Cultural Transformation: Replace Culture of Waste with a Culture of Sustainability


Cultural transformation is an aspect of sustainability that, in our opinion, has not received the attention it deserves from the “sustainability” community. Regardless of how a community initially approaches sustainable development the long term success of its efforts to improve its quality of life, with respect to People, Planet, Profit$, will depend on transforming a culture of waste to a culture of sustainability.

Communities go about sustainable development in a variety of ways.

Figure 53 illustrated some of the different ways that communites approach sustainable development i.e., Single Project, Multi-Project, Multi Community (Regional) Multi-Project. Regardless of how a community approaches sustainable development it must seek to improvements integrate sustainable improvements into public practices and individual lifestyles.


We  define cultural transformation with respect to sustainability as replacing a culture of waste with a culture of sustainability that values and promotes consuming less and wasting less.


Many communities have undertaken sustainable improvement projects that initially produced significant improvements only to watch those improvements disappear over time. One key reason improvements disappear is that the CHANGES that lead to the improvements do NOT replace the established practices of public agencies and/or households.


Figure B illustrates how sustainable projects can be organized regionally, at the community level and and neighborhoods and households AND sustained through changing culture.FromPDF_ForJoe_FigureB_102014

You can’t replace a culture of waste with a culture of sustainability without CHANGING the status quo consisting of established public practices, policies, and individual lifestyles.John P. Kotter is widely regarded as the foremost expert on Leadership and Change aka Organizational Transformation. Figure 17 provides an overview of  how practitioners/stakeholders can integrate Steps 1-7 of UVC’s Sustainable Community planning methodology with Kotter’s 8 step strategy for creating and sustaining change.For the reader’s convenience Figure 17 is followed by Figure 13 to facilitate matching up the references to Steps 1-7 (Figure 17) with the steps of UVC’s methodology (Figure 13)

TIP-As you implement Steps 1-7 of UVC’s methodology you can also be implementing Kotter’s eight (8) step Change methodology by  insuring that stakeholders understand  that the success of their sustainable development planning also depends on managing the change process.EXAMPLE As you organize Stakeholder Engagement(UVC-Step 1) to guide and support your sustainable development planning pay attention to designating stakeholders as a Guiding Coalition (Kotter-Step 2) to insure that improvements are integrated into cultural practices. Similarly as you take each of the other Steps of UVC’s methodology insure you are communicating how the development process is also contributing to creating a culture of sustainability that consumes less and wastes less.

TIP- Culture and cultural change are complex subjects. The following comments are intended to provide a brief introduction to stakeholders and practitioners that can hopefully both guide their work and their own research on these issues.

Culture has both a visible and invisible dimension. The invisible dimension consists of values, beliefs, and knowledge that are shared by a group. The visible dimension consists of people’s behavior e.g., language, playing sports, worshiping, etc., material objects made by people e.g, computers, homes, ships, etc. and the interaction between people and between people and their material creations.

In order to change a culture of waste to a culture of sustainability its necessary to change people’s behavior e.g., lowering their household’s carbon footprint and/or characteristics of material objects, e.g., retrofit public buildings to increase energy efficiency, increase gas mileage of vehicles, etc.

On Sunday September 23, 2012 The Boston Globe featured an article on cultural change entitled,The Art of Crowdshifting (sic) that made the following point: “To really change how a group of people thinks and behaves it turns out you don’t need to change what’s inside them, or appeal to their inner sense of virtue. You just have to convince them that everybody else is doing it. The inner conformist is stronger than the inner activist, said Michael Morris, a psychologist a Columbia University who studies the role of culture in decision making.”

TO SUM UP-Changing a culture of waste to a culture of sustainability will require changing people’s behavior and/or modifying or replacing or modifying material creations, e.g.,  physical structures, vehicles, roofs, windows, etc.. Your Communications Strategy (Step 2) should include on-going material describing how people and their government are changing their lifestyle to consume less and waste less.


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