Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fast set up of intentional communities

AVBP accepted an assignment to invent a rapid process to set up intentional communities.


An intentional community is a planned residential community designed to promote a much higher degree of social interaction than other communities. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political or spiritual vision. They also share responsibilities and resources. Intentional communities include co-housing, residential land trusts, eco-villages, communes, kibbutzim, ashrams, and housing co-operatives.

Typically, new members of an intentional community are selected by the community's existing membership, rather than by real-estate agents or land owners (if the land is not owned by the community). Though intentional communities do not claim to be utopias in the sense of perfect places, many do attempt to live a different and better sort of society, and as such many draw on historical utopian experiments or ideas in utopian fiction.

Why now?

We are entering a new age. Although there have been many earlier warnings on the limits to our way of life, the signals are becoming more frequent and stronger. Within our lifetimes we are likely to see drastic effects of oil depletion, ecological deterioration and financial system collapse.

Where Business as Usual lets people down, the stronger the social cohesion, the better the chances of handling the crisis. We like to say that in the absence of financial capital, social capital will pull you through.

Yet the skills of creating social capital – being able to operate in a group as a group – are not common. The experience of intentional community start-ups is that members go through many personal development stages – joining a community is an exercise in personal growth.

So a platform is needed where individuals can come together to experiment in being part of an Intentional community.

In terms of rewarding relationships – the art of conversation and developing true loving relationships with others – we also recognise our culture of consuming popular entertainment and working alone have not provided us with the opportunity to develop deep, lasting, supportive relationships.


Two groups I am involved in to set up Intentional communities, one in Second Life and one in Real Life, have been going quite a while. The real life one has been going about a year. It is OK it’s taking time, we are learning, there is a lot of material to help that needs studying. However, we believe a lot of people get impatient with this, who would otherwise join an IC. There is a danger that the project simply runs out in the sand and there is no result.

Furthermore, as signs appear on the horizon to that we are entering a world changing for the worse, the sense of urgency will grow. It would be good to offer the possibility to people to join an IC fairly quickly.

First question: what is “quickly?” Well realistically, a study circle is ten meetings over ten weeks. We’ll take ten weeks as a maximum. Some courses, like weekend courses, stretch three weekends or six days of meetings. We can have that as a minimum. We are not looking to make it happen in an evening although I find that idea really appealing so I’d like to try that too.

The Quest: visit an advanced civilization that has methodologies in its culture for bringing people together to create IC. (Thinking about it, this skill seems to be missing or forgotten in our culture.) I want to come home with practical tools and ways to set up an IC rapidly – to achieve visible results to keep the initiative going.


I start in the departure area. I look up and admire the high glass roof. As soon as I sit down on a bench, the facilitator joins me. He wants a word

‘You finally understood this.’

‘Yes,’ I say, ‘this is a facilitation situation – a process that needs facilitation.’

‘Come on, lets take the train’ he says.

We go to the station and get a large cream coloured train with red stripes. We sit opposite each other.

‘Brief me’ I say,

‘It doesn’t work like that and you know it,’ he says.

‘Enjoy the journey, I’ll tell you when to get off.’

We enter a tunnel, come out the other side, and the train stops.

‘Come on, we are getting off,’ he says.

I recognize the place immediately; it’s the Center of Relocalization from earlier visits. The center is municipally- backed with the purpose to inform and assist inhabitants to switch to a more localized life style.

A meeting is going on. We enter and sit down. People are sitting in rows listening to a person up front giving a presentation.

I get the feeling they have been invited here because of Intentional Communities.

The presenter is asking people what they believe about the future and about the world situation. Of course, I personally believe communities need to relocalize. Someone is talking about the whys and wherefores of relocalization. And why you need to be a certain number of people.

This meeting is one of many that the Center of Relocalization holds regularly. I get the feeling that the center has simply put out an advertisement that they are holding the course, and had some explanatory texts on their web.

The presenter shows a diagram of the area and what needs to happen. People here seem to be on the same page. THAT something needs to happen is accepted. THAT it is better to do it with others is what is being discussed.

‘Is it right,’ I ask the facilitator, ‘that these people have been invited?’

‘This represents the first step for them – an information meeting. They will be asked to put their hand up if they want to go further.’ He says.

‘This guy is one of my best facilitators.’

The presentation ends. Seventy eight percent put their hands up and want to carry on. Each takes a card with contact details and instructions as to what to do next. They are walking away. The next step is to go to the pond. I stroll over with the facilitator – about 30 of us gather there. The rest leave. This is a chance for us to get to know each other. Coffee and sandwiches are served and we walk round introducing each other.

I mingle too. I notice a majority of guys – fewer women.

‘Hi,’ I say to one of the participants

‘How come you are here?’

‘Its obvious. I don’t want to be alone – so much happening in the world I want to be part of a group working on this problem.’

‘What do you do?’

‘I’m a panel beater. You?’

‘I work with facilitation - I’m with this facilitator.’

As I point out who I came with, the guy looks at the facilitator with some respect.

The facilitator is grabbing a megaphone and is in the process of taking charge.

‘We need to go to the next stage,’ he says. ‘We need to take the next step, which is talking about land - estate’. He walks over to a large billboard divided up into smaller squares.

He explains: ‘you have to buy it all – you each buy a share of the land – it is your share. You all work together to solve the situation’. And then the group allocates a house or plot of land for your use within the framework of rules.

The facilitator then points out that there are three areas ready for sale today in the municipality.

A representative then presents the land option in detail. They are really talk each one up; ‘this one is beautiful, this one has existing houses, this one is large….etc’

The facilitator explains: ‘If you DO want to form a group you have to choose one of these places’.

A discussion goes on – people walk around debating the alternatives. I ask the facilitator about the sequence here… why the group should acquire land early on in the process.

He replies that man is territorial – it is so much in the blood – we have to have a common object. It is difficult to form a group without a shared resource like a building or land.

They form “buzz” groups of three in each. I overhear ‘If we don’t have the houses already built we have to build everything from scratch. Another says, ‘I’d rather build the houses myself’. A third replies they could camp in the summer.

They switch groups, one remains, the two who move report from their previous groups. Then they switch again.

The general feeling is it doesn’t matter too much which of the areas are chosen - they trust the municipality – what is important is that they get started.

The facilitator stands everyone in a circle. He asks for a show of hands. It is between option one and two. He asks for people to present their thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of each. A new round of voting takes place and they put their hand up but it is still fairly 50 -50.

One person comes with a suggestion: ‘Actually it doesn’t matter as long as we are agreement’. He proposes we go for number one and just do it. The facilitator asks is anyone is against the proposal. Two put their hands up and say why they are against it. But they are not swaying the rest so they are left with choosing to come anyway or leaving the group. One leaves, one stays.

The group has decided on the land, now they have to go and buy it.

I whisper to the facilitator, ‘surely this can’t be right – they can’t buy the land before they work out what they are going to do with it!’

‘Do shut up,’ says the facilitator in an unusually rude outburst, ‘this is OK!’

They go over to a table, the bank are offering a loan to them to buy their share.

I didn’t like it, but I see the group needs something concrete like land. They still have opt out clauses in the contracts and no money has changed hands so I suppose it doesn’t matter too much.

Now they are asked to go to the decision ring, which consists of a circle of stone stools. They are sitting in a circle.

The facilitator again.

‘Now you need to elect democratic representation. I will hand over the running of the group to you. ’

So what he is looking for is volunteers. The group needs a legal board to represent it. A chairman, a secretary, a treasurer and three or four others ...deputies.

‘Who would like to put themselves forward or who would you like to suggest?’

The committee can choose their own chairman if they want to. Someone has been treasurer before and are happy to do it, so they volunteer. Someone has been on committee before, they step forward.

The facilitator takes care of the group decision to elect the committee. He points our that the committee is only for the set up period and a new one can be chosen later when the community is established.

For each candidate he asks if anyone is against and for their reasons.

It all goes fairly smoothly.

‘So,’ he says, ‘we finally have a formal organization. The minutes and complete set of documents to register the organization have been prepared by the facilitator’s organization. They are ready to be sent off to the authorities.

‘Time for a break again,’ says the facilitator. Group members walk around, discussing the place.

‘Impressive work,’ I say to the facilitator. ‘You haven’t seen anything yet,’ he replies.

He ushers the group round a large circular sandy area that looks like it may be a circular car parking space. He gets a stick and draws a large circle, which he divides into several sections.

Each of these sections has to do with setting up the community. He draws a heading in each section; housing, farming, water, social development, energy and recycling. This reminds me of the five stresses of Porena. I think to myself that of course the five stresses are addressed. He describes each of the areas then asks people to walk around and think about which aspects they would like to be involved in. They are to volunteer with their feet. They should think about their first and second choices.

He puts a number in the sections for how many are needed. Housing needs fifteen. People shuffle around some go from first to second choice.

Very quickly, all the numbers are made up.

The facilitator: ‘make sure you get to know each other, and choose one representative for your group’.

They stand in circles to choose their representative.

We have a committee and five representatives from each of the areas that need to be worked on.

The facilitator calls on us to walk up the hill towards a beautiful pavilion.

We will sit here just for five minutes. The idea here is to be silent, to still our thoughts and let everything catch you up.

I notice what a lovely day it is. I feel the sun shining on my face, and the breeze blowing in my hair. We all sit and close our eyes.

Just calming down, taking a break. It’s difficult to be silent as there are so many questions. I sneak at peak at the others who seem to be struggling as well. However, I suddenly feel the power of the group in the silence, Because we are all quiet together, because we are coming together and all have one purpose we can feel it.

The facilitator says; ‘look, we can’t go any further today - if we go too fast we will lose you.

A lot is happening you need to reflect on. However, until next time in your groups you need to complete a task. You have to dimension – quantify, each area for how much do you need of what and when. The group is made of 30, and can grow to 50 families. Those of you here who have partners at home should talk it through with them. Then there is the loan application, the bank will be contacting you.

The organization is formed, the land is allocated but not turned over to the group, everyone needs to talk it though with their spouses. And we will see you back here next week for the weekend course.

I go and thank the facilitator for showing me all this.

He says there is some worked involved in working it all out and shows me a manual, a compendium of possibilities of calculations, general experience of working with these groups before. There is a database of experience the compendium is taken from. And they follow how each group is doing.

The bank is essential. In this case the local municipality, who understood the importance of relocalization and forming communities, have engaged the bank to help. The municipality assigned the land and gave the bank the task of liaising with the facilitator group and the Center of Localization.

I borrow the facilitators eyes. One thing is that the moving around the group does is to get members thinking about estate together. I t helps them visualize what it will be like on their own land. And providing some basics like eating together is symbolic. Then there is the sitting down to make formal decision. Being silent together is something very powerful. In the silence the purpose can be felt. This is not religious.

I leave the facilitator’s eyes.

‘I’ll see you next time,’ he says.

I leave and get back on the train.

Things that surprised me

It is so obvious that the group needs to be agreed on the “what” of the gravity and urgency of the situation. The possibility that community is the answer to “how” is what needs to be got over.

Both the sand circle and the moments of silence were quite profound solutions.

That the local municipality and the bank had got together with the center and its facilitator group.

The need to actually speed ahead with the land allocation – I had never realized how important that is to people.

Learnings that struck me as significant

The facilitation structure helped the group to come together – first sitting together listening, then social mingle, then group decision, voting, consensus and then creating a formal organization and finally volunteering.

If you have the land it’s a lot easier to create the group – something inbuilt in humans.

In the silence is the purpose.

The need to go fast but not too fast – humans have the need to reflect.

Deliverables encountered

  • File/Database of knowledge
  • Descriptions of land available
  • Large presentation
  • Sand circle
  • Circle of decision, formal meeting place
  • Contract to buy part of land
  • Ready-to-complete documents of incorporation

Things I could use today.

I think in forming the intentional community I am working with just now, I will encourage them to get land as soon as possible. But also to consider all the opt out possibilities along the way.

The moment of silence… could be used in all groups.

The volunteer circle could be used at meetings in all volunteer situations.

Other reflections

Of course I asked to see a culture where ICs were common, I did not specify any conditions like in our world today. Especially, today there is no perception of urgency or gravity. I also like the idea that land is already available. How this could be applied to our situation today is something I would like to come back to, after the next follow-up sessions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The world of work: what are the options?

In my last post I pointed out what must be obvious to many – that work is not working. Too much work is being done to create financial wealth, and too little is being done to secure a sustainable future for coming generations. If we have a world population of 6 billion, say a quarter of them are in work. The others are too old, young, sick or plain unemployed.

Let’s try to make it even clearer by considering the options. On one dimension the impact of work on ecological services provided by nature. Either it will decrease or maintain them. And then you have the dimension generating a standard of living, either work creates an acceptable standard or not.

That gives us four options. The absolute worst one is where work depletes the environment and we don’t create a standard of living worth having. Sadly to say, that is the position we are in today. The United Nations millennium report clearly shows the state of environmental degradation, and levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere are dangerously high already according to some scientists. We have a lot of people starving and a lot more in danger of starving.

Let’s look at this in more detail We’ll use rounded figures for convenience.

  • World population: 6 billion
  • Working population say, a half - 3 billion
  • Number of hours a day worked (average based on 1600 hours a year, 365 days a year) =13 billion hours a day
  • 85 billion barrels of oil a day
  • 14 million tons a day of coal
  • Ecological situation: footprint is 20% above the capacity of the Earth
  • Number of people undernourished: 887 million
  • Number without access to safe drinking water: 1,3 billion
  • Number on less that $2 a day 300 million

Starting from this situation we need to find a better option. Increasing protection of the environment is a GOOD thing. But in practice, if stricter regulations are introduced without the guarantee of living standards being provided, the end result would be even more hardship.

Concentrating on solving living standards for all without taking the environment into consideration will deplete the environment even faster.

The only sensible option to aim for is then securing a standard of living whilst preserving environmental services. That in my opinion requires rethinking work. But that is a very appealing challenge. My earlier envisioning looked at “the go along society”. We could do a whole lot worse.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why work isn’t working

Regular readers will remember that one of the major tenets of my book and this blog is that the sustainable city abandoned work as a way to generate a standard of living. In fact, it was one of the first of the old ideas to go.

Work as we know it was replaced by the voluntary ”go along” society. Food and housing were provided free and this meant there was no need to ”go to work” to earn pay to be able to buy these things.

Now more than ever it seems this insight rings true. Work is such a bad invention we need to drop it and replace it with something better. It has become such a counter sustainable phenomenon that it can’t be fixed. The downsides are so many ... let me list them

No-one is working towards sustainability

As no-one ( or very few) have it in their job description to ensure their organization makes every effort to reverse the counter sustainable trend, work ensures there is little being done to move in this direction. In fact, if you add up all the people and then their hours they work to put us in the irrevocable rut of counter sustainable development, you’ll see what a formidable force it is that is driving us. This force is taking us to what might be a climate system collapse and a near extinction event.

Environmental burden

All of these hours come with them the support of thousands of energy slaves in the form of fossil fuels. These fuels are used not only to transport large amounts of materials back and firth but also to extract resources from the Earth and to drive manufacturing processes that leave authorities and individuals to clean up the resulting externalized waste.

It is no fun

Let’s face it for most people most of the time it is no fun. Isn’t that a sign we are doing something wrong?

It is not meaningful

Because there is little in people’s job descriptions that describe how they are to work towards a sustainable development, there is little in the design of the job that offers anything with meaning. On the contrary, employees are expected to give bad (read cheap) service, not do more than the minimum expected for customers and preferably get the customers coming back paying more for less.

It is not generating standard of living

I often hear ”you have to go to work to pay the bills”. Sure. But look at how many HAVE work who cannot afford a standard of living anyway. From workers in the low cost factories making stuff, to the part time employed, young, shop assistants who sell you the stuff – there is a long chain of people who can’t actually support a family on their wages.

Not generating wealth

Even statistics for Sweden from Statistics Sweden reveal the rich are getting richer and the poor are owning less and less percentage of the wealth generated by the work they do. In fact, statistics show that productivity has risen faster than wages over the last decade.

Now is not the time

With energy prices and Carbon Dioxide restrictions set to upset the apple cart of ”Business as Usual” for ever, pulling the lever of ”more work” or ”work harder” is not going to work. Working harder to introduce – say – better engines, better houses, energy saving gadgets – is that really going to work when there is less and less money to invest, people have less to spend and are less interested in investing in alternatives.

We have to let go.

With all the researchers, with all the alternative organizations, with all our innovativeness and creativity and determination we must start now to replace this monster. There are several small steps we could start with.

Make labour free for all “do good” organizations.

All the non-profit organizations that are moving in a sustainable direction ( after approval) could be allowed to engage unemployed people at no cost. The unemployed person keeps their benefit, continues to look for work, but is engaged in the activities of the non-profit. By the same token, employees of this organization could be exempted from employers’ taxes etc.

Set an “enough to live on” level of income, and let people earn this before tax kicks in. People who wish to could work part time but be guaranteed at least a minimum.

Introduce a citizen’s wage whilst encouraging the spread of sustainable-oriented non-profits.

If you run a company you could consider doing what 1001 hal (danish) or the Mango group
both of these groups have a policy of flat wage .. the same for all, and only taking on projects that allign with their values. They value experience and fun over profit. And time with their children instead of endless overtime.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Second Life; Looking for land

Looking for Land

Still thinking about the IC in Second Life. It is a common thing that groups looking to set up an Intentional Community start looking for land at an early stage. I don’t know why – maybe because they want to get going quickly – or maybe because they think if they find the right land the rest will fall into place.

My real life community did this. But we always found a reason why it was not right. We had not got the finance clear and we didn’t have an idea of what we really wanted to do – but we looked for land. We heard of a group of vegetarians who started looking for somewhere they could grow food together so they could live as vegetarians when they were pensioners – they were afraid the old folks’ home would not serve decent vegetarian food. That was way back in the 80s. According to my friend, they are still looking. They couldn’t find anything they liked. After a while we realized we should reevaluate – define what we were looking for and why. We should look into vision, finance and rules and criteria – and agree.

Second life is fun to search for land in – you can fly around and see it all from the air! So much you feel you would like to do – create a place of beauty.

Flying looking for land 003B

Anyway. This is my idea of the main elements of an intentional community in Second Life.

IC in SL

PUBLIC AREA A Very Beautiful Place

Just an area of natural beauty with a lake, a beach, forests, water falls etc to walk around in and chill out – maybe walk with a loved one or a friend to have a chat. An open air dance area and large area for public meetings.


Stalls selling things to do with IC – like books, contacts to trainers, facilitators, courses etc.


An exhibition on what IC is all about.


The main function would be to run IC information and training. Could also be sued for large meetings of the IC. I envisage facilities like a DVD screen and screens for showing Powerpoints and performances.


If they wanted to , ICs in formation could meet here in a circle to make important decisions.


Modelled on the RL FINDHORN communitiy. We portion off land so residents can build their own houses close to our activities.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Second Life experiment kicks off for Max Wahlter

My sustainability blogger alter ego Max is now not just in the book "Inventing for the Sustainable Planet" but on SECOND LIFE, too. Here is his diary entry:

I am so happy that my Second Life friends Cal and Mia have asked me join them on their experiment in Intentional Communities in Second Life. They have graciously invited me to live on their wonderful tropical island paradise for a while during the first phase.

Learning to live together in communities is important if we are to come through the tail end of the industrial era which started with the peaking of oil production per capita already in 1979. Of course we enjoy the fruits of progress – the irony is not lost on me we are playing this out on state of the art computers and high speed Internet connections – but the downsides carry with them the very factors that will make negotiating post-peak ramifications so difficult.

We have become used to being able to live without fending for ourselves and growing our own food. We have become used to having others make decisions for us – both at work where “management” decide or in society where it is political. Those of us who have tried to voice our opinion know what a struggle it is to get through. The tools required for living in a community where you are dependant on the community for the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing, etc – decision making, prioritization, division of labor, handling conflicts and handling rule breaking – are not commonly known or practiced.

It is my hope we can use this fantastic platform to create somewhere where people can come to learn these skills in order for them to be able to contribute to the development of their own Intentional Communities in real life.

The island here is fantastic, a reminder of what a wonderful gift this Natural world is – and more, what a gift it is to be able to love, life, each other, to love living, to love just breathing. The love Cal and Mia have for each other, I know, has already inspired many to think in new directions. I hope our little community can continue to grow and inspire, to bring hope that we can make through not just surviving but leaving a wonderful, sustainable, peaceful legacy for coming generations.

X Max.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What can Second Life teach us about sustainability?

Like Dave Pollard, writer of the excellent blog ”How to Save the World”, I too believe the on-line 3D phenomenon ”Second Life” ( can make a significant contribution to sustainable development. Here are a few first thoughts:

Simulation of technology. If you can think it you can make it Second life. And then walk around it, see it, see it in context, show to others. Second life could act as a showcase for all kinds of sustainable solutions – from sustainable towns through water cleaning systems to energy capture. These solutions could be presented in a compelling way – where you walk from insight to insight gathering new knowledge and perspective. There is already a sustainable Eco-village in SL called Etopia. They are doing some good things which I will come back later to.

My Avatar in SL, Max Wahlter tries out a bamboo bike in Etopia

The other area of interest in SL is the money system. It is interest-free, and works like many an ideal alternative currency. You simply pay for right of use. Just now about four USD will get you an account and 1000 Linden Dollars. You can earn money by selling your time or the things you make. All transactions are tax-free. SL is an ideal place to try out alternative currency approaches.

The same is true of social structures. In real life (RL) we can get into a bad tangle when our personal economies are involved with others, say when buying into an eco-village or starting a business with companions. In SL you can buy an island with your friends, build a shop and start from there. Should it fail you can always close the computer and walk away – and you will have participated in an experiment for just a few dollars that would otherwise threaten your entire economy. SL friends of mine, Mia and Cal are trying just this. See their blog on SL provides tools for collaborating like on-line chat, text and voice, group notifications and possibilities to show videos and powerpoints and distribute text and other material.

Maybe one of the least talked about sustainable aspects of SL is its ability to bring all kinds of pleasures without using one drop of fossil fuels. This is important because we are at a stage where our consumption levels clearly must drop radically. This is not going to be easy. We are used to so much material comfort and stimulation. We can experiment with weaning ourselves off material pleasures, going over to establishing rewarding relationships on-line with people from all over the world and playing on-line. Whatever your needs – be they paint ball, jazz, hang gliding or fetish sex – you can find all on-line in SL!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The simple choices we face

One of the things you learn from working with innovation for the sustainable planet is to ask the right question from the outset. What is it we are trying to achieve? Well, no-one wants to work too much and everyone wants at least a simple standard of living. But what are our choices? The simple matrix below may help illustrate the issue. On one dimension the natural resources available to us should be available to future generations. If we have oil and coal now, we should plant not to deplete them all, but to arrange it so we can benefit from them without leaving future generations without them or a substitute for them.

The other dimension is achieving a standard of living for all. So there are the choices: Best case is where we achieve a standard without sacrificing natural resources. If we achieve a standard to the detriment of natural resources we put future generations at risk. This option is the quick fix solution of the untamed market economy. The third option is preserving resources and not achieving a living standard. This option subjugates standards to ecology, probably in some kind of dictatorship. Finally, the worse case option gives us depleted resources and still no standard of living.

Surprisingly perhaps, the current state of affairs in the world is firmly in the worse option. Despite rain forests being turned into agricultural land, phosphor being mined in several places and huge amounts of fossil fuel being put into agriculture, we still have hunger. And we still have poverty even in the richest countries. Both environmental degradation AND blatant failure to provide a standard of living are prevalent.

Changing the direction of humanity will take time. We need to start now.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Article from the future: Retford's transition

Retford was slow in coming to the realization that ”business as usual” may not keep local citizens’ standard of living at an acceptable level. As they saw energy prices hike many were concerned the local economy was in danger of spiraling down out of control. Many others found it incomprehensible that energy security could be synonymous with economic security. Fortunately, the neighboring city of Porena had embarked upon a successful sustainable development process several years earlier. They turned to Porena city manager, Aaron Heathcliffe, for help. They have now managed to start activities rolling in eight major areas involving just about everyone in the area. Part of the reason for Retford’s success was getting people involved in a way that built a sense of urgency and importance.

But how serious and urgent was the situation? Says Jeff Small, coordinator for the Sustainable Development Office of Retford: “Our starting point was one of a need to understand the situation from the point of view of security of living standards. The national government had delegated responsibility for sustainable development down to the local level. We had received a list of goals to strive for.” Jeff continues, “how urgent was the situation? We had no idea. Some people were saying oil depletion would mean energy price hikes above the annual 4-5% we were seeing. Others were saying market mechanisms would prevail. Interestingly, very few actually knew how things worked in the local region. And even fewer could navigate the figures needed. We found ourselves comparing apples and pears. For instance; how much food do we need (often measured in calories), how much food do we grow (measured in tons) how much energy needed to grow food (measured in liters of diesel)”.

It was just this need to understand the situation that prompted Aaron Heathcliffe to use a data gathering and modeling approach. Based on the local council’s own GIS (geographic information system) he asked the office to set up a project group to find out how the living standard basics were provided. These included water, housing, food, jobs, transport etc. All figures and explanations were to be put into the GIS system so project members could “fly” through the area to gain an understanding of how these systems were working.

Jeff Small again; “The exercise was a real awakening; for example, we do not grow enough food in the area to feed all the population. There is massive commuting every day, and parts of the area are not served by public transport. The system was extremely useful. The group could ask the operator to, say, “show us the number of people living out of walking distance of public transport” – and we could see immediately the information in graphic form on the map”. It was the process of gathering the data that started to create both awareness and multilateral cooperation. For instance, it started to become apparent what was NOT known about water supply. People are just used to turning on taps, and very few had a view of the sewage treatment processes. The data gathering exercises produced very clear and comprehensive information, which the project published. Pictures from the studies helped create awareness for what was to come.

It was the next phase however, that really created the impetus for change. The project team started to bring in representatives of every stakeholder organization. Each basic element of living standard was mapped against the relevant stakeholder organization. The local business association, residents’ association and gardening club got very active early on.

The next step was to ask representatives to review the data, and to evaluate it. They got as the starting point the government goals and security of living standards. They were to come up with risks and priorities. A database related to the GIS system stored geographical positioning data, the issue description, risk and priority. All the data could be aggregated to give a general overview of the risk of potential of shortfall or excess for local residents. What was interesting was that from the point of view of each stakeholder organization’s purpose, as stated in their articles of association, the current situation was not really producing the sort of results they were after. Local businesses were struggling, resident’s associations complaining of falling standards, food quality was poor… Oil depletion risks were changing the situation from uncomfortable to downright disastrous.

Aaron Heathcliffe commented; “we never mentioned politics once. What was interesting was that no-one really disputed where the priorities lay. Maybe some had different ideas about how to solve them, but this fact-based method helped build a basis for consensus”. At this point, the stakeholder organizations were invited to send representatives to work out a plan of action. The plan would include commitments by each organization, so only representatives with enough mandate were sent to the action planning. The plans were based on the shortfall –excess evaluations. Excess would be a resource to use to mitigate shortfalls in other areas, by for example trading with other areas.

In the end, the groups had worked out about eight major areas to tackle and strategies for each. Commitments from the various stakeholder organizations were not enough, however, for real changes to be brought about. For instance, one scheme involved reducing commuting by job-swapping. Although the local business association had set the scheme up it needed employees to volunteer for the changes. To sweeten the deal, anyone who swapped their job would be given a free travel permit. Anyone who gave up their car would be prioritized for housing and so on.

So the next step was for each stakeholder organization to invite their members and members of the public to presentations. The office of sustainable development decided to stage a large exhibition in conjunction with the local May fair. Large displays took visitors through the analysis the project groups had gone through, and other displays asked for volunteers. Most of the key area booths took the form of displays with four sections. In the middle they showed how the area works today – what we have - the left pane showed - why we can’t go on – the right pane: what we need and the bottom pane – what we must do. The next set of displays talked about managing the transition, and the need for overall coordination of efforts. People would then drift to the display “get involved” just before the exit.

One group is planning to re-build some parts of the town to make easy walking access. And they are talking about a canal for energy efficient transport of heavy goods. One priority is diesel for the construction machines. They want to dig ditches and create the conditions for permaculture before the machines become useless. Jeff Small is excited; “from what looked to be a dark future we are hopeful we are headed for an easier, more social life, with a feeling of being closer to nature!”

This is an extract from the coming sequel to the book “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”

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