A Leverage Points Perspective on Sustainability

Joern Fischer & Maraja Riechers

Is our world becoming more or less sustainable? Unfortunately, many indicators of environmental degradation and social justice show that humanity is not at all on track – we’re still clearing rainforests, still causing climate change, and the number of undernourished people is actually rising rather than declining.

Our paper offers a fresh perspective from which to tackle humanity’s contemporary grand challenges. We call this new approach a “leverage points perspective”. Leverage points are strategic places in a system where interventions can bring about major change. A leverage points perspective suggests four key priorities for sustainability.

First, we can’t just set ambitious targets, but we need to firmly link such targets to tangible actions and actions to targets. Change arises both from the intent we pursue, as well as from the ways in which events are causally related. Scientists have often focused on causal explanations of change, and politicians have often focused on setting targets – but the two have rarely been effectively linked.

Second, we need to start discussing and challenging deeply entrenched beliefs and worldviews that stand in the way of a sustainable future. Can we really expect, for example, that we will reach environmental sustainability or social justice while we organize our economic systems around endless material growth?

Third, we need to better understand how different types of policy interventions pave the way for change. Advocates pursue easy interventions, like reducing the use of plastic bags, in order to do something tangible, and because these actions can also trigger a change in mindsets. But does this logic work in practice? How should we best intervene in the world to ultimately bring about truly transformative change?

Finally, we need ways to link different types of people and their diverse understandings of the world. We need to link academics from different disciplines with one another, as well as with stakeholders from politics, industry and society at large.

Our paper shows that a leverage points perspective is ideally placed to meet these priorities.

Read the full paper here.

A leverage points perspective for sustainability