Zero-emission behavior. TIGE enquiry

Going sustainable by focusing on zero emission behavior.

Recently, together with Kabir Aurora, I led an inquiry group as part of TIGE: Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy conference, Caux Switzerland. The sessions focused on how to go from the present situation to a society with sustainable production and consumption.

Instead of working from theory we looked into a method that was promoted in my novel “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”. (You can download the chapter for free, here IFTSP_LU_ch10.)

The approach is to identify specific concerns and from there look for specific behaviors, that if they were not done, no environmental concern would arise. The behaviors provide a kind of baseline from which all other work arises. From this baseline the inquiry identifies and analyses the systems, infrastructure, economic incentives etc, assets, stakeholders etc around that behavior. From the analysis, new behavior patterns can be seen and ways to encourage them developed.

This may seem rather simpleton at first sight, but the method brings up rich insights revealing possible routes to change in a seemingly cemented pattern of counter-sustainable behavior.

It also challenges first perceptions of concerns.


To take an example from one of the participants: people take the car to the local store and purchase food brought in from far away. This causes CO2 emissions. If they never bought long-distance food, the emissions from its transport would never happen. Or if they never went to the store at all.

But is the concern one of emissions from food provision or does it even include concerns of food security?

Once concerns are revealed and before embarking on a multi-dimensioned analysis of the chain of causes we pause to ask “what are reasonable expectations from a sustainable production and consumption perspective?” One possibility is that the present system is electrified and run on renewable energy. Another might be to design out long transport in food production. The dialogue on what is reasonable informs the next stage of the inquiry: to find solutions.


The inquiry had a go at biomimicry. Instead of jumping to solutions you take a look at how nature solves problems – you will maybe come up with a better way.


Brainstorming bio mimicry in the sustainable production and consumption inquiry

Finding solutions is the easiest, and “jumping to solutions” is very common in workshops. The hard part is implementation. The rest of the inquiry looked at how to introduce the solutions which in most cases requires a local development project with a wide range of stakeholders.

What we learned from the inquiry – or at least what I observed emerging from the various working groups – was that it is much easier to start again than change existing set-ups. This is probably why at conferences one gets the feeling there are a plethora of good solutions and a frustration that people just don’t seem to be adopting them.

We had just done an exercise to compare a caterpillar with industrial capitalism. It is as if the system just goes on and on, impossible to stop. Here is our comparison. We took heart from the idea that the caterpillar has a stop to growth built into it.


The real world is messy in that way, and unraveling the changes needed just to, for example, set up local bio-waste composting, is a long task. Based on our inquiry I think that the methodology would work in a municipality or city sector, where a large group of citizens and civil servants could meet to identify and rank concerns. Working groups could then look at different aspects of the concern using the behavior based approach and from there change projects could be launched starting from small, unobtrusive measurements and analyses, going to dialogues and then small scale trials and experiments. Perhaps a two-day workshop with municipal officers to familiarize themselves with the methodology and the tools associated with it to prepare for the larger, citizen-led inquiry.

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