Sustainability Experiments

What are sustainability experiments? (part 1 of 2)

The seminar on “Sustainability Experiments: Interplay between Institutions and Grassroots,” hosted by the Finnish Environment Institute on October 14, began with provocative remarks by Mikael Hildén, Director of the Climate Change Programme at the Finnish Environment Institute on “cultures of experimentation.”

elinor-ostrom

Elinor Ostrom (August 7, 1933 – June 12, 2012), the only woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.

In opening by pointing to Nobel Prize-winner Elinor Ostrom’s suggestion that all policies can be viewed as experiments with a probability of failure,  (more…)

Sustainability Experimentation: Interplay between Grassroots and Institutions

I arrived in Finland Tuesday evening for a six-week stay as Visiting Researcher at the Environmental Policy Centre of SYKE (Suomen ympäristökeskus), the Finnish Environment Institute. The head of the Environmental Governance unit of SYKE’s Environmental Policy Centre, Eeva Primmer (@EevaPrimmer), coordinated my visit and timed with my arrival a seminar yesterday on “Sustainability Experimentation: Interplay between Grassroots and Institutions.” As I’ve described briefly in other posts and on the SEVeN page under the Projects menu, (more…)

Introducing SEVeN: Accelerating sustainability experimentation and adaptation

As I’ve discussed briefly on my projects page, SEVeN is the brainchild of a number of long conversations my colleague Pradip Swarnakar and I held earlier this year during my six weeks in India as a Fulbright Specialist at the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management–Gwalior.

Today I am giving the first public talk about this very nascent project as part of UC Berkeley’s Landscape Architecture + Environmental Planning colloquium on “The Global South, Common Sustainability Challenges (Causes & Solutions).” (Wurster Hall, Room 315a, 1-2pm).  (more…)

Upcoming Talk: Sustainability Experimentation Venture Network (SEVeN)

I’ve been invited to give a talk in the UC Berkeley Landscape Architecture + Environmental Planning colloquium series on “The Global South, Common Sustainability Challenges (Causes & Solutions).” In case you happen to be in Berkeley, the talk is on Wednesday (10/1), from 1-2pm in 315A Wurster Hall. The following week, my USF colleague Chris Loparena will be giving a talk as part of the same colloquium on “Sustainable Tourism and its Discontents in Honduras.”

My talk, cryptically titled “Sustainability Experimentation Venture Network (SEVeN),” is going to be an interactive brainstorming with the Landscape Architecture students in which we’ll attempt to flesh out some of the criteria for a network designed to exchange knowledge rapidly among groups and individuals at the grassroots level working on sustainability experiments and climate change adaptation. I describe more about the idea behind SEVeN on my projects page here. My post on Fast Tracking Climate Adaptation–Tapping Our Natural Tendency to Experiment also provides some background to my thinking on this subject. The teaser for the talk follows:

Humans have been adapting to changing environments since inception. Environmental changes were generally slow on a geological time scale, making oral traditions sufficient for transferring knowledge about successful adaptation experiments. Anthropogenic climate change is occurring faster than the best predictions of even just three years ago. Adaptation, therefore, must be swift. Yet no formal, systematic mechanism exists for documenting and aggregating the results of both failed and successful adaptation experiments. Nor does a mechanism exist, for disseminating this knowledge. This talk will introduce the Sustainability Experimentation Venture Network (SEVeN), a concept for producing, aggregating and disseminating knowledge related to sustainability experimentation broadly and climate adaptation specifically. The talk will engage the audience in a collaborative process of identifying the ideal parameters for SEVeN. For example, what qualifies as a “sustainability experiment?” What is the ideal scale of the sustainability experiments that should be documented? What are the key variables for which data should be collected (e.g., cost, speed of implementation, level of technical knowledge required, etc.)?

Check out the colloquium’s blog here.

Fast Tracking Climate Adaptation–tapping our natural tendency to experiment

Moving from “muddling through” to “adaptive muddling” and developing the tools for a just transformation in the face of climate change. Why we need a new approach to fast tracking adaptation.


Note: This originally appeared as a guest post on Our Place on Earth. My Projects page describes the Sustainability Experimentation Venture Network, a very early-stage project with Pradip Swarnakar aimed at leveraging knowledge embodied in dispersed small-scale, community-based sustainability experiments. Given some similarities to Our Place on Earth’s TRAC2 Toolkit, we hope to collaborate sometime in the near future.


Human beings have always experimented to adapt. When our ancestors migrated from savannahs to temperate forests they likely tested their existing hunting and gathering techniques to see if they would work in the new environment. Old hunting methods and tools probably had to be adapted to new species. New typologies of poisonous and edible plant species had to be developed through trial and error (i.e., experimentation). New techniques of food storage and preparation needed to be tested. New sources of water had to be located and tested. Shelter. Waste disposal. Health. The list goes on. Every old practice for sustaining the life of a population had to be tested in the new environment and abandoned or adapted.

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