efforts if they believe that their individual contributions can make a difference (39). Similarly,
in the case of climate change activism, individuals need not only a sense of urgency about the
issue, but also confidence that solutions are possible (36).
In addition to grassroots initiatives, efforts
within preexisting social groups can also drive
change. For example, faith communities, hobby
groups, and neighborhoods bring people together
through shared values, rituals, or connection to
place, and can energize larger-scale conservation
actions through these common connections. Place-based collectives, such as neighborhood associations, can shift attention away from ideological
differences to focus on tangible community-level
action, such as creating a shared wind farm (40).
Efforts within faith-based communities likely motivate through alignment with spiritual values, and
can have wide reach through the larger networks
of interfaith organizations.
Although psychological research has examined
what motivates people to volunteer and cooperate for social causes, or mobilize around political
campaigns, the results have yet to be applied to
collective efforts for conservation.
Leveraging formal organizations to
Formal organizations can serve as vehicles to
quickly mobilize collective action toward sus-
tainability. Governmental units, educational in-
stitutions, and businesses large and small are
designed to guide the actions of many toward
a coherent purpose. Organizational culture, by
way of norms, values, policy, and leadership,
powerfully influences individual members (41).
Additionally, organizations determine the “choice
architecture,” or the situational contexts that
guide actions and decisions (33). A “green” organizational culture effectively relieves individuals
from the effortful thinking required to recognize and respond in sustainable ways. For instance, purchasing policies can prioritize vendors
that meet sustainability criteria, and technology policies can set machine defaults to efficiency modes. Individuals no longer have to have
background knowledge, do research, and evaluate myriad choices for every behavior relevant
The problem is, as with individuals, the fundamental assumptions that drive organizations
reflect the worldview of the broader culture. In
today’s world, businesses tend to assume a growth
economy based on a take-make-waste model, many
religions elevate the value of humans over other
beings, and schools often fail to prepare graduates to understand ecology. Thus, the goals, operations, and resulting organizational behavior run
contrary to ecological realities.
Although organizations are currently ma-
jor contributors to worldwide environmental
degradation, they in fact have
the capacity to move in new, eco-
logically sound directions. They
can empower their members to
innovate, take risks, and take
the long-term view together (42).
First, however, a catalyst must in-
fluence organizational direction.
In any group or organization,
the entity itself is not the actor.
Individuals—informal and formal
leaders, decision-makers, workers,
volunteers, and members—are the
underlying force. So, the onus is
on individuals to initiate and im-
plement change in these collec-
tives. This is easier said than done.
Psychologists do not yet know
why some are willing or able to
take a bold stand for change in the
same situations that drive others
to support the status quo or to simply withdraw (43). What they do
know is that resisting the pressure to conform, especially in the
context of formal organizations,
requires nothing short of heroic
Yet, it is possible to empower
ordinary people to successfully
face such challenges. Recognizing this, a group of influential
psychologists has founded an
initiative to educate the public
about negative social influence
and provide individuals with the
psychological tools to act with moral courage (44).
Although change can begin anywhere in an
organization, people in leadership roles are ar-guably best positioned to activate a major shift
toward sustainability (45). Unfortunately, though
well-intentioned, leaders who possess the prevailing modern-industrial worldview may only
make their processes or products “less bad” (46).
To radically change a group’s trajectory, leaders
must think differently; they must internalize an
ecologically grounded worldview and integrate
it into the vision they set for others (47).
Certainly, some leaders have experienced epiph-anies, recognizing the inconsistency between the
dominant industrial worldview and ecological
systems. The late carpet magnate Ray Anderson
often spoke of the “spear in the heart” moment
when he realized his business was endangering
future generations (48). Humanity cannot, however, depend on spontaneous individual insight
to propel institutions forward; more methodical
approaches are in order. Through mentorship (49)
and applied, inquiry-based educational programs
(50), youth and adults alike can learn to understand the ecological underpinnings of society.
Science-based programs such as The Natural
Step (51) have been designed to support ecologically consistent organizational learning. Additional research is needed to understand how to
enhance the pace and depth of worldview change.
Ecologically grounded worldview Modern-industrial worldview vs.
Earth has plenty of resources Earth’s regenerative capacity
A linear “take, make, waste”
economy can continue indefnitely
will fx our
Even small manipulations
of nature have system-
Our systems must be circular;
“waste equals food”
Fig. 2. Some of the contrasting assumptions of modern-industrial and ecologically grounded worldviews
depicted in the context of food systems. Similar assumptions underlie transportation, energy generation, water
use, and material consumption. [Adapted from (57)]