Archive for Sustainability

Jul/02/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks, Sustainability

Mind the Lines in the Mind


The other day I was working with an emerging inter-institutional collaboration of universities looking to move the needle on “transitioning to sustainability.”  Like so many other conversations that I am a part of these days, there were bold visions tempered by structural realities, including robust conversation about internal constraints to the kind of progress people are striving to realize.  These constraints are not simply internal to our organizations in the form of protocols and politics, but also to our thinking.  As David Bohm once wrote,

“Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.”

And so there is a call to constantly “mind the lines” that are not simply “out there,” but that are conscious and unconscious projections of our thoughts, and that do not serve our intensions. Perhaps no one says it better than the late Donella Meadows in a piece from which I read the other day and have pulled extracts below.  For the entire essay, visit the Donella Meadows Institute.

From “Lines in the Mind, Not in the World” by Donella Meadows (December 24, 1987)

The earth was formed whole and continuous in the universe, without lines.

The human mind arose in the universe needing lines, boundaries, distinctions. Here and not there. This and not that. Mine and not yours.

That is sea and this is land, the mind thinks, and here is the line between them. See? It’s very clear on the map.

But, as the linguists say, the map is not the territory. The line on the map is not to be found at the edge of the sea. . . .

Between me and not-me there is surely a line, a clear distinction, or so it seems. But, now that I look, where is that line?

This fresh apple, still cold and crisp from the morning dew, is not-me only until I eat it. When I eat, I eat the soil that nourished the apple. When I drink, the waters of the earth become me. With every breath I take in I draw in not-me and make it me. With every breath out I exhale me into not-me. . . .

Between you and me, now there is a line. No other line feels more certain than that one. Sometimes it seems not a line but a canyon, a yawning empty space, across which I cannot reach.

Yet you keep reappearing in my awareness. Even when you are far away, something of you surfaces constantly in my wandering thoughts. When you are nearby, I feel your presence, I sense your mood. Even when I try not to. Especially when I try not to. . . .

I have to work hard not to pay attention to you. When I succeed, when I have closed my mind to you with walls of indifference, then the presence of those walls, which constrain my own aliveness, are reminders of you.

And when I do pay attention, very close attention, when I open myself fully to your humanity, your complexity, your reality, then I find, always, under every other feeling and judgment and emotion, that I love you.

Even between you and me, even there, the lines are only of our own making.

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Apr/09/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Sustainability

Re-Thinking Progress: Getting Cyclical

What if the goods of today became the resources of tomorrow?

Regular readers of this blog know that I am particularly interested in living systems and networks and how they can inform how we approach our change work so that it is more in synch with how life works. This video is very much in alignment with my interests and ongoing inquiry, and while focused primarily on the economy and production, IMHO it has implications for all areas of focus for social change.  Some of the provocative questions it raises include the following: Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/01/14//Jen Willsea//Cities, Power, Equity, Inclusion, Sustainability, What We Are Reading

Re-Imagining Cities


At IISC we often talk about three hugely important pieces of context for social change work these days:

  1. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift, from the Industrial Age into an age that doesn’t have a name yet
  2. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas
  3. In 2042 the U.S. will become a majority people of color nation

In this context, as a nation and a globe we are choosing to face or ignore urgent questions about climate change, racism, wealth distribution, violence (the types we condone, penalize, and ignore), and the quality of life that we are willing or unwilling to insist upon for every human being on this planet. It’s quite overwhelming…

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Dec/30/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Sustainability

Long-Term Trend in Nonprofit Funding

The following post has been reblogged from our friend Kim Klien. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

“I would love to give to the Film Festival, but I really have to devote all my giving to my children’s public school.” This sentence, said by a long-time donor in response to a request for funding renewal from a board member at a local Film Festival, helped to start a project called “Nonprofits Talking Taxes.” Starting about 10 years ago, many of us started to hear things like this from our donors.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Culture and selfishness

The following post has been reblogged from Seth’s Blog. He is a genius and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 

One person selfishly drops a piece of litter on the ground, the other selfishly picks it up.

Everything we do is done because it’s better than not doing it. “Better” is the complicated term. Better might mean, “gives me physical pleasure right now,” for some people, while better might mean, “the story I tell myself about the contribution I just made gives me joy and satisfaction.”

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Gaze Up

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Aug/14/12//Gibrán Rivera//Sustainability

Future Perfect

From a world where words like “strategy” and “planning” still convey an air of seriousness and rigor, it can be hard to transition to a world defined by emergence.  But VUCA is here to stay – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity will continue to define our age.

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Apr/05/12//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

In Transition 2.0

This past weekend, I attended our local Eco-Festival in Arlington, MA and connected with members of the nascent Transition Town group.  They, and now we, are evidence of a growing movement of people interested in grounding solutions to climate change and natural resource depletion in local community.  The above trailer is for a film from the Transition Network that captures inspiring stories of Transition initiatives around the world, “responding to uncertain times with creativity, solutions and ‘engaged optimism’.”

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Mar/26/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Sustainability

Fierce Love, Contagious Joy

“We are all called to be warriors of love for transformation.” That’s how Billy Wimsatt closed the Transforming Race conference. “If we’re transforming race, gender, America, we’re doing it from the place of fiercest love.” This is a love for one’s community, oneself, one’s planet and all people that can’t stand idle while people are suffering. A love that won’t tolerate the exclusion or marginalization or degradation of others.

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Mar/01/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Sustainability

“Forward With,” Not “Back To”

Last weekend, while on school vacation with my family, my wife Emily and I went to hear Richard Louv speak at McKee Gardens in Vero Beach, Florida.  If you don’t know him, Louv wrote the books The Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle and is a big advocate for getting kids and adults outdoors to overcome what we calls “nature deficit disorder.”  I have heard him speak in the past, and very much appreciate his work. That said, I was a bit troubled by the public comment session and conversation after his talk.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/23/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Sustainability

Macy on Uncertainty

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy PhD, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. She is a respected voice in the movements for peace, justice, and ecology, and interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a ground-breaking theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application. The Great Turning, to which she refers in this clip, is a name for the “adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.”

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Feb/21/12//Gibrán Rivera//Sustainability

The Sabbath Manifesto


The issue of personal ecology is one of my biggest concerns in our ever accelerating world.  It is the biggest pain point I find among leaders and organizations.  It is a sense of being overwhelmed, of trying to do too much, of never having a break.  And worst of all – it can be addictive.

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Feb/20/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Sustainability

Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network

In 2010, IISC had the privilege of work with Raab Associates to facilitate the development of Boston’s Climate Action Plan. Boston Latin School’s Youth Climate Action Network figured prominently in the development of a very successful community engagement session for Boston’s young people. They continue to move forward. Check them out! Here’s an excerpt of their presentation…

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Prepared to Fail

The following post is reblogged from Seth’s Blog. We hope that it will enrich your life and much as it has ours.

“We’re hoping to succeed; we’re okay with failure. We just don’t want to land in between.”

–David Chang

He’s serious. Lots of people say this, but few are willing to put themselves at risk, which destroys the likelihood of success and dramatically increases the chance of in between.

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Jan/09/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Sustainability


What am I missing because I’m not looking for it?

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Dec/29/11//Cynthia Silva Parker//Sustainability

People Power

The Black Mesa Water Coalition is an inspiring group of Navajo and Hopi young people who organized to protect the Navajo aquifer which was being depleted by coal production and transportation processes. They are a great example of people power, coming together and winning important gains for their community. And, they are an important reminder about the many ways in which Native people in the U.S. continue to face structural barriers to their own well-being. As we move the conversation about structural racism forward, I have to ask myself, as a black woman who grew up on land that was taken from the Wampanoag people, how can I be an effective ally?

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Dec/01/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Saving Our Tailings

One principle of living systems is that one person’s waste is someone else’s food.  This is how nature works, which is wonderful, and . . . unfortunately many of us are eating our own unhealthy waste in the form of industrial chemicals and other toxins, precisely because we seem to lack an overview of the cyclical nature of things.  On the upside, there are many ways that we could be much more efficient and even generate better health and greater wealth if we could think and act upon this notion of recycling and reusing waste.

This can include looking at how what is generally cast off as by-product might be used for creating additional value.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/27/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Going WITH Life

“We can only have honest, effective hope if the frame through which we see is an accurate representation of how the world works.”

– Frances Moore Lappe

With a warm welcome and opening offering of D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Escape,” Danny Martin and I launched into our session last week at the Bioneers by the Bay Conference entitled, “Belonging and Becoming: Practices for Regenerative Leadership.”  The framing of our 90 minutes was the call to connect more deeply with the ways of complex living systems, to align ourselves more fully with life so that we might thrive as a human community.

During the first half of our session we took the poet’s suggestion to escape the “glass bottles of our egos” and access “unlying life” by engaging in some paired storytelling focused on the values that have guided us in our lives.  This was our effort to cultivate a deeper sense of belonging in the room, and we were amazed to hear how much people took from listening to one another for even 10 minutes.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/14/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Choosing Reality

A mentor of mine says that one of the most important disciplines we can individually and collectively engage in is to repeatedly ask and attempt to answer the question, “Where am I/we now?”  This is something of a daunting task when it comes to our global climate, and yet embracing this current reality is key to creating the future we would want to see inherited by generations to come.  In this spirit, we are all invited to join The Climate Reality Project to hear more of the truth about climate change from those who are experiencing its impacts around the world, and watch the live stream here starting at 7pm CT today (September 14).

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The World is Where We Live

The world is where we live from WWF on Vimeo.

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Aug/25/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Love and Sustainability

Perhaps feeling wistful in these late summer weeks as we lean towards fall, I seem to have a penchant for all things poetic. Who better to read then, than my friend and colleague Danny Martin, who blogs at a site entitled, “The Art of Working WITH Life.” Danny wonderfully and naturally spouts poetry, his own and others’, as he reflects on what it means to live and lead sustainably. In a recent post on relationships, he writes, “sustainability is about learning to work with differences in a way that will allow us to address the challenges of everyday living and also thereby deepen the relationship with the world we live in.” In other words, it is about learning to love, or as Humberto Maturana has defined it, “respecting the other as a legitimate other.” I have noted that the whole notion of love resonates more and more deeply with people in leadership trainings. The mention of the word does not lead to the same kinds of winces, embarrassed grins, and occasional rolling of the eyes as it did even 3 years ago. What’s love got to do with it? “Everything!” a couple of people shouted in my most recent training in Connecticut.  As we discuss it, we revolve around the many different splendors and interpretations, but at the end of the day most everyone agrees that while it may be difficult to define love, we know when it’s absent. And we know we suffer for its loss.

So with thanks to Danny for drawing my attention to them, I pass along these poetic ponderings of Czeslow Milosz, and invite you to consider the link between love and sustainability: Read the rest of this entry »

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Love our Earth

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Jun/22/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

The Living Systems View of “Good”

I am very much looking forward to my upcoming cafe conversation with Carol Sanford, author of the recently released The Responsible Business. Someone once said, “What Deepak Chopra and Steven Covey are to the individual, Carol Sanford is to the whole organization.”  I have considered her as a mentor at a distance, ever since getting introduced to her work by fellow Arlington resident Bill Reed.  What I have come to appreciate about both Carol and Bill is their incisive emphasis on regenerative design and capacity building as they help people to understand that they are not separate from but a part of “the environment.”  In a recent blog post, Carol shows how our anthropocentric views have not only put us at the center of things but also apart from them, in ways that are increasingly detrimental.  Even with the best of intentions to “do good,” there is often a division between provider and other (think what is implied in “giving back” or “helping the environment”), as opposed to “working to evolve a living order” of which we are intimately a part.

What follows is an excerpt from Carol’s recent blog post “Sustainability: Moving From ‘Less Harm’ to ‘Deep Good’” (for the entire post follow this link). Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/21/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

All Together Now

A Mouse Story

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. “What food might this contain?” The mouse wondered -he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sunflower Fields

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May/04/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Steps to an Ecology of Change

I love great writing, and for that reason always look forward to reading the newest issue of the Whole Thinking Journal from the Center for Whole Communities. The most recent issue can be found here, and features beautiful and thought-provoking pieces from my Whole Measures co-trainer Mistinguette Smith, former Ruckus Society Executive Director Adrienne Maree Brown, and CWC board member Tom Wessels, among many others.

I wanted to spend some time here reflecting on the Wessels article in particular, “Resilient Communities: An Ecological Perspective.”  Tom Wessels is a natural historian, a professor at Antioch University, and a keen observer and student of the landscape of New England.  He is also a proponent of understanding the dynamics of various kinds of complex systems, from eco-systems to organizations, as a pathway to knowing what constitutes more sustainable behavior.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/29/11//IISC//Collaboration, Sustainability

Dance Lightly

Photo by: Munana

The following is a letter by Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and member of the IISC Board of Directors…

Tsunamis. Unemployment. Volcanoes. Cote d’Ivoire. Homelessness. The Middle East. The Midwest. Pirates. Earthquakes. Drug and human trafficking. Union busting. Collapsing economies. Dropout rates. Nuclear fallout. Foreclosures. Floods.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/21/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

The Practice of Belonging

Several years ago I worked with a friend who is an outdoor educator to put together an orientation session for a group of high school students who had signed on to be part of a youth activism project I was directing.  The program invited young people to explore issues in their community and to select and address those that spoke to them.  As part of our orientation, my friend put together an “alien test,” something he learned from the tracker and educator Tom Brown.  Just before the session we scoured the school grounds gathering leaves and bark, plants and nuts, a bird’s egg, soil, and other sundry items and brought these into the classroom where we met after school, along with a series of prepared questions.  One by one, my friend laid the objects and questions out in front of the students: What is this? Is this plant edible? Can you tell me whether this soil is healthy or not?  Where does your water come from?  Do you know which, if any, of the items you ate for lunch today was locally grown? There was a marked silence after most of the questions.  The point was made poignantly clear – in many respects we are aliens to our immediate surroundings.  For us to do meaningful community change work, we suggested, it behooves us to really get to know our community, or as someone once put it, take a step towards inhabiting it not just residing there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/17/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

The Economics of Happiness

-Brooke Jarvis, YES! Magazine Web Editor

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Oct/06/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Going Wide and Upstream

I’m writing this post from St. Louis where I’ve been working with a team from Conservation International to facilitate a meeting of their Business and Sustainability Council.  This three day convening is focused on sustainable agriculture and has featured presentations from content experts including Dr. Jon Foley from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, who offered the short video above to summarize “the other inconvenient truth” we face around feeding a growing population against a backdrop of stressed water and land resources.  As the clip indicates, the challenge of sustainably feeding a global population of 9 billion (projected by 2050), if doable, will only be accomplished through extensive collaboration.  Furthermore, it is going to take going beyond many of the either/or debates (local vs. global, GMOs vs. organic) to embrace a full spectrum of strategies.  In other words, it’s not about finding a silver bullet, but rather the “silver buckshot.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/27/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Movement Time

Six weeks from now, on October 10, 2010, is sponsoring a global work party to spread and deepen awareness about and inspire further action around our growing climate challenge.  This grassroots movement is spreading at a time when most governments and businesses seem inexplicably stymied about how to make fundamental commitments toward shifting unsustainable behaviors.  And it feels like we are on the edge of a tipping point, perhaps spurred by this summer’s record breaking heat wave and dramatic weather events in places like Pakistan and Russia.  So consider signing up for or hosting a local event if you have not, and take a moment to read this call to action by co-founder Bill McKibben following the failed climate bill in Congress – “Get mad and then get busy.”

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Aug/12/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

I Despair, Therefore . . .

“The seeds of Reunion are sprouting everywhere. That which was hidden for millennia is coming to light. Soon, fertilized by the detritus of our decaying civilization, the sprouts will mature, bloom, and bear fruit. Our job is first to receive them, then to spread them everywhere and to guard and foster them with every ounce of our love.”

“Three Seeds” by Charles Eisenstein

It’s awfully hard to read the news these days, especially if one is tuned in to the scientific and environmental communities:

“Northern Hemisphere Temperatures Shatter July Record

“Declining Phytoplankton Another Sign of Climate Catastrophe

“Climate Change and Illegal Logging Could Wipe Out Rainforest Wildlife by 2100″ Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/11/10//Linda Guinee//Sustainability

Thoughts on My Bike

This is our last week in the Cambridge office – as of Monday, we’ll have moved to South Boston, in the Seaport area.  Most of the IISC staff have been driving to work over the years we’ve been in Cambridge (with a few taking the bus or riding bikes).  Once we’re in our new office, we’ll be switching to most of us on public transportation or on bikes.  It’s good news for the planet!  I’m looking forward to shrinking my carbon footprint.  Thought you might enjoy this video!

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Aug/06/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Attitude is Everything

Picking up from where I left off yesterday, I want to share some additional insights gleaned from my tour of Lauren Chase-Rowell’s permaculture garden and land.  Something else that struck me was when Lauren said that beyond her training and intuition as a master gardener, “attitude is everything.”  Illustrating this statement with stories it became clear that while she is incredibly skilled in her craft, Lauren’s psychological and emotional approach take it all to another level.  In essence, permaculture starts with your self.

Channeling Lauren, I offer these three attitudinal guidelines for your consideration and application to your social change/leadership efforts, especially those geared towards leveraging the potential of systems and collective intelligence: Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/05/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability


Lauren's Garden

Last week I was in the presence of a master.  For more than 25 years, Lauren Chase-Rowell has skillfully and intuitively cultivated the land around her house in Nottingham, NH to the point that it exists in great harmony with the beautiful farm house, people and fauna occupying that space.  Lauren is an ecological landscaper, organic farmer, and permaculture design teacher.  Her home, Dalton’s Pasture Farm (not pictured above), is a vibrant classroom and testament to the possibility of practicing earth-centered living.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/01/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Leadership for Sustainability

For the better part of the last year and a half, my colleagues Ashley Welch and John McGah and I have been moving forward an IA/IISC cross-sectoral practice to bring Interaction methods + to the support of sustainability endeavors. Our early meetings around this budding practice included conversations about how best to frame leadership development for sustainability. We arrived at the graphic above, which combines what we see as the core elements needed for leadership to embrace and enroll others in sustainable pursuits.

With a foundation (watermark, if you will) of content knowledge about what sustainability is, the three elements are as follows:

• Systems Thinking (Seeing) – This is all about helping individual leaders and collective leadership see the whole, to understand that nothing stands in isolation, and that we must have a deeply felt sense of the interconnectedness of phenomena in order to make truly informed decisions. We take both our inspiration and instruction in this realm from the likes of the Sustainability Institute, the Center for Whole Communities, and The Elumenati.

• Self-Awareness (Being) – What we do is informed by who and how we are in the world. Awareness of our own beliefs, mental maps, and inherent tendencies is a powerful lever for making the sustainability shift, for aligning thought behind action. Self-awareness might also be cast as mindfulness, or the ability to be present to what is. Here we build upon our existing work around the inner side of leadership with the contributions of the Pachamama Alliance and John Milton.

• Collaborative Capacity (Doing) – With the whole in mind and awareness of our inner state, leadership will have a greater understanding of the need to work collectively toward more sustainable lifestyles and ways of doing business. Collaborative skill is key, including knowing how to frame sustainability efforts, create the right conditions for innovation, build agreement, structure decision-making, and design life-affirming experiences for diverse stakeholders. This is the heart and soul of the Interaction Method, and it is supplemented by the work of Keith Sawyer, CRED, and the many pioneers of large group methods and network-building.

Another key element and overlay for all of these is leadership’s ability to understand and navigate power dynamics as they play out in systems, in ourselves, and in our chosen methods for working together.

Eager to hear your reactions, tweaks, and additions.

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May/13/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Collaboration for Sustainability 4: How?

For the past few weeks, in a series of Thursday posts, we’ve addressed what it takes to tap the full potential of collaboration to shift to more environmentally sustainable ways of living and working.  We’ve explored the importance of bringing diverse systemic perspectives together and developing shared identities and values as a way of achieving greater ecological intelligence and commitment.  And as a friend of mine says, you can bring great groups together with the best of intentions and still end up with nothing or a mess.  So what else can we put into place to help ensure we reach the sustainable ends we seek?
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May/06/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Collaboration for Sustainability 3: Who?

“In dealing with complex problems, our ability may be bounded, but our diversity is not. Diversity – be it based on identity, training or vocation — may be our best asset.”

- Scott E. Page

In last Thursday’s post, we talked about the importance of developing a shared identity among stakeholders, and doing this early in a collaborative process, as a way of developing greater commitment to collective interests as well as bolstering the inclination to think about and act in accordance with more long-term risks and benefits. Clearly more needs to be said about the WHO that is engaged in this work and how this aligns with sustainability.

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Apr/29/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Collaboration for Sustainability 2: Framing

“To work at this work alone is to fail.”

-Wendell Berry

Picking up from where I left off last Thursday . . .  How might collaboration be a key to making the sustainability shift?  At its best, collaboration is the act of modeling complex systems at work, and with awareness and intention comes critical adaptive capacity.   The goal is to achieve collective and distributed intelligence that can respond in timely ways to threats to sustainability (stressed ecosystems, injustice, etc.) and that can be proactive in creating optimal conditions for future generations to meet their needs.  That’s the ideal, right?  How do we get there?

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Apr/22/10//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Sustainability

Collaboration for Sustainability 1: Intro

Wishing you a hopeful Earth Day, and thinking of the good people gathered in Bolivia for the World People’s Summit on Climate Change . . .

For the past few decades, the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Interaction Associates have worked to develop the collaborative capacity of individuals, organizations, and communities with the conviction that this holds the promise of greater effectiveness with respect to shared missions and goals.  We have long upheld and witnessed the importance of bringing more minds and hands together for the purposes of creating insight, understanding, alignment, agreement, strategy, and shared ownership.  Lately, I have been trying to specifically clarify the value all of this has to offer the unsustainable relationship we have with our planet.

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Apr/20/10//Gibrán Rivera//Sustainability

This Paradigm Shift


I am honored to be presenting at the Symposium on Sustainability that is being organized by the Institute for Sustainable Social Change at Prescott College in Arizona. Following are some ideas on the themes we want to explore together:

Everything is changing, we are in the midst of a significant – and desperately needed – paradigm shift. The industrial models of the dominant paradigm no longer serve us, they are in fact holding us back.  But what does this emergent paradigm look like?  And how do we live our way into it? Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/28/10//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Finding Our Place

It is rare for any of us, by deliberate choice, to sit still and weave ourselves into a place, so that we know the wildflowers and rocks and politicians, so that we recognize faces wherever we turn, so that we feel a bond with everything in sight.”

-Scott Russell Sanders, “Local Matters”

Some dozen years ago I went on a road trip with my grandfather to our ancestral home in Arkansas.  Leaving from upstate New York at this time of year was not exactly a recipe for easy driving and awe-inspiring views.  After a particularly dreary stretch in Ohio, I was ready to snooze the rest of the way when we crossed over into Kentucky.  Suddenly things opened up.  As we continued south on Route 75, I felt my body started settling into the lovely rolling farm-studded landscape.  I remember how my breathing eased and the extraordinary sensation of “being home,” though I had only been to the state once before.

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Dec/17/09//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Claiming Nonindependence

It was at this time a year ago that I made the trip to Keene, New Hampshire to teach my final weekend Change Models class of the semester at Antioch New England.  Just a few days prior, the entire region had been rocked by an ice storm for the ages.  When the storm hit I was in Maine.  Driving home the next day I heard reports about the worst damage being concentrated in western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.  All that had slipped my mind when I got up early on Sunday morning to drive to Keene.  It came rushing back when I got off of Route 2 heading north and the world turned dark and quiet.  Everything in sight was cocooned in ice.  Trees sagged.  Homes along the roadside for miles were without lights.  Businesses were shuttered.  The awesome force of nature really began to sink in.

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Oct/28/09//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Climate (of) Change

It has been quite a week or so on the climate action/activism/advocacy front.  From the global day of action to the Bioneers conferences happening around the country, to some interesting personal conversations I’ve had with staff members of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Conservation International (CI), to ongoing preparations for the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagan, it seems clear that momentum is gathering towards taking serious and significant steps to help mitigate and adapt to changes in our global climate that have already begun.

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Day of Action

Curtis passed this along to me today. A video from which explains how tomorrow, October 24, 2009,  is a Day of Action focused on climate change. is focused on reducing global CO2 levels to a healthier 350 parts per million (ppm) compared to the current 387 ppm we are currently hovering around.

The video and site go over exactly what tomorrow means and how you can participate. To find out what is going on around you, take a look at their map. Enjoy!

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Less = More: A Dare

Friends, what if less really IS more?

What if in order to spend more time on the things that matter, we really do need to spend less time working on those things and on everything else, too?

What if its true that our energies, time, intellect, creativity and gifts — if concentrated, focused, harnessed, smartly– really will yield more, better, longer-lasting, more potent results and legacies than they will if we are everywhere-and-no where in particular, all things to all people, jack of all trades, and eh….spread too thin?

And, what if it is true that in a more focused, streamlined, measured, discriminating, approach to life and work will thereby make the experience of our working and living itself more rewarding? Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/03/09//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Sustainability

Wholeness and Reciprocal Transformation



Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit with staff of a few unique organizations in central Vermont, including a conversation with Peter Forbes at the Center for Whole Communities in Fayston.  What Peter, his wife Helen Whybrow, and their colleagues have created at Knoll Farm, a working organic farm, is truly inspiring, not just for the beauty of the land it occupies and the amazing views that are afforded of the surrounding mountains of Mad River Valley, but also because of the thoughtful attention that has been given to every detail of the Center and the programs that it offers.

The Center for Whole Communities is focused on reconnecting people to land, to one another, and to community as a way of healing the divisions that exist between those who are working for social justice and environmental conservation.  To this end they have created a setting and experiences that carefully tend to this mission of reconnection, from immersing people in the landscape, to engaging them in dialogue and storytelling, to grounding them in creative expression and contemplative practice. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/19/09//Gibrán Rivera//Sustainability

Health, Social Change and the Food Movement

Yesterday I started writing about health and social change and I alluded to the promises of the food movement and its implications for social transformation. Let me be completely clear – I am not currently affiliated with any formally organized aspect of the food movement. However, as I think about the type of social change that will truly make a difference, the change that keeps people like my father physically healthy while also augmenting our collective experience of freedom, it seems to me that the food movement has a lot to offer.

Industrialized food and the commercialization of edible goods that have no benefit for our bodies is one of the key reasons why Americans are falling ill, poor communities and people of color bear the burden of this problem.  Building movement around food allows us to do a number of things: Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/18/09//Gibrán Rivera//Sustainability

Our Health and Social Change I

Where does social change begin? I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time but it hit me especially hard this weekend. I was sitting with my father, who is in his early fifties, we were waiting for my uncle and chatting with a friend who is also about their age, all of them have diabetes. At that point I had to wonder why it has almost become a rite of passage for Puerto Rican men of a certain age to sit around and discuss the onset of diabetes.

The Health Care debate has been sad and frustrating. Even with the best president in a generation there seems to be so little we can do. And it feels so far away from the day to day lives of those who are getting sick by virtue of simply living and eating in our society. So where does social change begin? Is it by slowly bringing progressive voices into state power? Is it by organizing people to feed themselves better? Is it all about personal responsibility? Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/06/09//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

No Such Thing as Waste


When we throw it away, it doesn’t go away.  This is an important lesson of both systems thinking and ecology.  Fritjof Capra, physicist and founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, writes that we need to relearn the fundamental facts of life, including the fact that matter continually cycles through the web of life and that one person’s (or species’) waste is another’s food.  If our awareness and actions shifted in accordance with these facts, how would we live and work differently?

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Jul/02/09//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Mind Over Laundry

In her analysis of leverage points to intervene in a system, the late Donella Meadows highlighted mindsets as one of the most fundamental levels on which to focus if one is hoping to make deep and long-lasting change. The case for this is well made in a recent article in Mass Audubon’s Sanctuary Magazine.

Katherine Scott writes in “The Wind in the Wash” about the lost art of the clothesline in America, largely obscured by the now ubiquitous clothes dryer. In this day and age, notes Scott, many children haven’t the remotest idea of what a clothespin is. She is not simply waxing nostalgic, but making an important point about the way we think.

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Our Bodies Carry Our Histories With Us

One of the benefits I’ve experienced in our social change work as process experts and professional facilitators, is the exposure we get to have in various fields of social change work. Since last October, my colleague Andrea and I have had the pleasure of consulting with an amazing collaborative of stakeholders, the Springfield Health Equity Initiative, who have determined to build a plan to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the black and brown neighborhoods in the city of Springfield, MA. Even more boldly, these dedicated and thoughtful leaders have also chosen to take up an analysis for their work that incorporates how systemic, government sanctioned, racial discrimination has  played a direct role in creating the egregious disparities in health outcomes we see today among black and brown folk in the U.S., and regardless of class.

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Jun/11/09//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Design for a Living World

“Ecological design competence means maximizing resource and energy efficiency, taking advantage of the free services of nature, recycling wastes, making ecologically smarter things, and educating ecologically smarter people.  It means incorporating intelligence about how nature works . . . into the way we think, design, build, and live.” -David Orr

The Nature Conservancy’s “Design for a Living World” Exhibition, which recently opened (May 14th) at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, features ten designers exploring the relationship between the natural world and the products we use. Each designer was asked to develop new uses for sustainably grown and harvested materials and the results are quite beautiful in a number of different ways.

I find the idea of designing for a living (or livable) world to be a powerful invitation for those of us engaged in creating experiences to bring out the best in others (innovation, collaboration). I hear the call to be mindful and respectful of the cultural and ecological contexts in which I find myself, to work with (not against) the surrounding social/natural environment, and to think in restorative (as opposed to extractive) ways. As David Orr, environmental philosopher and author of The Nature of Design, suggests, sustainable design is all about creating harmony between intentions and “the genius of particular places” (we might add particular people). The standard for Orr is not so much efficiency or productivity, but health. So here’s to ours, fellow designers.

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May/29/09//Sara Oaklander//Sustainability

The 3/50 Project

This is an issue that I believe is at the core of building community where we live and work. I was delighted to learn that there is actually a national movement (of sorts) to promote the importance of this idea and thought I’d pass it on to you all.

You’ve probably heard me make the point when it comes to buying books for IISC from Harvard Bookstore instead of For me, in addition to the bookstore, it also comes up around my local hardware store vs. Home Depot, and my local camera store vs. Best Buy. And on and one the possibilities go!

Thanks for considering your own possibilities in this regard. And thanks for listening!

Sara Oaklander


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May/27/09//Linda Guinee//Sustainability

“You Are Brilliant and the Earth is Hiring”

by Linda Guinee

This week over the Twittersphere people started posting “The Unforgettable Commencement Address by Paul Hawken” (from which the title to this blog post is taken).? It is an amazing call, clear and concise, to the graduating class of 2009 from the University of Portland to dig in and work for the earth – but it is much more than that. It is a call to each of us to wake up, take hold and celebrate the mystery of life. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can find it here, I highly recommend taking a look!

A while ago, IISC also called us, through our viral video, to tend the planet.

So, in celebration of this fabulous spring – and new lives about to come into it – I wanted to pass along these calls to all of us. I’m hearing them loud and clear today. And as Paul Hawken says, “Nature beacons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.”

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