Creating organizations that promote human and ecological flourishing (i.e., sustainability) is a key challenge for contemporary societies. Here, we offer a people-focused systems approach to organizational sustainability based on an action research project conducted at Western Springs College/Ngā Puna O Waiōrea, a bicultural high school in Aotearoa New Zealand. The project ran from 2008 to 2018 and drew on the values and skills of community psychology and environmental education to build what we call a “sustainable social system” (SSS). In 2018/19, we conducted interviews with 23 key people involved in sustainability efforts at the school and analyzed the minutes of 46 meetings of the school’s Sustainability Panel. We used a complex systems approach to produce a map of the core people, purpose, infrastructure, and activities components and sub-systems in the SSS, as well as its emergent properties of a sustainability culture and identities. We describe the historical trajectory of the SSS and discuss seven features that we consider of particular significance in contributing to its growth and resilience. We then offer steps toward a people-focused SSS led by insiders with sustainability values. These include establishing a democratic and inclusive sustainability network, and attempting to integrate sustainability with the organization’s essential activities.
A People‐Focused Systems Approach to Sustainability
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