Sustainability narratives – which one willyou choose?

A shift in thinking often precedes a change in action.

This process is supported by collective narratives, which, for better or worse, help people to emotionally engage and create a different future. Narratives speak to the human capability to find meaning, and consciously and collectively shape the  future. Therefore, when collective leadership decides to engage with transformative change we also need to engage with collective narratives.


Through the lens of the dimensions of the Collective Leadership Compass, narratives co-creates a future that engenders responsibility and enacts future possibilities. But narratives also touch on other principles. They further the dimension of engagement when they offer meaning-making identification with a future state or a joint goal. In the practice model, they are often a prerequisite for an engagement with future-oriented action.


Sustainability narratives also touch the principle of mutually consistent wholeness, as they refer to how the individual can develop a conscious relationship with the planet.  Scholars increasingly suggest closing the conceptual gap between a systemic approach to change, the notion of an interconnectedness of all life, and the need to incorporate this view into a narrative of responsibility for sustainability transformation. Two particularly important narrative variations, both of which emphasize humanity’s responsibility in the Anthropocene, are discussed here.

The first is a narrative in which anxiety leads to responsibility. Communication around this narrative highlights the threat (e.g. climate change, biodiversity loss, water wars) and the role of humankind in the Anthropocene to combat this threat by managing and controlling human behavior to mitigate the risks for future generations and other species on the planet.  A systems view of life is present in this discourse in the form of needing to reduce and manage the harmful human impact on a dynamic geo-and biosphere in order to safeguard life and eventually human well-being on the planet. Interpreted in the context of the pattern approach advanced in this dissertation, re-sponsibility here refers to safeguarding (global and local) patterns of aliveness. This is currently the dominant narrative in the sustainability discourse.

The second narrative is built around potential, co-creation and care-taking leading to responsibility. Communication based on this narrative highlights current and future good practices, social and technological innovations that further sustainability, and the human capability to change thinking and pathways. It emphasizes the needed shift in creating or recalibrating the economy as one in service of the common good. It is a narrative of possibilities and of inventing a different future in an interconnected world – the geo-bio-anthroposphere.


A partner from the corporate world captured this narrative’s potential impact on corporations. He said that the current sustainability discourse in companies is dominated by approaches focused on risk and compliance management, while he believed that the discourse needed to shift towards business strategies with a focus on ‘contribution’ to a thriving planet and humankind. An understanding of life as a dynamic intercon-nected relational process, of which humankind is part, is sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly conveyed in the ‘potential’ narrative. In the context of the emerging ‘patterns of aliveness’ theory, responsibility in this narrative may include safeguarding (global and local) patterns of aliveness, but goes beyond global risk management and emphasizes the human ability to regenerate and even co-create patterns of aliveness.


What response will you choose, today, tomorrow and every next day of the future?


This blog post looks at the dimension of  HUMANITY and WHOLENESS in the Collective Leadership Compass.  For more information on the Art of Leading Collectively, checkout the inside the book and  reviews on

Categories: Accessing our humanity, Allgemein, Collective Leadership, and Sensing the whole.

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