scenario building exercises is to contribute to a process for successfully catalysing a timely transition, globally, to an ecologically sustainable economy. This will involve: 1. the development, testing and evaluation of alternative strategies 2. the selection, deployment and evaluation of those with the most promise.

Basic environmental objectives

Four important global ecological objectives are: 1 to conserve natural biodiversity 2 protect life support systems (eg. the climate system, the soil, and natural eco-cycles including nutrient and water cycles) 3 to rely on naturally or industrially renewed resources 4 to conserve physical resources.

These objectives need to be pursued at least to the extent required to achieve global ecological sustainability.

Consequential objectives

The basic environmental objectives will not be met unless:

1. Pollution is cut very substantially

2. Greenhouse gas emissions are cut globally by at least 60% on the 1988 base level

3. Energy and materials consumption is cut substantially globally, despite a relatively large increase from a low base in the low income countries

4. There is a substantial shift away from carbon intense energy sources and a strong shift to renewable energy sources

5. Substantial progress is made in closing material loops in the economy

6. The loss of natural habitat is reduced dramatically and significant efforts are made to restore habitats where this is needed to ensure the survival of threatened species and ecological communities

7. Populations globally slowly stabilise at lower levels than the 1996 base line.


The following sets of defining-assumptions have been included to give a few examples of what the frameworks for scenario series could look like.



12th June 1996 Version 2.c (First version: 16 May 1996)

Current defining-assumptions


There is no restriction placed on the Scenario that can be developed in this series.

Strategic attitude

The scenarios in this series are premised on the following strategic attitudes:

1. Ecological sustainability will arise from the actions of communities that know how to live differently on the planet, in terms of lifestyle and technology, and that are motivated by an awareness of the benefits of change and by a sense of responsibility. 2. The chief drivers of the movement towards ecological sustainability will at the social level will be cultural change and at the individual level voluntary change. 3. Desirable environmental outcomes will be promoted in the real world by trialling promising strategies that emerge from a continuing stream of better and better scenarios.

Assumed changes in society and the economy

There will be: 1. moderate population increases over the next 30 years 2. steep expansion in economic activities in the developing countries and moderate expansion in the rich countries 3. the adoption everywhere of the most efficient and cleanest technologies currently in use in each sector of the economy.

Further research

In every society, there are various different types of households with distinct lifestyles and various sectors of the economy which deploy different techniques of production. There is also a strong relationship between the two. Scenario assumptions will be needed to specify changes in lifestyle prospects different from those of a "consumer society" and technological changes in the direction of significantly greater efficiency and significantly less environmental degradation. These changes are likely to affect the balance among things people do for themselves, within their households, in local communities, and through the monetized marketplace. Attention also needs to be paid to investment requirements to support scenario assumptions and the ability to generate them within the scope of the scenario.

Key areas for issues exploration, and scenario and strategy development

1. Agriculture: The achievement of ecological sustainability will require significant changes in agriculture. The salient features of an agriculture scenario will depend on the geographic location and industry scale. Some key issues are choice of crop, the link to nutrition, the use of renewable sources of energy and industrial materials, competition for crop land, the choice of agricultural systems, the use of industrial chemical products, the spread of intensive tree plantations as a principal source of raw materials.

2. Plastics: Plastics are an industrial material, requiring for their production a relatively mature chemical industry. The use of plastics is growing steeply in developing countries, and even in the developed countries, as it continues to displace traditional materials such as paper, wood, metals, and glass in many applications. Because of all the problems surrounding the collection, cleaning, and recycling of plastics, and the fact that they do not degrade under normal conditions, measures to dramatically decrease the disposal of plastics in rich countries means that they end up in incinerators or the landfills of the poor countries that accept them. The lifestyle changes (eg. reuse of containers rather then one-time use) and the technological changes required to reduce the magnitude of plastics disposal (eg. standards to govern which resins are used for what purpose and the automated sorting of resin types) are fundamental to resolving the world's solid waste problem.

3. The lifestyle of the middle classes in an affluent society: The middle classes in the affluent societies consume most of the world's resources and generate most of its pollution. The bulk of the rest of the planet's inhabitants would like nothing better than to copy the existing middle-class lifestyle, replete with single-family home, two cars, several TV's and VCR's, and annual vacations (often by airplane). The single most important key to sustainable development is changing the dream of the middle classes and the aspirations of the others. This needs to be done by presenting more attractive options in terms of the quality of life. Today there are many ideas on the table regarding life-long learning, leisure, etc. that could make a contribution.

4. Mobility and the car: In studies of energy use and air pollution, the automobile stands out as a scourge of modern society -- a powerful convenience gotten out of hand. Despite the fact that the rich countries that pioneered the introduction of the car made many mistakes, such as the ripping up of trolleys under pressures from the young auto industry, engaging in a massive move into suburbs, and replacing the city downtown areas by out-of-town shopping malls, developing countries are rushing to copy these flawed systems. Since people value mobility, alternatives will have to have a lot to offer in terms of street life, community life, quiet, etc. etc.

Criteria for evaluating scenario assumptions and scenario outcomes

Scenario assumptions and scenarios are desirable if they: 1. capture the imagination 2. are physically doable 3. can actually achieve desirable outcomes ie. the core objectives of the project.

Scenario assumptions and scenarios are not desirable if they: 1. involve only marginal improvements on current practices (eg. somewhat more fuel- efficient cars) 2. are too vague and general for analysis or implementation (eg. recovering waste water from factories is advocated without specifying the characteristics of the waste water or how water of different characteristics might be treated).


13th June 1996. Version 1.i. (First version: 10 May 1996)

Current defining-assumptions


There is no restriction placed on the Scenario that can be developed in this series.


In this series of scenarios the beneficiaries are: 1. people in the context of their communities or support networks 2. people globally 3. future generations 4. nature.

Strategic attitude

The scenarios in this series are premised on the following strategic attitudes:

1. That it is necessary to try to achieve global ecological sustainability. 2. That it is possible to achieve global ecological sustainability if only we can find out how to do it. (This is not a scientific statement but an expression of hope that guides action.)

Additional core objectives

Many of these objectives are 'heroic stretch goals' that may not be fully achievable in practice or in theory but in this Scenario Series it is considered that full achievement should be aimed for.

Social objectives

Some basic social objectives have been included to ensure that any proposed strategies to achieve ecological sustainability are designed to foster acceptable, or better still, desirable social outcomes too.

Five important universal social objectives are: 1. to ensure that each person can meet their basic needs 2. to treat every person and community with respect 3. to ensure vibrant community life 4. to promote a just, equitable and participatory society 5. to foster a society where people take responsibility for their effects on other people, species and the planet.

Consequential environmental requirements

1. to ensure that all species and ecological communities survive and flourish 2. to conserve natural genetic diversity and valuable non-natural biodiversity 3. to prevent substances with toxic potential from accumulating beyond natural levels in the biosphere (both synthetic and naturally occurring substances) 4. to contain the spread and intensity of the impact of human activities on nature.

Consequential social requirements

1. to foster a sustainable population 2. to ensure that society has the capacity to solve its major problems in a timely and respectful way.

Consequential economic requirements

1. to create a true closed-cycle economy and, to the extent that it is environmentally beneficial, localise materials flows

Necessary changes in the environment

1. greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut globally by at least 3/4 within 20 years 2. global natural habitat destruction needs to be cut to near zero within 10 years 3. global population needs to be stabilised, probably at a level somewhat less than the present one.

Necessary changes in the economy

In order to move the global economy decisively towards the target of ecological sustainability, at a minimum:

1. a true closed-cycle economy needs to be substantially in place in countries and regions with the largest percapita or per land area resource demands eg. Europe, USA, Japan within 15 years and in China and India within 20 years

2. a zero-extinction economy needs to be substantially in place within 10 years in the countries of the megadiverse regions eg. Australia, Canada, Russia, Brazil, equatorial Africa, Indonesia, Brunei and PNG.

Strategic insights

1. Local sustainability is not possible without global sustainability.

2. The achievement of ecological sustainability will require a scale and speed of social and economic change not normally seen in peacetime. This can only be achieved through a very effective social and economic mobilisation process. Such a mobilisation will not occur unless powerful sections of business are on-side. But the support of these powerful sections of business must be achieved without any major environmental compromise - otherwise the resultant mobilisation will not achieve ecological sustainability.

3. Society is largely ungovernable at the global level, but critical social, economic and environmental issues require the outcome of global governance (coherent global action). For at least the next 30 years this will have to be an emergent phenomenon. To make this possible there will have to be a fast exponential growth in organisations that are actively sustainability-creating (ecologically, socially and economically), especially those with strategic impact.

4. All key societies must be sufficiently stable and resilient, socially and economically, so that ecological sustainability can be treated as a high priority.

5. Increasingly the people in the rich countries will make their money by helping the much larger number of people in the poor countries to get wealthier. This will occur whether or not economies globally are becoming ecologically sustainable.

Things that, superficially, won't appear to change much

1. Despite an increasing realisation that economic growth is not an appropriate social or economic goal, the transformation of the economy to achieve ecological sustainability will mean that GDP growth will increasingly NOT translate into significant environmental damage and waste. But because of the magnitude of the task of creating decent livelihoods for all, restoring and protecting the environment, conserving resources and meeting peoples desired for challenge and fulfilment, economic growth is likely to occur at relatively high levels for at least the next 50 years.

2. The process of economic and social globalisation will continue at a fast pace for at least the next couple of decades. However, global organisations will have to increasingly fit in with and serve the needs and aspirations of local communities.

Triggers for a mobilisation for ecological sustainability

A combination of the following factors is likely to trigger an effective mobilisation for ecological sustainability: 1. tools to assist businesses and other organisations to target ecological sustainability are diffused widely and have a significant level of uptake 2. sustainability-seeking/promoting organisations begin to proliferate through the business, government and community sectors 3. scientific evidence about a major environmental change firms (eg. greenhouse, biodiversity) 4. win-win macro-economic policies are developed and promoted which can deliver not only major environmental improvements but also significant benefits for employment and GNP 5. new large scale community-based environmental programs emerge that tie together lifestyle and purchasing decisions (eg. the Global Action Plan) 6. some key corporations break away from the pack and decide to gain corporate advantage by servicing and actively promoting the green market, thereby triggering a competition-driven "race for sustainability" 7. media interest builds up around some or all of these developments.

Scenario evaluation criteria

The criteria for evaluating the value of scenarios developed in this series are whether they appear to describe achievable actions that would:

1. result in the achievement of global ecological sustainability within a time frame that minimises total species loss and avoids runaway geophysiological changes 2. avoid major human suffering 3. ensure that society has the capacity to solve its major problems in a timely and respectful way.

Key areas for issues exploration, and scenario and strategy development

1. Sources of enhanced productivity: If win-win economic results are to be achieved then reductions in productivity due to factors such as higher resource prices and the early retirement of environmentally damaging plant, equipment and infrastructure, will need to be made up for elsewhere. New productivity gains might be achieved in areas such as the more efficient use of land, buildings, transport capital and labour due to curtailment of the use of the motor car; better utilisation of the labour force as the economy shifts from resource intensity to information, smart machine and labour intensity; more effective development of the information based industries driven by the need for the economy to be smart if it is to be lean, clean and green.

2. Win-win wealth creation through green development: How can high income countries make an ethical living by contributing to ecologically sustainable development in low income countries?

3. 'Zero extinction', 'closed-cycle' and 'climate stable' economies: What might economically successful 'zero extinction', 'closed-cycle', 'climate stable' and 'zero soil damage' economies look like? What different models might be possible to match the diversity of societies and economies around the world?

4. Models of affluence for ecologically sustainable societies: In the Series X scenarios affluence will not decline as ecological sustainability is achieved. How might people live affluently in a framework of ecological sustainability?

5. Models of social mobilisation: How can powerful sections of business be won to the cause of ecological sustainability without watering down the concept?

6. Keeping ecological sustainability on the agenda: How can social and economic problems be managed so that societies can also devote attention to environmental issues?

7. Global governance without global government: What mechanisms can be used to achieve global governance without global government?

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