10 tips for sustainable development

This post is my translation from the booklet 10 tips for sustainable development as written down by Caroline Van Leenders for transitionmanagement. While the booklet is written to inspire the general public in transition and sustainability, the tips are also useful for entrepreneurs that are interested in the subject. I’ll be talking about transitionmanagement more in detail in a future blogpost.

For the original translation, you can check out this post on my old blog.

1) Live in parallel worlds

Innovations happen in different places, on different levels and in different domains and sectors. In real life and on the internet, in the minds and hearts of different people.

As an entrepreneur, living in parallel worlds is a difficult but necessary thing. Later on this blog I’ll go in deeper on stuff like co-creation, open innovation, empowerment, intrapreneurship… and all the other buzzwords that basically come down to the same thing every time: We know more than me.

2) Start underground

Starting small… It may appear counterproductive to start underground when you want to have a big impact. We want to make big structures, make everyone aware of our actions, our missions…

Don’t! Start underground and stay there until you’re strong enough. The system has the tendency to counter new things. Skeptics will unite and people who profit from the current way of business will lobby against you.

Fly under the radar, give yourself a insignificant name (community or practice instead of Task-force or ETB). You should also start with a small budget in order to attract the right people. Once you’ve created a strong base (and your name gets passed word of mouth) it’s time to reveal yourself.

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” – A. A. Milne

Don’t mistake starting small with small ambition though.

3) Eyes on the future, feet on the ground

Sustainability requires system innovations that need time. In the end sustainable innovation is all about updating existing products, processes, areas or structures.

This means you need a vision towards the future. A vision is a longing of people for something about to unfold. A good vision is able to unite people. It creates a team spirit and commitment far greater than individual ego’s.

Once the long term goals are defined you have to keep the team focussed by combining short term successes with the longing for the long term vision. This specific topic will be discussed later as I go deeper on transition- and value based management.

4) Unite and connect

Sustainable development can only be achieved by working together. By bringing different worlds together, new solutions will appear. Is it’s not your core-business, find someone who does know something about it.

A new (and very important) trend is bringing the stakeholders into the design process (both users and channel partners). More than ever it is important to define WHY you’re doing WHAT you’re doing and for WHO you’re doing it.

The synergy of a multidisciplinary team will bring you projects to a much higher level (nothing is accomplished alone).

5) Let go of ideas – From copyrights to open source

Sharing and open source are slowly becoming common practices. By sharing why you do what you do and how you do it, you’ll generate an audience rather than a group of customers. This gives you the opportunity to become a leading company with it’s own missionaries.

The collective brain is far more interesting than the narrow mind of just 1 specialist. Use this collective brain.

Blogs, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook,… the ways of connecting with the world nowadays are immense.

6) Use the procedures

Let’s talk about bureaucracy. Filling in all the right forms, waiting weeks or months for replies, more stuff to send back,… . Use those procedures, no matter how tedious they are. By using the rules you will be able to (fairly easy) avoid criticism.

Basically this is Aikido. Instead of fighting a big, powerfull (time consuming) system you use its power. Use the rules, surprise skeptics and convince them not by fighting them but by telling they’re right.

Keep the game, change the rules.

7) Use what exists

Because it’s a waste of money to invest in stuff that already exists. Open source platforms (like this blog) are free and often as good as custom made, expensive alternatives.

8 ) Turn it around

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”- Albert Einstein

Look at a problem from different angles, turn it around, upside down and inside out. By looking at problems from a fresh angle, you will notice tons of new ideas and solutions. One of my favorite ways of looking at stuff differently is by asking nature (asknature.org).

9) Different layers of society

Don’t focus on just one kind of person. Innovation is everywhere, therefore you should encourage it everywhere.

If you’re able to communicate effectively within the different layers of society, innovations will also spread faster. You should not focus on working only bottom-up or top-down. If you have motivated people in every layer of a company, there will be more engagement from everyone.

Don’t invest to much time in people that don’t believe in why you’re doing what you’re doing. Focus on those who want to join you.

10) Give it time!

Patience is a virtue. Looking at the state of the world it is normal you want to act fast. But as stated before, system innovations need time. If you want to rush things people might feel threatened. Change is a good but uncomfortable thing, make sure people have time to adapt to new stuff.

You can speed things up by using things people know and adding a societal value to your company. Change the world in a way your customers and audience want to see it changing. As far as the state of the world is concerned, there’s still time to make things right. The only time we don’t have is time to waste.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Bambusa Solutions and commented:
    I like the way that this author has linked the concept of sustainable development with the issues faced by entrepreneurs and new business start-ups.

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