Tools for Transformation: How Blue North Empowers Change

The “sustainability challenge” is fundamentally one of change. It implies an acceptance of the idea that our current modes of living and doing business are not achieving the outcomes we desire and are, in fact, resulting in multiple, accelerating, negatives. Fundamental change is required.

Dr Eli Goldratt, the father of the Theory of Constraints, famously stated “all improvement is a change, but not all change is an improvement”. How do we know if our efforts to change in response to the sustainability challenge will deliver real improvement and not just result in “spinning our wheels” or worse, causing more damage? At Blue North Sustainability we believe that the distinction between weak and strong sustainability is the key to answering this.

In short, strong sustainability provides the principles for living within the laws and limits of nature, i.e., within the carrying capacity of planet Earth. In contrast, weak sustainability perpetuates the illusion that we can live without any planetary constraints, a worldview that underpins modern economic theory and which has led to our current difficulties. A second distinction that can be made about change is that it can either be imposed on us by the greater system and responded to in a reactive way, or it can be proactively and pre-emptively managed and led.

By considering these two parameters—strong versus weak sustainability and reactive versus proactive approaches to change—we can build a simple yet powerful matrix to think about change in the context of the greater sustainability challenge. We characterize individuals, businesses, or economies within each quadrant of the matrix as follows:

Reactive/Weak: Pragmatists (respond to regulations and requirements for change as needed – “tick the boxes” while leaving business-as-usual largely unchanged)

Proactive/Weak: Celebrities (look to lead the response to the sustainability challenge as a means to drive market growth. Tell a good story but leave business-as-usual largely unchanged)

Reactive/Strong: Lone-stars (inward focussed deep change informed by the right understanding and thinking – aim to go “off grid” and become an island of excellence with no motivation to inspire a wider change)

Proactive/Strong: Transformers (drive internal deep change inspired by the right understanding and thinking, aiming to be an inspiration and catalyst for wider socio-economic change, understanding that the change needs to be system-wide)

We have incorporated this framework into our vision and strategy as a business. Essentially, we have challenged ourselves to be a consultancy that assists actors across the greater agri/food system to undertake the journey into the Transformer quadrant.

We have very intentionally designed our product and consulting offering around this ambition. For example, the SHERPA sustainability management system deeply embeds strong sustainability within its content. It is designed to challenge and assist decision-makers plot the course towards the transformer quadrant and measure their progress as they embark on that journey. The Confronting Climate Change (CCC) online carbon calculator provides decision-makers with deep insight into the impacts of their business-as-usual activities in terms of the emissions that result, and provides the feedback to identify the pathways towards lower impact modes of operating. Similarly, we have strong sustainability embedded in all our consulting engagements, be it in our Science Based Targets (SBT) work, the Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) we do or in our general advisory work supporting companies developing and implementing their sustainability strategies.

In summary, change is needed, but change of the right type is imperative. We believe that proactive change inspired by the strong sustainability worldview is the only type that will lead to real improvement. Any other type will just accelerate our unsustainability. We have designed our business, our products and services to facilitate and support our growing client base on this transformational journey. Join us on the adventure!