From Me to We: How to Rescue the Planet
Global climate change threatens to undermine the conditions that allow civilization to thrive on Earth. The economy continues to sputter and economic inequity is growing. Many people sense that the systems we have long relied on are in danger of collapsing. Yet few can explain why, or know what to do about it. In this interactive, thought-provoking presentation, systems change specialist Bob Doppelt explains that the problems we face today are of our own making. They are the result of the greatest failure of thought in human history.Related Events: From Me to We: How to Rescue the Planet
Mindy Kinnard: To today’s sustainability series talk, on the five transformational commitments required for the shift from me to we, our next sustainability series presentation will be a week from today. It’ll also be a lunchtime talk on Monday, September 24th, in this room. We’ll be featuring our very own ASU students and faculty members who helped install solar-based off-grid living solutions for elders of the remote Navajo nation. They will be here to kick off our sustainability challenge week next week, which is a one week series of events that will present participants will a challenge they can take on in their daily lives to discover how lowering your impact can benefit not only the planet, but your own quality of life. Be sure to visit our website for a full list of events.
Now to introduce our speaker. Bob Doppelt is Executive Director of the Resource Innovation Group, which is affiliated with the Center for Sustainable Communities at Williamette University. He is also an instructor in the Department of Planning, Public Policy, and Management at the University of Oregon. From 2002 to 2010, he directed resource innovations and climate leadership initiative in the Institute for Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon. Bob is a regular columnist for the Register Guard and Salem Statesman Journal newspapers in Oregon. Today we’re pleased to welcome Bob. [Applause]
Bob Doppelt: Thank you, Mindy. Can everybody hear me? I wanna thank Mindy for setting this event up, and thank all of you for coming here. I wanna start off my presentation by asking you how many of you think you know what drives your own behavior? How many of you think you know why you do what you do what you do? A few of you, okay. How many of you think you know how to change your behavior? Meaning, if you wanted to lose weight, you could lose weight. You wanna stop smoking, you wanna get more exercise, you’re rather successful in doing that. A little bit more, but that’s great. How many of you think that your dominant role, either at the university or outside the university, is to serve as a change agent to motivate other people to change their behavior and thinking? A lot more people. How do you do that, if you can’t figure out how to look and change and know what drives your own behavior and change your own behavior?
I’m gonna actually dive into that issue today, cuz I think it’s at the heart of our challenges around climate change and sustainability in general. That’s what I wanna talk about. With climate change and economic breakdown and growing social inequity and biodiversity loss around the world really reaching very serious levels, I think our greatest need today is to be able to motivate ourselves and then motivate other people, our organizations, our institutions, our communities, and eventually our governments to change the way we think and behave. That is going to be the greatest challenge ahead of us over the next 20, the next 1 to 40, 50 years, if we’re going to address the climate issue. The change has to be towards truly ecologically and socially sustainable behavior; that is, truly ecologically and socially sustainable thinking and acting.
Said differently, we need to create a culture of accountability for sustainability. Accountability for sustainability. Very different than the way we’ve traditionally thought about sustainability, and I’ve been in this field, like many of you, for about 25 or 30 years. We don’t think in terms of accountability. Sustainability’s sort of an extra thing, often, that organizations add. We add a new program, a sustainability program. It’s not that the whole organization, or our households or our governments, are accountable for being sustainable. That’s, I think, what the real shift is about.
While there are numerous frameworks out there in the world to guide the technical changes in practices needed to adopt a sustainable path, there are LEED green building standards, for example, and I’m sure you have some LEED green buildings here on campus or in Phoenix. There’s four certification standards, there’s other kinds of standards that help us guide the technical changes needed to adopt sustainability. There have been no frameworks to help guide the changes in thinking and behavior needed to adopt a sustainable path, and that’s why I wrote my new book that I wanna talk to you about today, From Me to We. It’s a simple, I think, a simple, but not easy to do framework for helping people and organizations make the changes in thinking and behavior required to adopt a truly sustainable way of being.
I’m gonna suggest that sustainable thinking and acting can be thought of as five interrelated commitments that are needed to address today’s very complex and growing challenges. These commitments are not necessarily new. Wise people, and spiritual leaders, and social and physical scientists have been telling us about these commitments for eons, but we haven’t really put them into a framework that helps us guide how to—a way to change our thinking and behavior.
These commitments are, I think, profoundly important today, because they help us align our thinking and behavior with what I’m going to call five natural laws of sustainability. I’m gonna talk about those in a second. These natural laws are universal truths about how humans must interact with each other and with the environment, with the planet’s environment today if we’re gonna successfully transition through a very challenging 10 to 20 to 30 year period that lies ahead of us and come out the other end in a more sustainable and stable and healthy condition.
A commitment is a focus on a priority that you make conscious in your own mind. It’s a reflection of our priorities, our values and what we really think are important. Making an explicit commitment to think and act in a certain way is important because it turns how you think and behave into a cohesive and conscious choice. That’s what’s really gonna be needed. We’re gonna have to make some choices now about how we think and how we act if we’re gonna successfully transition through climate disruption and many other issues. The ability to choose what we think about, I think is the most powerful tool we have to alter the focus and direction of our own lives, of our organizations, our communities, and, in fact, the planet as a whole. We expand our choices by altering the way we see the world around us, by altering our interpretation of the world. That’s really at the heart of what From Me to We is about.
Science, in fact, as many of you know—I love speaking to universities because you know way more than I do, most of the time, and you know much of this. Science has shown us that, actually, the intentional act of focusing our thinking on different kinds of activities can actually change the way your mind functions and actually changes the physical structure of your brain, much as you can with meditation. We’ve actually found that. That suggested if we start focusing on different kinds of ways to see the world and act and behave, we actually can change.
I think that’s gonna be an essential step, because climate disruption, growing social inequity, the growing toxicity, we have ocean acidification, all these challenges that are before us, are not actually energy problems, or technology problems, or policy problems, although that’s what we think they are. They are symptoms of erroneous beliefs and assumptions. They are a symptom of problems of the human mind. They’re about us, okay? They’re reflected out there in those ways.
To be exact, I consider climate disruption, climate change, the greatest failure of thought in human history. That a people can foul our nests so badly that in fact we might not be able to continue on in the way we have in the past, that’s a pretty serious error in thinking, one would think. Only after we rise above our current illusions, the current misjudgments about the way the world works and our role in it, will we be able to resolve those issues.
I’m gonna suggest that the five commitments I’m gonna talk about add up to a second order change towards sustainability. This is Gregory Bateson’s old stuff, if you know this. The difference between a first order, second order change, and I’ll talk about that in a second. That is, a second order change from always focusing on ourselves, on me, and trying to get what we want for ourselves whenever we want it, to a fundamental shift to always thinking about a much broader and deeper we. Which means trying to meet our own needs by caring for other people here and abroad, and, just as importantly, the ecological systems that created them, and create us, and sustain them and sustain us. Fundamentally, the shift to sustainable thinking and acting is really about a shift from always focusing on a small me to focusing on a much broader and deeper we.
I wanna start and get into this by asking you all to—it’s lunchtime, you’ve had a full day, you’re eating. Everybody just take a big deep breath and relax a little bit. Just relax. Maybe one more breath. How many of you can tell me what you just did? What just happened when you took that breath?
Audience Member 1: Exhaled carbon dioxide into the room.
Bob Doppelt: Okay, you exhaled carbon dioxide. What’d you do when you took the breath in?
Audience Member 1: Removed some more.
Bob Doppelt: You inhaled oxygen, right? Most of us don’t think about it, or aren’t conscious of the fact that the food you’re eating now, the water you’re drinking, are not really the keys to powering your body and to giving you energy. It’s oxygen that is the key. It actually metabolizes the food, metabolizes the water you drink, and that’s what gives you the energy. The oxygen you breathe really detoxifies your blood stream and basically allows you to live, right? If you don’t believe that, stop breathing. Hold your breath for five seconds or ten seconds and see how it goes. You cannot eat for a long time. You can’t hold your breath for very long. How many of you know where that oxygen comes from? The oxygen that you just breathed and are breathing right now, that gives you life—where does it come from?
Audience Member 2: Plants.
Bob Doppelt:Plants, a little bit.
Audience Member 3: The ocean.
Bob Doppelt: The oceans, okay. Actually, about 75 percent of the oxygen that you’re breathing right now to give you life is created through single cell green algae and photosynthesis in the oceans. The other 25 percent comes from vegetation all around you. How conscious are you of that? Every time you take a breath, you thank God for the ocean. Thank God for those trees and that vegetation. Of course we don’t, but that’s reality. You are intimately connected to, and you would not exist, you would not be alive, except for those complex interactions occurring in the landscapes all around you.
Here is a fundamental truth. Nothing on this planet exists on its own. Not you, not me, not this chair, not this computer, nothing. Everything is created by and sustained by other processes. This is the first universal law of sustainability. Let me see if I can get this to work. The natural law of interdependency. There’s no way around this, this law. This is just the way it is. The food you eat is created by other complex processes, and often has, is brought to you by multiple interactions going on between people all over the world, or certainly all over the planet. Think about the complex interactions going on to produce the water you drink. We are completely interdependent with everything else on the planet.
The boundaries we create to distinguish ourselves from other people, our organizations from other organizations, humans from the so-called natural environment—somehow we believe there’s us and then there’s the natural environment out there, these are illusions. They’re not real. Those are just illusions. It’s helpful illusions for us humans, and what we’re trying to do is to break the world down into smaller pieces so we can sort of understand it better, and hopefully control it, although often we find out we don’t control it very well. It’s a natural process, but don’t ever lose the fact that it’s an illusion. There really aren’t those clear distinctions in any way.
There’s an old saying in Buddhism that goes, “I am because we are.” Our planet’s climate and ecological systems sustain all life. Again, you wouldn’t be alive, except for breathing, and with all those complex processes going on. Our lives are defined by the relationships we have with other people. Think about that. What do you spend most of your time worrying about? Your relationships with other people. Am I getting along enough? Do they like me? Do I have a group to belong to? Et cetera. That social and ecological systems that exist in the world define who we are. If you’re not constantly aware of the complex web of social and ecological systems that created and sustain you, and make your life worthwhile and possible, you and your organizations you belong to, the communities you belong to, are likely to do much more harm than good.
This leads to the first and most important commitment involved from the shift from me to we that is at the heart of sustainable thinking and acting, and that is to see the systems you’re part of. We have to begin to broaden our awareness and always think about the systems we are part of. Or, said differently, always understand the context in which you exist. Systems are hard to understand. It’s hard to think about and to know, where does my oxygen come from, where did my food come from, what social systems, et cetera, but there are a whole set of tools that you can use.
I’m sure you teach these at Arizona State here, systems thinking, whole systems mapping, just a way to begin to do that. That’s one of the courses I teach at the University of Oregon is systems thinking, and we bring freshmen in and we have them do systems maps from the get-go. We help them try to sort of think systemically from the get-go—a challenge with freshmen. It’s really, really important to try to broaden our thinking and see the systems we’re part of.
Unfortunately, however, as I was saying, most of us who grew up in western societies don’t think this way. We don’t see the world in this way. Starting some 350 years ago, with the enlightenment that came out of the feudalism, the age of feudalism, it’s a reaction to feudalism, and then the philosophies of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, that spurred the Industrial Revolution. Something that’s been constantly reinforced over the last 200 years, 300 years, especially the last 50 years, is a social narrative that has evolved, that we are each free standing independent beings that really don’t rely on and don’t require anything else to survive. The result is what I call a culture now of extreme individualism.
That’s sort of the culture we live in, extreme individualism. That leaves most of us personally, most organizations, and sort of our society as a whole, for the most part, unaware of or unconcerned about the consequences of our actions on the systems we are part of. We don’t really spend a lot of time worrying about that; in fact, we are told that if everyone goes out and just pursues their own self interest, without worrying about much else, everything is just gonna turn out for the better. We have whole economic theories that tell us that, right?
Unfortunately, experience hasn’t proven that to be very true. From the climate change, where those of us in western nations have pursued our own economic wellbeing by burning fossil fuels and collapsed the entire global, or threatened to collapse the entire global climate system, to the financial sector of our economy that maximized its own self interest and collapsed the huge portion of the global economy, this way of thinking really is very, is wrong, first of all, is not correct, and it is very harmful. I think we can see that. We have confused self-centeredness with individual freedom. Consequently, we are making everyone, now and in the future, much less free. We’ll come back and talk about that in a second.
This leads to the second natural law, the law of cause and effect. Everything we do has an effect on the systems we’re part of. This is just a natural law. It is, it’s just the way it is. It always is. We don’t think about that very much. Everything that happens today is emerging out of things that took place before this time. What we do now will determine the opportunities and the conditions for future humans and people. In today’s overcrowded, over-consumed, overheating, and intensely interconnected world, everything we do will create the conditions for whether or not we’re gonna get through this tough time we’re entering into and come out the other end in better shape. Thus, the law of cause and effect is ubiquitous. Every word you speak, if you’re in a social system, every action you take, every technology we develop, every new product we develop, has an effect somewhere on somebody or some system in some time. We have to understand that.
This leads to the second commitment involved with the shift from me to we that is at the core of sustainable thinking and acting. We have to being to account for all of the impacts of our actions—our personal actions, our organizational actions, our community’s actions. We have to, on the systems we’re part of. We have to start accounting for that. Again, it’s very difficult to know all those. Sometimes there’s unintended consequences, sometimes we just can’t tell cuz it’s too far down the line, but you can map ‘em. You can map those consequences. If you haven’t used fishbone diagrams, lifecycle assessment for products, services, et cetera, and fully disclosed those consequences, those impacts, you start to really start to delve deeply. These two natural laws, they just describe the way the world works, and these two commitments can help us begin to sort of dive deeply into understanding them, and I think very important.
Now I want you to imagine something different. I want you to imagine that a genie has come in and swept you away from your everyday job at the university or as a student or retired, whatever, and made you, suddenly, the most powerful decision-maker on earth. You just have to play along with me on this, alright? You’re now the most powerful decision-maker on earth, but there’s a catch. This genie has also given you a special form of amnesia. You cannot remember your name, you can’t remember how old you are, if you have a family, where you live, what your religion is, what your economic status is. You can’t remember anything about you. All you know is that at your fingertips is all the information you need to make decisions that will affect people all over the world. You’re the most powerful decision-maker on earth. Now, how would you make decisions under that circumstance? Anybody? How would you make decisions, personally in your life, in your family life, whatever, how would you make decisions? You’re the most powerful decision-maker on earth, but you don’t know who you are.
Audience Member 4: Difficultly.
Bob Doppelt: Difficultly, right? Yeah. Anybody have an approach?
Audience Member 5: Well, if I’m trying to benefit myself, but I don’t know who I am, I want to make decisions that benefit everybody.
Bob Doppelt: Right on. Anybody else have an alternative approach, point of view?
Audience Member 6: Tune in to the earth and align with those processes.
Bob Doppelt: Make sure you’re doing things that are consistent with the way the planet functions, alright. Anybody else? As far-fetched as this scenario sounds, it actually is the way the world operates today, ironically.
Audience Member 7: One thing I thought about was just kind of, I would sit back and watch something operate.
Bob Doppelt: Watch how things are operating—
Audience Member 7: Didn’t have any personal information, I’d wanna know what was available to me. I’d sit back and watch and assess.
Bob Doppelt: Re-enact impetuously, and you’d sort of take some time to observe. Good idea. One of the questions is, one of the points is, this is actually the way the world is today. The greenhouse gas emissions we’re all generating here could go up and affect and will, in fact, go up and affect people all over the world, and they don’t know anything about it. Your actions today, my actions, are affecting people everywhere, and vice-versa. Things going on all over the world, the incredible growth of greenhouse gas emissions in China, are affecting us in some ways. Every action is now affecting everyone else. We are the most powerful decision-makers in that sense.
Given that, when you really think about it in that way, would you, in that kinda condition, would you make decisions based on cost effectiveness or efficiency, most efficiency, which is how we mostly make decisions today? I think when we really think about the condition of the world, I think that we would not likely to think that that’s really the best approach. Instead, I think, as we heard in the back, I think you’d adopt a decision-making system similar to, in some ways, the moral principle called the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because those others might be you, right? That is the way the world is operating today. That’s the condition we’re now in.
This leads to the third natural law of sustainability, the law of moral justice. Morality is a very confused or misunderstood term in our society. Morality is actually, it’s not a heavy religious thing. Morality is about duties and obligations we feel we have to other people. It’s about what we think is fair and unfair in human relationships, and what is just and unjust. When you now think about the world as it really is, that what we’re doing here is affecting others, and what other people are doing can now affect us, this was not true 100 years ago. From climate change and ocean acidification, the international globalization of our economy, now it is, and we have to sort of come to grips with that. We have to then think about what our moral obligations are to others, and how we want what ethical and moral obligations we’re gonna adopt. The most universal moral obligation, adopted by almost every religion in the world and every theory of ethics, and mostly embedded in laws, is to do no harm.
That leads to the third commitment, which is to adopt the moral and ethical commitments to do no harm. This means that any activity that causes unjustifiable human suffering and death is ethically and morally wrong. Our greenhouse gas emissions are, in fact, causing unjustifiable suffering and death already around the world. Not just us, it’s everyone who’s been doing this for a long time. We didn’t intend to do it, but we now know what’s happening, and we have a moral obligation to do that, to address that issue. This is a tough one. This really requires us to dig deep and think about what it is, who we are as a people and who we want to be. Think about what your moral and ethical principles are that guide your behavior, your life. Does your organization, does your department on campus, have some clear ethical and moral principles to guide that? Of course, there’s a number of practical skills and competencies and techniques that can be used, shooting to become carbon neutral, landfill free, meaning zero waste, discharge free, no hazardous chemicals, et cetera, are all tools you can use to begin to do no harm, but the first step is to begin to realize that we have to make that commitment.
Now I want you to shift gears once again, if you will. Imagine in your mind’s eye the picture taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972 called the blue marble. It’s the picture of the earth hanging out there all alone. Do you remember that picture? They called it the blue marble because the astronauts said the earth looked like a glass marble, which is how it got its name. Can you see the earth is actually a little dot floating in space, disconnected from everything else? There are no intake pipes allowing us to bring in more resources from somewhere else when we deplete our resources. Do you see any discharge pipes allowing us to get rid of our toxicity and waste and greenhouse gases? There aren’t any, right? Everything we make, everything we create here on earth stays here on earth, in our atmosphere or on our lands or in our soils. We don’t think about that often. We just sort of assume it goes somewhere else. Bill McDonough, as you well know, has all said, there is no other place. There is no away. It all stays right here.
Much discussion, as I’m sure all of you know, or many of you know, is going on in the scientific community today about whether or not humanity has entered a new geological era called the anthropocene. This is the era in which human activities, the cumulative impact of human activities, will now determine the fate of the earth, not natural processes. What we do to address climate change, ocean acidification, et cetera, will determine what happens here, not natural processes, although there’s obviously gonna be some big influence from that. This means that we humans are now in charge of what happens to life on earth.
This leads to the fourth natural law, the law of trusteeship. We are now the trustees of all there is here on earth. We’re responsible for it. It wasn’t true, again, 50 or 100 years ago, but it is now. We have to sort of come to grips with that. If our activities affect, will affect all other life on earth, we have a commitment, we must make a commitment to take responsibility for that life. We have to decide that we’re going to sustain life on earth for future generations in its current form. That’s a pretty daunting responsibility, but it’s true. First we wanna do no harm, then we wanna try to protect and restore things. This is about doing good, if you will.
This is a very, very important natural commitment, and there’s a number of tools and techniques, many of which you probably teach about here, or Arizona State can do that also. Becoming carbon neutral, landfill-free is about doing no harm, but now we can actually recreate our economic systems, make changes, and actually restore things to protect and restore and enhance all life on earth through biomimicry and green chemistry. It’s really an exciting field. Moving to 100 percent renewables, focusing on true justice, I think these are really important, different activities. We often confuse the difference between the different kinds of practices and technologies, but they’re aimed at very different things.
A culture of extreme individualism, as I said, is really rather new, historically. It’s only been around 300 years, and in its really maximized way, it’s only been around 100 years, 150 years. It came about as a result of specific choices made by our predecessors in response to the feudal society they lived in; the feudal society that controlled how people thought, their economy, their movement, et cetera. It was a reaction to the feudal lords and kings and all that, and we still hear that, in fact, out there, but we don’t wanna go back to that. We sure don’t. Those conditions have long since passed. We have to be able to change our thinking and behavior to adjust to new conditions, to the conditions we now face. We’ve gotta make different choices.
Throughout society, throughout history, societies have made lots of different kinds of choices. We forget about that. We don’t think about it very much. We once believed that the sun revolved around the earth, right? We once believed that bleeding humans got the infection out. We once had all sorts of different beliefs, and we overcame those beliefs, those erroneous beliefs, and when we did that, most people ended up much better off.
This demonstrates the fifth and final law of sustainability, the law of free will. We feel that we are trapped in a culture, in a society that thinks and acts in a certain way, but we are free to change our thinking any time we want. Not that it’s easy, you gotta buck the trend, and some significant pressure out there, but we can. Humans are free to choose how they perceive the world any time they want. If we change our perceptions and therefore change our beliefs, our actions will change, our behaviors will change. If we change our behaviors, we start to get different outcomes. Human behaviors are driven by the way we see the world and our core beliefs. If we can change the way we think, change our beliefs, we will start acting differently, and then we’ll get different kinds of outcomes.
This leads to the fifth commitment: choose your own destiny. We can make these changes that are required to adopt a path toward sustainability. Just like many societies have historically, we can make different decisions now, also, even though it feels impossible. It feels like we’re just trapped, but we’re not. I think it’s really important to keep that in mind. I’m gonna talk about this in a second, but there’s lots of ways to begin to free up our thinking and assumptions. I’m gonna talk about the pyramid of change in a second, but lots of innovation, lots of focus on sustainable government, governance, et cetera.
Here are the five natural laws and the five commitments. See the systems you’re part of, account for all the impacts of your personal and your organization’s actions on those systems, adopt an ethical and moral precept to do no harm to those systems, and to in fact adopt a principle and a commitment to take responsibility for all life, to restore those systems, and choose your own way. You don’t have to be controlled by folks who say that’s not possible, or it’s wrong, or it’s economically inefficient.
I’d like you to spend one minute thinking about your own self, where you personally are on these commitments. Maybe you wanna rate yourself on a scale of one to five, five being I always think about other systems, one, I never think about anything else. Rest assured, we’re all about in the middle. Turn to a friend, turn to somebody next to you, and just share what you came up with for just a second. If you don’t wanna focus on yourself, you can focus on your organization or your department on campus or wherever you might be. How does your organization look at these five commitments? Do you think about them?
You probably use different terms, that’s fine. Do you consider the systems you’re part of when you’re taking activity, systems, et cetera? Take a minute or two, think about it yourself, and then turn to a friend or turn to somebody next to you, and just share what you came up with.
[Talking in background]
Hate to interrupt you. Sounds like there’s some good conversations going on. Anybody wanna share anything? How many of you found that you were really at the top, thinking about those five commitments or five natural laws all the time? Couple people, okay. How many sort of were in the middle? Sometimes not, okay. Anybody at the very bottom? Usually not at the university, although I do a lot of work with very different kinds of groups, especially agricultural organizations, and when you get them to actually answer honestly, they haven’t thought about those and others. We work with a lot of local governments, actually that’s what I’m here in Phoenix for. I’m gonna run a workshop tomorrow with the city of Phoenix. They struggle with some of these issues. It’s not something that’s on the top of their mind. Anything stand out, though, in terms of something you’d like to do differently, or anything at all that stands out? Anybody wanna share anything?
Audience Member 8: For me, I understand what I ought to do. Most of the times, the fact is, a lot of time, it’s a matter of convenience. For instance, using a recycling bin.
Bob Doppelt: I’m sure you’re the only person in the room who feels that way, right? [Laughter] Thank you for saying that, though. Obviously it is inconvenient. It does take some effort. We’re now gonna talk about how to make the changes, that sort of theory of change here. We’ll get back to that. Go ahead.
Audience Member 9: I have, I experience, when I’m very conscious, I think I do okay job and continually work on it, but I experience this kind of feeling of austerity, or it almost doesn’t end up being positive. It’s almost goes against creative expression, if that makes sense. It’s this lack of material—
Bob Doppelt: It’s the practices that leave you with a sense of lack, or is it when you don’t think about them all the time, you feel somehow as if you haven’t done good?
Audience Member 9: No, well a little bit. It’s mainly the practices. There’s not enough this, there’s not enough that. If so, I shouldn’t do these extra activities that might be a way for me to express myself creatively. It’s kinda difficult to put into words.
Bob Doppelt: It may be, if I can put it in my own words and see if this is right, we often feel guilty if we’re using resources that we think, well maybe that’ll impact things. My sense is, and if you look around at the people or organizations that are really, truly engaged, that there’s actually more abundance that comes out of this practice, more. It’s a different way of thinking, and we have to think about it differently. Again, if we think about how everything we have can just be reused and reused, and don’t use stuff that can’t anymore, only start to shift over, and it’s a tough transition, but things that can be reused and reused, then there’s more. There’s plenty of stuff out there, but it does take a while to sort of get to that. Go ahead.
Audience Member 10: I was thinking of some travels that I took recently. I would certainly say that all of that comes to mind when I’m in the wide open spaces of the west, and the air is clear, and the population is diminished. I say, “Wow, this is wonderful!” Then when I’m in a teeming slum, I become extremely depressed and say it’s not going to work. There’s a variance depending on my environment as to how I feel.
Bob Doppelt: Certainly the environmental factors around you affect how we think about things, how we perceive things, but if we can sort of step back and just sorta look internally at how we’re thinking and feeling, I think that really makes a difference. That is to say, to separate the external environmental factors or influences from those that are going on in our heads.
Audience Member 11: We had a gentleman speak, I can’t remember when, the author of From Cradle to Cradle—
Bob Doppelt: Bill McDonough.
Audience Member 11: Yeah. His issue on abundance and scarcity I thought was very sound. It comes into play with your very first law of independence. We don’t go into a forest and say, oh my god, there’s too many trees, or oh my gosh, there’s too many ants, because they’re in synergy with the environment or with their setting or with each other. Yet, when you go to a city like, like this gentleman said, you’re overwhelmed with the human population and disparity and economic strife and all these other things that often happen in urban areas. You start to get a sense of scarcity. It really is more about, I think, those first couple of laws, that it is about what’s in the environment and what’s lacking in the environment.
Bob Doppelt: Exactly. It’s mostly about what’s in our heads. This is about the human mind, more than it is about the physical environment around us. It’s about how we perceive things. Let me now sort of dive into this. I just wanna suggest a little bit that if you find these laws helpful and these commitments helpful, put them on your refrigerator. Put them on your office wall. Put them out there if they’re helpful to you, so you can sort of start focusing on it. The more you make a commitment to abiding by these laws, the more opportunities will become evident. I work with a lot of groups who just tell me now, 6 and 12 months later and 18 months later, this is a whole new way of seeing the world. I just wanna encourage you to do that, and give me feedback. Did it work for you, also? Is it something that helped you?
Let’s talk about how we can change our thinking and behavior to think in this way a little bit. How do you implement these natural laws, or these commitments, and in your life, and how do you make them come to life in your organizations or your departments, whatever? First, again, as I said, sustainable thinking requires a second order change in thinking and behavior, which is very different from a first order change. First order change is about trying to tweak our existing systems to make them a little more energy efficient or reduce waste by ten percent, et cetera, et cetera, but we leave the basic structure and goals of the systems in place. Therefore, we get, ultimately, the same result. We might get it slower, but we get the same result. A good example is, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 20 percent is a very good step, but it is not gonna prevent catastrophic climate change. It’s the total amount of emissions, of CO2 that’s in the atmosphere. We’ll put it up there slowly, but we’re still gonna be putting more up there.
A second order change is fundamentally different. It actually adopts different goals and creates different structures in the systems to achieve those goals, and therefore you end up with fundamentally different outcomes. Zero waste is a second order change. A ten percent reduction in waste is a first order change. Often, the only thing we can do is make a first order change initially. We go after the low hanging fruit in our change mechanisms. That makes sense, that’s perfectly okay, as long as you’re aware that it’s only a first order change, and you’re using it as a platform to get to the second order change, not as the goal itself. You’re helping people learn how to think differently by going after 10 or 15 percent emission reduction or waste reduction or whatever. That’s not the real goal. The goal is to think differently and aim towards those second order changes.
Here’s one way to think about it. Think about change as a pyramid. On the top of the pyramid are the results we wanna achieve. They might be financial, they might be social, they might be ecological—emissions and waste. They might be psychological—we want everybody to be happy here, whatever. Below the results are actions we take that produce these results. The policies we adopt, the practices, the behaviors, the technologies, et cetera. That’s what creates the results, right? Our common focus is here, right? Think about your own organizations, your own life. We think about, what do we wanna achieve and what do we gotta do to achieve it? That makes sense, except it’s the top of the pyramid of change.
Below the pyramid of change are the beliefs we hold about how the world works, our role in it, about other people, what we think about other people, is the world a good place, a bad place, et cetera, that lead us to act in certain ways, that lead us to create certain kind of technologies and not others, that lead us to create certain kind of policies and not others that create those results. Below our beliefs are a set of experiences we’ve had that—past experiences, many of the beliefs you all hold and I hold, that drive our behavior, were created in your first six months or two months of life, and you don’t even remember them. They’re too young, but they shaped the way you think, and certainly the ongoing present experiences you have shape the beliefs you hold, which shape the actions you take, which determine the results you achieve, right?
A second order change, you really need to focus on all four elements of the pyramid of change, but the bottom two are the most important if you really wanna make a second order change. You’ve gotta create different experiences for yourself or other people, and therefore help people think differently about different beliefs and assumptions. Then we’ll start to adopt the technologies and the policies that are really needed, and we’ll eventually get different results. This is a really important process. One of the ways to get at this is in your own life or in your organizations, you can start by—I do this all the time. In fact, we’ll do this tomorrow with the city of Phoenix. We’ll start with trying to really quantify, as well as you can, the current results you’re getting. Most organizations have no idea what their real results are. They have a very narrow—we are expanding that, we’re now doing sort of carbon footprint analysis and some other sorts of things, but they’re still pretty narrow focus on what the results are.
We know if we’re making a profit, et cetera, but you really gotta get into really do a complete footprint analysis. What’s the results on the people you’re working on? Again, what are the results, what are the impacts on the systems you’re part of? That’s what results about. What actions are you taking to create those results? What policies, practices, et cetera? Often, it’s what you’re not doing that’s important, not just what you are doing. What are you forgetting, or deciding not to do? What are the beliefs that lead people to act in that way, or that led the administration 30 years ago to adopt a policy that led you to the conditions you are today, et cetera? What experiences are people having or have had in the past?
Again, with city governments, it’s often the case that they’ve adopted a sustainability policy. It’s on the wall somewhere. The mayor or city council members drive off in big SUVs spewing greenhouse gases everywhere, and the staff go, “Nobody’s serious about that.” Everything that happens in an organization, especially, is an experience that shapes their belief. What you buy, what your purchasing policies are, every kind of thing that happens shapes your belief. It’s an experience that shapes their actions, et cetera. The first thing is, go through and list this, for each step. You do this in a workshop form. You can do it on yourself. Do it with your family. Sit down at the dining room table and go through this. Make it fun. Have some wine, as long as you don’t have kids.
Initially, it can be distressing, cuz you realize, oh my gosh, look at what we’re doing. Ultimately what happens, my experience has been, that it actually is incredibly empowering. If you realize your beliefs based on your experiences and your actions are creating the results, that means we can change it. It’s incredibly empowering. We can change the way we think and behave. We first have to become aware of how we’re thinking and behaving, and what the consequences are. Then, go through and do the same process, generally not the same day. It’s often good to get some distance from it, but not always. What would a second order change, a truly sustainable series of results, be for us? Go through the same kind of thing. What kind of affects on the systems we’re part of do we want? What kind of actions do we need to take to create those results? What kind of beliefs do we need to hold to produce those actions? What kind of experiences do we need to have to begin to produce those and reinforce those beliefs?
Then you bring those two side by side, and you have a discussion. Here’s where we’re at, here’s where we wanna be. How do we begin to make the transition towards the second order change? That can be an extremely powerful proposition. I really encourage you to think about it. Think about how to use this. Can anybody think, see a way to use this in your organizations or in your life? Any thoughts? I see a head shaking.
Audience Member 12: Yeah, I mean, you can’t do anything until you write it down and recognize where you are if you don’t put it down somewhere and talk about it. A tool like this really organizes it and lets you now put a path forward to do something about it. I think, in my own personal life, current status might’ve been—we used to drive a Land Rover and Pathfinder. We now drive a Prius. That, to me, when I think about what you’re doing, that’s a first order change. Second order change would be not to drive at all, and use Light Rail.
Bob Doppelt: There you go.
Audience Member 12: By going through that process, I’ve been feeling pretty good about driving a zero emission car, but really, is that enough? Push yourself a little farther.
Bob Doppelt: That’s right. It starts to help you think more broadly, and then it also gets you in to beyond your own personal behavior, gets you into the public policy arena. In order for me to get around and a bunch of other people to get around without the Prius, then we do need Light Rail, or we need something, some other mechanisms. We now realize that it’s a collective issue. It’s something we all have to involved, but it starts with us.
Audience Member 13: Maybe Light Rail’s a first order change. Maybe a second order change is live close to the grocery store and walk.
Bob Doppelt: Okay. There’s lots of ways. Who knows what the end result’s gonna be.
Audience Member 14: For the sake of discussion, I wanna take the Prius now a little bit farther. What would happen if it was decided in this country that there could be no car built or sold that would have a gas wasting process? You wouldn’t have to worry about being run over by a big pickup truck or a Land Rover, you would just crash into an equivalently small car. Is that a third order change?
Bob Doppelt: Could be. Are you running for president, by the way? [Laughter] Would you run for president? Absolutely. That’s a second order change in the way I am, but it actually—it’s exactly the kind of thinking we need. Absolutely. We’re constrained now by what we think is possible, but there’s all sorts of things that are really possible if we really begin to think differently. Think in terms of second order change. But you have to get clear on where we are today, because that empowers us to realize we’ve created the situation we’re in. We and our predecessors, not just us. Again, cause and effect. Whatever happens in the past creates the conditions for what we can do today, and what we’re doing today will create the conditions for what can happen in the future. We have to be very aware of that.
I’m gonna close with two brief points. The first we’re sort of talking about already, and that is that we all have the capacity, and every society, as difficult as it looks like, has the capacity to make the shift from me to we. It’s not easy. It won’t be easy, but what important change in our lives ever is? The fact that it’s difficult is not any reason to say that we can’t do it. It’s doable. In doing so, I think we will all end up much better off. Just like every time the societies in the past have gone through a fundamental shift, the vast majority of people ended up much better off. True freedom is freedom from the constraints of outdated and erroneous beliefs and ideas and ideologies.
Today’s cultural narrative, dominant cultural narrative, which we seem now to be clinging to with everything we got, which to me means it might be near the point of change, is that we each exist independently from the earth’s ecological systems and from each other, and that extreme self-centeredness is synonymous with freedom. The belief in freedom and the service of self-centered greed and aggression, in my mind, is eroding the ecological basis of life, and increasing fear and uncertainty and suffering worldwide, leading all of us, and all of our children, to be much less free in the future.
On the other hand, if we realize that it’s really a function of the way we’ve thought about things, our beliefs and assumptions, this is a problem of the human mind, and focus on the larger we that makes all life possible and worthwhile, the ecological systems that create and sustain us and the other people, the social systems that make our life worthwhile, we will be free to innovate like we’ve never seen before. We will have another huge industrial revolution. We’ll be thinking in different ways, beyond Light Rail to whatever it might be, and this’ll lead to much greater life satisfaction, much greater sense of purpose for people.
We’ve seen, I think, our extreme materialism, extreme individualism, has led to a lack of sense of purpose in life. We’ll have much closer-knit communities, especially if we’re living together closely, and we’ll see many other benefits of this. I think we have to put up with those who say it’s not possible. It is possible. What if we do all this work and it’s wrong, and we really create a better world for nothing? I think we’ll create a better world for a real good reason. Again, I work with climate scientists. We’re part of a climate science research in the Pacific Northwest, and this is something we have to make.
Remember, every act you take creates the future for yourselves, for your children, and for future generations now. You can create a better future by making those commitments real. You don’t have to take my word on these natural laws or these commitments. Look at your own experience in life and think about if they’re true or not. Were they true for you in the past and true for other people? You decide on your own whether those natural laws and commitments make sense. Often, it does require a commitment to focus our energies on a different way of thinking and behaving. Making a commitment like that can shift, can really focus your mind.
I’d like to invite you just to take a few minutes and create your own from me to we pledge. Think about a couple of words or a phrase that you could use to always remind yourself to see the systems you’re part of, to be accountable for the consequences of your action on those systems. See if there’s a phrase that comes to mind, a few words. Write it down. You might wanna say it to yourself, write it down, it’s something you can take home with you. Just take a minute to think about that. Is there something, some phrase, some few words, that you can use to keep this forward in your mind?
Audience Member 15: I don’t wanna interrupt if we’re gonna have questions in the end.
Bob Doppelt: Yeah, I’m gonna take questions at the end, but if you—okay. Think about that, if you haven’t taken that, written something down, think about that. Again, something you can put on your mirror at home, or on your refrigerator, whatever. I wanna close by saying a few words about leadership. You in the room are the leaders. The people I’ve been talking with are the leaders that are gonna make the difference. I’m sort of an old fart now. I’m in my early 60s, and I’m not gonna see the transition, 50, 60 years from now, although I’d love to be here to see it. I think it’s gonna be a very fascinating time in the world, to see how things go. I wanna clarify the difference between management and leadership.
We often get confused about that. Management and leadership are fundamentally different things. Management is about keeping complicated systems running efficiently and effectively together. Leadership is about something very different, and that is, it’s about putting the vision of the future in everyone’s mind. Putting it on the wall that everybody can see, and inspiring people to achieve that vision, despite all sorts of obstacles that you’re gonna run into. My sense of sustainability programs, and again, I’ve been doing consulting with groups for many years, public and private organizations. Most sustainability programs are vastly over-managed, and under-led. We need more leadership. I would like to close, and then I’ll take questions, by just reading this wonderful poem by Mary Lou Anderson, called Leaders.
Leaders are called to stand in that lonely place between the no longer and the not yet, and intentionally make decisions that will bind, forge, move, and create history. We are not called to be popular. We are not called to be safe. We are not called to follow. We are the ones called to change attitudes, to risk displeasure. We are the ones called to gamble our lives for a better future. That is what all of you, the challenge you all have in front of you, to be leaders in this field of sustainability, and I wish you all the best on your journey.
I’m gonna take some questions now. Before I close, I wanna say, I have some books in the back, if you’re interested in purchasing some. Also in the back, I have an evaluation. I always like to get evaluations of the talk so I can improve them. If you will, are willing to pick up one and fill it out, I’ve got it real short, so it’d take you one minute, I would appreciate it. Just leave it on the back desk. Questions?
Audience Member 16: First, thank you for your presentation, it was informative. [Applause]