How do we handle the scale of the challenge?

8563716448_4cf6a68f44_b beach.jpg

Beach bins and clouds: a deserted beach in July stretches into the distance
Credit: 
Tastwo / Flickr

Get scared or angry, but then look outwards and act strategically

Fear creates apathy, as Solitaire Townsend explains in her perspective on Communications for sustainable development. Although the issues are often terrifying, finding positive approaches, messages and mindsets is essential for effective action.

Think global and long-term...

In his perspective on Water, Dominic Waughray explains how water challenges have generally been assessed locally and nationally, with local and national strategies emerging as a result. But it wasn’t until people started to look at water globally that they saw the true scale of the challenge and difficulties that those localities and countries will face in the future.

...Act local and now

Charting the development of the Fairtrade movement, Harriet Lamb tells the stories of Bruce Crowther, who wanted to turn his entire town fair trade, and a cycling grandmother who suggested her local wine bar should serve Fairtrade tea. Now there are over 1,000 Fairtrade towns and the whole wine bar chain has changed its tea.

In the late 1960s, two men brought together a group of businessmen, academics and scientists, each from different backgrounds but all of whom shared a desire to understand better their changing planet. As Ian Johnson relates, the Club of Rome, went on to effect significant influence across the world.

Looking at the development of Green parties across the globe, Sara Parkin concludes that what’s needed is coordinated diapora, rather than an international strategy: allow local to be local.

Be part of the solution, not the conquering hero

In her perspective on Leadership, Sara Parkin explains that leadership for sustainable development is about being a part of a vision for a better humanity, not the head of a vision for corporate or national competitive edge. Leaders need followers. Leaders are made when someone becomes the first follower.

One of Richard Sandbrook’s main campaigning approaches, was to help organisations who saw themselves as being in competition with one another (be it businesses, NGOs or governments) to identify where in fact they agreed, and where, together they could be more successful than on their own.

Understand change and how to effect it

In assessing the need for system change in education systems, Jane Wilkinson borrows from systems thinkers: change the incentives, enable the system to change itself, change the goals, change the mindset.

If Walmart tells its packaging suppliers to go green, they have little choice but to do so. John Elkington looks at influencing businesses to influence customers and other businesses.

Timing is critical: go where the energy is

Few change-makers have time or resources to waste: so put your efforts where they’ll yield the biggest impact, and make it easy for people to change, as Harriet Lamb relates from Fairtrade’s experience.

February 2014

Big Questions

Big Question pages are editorials, pulling together common strands, and sometimes different opinions, from across all of the perspectives, timelines and discussions on Sustainable Development Perspectives.

Other big questions

The modern-day sustainable development movement has developed principally over the past 50 years. But forecasts today suggest we don't have that long again to overcome perhaps much bigger challenges. So how can we move fast enough?


One of the characteristics that almost all sustainable development work has in common is working with a variety of different stakeholders. But multi-stakeholder working is complex and hard work: competing agendas, different ideas, managing egos, maintaining relationships... Why not just do it alone?


It's easy to focus on big, hard-hitting targets: corporate strategies, government policies, intergovernmental agreements etc. But often, the big achievements in sustainable development have come from working with ordinary people in extraordinary ways.


Add comment

Log in to post comments