This is an ongoing self study and life experience project to keep abreast of cutting edge ideas and trends about human ecology in order to digest and synthesise these ideas into a coherent Strategic Framework for Sustainability that is easy to understand and implement. My research thus far provides a work-in-progress for a strategic framework model that uses the ecological footprint as the main goal to reach within a specific biocapacity, given a value system based on Permaculture ethics, and, a set of holistic design principles. This strategic framework can be adopted at a national level and drilled down to economic sectors, regional levels, local levels, and, a project specific level.
There is a flood of so called “green” ideas or sustainability movements out there and one needs to understand their specific contribution and stay focused on what really makes sustainability. In parallel, one needs to keep abreast of current events and associated trends in order to understand how these may impact on Humanity’s sustainability, such as, the BP Gulf oil spill disaster, the widespread forest fires in Russia, the devastating flood in Pakistan, population growth, consumption patterns, etc.
At the outset, it is useful to reflect on what is meant by “sustainability”. The World Bank definition is: “Sustainable development is development that lasts”, whilst the UN definition is: “Development that allows the satisfaction of all the needs of a generation without compromising the ability for successive generations to satisfy their needs”. Another important reflection is on “development” and “progress” in relation to “sustainability”. For example, development may satisfy the UN’s Millennium Goals, but can this guarantee progress in Humanity, whilst simultaneously achieving sustainability?
After searching for a good measure of sustainability, my focus is on ways to reduce the ecological footprint of Humanity to within its biocapacity, since this has now become one of the true measures of Humanity’s impact on Earth. As of 2010, the global ecological footprint of Humanity is 1,4 times the biocapacity of Earth, that is, Humanity is presently consuming as if there were 1,4 planet Earths. Another measure, is that in 2010, Humanity reached its Earth Overshoot Day on 21st August. In other words, it has taken Humanity less than nine months to exhaust its ecological budget for the year, according to calculations by the Global Footprint Network (www.footprintnetwork.org). This is clearly not feasible and Humanity’s lifestyle cannot be maintained, especially when at current rates of consumption and population growth, Humanity will need two planet Earths by 2040. The solutions for Humanity’s sustainability are urgently sought, now more than ever, in order to mitigate against the biggest challenges Humanity has ever faced, namely, Climate Change and Peak Oil. In fact, “peak everything” as natural resources are used at a greater rate than they are being replenished by nature. Humanity is on the cusp of deciding its future, and there is only a small window of opportunity to make the necessary changes towards sustainability.
This is not a project, as yet, but rather a journey seeking answers for sustainability, which may culminate into a project(s) if adopted by any organisation. Unknowingly at the time, the design process for this ongoing project started in the late 80s when I first started questioning the impact of Humanity’s insatiable growth trends in a finite world against the clear warnings outlined in the classic 1972 version of “Limits to Growth”. One can describe this design process thus far as one of enquiry, followed by learning, conceptualizing a strategic framework for sustainability, presentation of this framework at various “sustainability” workshops, and, a peer review. In turn, the peer review leads to further enquiry, learning, conceptualizing and another peer review, in order to refine the strategic framework model.
Figure 1 - Design process
At this stage, one design process cycle is complete, and another journey through this design process is imminent following an initial critique by a group from the Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden. Hereon, the strategic framework model can always be refined and updated according to new insights. As it stands, this strategic framework model may have what it takes to contribute to an emerging “Sustainability Body of Knowledge”.
The enquiry part of this design process commenced many years ago with that subtle awakening that Humanity had chartered the wrong course for sustainability as evidenced by worsening environmental degradation and exploitation of natural resources. My search for sustainability was really about finding, and then riding, that cutting edge wave of ideas and movements contributing towards sustainability. By far the most influential cutting edge wave for me is the Permaculture movement, which I discovered in the late 90s, and which has now almost become mainstream. Thereafter, the ideas within the ecovillage movement, together with Permaculture design principles, added a holistic sustainable design perspective to all my development projects. This followed from 2007 onwards with the Transition Town movement which brought the ecovillage model into the broader village, town, city and district arena. These movements, and many similar ones, have all acknowledged that Humanity is living beyond its biocapacity and that the survival of our planet Earth is at stake.
During the first decade of the Millennium, the challenges of Climate Change and Peak Oil have highlighted the urgent need to address sustainability in a positive manner. To this end, many great sustainability solutions have been postulated. In particular, the Earth Policy Institute (www.earth-policy.org) produced “Plan B” (now revision 4.0) that showed the alternative to “Plan A”, which was the “business as usual” model that assumed constant economic growth with virtually unlimited resources, which is clearly not feasible. More recently, and following the success of the international award winning documentary, “The Power of Community : How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”, Pat Murphy from Community Solutions (www.communitysolution.org) produced “Plan C - Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change”. Plan C, with its curtailment, co-operation and community approach, came about since Plan B was seen to be relying on too much green technology and suggesting too little too late. By the way, “Plan D” is die off, which is not an option, although some see Plan D as building “earthship life rafts”, or, islands / enclaves of survival communities.
It suffices to say that there are many sustainability solutions that have been debated at length at various Earth Summits and similar events (Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen), but sadly, there is no political will to seriously address the fact that Humanity is living far beyond its biocapacity and cannot sustain this situation much longer without seriously threatening its very survival. For this reason, I started to unravel some of these good solutions for sustainability and try to understand why they were not being taken seriously. To this end, my simple analogy is that the problems of Climate Change and Peak Oil are so overwhelming that few people really want to talk about it. It’s really the elephant in the room that most are ignoring. To complicate matters, the vast number of green movements has perhaps overwhelmed many with solutions to sustainability that one has difficultly deciding what is green anymore. What I discovered, is that there is no coherent and commonly accepted strategic framework for sustainability. And so, I started my own search for the elixir to sustainability and started piecing together my “Strategic Framework for Sustainability”.
In my search for solutions to sustainability, I was much inspired by the documentary, “The Power of Community : How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”, and visited Cuba to see for myself how this came about (www.powerofcommunity.org). Around this time, I realised that one needed a universally accepted unit of measure to gauge the impact of Humanity on the Earth and revisited the theory of the ecological footprint, which has now become a well researched science and adopted by several countries. The Global Footprint Network is making great strides towards establishing the ecological footprint as a national accounting system, besides GPD, to measure the “wealth” (and health) of nations. The vulnerability of the global financial system led me to the ideas from the New Economics Foundation (www.neweconomics.org). After all, money is needed to lubricate any economy, and especially to bridge the gulf between global and local economies.
As my journey of enquiry and learning gathered momentum, the jigsaw puzzle pieces for the Strategic Framework for Sustainability were coming together and a model was emerging. However, a strategic planning model, or system, was required to piece together this puzzle. Herein I opted to use the “Compass Aligned Performance System (c@ps)” (www.caps5.com), which has been developed by Clive Howe from South Africa. c@ps is a very easy to understand strategic planning framework that can compile an entity’s goal, mission, ethics, principles, critical success factors, action plans and key performance indicators into a very compact and concise plan, and thereafter monitor its execution.
In piecing together this puzzle for sustainability, I must emphasise that I have not invented any new theory about sustainability, but merely pieced together my sources of inspiration into an easy to understand strategic framework with an overall goal, a universal set of values, holistic design principles, critical success factors, action plans and key performance indicators.
The overall goal, therefore, is obviously to reduce Humanity’s ecological footprint to within its biocapacity. My search for universal ethics to underpin the overall goal, and, that transcends all religions, cultures and ethnic groups, made me look no further than the Permaculture ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share, albeit, with some appropriate UN terminology in order to give these ethics more credence. More specifically, Earth Care is underpinned by maintaining eco-diversity, environmental jurisprudence, and, planning for 7 generations; People Care is underpinned by equal rights, peace and harmony and non-violence; and, Fair Share is underpinned by right livelihood, contraction and convergence, and, living within ones means.
The holistic design principles drew in many aspects from amongst Permaculture, Plan C, New Economics and Transition Towns, and have been grouped into 3 categories, namely, the conditions required for an Enabling Environment, Lifestyle Changes, and, Waste Reduction. The conditions required for the Enabling Environment principles include public sensitization, resilience, re-localization, land rental tax system, new currency systems, and, energy descent planning. The Lifestyle Changes principles include curtailment, co-operation, community, and, the great re-skilling. The Waste Reduction principles include cradle to cradle design, Energy Return on Energy Investment, no pollution, recycling, ecological sanitation, and, ecological water use.
The critical success factors focuses on those economic sectors which need to be seriously addressed in order to make any meaningful impact upon reducing the ecological footprint, namely, agriculture, energy, transport, tourism and construction. A broad set of Action Plans per economic sector have been outlined, but the Key Performance Indicators per economic sector still need to be determined.
To summarise, the Strategic Framework for Sustainability, as outlined above, comprises of a goal, values, design principles, critical success factors, action plans and key performance indicators. This framework can be drilled down to any level of detail whilst maintaining the values and design principles, but with specific goals, action plans and key performance indicators to suit particular circumstances.
This research is still a work-in-progress but a strategic framework has emerged that essentially plans for nations to curtail their ecological footprint to match their respective biocapacity, at a national level, economic sector level, regional level, project level, etc.
The lessons learnt in searching for the elixir of sustainability are inextricably intertwined with my life journey thus far. Amongst the learning highlights are the insights gained through various training courses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland which have kept me abreast of cutting edge ideas for sustainability. My Permaculture friends have also infused me with their collective experience which would otherwise have taken me several lifetimes to acquire.
Perhaps my most significant lesson in searching for the elixir of sustainability, was the early realisation that the parallel spiritual lessons that life provides are essential for understanding the purpose of human existence. This spiritual discovery has been a journey in itself and is not included herein, but nonetheless, these lessons are somehow infused with my project designs. In particular, the insights from the Ringing Cedars of Russia series of books have been profound in explaining that the destiny of Humanity, is to co-create with nature, a space of love, on a family homestead , and, surrounded by like minded families. Ultimately, Humanity is but the brain cells of this sentient being called Earth, and is solely designed to co-create nature with the Supreme Being of One Love, knowing that Love is the strongest and purest force on Earth. (The Green Warrior, with apologies to Shakespeare)