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“That’s just how we do things here.”

I wish.

My town is not the greenest city in America, and it’s definitely far from the worst. I wish we recycled more, made less trash, saved more energy and used less water. It’s darned near impossible to ask people to change how they live. And I know better than to pick Quixotic fights with my good neighbors.

But I still want to change my neighbors’ minds about we use energy, spend money, and protect natural resources, as a town, state, and country.

Endlessly awesome Seth Godin nails behavioral economics in 229 cool words.You want people to change? Make it easy, make it the norm.

He also neatly captures the core insight of the late Donella Meadows, the Grand Dame of Systems Thinking. In her classic article “Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system,” she ranks 12 strategies by how well they work to actually change a system fundamentally.

Meadows said that the most powerful way to change a system is through paradigm change. Not by inches, but by whole.

So forget about small potatoes like swapping out some light bulbs or reusing grocery bags. The kind of change we need would look like this: Everyone in my town decides overnight to decrease our municipal energy use by 50% and funnel those savings into renewable energy investments.

Is it doable? Seth says yes.

Via Sethgodin.typepad.com:

Change the culture, change the world

Plenty of marketing, particularly the marketing of social-change groups, focuses on educating people and getting them to make different (and better) decisions.

But most actions aren’t decisions at all.

In Reykjavik, shopkeepers keep their doors closed (it’s cold!) and if they were aware that in Telluride most stores keep their doors propped open (even in the winter) they’d think it was nuts.

In China, the typical household saves three to five times as much of their income as a household in the US. This is not an active decision, it’s a cultural component.

The list goes on and on. A practioner of Jainism doesn’t have a daily discussion about being a vegetarian, and a female graduate of Johns Hopkins is likely pre-sold on the role of women in the workplace.

If you ask someone about a cultural practice, the answer almost always boils down to, “that’s what people like me do.”

Powerful organizations and great brands got there by aligning with and accelerating tectonic cultural shifts, not by tweaking sales one at a time.

There are two lessons here. The first is that the easiest thing to do is merely amplify what a culture is already embracing. The second is that real change is cultural change, and you must go about it with the intent to change the culture, not to merely make the easy change, the easy sale.

Life’s complicated. That’s the simple part.

Here’s Part 5 of my co-authored series on Sustainability Metrics Pitfalls for Greenbiz.com. We dive deeper into Complexity scholarship and offer some practical resources for Sustainability practitioners to make things simpler.

Why Sustainability Metrics Need to Mix Simplicity With Complexity

Over the course of this series, we’ve described pitfalls where steps that look like the right course sometimes backfire. Life cycle analysis, for instance, may lead to a surprise about the assumed high priority of recycling for every item.

But systems thinking is hard. So in this piece, while we continue to provide additional reasons why it’s essential, we add some “practically idealistic” ideas to make it more feasible.