The Power of Sustainable Thinking

Bob Doppelt – Review by Martin Sahlén

Earthscan, 2008, 218 pp, £16.99 (hardback), ISBN 9781844075959

Given its subtitle of “How to create a positive future for the climate, the planet, your organisation and your life”, you could be forgiven for having high expectations of this book. You might also consider it unlikely to live up to them. However, it largely does, successfully delivering a practical and inspiring vision for change that is applicable in many life situations.

Doppelt, director of Resource Innovations and The Climate Leadership Initiative at the University of Oregon’s Institute for a Sustainable Environment, introduces the book by mapping out the underlying thought patterns that have given rise to what he calls the “take-make-waste” paradigm. He does so with straightforward examples and illustrations of how common “thinking blunders” prevent us from genuinely sustainable behaviour.

The primary purpose of this book is not to convince the reader of the state of things, but rather to provide a straightforward description of the thought and behavioural patterns that underlie unsustainability, and of methods for successfully changing those to patterns that support sustainability. He maps out the change process, which evolves from disinterest, through design and action, to defending new values and behaviour. Particular emphasis is placed on how the methods for change can be adapted to the stage of change at which the people and organisations involved find themselves.

In passing, Doppelt notes that a common failure among environmentalists is not to recognise this basic psychological fact: that people are quickly alienated by the irrelevance of proposed measures to their own position. Doppelt goes on to describe how to motivate people and organisations to change. One of the core tenets of his reasoning is: “you have to change yourself to motivate others and your organisation to change.” The emphasis is clearly on effective methods: what will deliver the end results?

In summarising his approach, he argues that all future thinking must be systems-based, and new sustainable ethics must be adopted. This change must start at the personal level and spread from there. Ultimate success will depend on your and our orientation to the challenge – individually and collectively.

This book is recommended for most people thinking about living more sustainably and offers useful advice for everyone from business executives to green campaigners to the average citizen, all of whom are sure to find valuable insights.