Category: Sustainability

I visited Portland Oregon recently and had a great time exploring a city alive with sustainability experiments!

Yarn bombing on Portland bike standPortland roadside grass strips taken over by flowers

Water sensitive urban desig

Bike parks before car parks!

Vege plots next to asphalt

Brunch on the Bridge Festival - closed to cars and laid with turf!

Portland mural










Urban meadow reclaiming

Free inner city light rail

Bring your own bag incentive


Sustainability quotes

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing”
~ Arundhati Roy

“Sustainability is not a problem to be solved. It is a future to be created.”
~ Peter Senge

“The question of reaching sustainability is not about if we will have enough energy, enough food, other other tangible resources – those we have. The question is, will there be enough leaders in time?”
~Dr Karl-Henrick Robert

“Kennedy chose to go to the moon. Our generation must choose to remain on planet Earth.”
~ President Nasheed (Maldives)

“I am interested in the future because that is where I will live.”
~ Albert Einstein

No to multiple benefits?

Alex Steffen of World Changing has a written voice laden with clarity and insight. I’ve been reading incredible quotes from his latest fantastic article, Putting the Future Back in the Room, out loud to my housemates, so here are some extracts that are still ringing for me. I highly recommend a full read of the second half of his article, copied selectively here:

“The planetary crisis we face may be made up of machinery and market failures and sheer masses of humanity struggling to live, but I’m more and more convinced that it is not at its core really a material crisis at all. Rather, the planetary crisis is a crisis of vision; we see a growing and darkening void where our future ought to be. The average person, presented with accurate information about the state of the world, can see no way forward at all. The path we’re on appears to end in darkness and a swift, cataclysmic drop. Most folks, entirely understandably, choose not to look.”

We already have the ability to solve or at least address the planet’s most pressing problems. We don’t have every solution we’ll need, not yet. We do, though, have the technological capabilities, the design genius, the scientific ingenuity, the entrepreneurial zeal, the policy acumen, the community-building skill, and the educational and cultural wisdom. It is not that we are not capable of sustainable prosperity. We have never had more or better ability to build a better world. What we seem to lack is a belief that we can actually use those powers to change anything, and we lack that belief precisely because the future has been ripped out of our cultural debate.

That’s why if we care about the planet, the most important thing we can do is start showing how good a future we still can have. That’s why, right now, optimism is a political act, and a radical one at that.

I think, what we need today, is mass movement planetary futurism. I don’t mean futurism in the cheesy sense — the what-color-is-your-rocket-car sense — I mean futurism in the best sense: of people who understand that the future is not an alien world or a land-of-make-believe, it’s where we are right now, with a brief passage of time. Utah Phillips used to like to say that the past didn’t go anywhere. Well, the future’s already here. We’re making it, as we speak, and we make it better when we consider what the effects of our actions might be over a longer range of time.

Human beings make the future every day. Making the future — setting in motion future events — might almost be considered part of the definition of humanity. The problem is that today, when powerful men sit down and make decisions, they generally make those decisions as if the future didn’t exist, as if the consequences of their actions were beyond anticipation, as if they bore no responsibility for foresight. The future’s not welcome in the room.

We need millions of people ready to put the future back in the room. We need millions of people ready to demand that their governments, their companies, their communities and their cultural institutions confront the reality of the futures they make every day.”

Many, I believe, are secretly terrified of what they’d see if they looked ahead. The people most deeply traumatized of all in our society may be the older men who’ve devoted their entire lives, in grinding hard work and out of love for the people around them, to building companies and communities and systems they thought represented a pinnacle of human endeavor and free enterprise, but which instead — they would now find, if they could bring themselves to admit the possibility — have become components of what is quite possibly the most destructive way of life ever made by human beings. To have done right and well your whole life and yet find yourself ethically indicted in the end, to have your accomplishments turn to ash, to arrive late expecting security and respect, and find neither: I don’t think those of us who are younger can fully understand what a soul-wrenching experience that must be.

As the air goes out of the most destructive parts of our economy — as the oil runs out, as the sprawl financing dries up, as the world runs out of big trees to cut and big fish to catch — economic fear gets added to the mix as well. How will they survive? Even when they see a glimmer of a bright green economy, it looks full of jobs demanding different skills than the ones they’ve spent a lifetime honing. I think a lot of them refuse to see a bright green future — attack even the possibility of its existence, yell at those who even suggest its necessity — because they see no place for themselves in it, and hear a ringing condemnation of the legacies they’re preparing to leave woven into every fiber of the innovations we need.

I honestly have no idea how to reach out to these good people. We know, though, that they are the ones often at the table when the future is made, and though we will eventually prevail since time and numbers are on our side, spending another couple decades butting heads with these guys will at best slow our progress. Merely defeating them politically also wastes a huge creative resource: their talent and experience. Many of the people most angrily denying the future are those who understand how the systems we now need to retrofit, redesign, replace and adapt actually work — because they built them — and, if convinced that this new work needs to be done, they have oceans of insight and institutional knowledge to bring to bear on the problem. No one knows how to hack a system better than the person who’s been in charge of protecting it from change…if only we can win them over to the side of change.

Whether or not we can bring around the oldest generation, the fundamental need is clear: we need, now, to put the future back in the room.”

Alex Steffen, Putting the Future Back in the Room

A journey witnessing the possible future…

Over the last few weeks I’ve been travelling in Denmark and Germany interviewing communities for my thesis on community renewable energy. The experience of learning from communities in practice through face to face interviews, digging deeper into the learned experience of committed local people and seeing a multitude of renewable energy solutions created on the ground was hugely inspiring. See more about our research on what makes communities successful in setting up renewable energy projects at

Plus the first of the spring picnics between interviews and seeing so much landscape flushed with the green of spring crops wasn’t half bad either ; ). I was also very lucky to be hosted in a beautiful ecovillage an hour out of Berlin for a week, which was deeply relaxing as well as inspiring to experience what organised community life can be like in daily practice. The priviledge of being able to show up to help yourself to three prepared meals in the community restaurant each day just by being part of the community still seems like an incredible priviledge, even for an avowed believer in the benefits of community like me.

In many ways, I feel like I’ve been out witnessing the possible future, and learning more about how more communities can realise this positive future now. I’m looking forward to sharing the guidebook we write for communities interested in shifting towards renewable energy in June.

Injections of inspiration from the future via the web: TED talks

Despite the great inspiration and stories I’m bringing with me back to Sweden for the analysis phase of our thesis, I’m feeling a little hemmed in by sitting myself back at a desk all day after such a kinesthetic learning experience. When my system cries out for an energy boost (and I should probably go out into the spring sunshine for a walk), I sometimes find myself turning to one of the greatest online inspiration sources I know of: TED talks.

The latest TED talk I just watched is a great wise voice from the future, in the form of a 12 year old girl. Adora Svitak is a sought after speaker to teachers across America for her radical message on the need for shared learning between adults and kids, rather than our dominant model of teaching down to kids.

It took me back to one of the main themes of Art of Hosting Karlskrona, where both Meg Wheatley and Peter Senge spoke eloquently of the need for intergenerational dialogue.

“I know of no quicker way to bring the future into the present than to bring in children and young people.” ~ Peter Senge

Peter also spoke of the power of young people leading the change that is needed in the world. “People are predisposed to listen to young people’s voices – they hit us in the heart and have an unexpected authority and influence.”

More importantly, Peter spoke to the idea that excluding young people’s voices enhances our long-term loss of connection with the future. As a student of sustainability, it seems that our choice to exclude young people from decision making and many forums in which the future is determined is reflective of our continual choice to live unsustainably. Being disconnected from young people, and believing that we as adults have the knowledge and answers, it’s easier to stick with our current ways and turn our minds away from the consequences of our actions on the future generations who are already here, in the form of today’s young people.

As Peter Senge attested, an emotional connection with the future is critical to the profound changes that are required in the world today. In the same way, I’m curious about the effect that having an emotional connection with young people – the living future – has on us as adults and how we chose to act. In my sustainability work, I often hear of the influence young women have on their CEO Dad’s in bringing a sustainability strategy into a company, or of how many adults start acting to reduce their environmental impact when they become parents, and then suddenly have a visceral connection to the future.

The challenge to listen and learn from kids

In her TED talk, Adora’s main challenge to adults is to listen and relate to kids, to basically get into equal relationship. “You need to listen and learn from kids, and trust us and expect more from us.” This grows the potential of kids and the role that they believe they can play in the world, now and into the future. “It is imperative to create opportunities for children so we can grow up to blow you away!,” she says to a laughing TED audience.

More strikingly, she speaks to the consequences that having limited freedom and low expectations can have on kids. “Adults often underestimate kid’s ability. We love challenges but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink into them”.

What do kids offer the world?

As well as the effect getting into more equal relationships with kids has on them and the development of their potential, Adora speaks to the difference that kids can make to the world at large.

“The world needs opportunities for new leaders and new ideas. Kids need opportunities to lead and succeed.”

If the world, of adults and children, was more open to the “childish” strengths of imagining, believing, designing, and being truly outraged and disbelieving of injustice, I believe we’d be a better world, now and in the future. And what a great excuse to get more and more childish as I grow older!

“Our audacity to imagine helps push the boundaries of possibility.” For “In order to make anything a reality you have to dream about it first.” ~ Adora Svitak

Check out Adora’s inspiring 8 minute presentation and the interesting threads of discussion at