Week 23: Anatomy of Action: The many ways to have fun!

AoA Fun Blk.png

Let’s be honest — being a creative problem solver can be completely overwhelming and totally exhausting. From negativity bias to creative burnout through to compassion fatigue, there are many hurdles that can result in spending personal energy trying to make the future better than today. And then when we want to take a break from it all, there’s another thing that us sustainability-focused humans will consider, too: the impacts of our travel and leisure. Add in the negative stigma of sustainability that many people associate with going back to ‘the dark ages,’ and now we have a lot of confusion around how to kick back, enjoy ourselves, and have some fun.  If you’ve been following our work at the UnSchool for a while, then you may know how much we value fun (if not, watch this or this to get some insight). So, it was very important to us to look at how we can have fun in a better way through the Anatomy of Action

Action 1: Enjoy the Journey

Being an ethically-conscious traveller can have positive impacts on the communities you are visiting and on your personal well-being. Opting for a “staycation” vacation near your home — preferably in nature — can be rewarding for your health, the local economy, the environment, and, of course, your wallet! If you’re not into staying in your own house, consider an AirBnB; its sharing model has been found to make better use of existing resources. Aching to venture out a bit? A short road trip is also a more sustainable way to travel than flying. As environmental author Kate Galbraith noted in this NYT column, “The second-best thing to staying home — a more generous definition of staycation — is venturing just a few hours away, to a park or town that you haven’t already seen many times. The quick trip can seem as if you’re a world away, without the hassle of navigating a Transportation Security Administration screening or a long stint in the car.” 

Many people want to see the world — so much so that “tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased from 3.9 to 4.5 GtCO2e, four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.” And, many emerging economies depend on tourism revenues, small island development states in particular. So if you go the distance, or if you travel for sun and surf, first opt to stay longer, since take off and landing are the most polluting parts of a flight. Secondly, eat local: according to the UN, “Food is the second largest C02 emitter in the tourism industry. In small islands like Mauritius, 98% of food is imported. Asking people to enjoy local foods will be both beneficial for the planetary and the social aspect.” Of course, you’ll also want to ditch disposables and be proactive in your footprint.

AoA Graphic Stay Curious Main.png
AoA Graphic Stay Curious List 1.png
AoA Graphic Stay Curious List 2.png

#EnjoyTheJourney Everyday Actions

  1. Research and ensure your tourist purchases and activities have a positive impact wherever you go 

  2. Consider vacations close to home and see the things that other people travel to your community to see

  3. Travel slowly and take time to discover by taking the train/bus or cycling and walking  

  4. Visit fewer places but stay longer in each

  5. If you take flights over 6000 km, travel through hubs rather than direct and consider staying close to the venue to reduce travel time 

  6. Experience the real: eat and stay local, embrace diverse cultures, experience what the terrain has to offer (run, bike, hike), and help local economies 

  7. Refuse disposable plastics and other single-use items and minimize your visit’s impacts

  8. Collect memories from your trip that leave footprints in the sand, not on the planet - be mindful and proactive about the impacts of your fun times

Action 2: Stay Curious

Learning, curiosity, discovery, wonderment — whatever you want to call it, life is made more valuable (and fun!) through the addition of new knowledge, ideas, and actions. This does not mean you have to enroll in a professional learning program or institution; learning opportunities are everywhere, and we can choose the medium that works best for us, as this Harvard Business Review article points out: “Books, online courses, MOOCs, professional development programs, podcasts, and other resources have never been more abundant or accessible, making it easier than ever to make a habit of lifelong learning. Every day, each of us is offered the opportunity to pursue intellectual development in ways that are tailored to our learning style.”

 By embracing curiosity, you can gain all sorts of lifelong benefits, from a more flexible outlook on life and work, all the way to setting a better example for our kids and communities. You’ll also be better prepared for the future, as everything around us is constantly changing: “Trends including AI, robotics, and offshoring mean constant shifts in the nature of work. Navigating this ever-changing landscape requires continual learning and personal growth.” And, staying curious is good for your brain! Studies are proving how engaging your learning superpower can stave off age-related cognitive and memory decline.

Finally, learning is a great way to enhance your social life because it helps foster relationships and can introduce you to like-minded peers (especially if you take a workshop or volunteer for a cause, for example). This is an increasingly important point to consider since we have become increasingly factioned and isolated within our hyper-busy societies; in the US alone, an estimated 42.6 million adults over age 45 are thought to be suffering from chronic loneliness. This isn’t just a social or cultural issue — loneliness actually has a physiological impact “via stress hormones, immune function and cardiovascular function with a cumulative effect.” Some officials even believe that loneliness poses a greater risk to public health than obesity! So, when you take up learning new things, consider being intentional about finding a way to integrate social interaction to help build meaningful relationships along the way. 

AoA Graphic Enjoy The Journey List 1.png
AoA Graphic Enjoy The Journey List 2.png

#StayCurious Everyday Actions

  1. Adopt a lifelong learning approach to keep your mind thirsty and active

  2. Seek out and support new ideas to make the world a better place

  3. Learn from nature and see where it fits in with your life

  4. Discover more about the systems that sustain us - like where your food comes from and make more informed choices

  5. Choose technologies and apps that make it easier for you to live more sustainably 

  6. Foster an open and independent mindset

  7. Be future focused and stay positive about how to contribute to a better world

  8. Learn new things through formal and informal education 

Action 3: Choose Experiences

We are a sum of our experiences. Our identity is not defined by our possessions (in fact, more stuff equals more stress), but instead it is an accumulation of the places we’ve been, lessons we’ve learned, people we have interacted with, and the experiences we’ve had (good and bad!). Experiences we lock into our memories through daily living help create who we are. Emerging science highlights that the aspirations people have sometimes differ from what society labels as “the good life”. Traveling, spending time in nature and with family and friends, learning and seeing new things, and keeping active seem to contribute to happier and healthier lives.

As we swap from materialism and favor experiences more, some may worry about the economic impacts of doing so. As James Wallman points out in his book Stuffocation, “That’s the magic of experientialism. It’s not anti-consumerist or anti-capitalist. Money is still going into the economy and creating jobs – we’re just spending it on experiences. I’ve seen a transformation in my own life.” Indeed, making an economy more sustainable does not mean that it has to be a no-growth economy.  Like we pointed out in our “Stuff” section of the AoA, there are many economic opportunities to be reaped in transitioning to a circular economy that leverages collaborative consumption and “a move away from the ownership and consumption of physical things towards the consumption of intangible experiences.” 

There are numerous personal benefits to choosing experiences — namely, experiences make us feel happier and more fulfilled as we consumer experiences directly with others. And when we opt to spend time in nature, the health benefits expand that much more: improved cardiovascular health, better sleep, and a lower risk of Type II diabetes, to name a few. This is especially important to model for our children, who, as child-advocacy expert Richard Louv has noted in his book The Nature Principle,  “have become increasingly alienated from the natural world. “ Citing skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, depression, and ADHD, he links a lack of interaction with nature to a slow but steady erosion of mental, physical, and spiritual health. The good news is that we can correct course, get out there, and experience all that the world has to offer! 

AoA Graphic Choose Experiences Main.png
AoA Graphic Choose Experiences List 1.png

#ChooseExperiences Everyday Actions

  1. Engage in experiences and services that add value to your life 

  2. Find ways to spend time with people you care about and make you laugh 

  3. Spend more time connecting with nature and natural spaces 

  4. Opt for active recreational choices for increased health and wellbeing (sports, games and outdoor activities)

  5. Find daily ways to relax and take time out to reduce stress and anxiety 

  6. Give yourself (more) digital detox time and embrace analog experiences 

  7. Pursue purpose and passions, not possessions

  8. Consider the impacts your current actives have on your life, and do more of what makes you happy

There are no simple solutions to complex problems, and the economic issues we face are indeed complex. While the global environmental issues may be big and sometimes overwhelming, they are the outcomes of many individual actions. So, the choices we each make as individuals, as workers, and as members of societies have the potential to reinforce undesirable actions or to create the opportunity for new, more sustainable solutions. 

The actions outlined in the Anatomy of Action are are some of the top-level actions any individual can do to help support the global shift toward a more sustainable and regenerative future. No matter who you are, every action you take has an impact, so by taking these more considered actions, you can contribute to a global movement towards activating the SDG’s. There are many other things you can do; this list is by no means an exhaustive account of all the aspects of our lives, but all the actions in the Anatomy of Action offers a starter list that any individual, anywhere can take action on to help make a positive future for all of us! 

Week 22: Anatomy of Action: Money, Money Money

AoA Money Blk.png

Activist Anna Lappé has famously said, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want,” and no matter how complex economic systems and personal finances can be, our individual impacts do really does boil down to that one simple sentence.  

Like it or not, money makes the world go ‘round, as it is the core component to basically all of life’s functionality. Security, basic needs, pleasure, movement, hopes, dreams, relationships — money dynamically infiltrates every aspect of our being and influences the quality of our lives. But just because modern society ingrains social pressure to accumulate more and more money, does not mean that we have to be unethical about how we use it. Indeed, we can use money to powerfully influence the future so that it works better for us all, or blindly reinforce aspects of society that need to be changed. The power and influence of every dollar and cent spent is why Money is the fourth area of focus in the Anatomy of Action


Action 1: Ethical Investment

If you’re not investing responsibly, you’re investing irresponsibly. Everything we buy has an impact on people and the world around us in general, so when you are thinking about purchasing what you need and want, consider your real needs and what types of goods and services you want to see more of in the future. You have the power to choose what your money supports (and what not to support).  This goes for goods and services AND investments in stocks and bonds. The power behind this truth is becoming increasingly evident, as the global Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) market is now worth nearly $23 trillion, and there are more than 300 sustainable investment-related policy tools and market-led initiatives, in which more than half of them have been created in the last few years. Similarly, according to this report from the US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, “High net worth individuals are increasingly influencing SRI issues including climate change, diversity, human rights, weapons and political spending with $3 trillion in sustainable assets.”

Investing in the future is also about the companies you invest in when you buy something. Financial planning that considers your sustainability impacts and available ethically- motivated options can support your family and your community, as well as the planet at large. In 2018, for example, more than half of impact investors reported tracking their impact performance against the SDGs, which are all about the future greater good for all. Choosing to invest how every big or small amounts of money you have in more locally produced goods and services can have positive economic outcomes for your community as well, as it injects cash directly into your community.

AoA Graphic Ethical Investing Main.png
AoA Graphic Ethical Investing List 1.png

#EthicalInvesting Everyday Actions: 

  1. Spend time and money on things that have positive impacts 

  2. Decide on your priority social and environmental issues and invest accordingly 

  3. Ask your bank about their sustainable investment policy and if they don't have one then swap banks if you can 

  4. Speak up and voice your preference for sustainable investments - look at long-term drivers that affect company performance

  5. Invest in goods and services produced in sustainable ways

  6. Never invest in products made from endangered wildlife

  7. Invest in a diversified portfolio (don’t put all your eggs in one basket)

  8. Put savings in responsible stocks, investments, including pensions and banks

  9. Pay taxes to help build your community

  10. Advance your family finance skills and financial management to avoid going into or starting to get out of debt

Action 2: Divestment

Intentionally investing isn’t the only way to send a message to the market; divestment is another powerful way to share how important sustainability is to you. Divestment happens when people move money away from industries and commercial activities that are unsustainable and instead choose investments, banks, energy providers, and other companies and services that are supporting renewable options, sustainable consumption and production, and development of more sustainable and ethical industries. 

Most notably, fossil fuel divestment (inspired by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa) is on the rise, and as of early 2018, more than 700 organizations from more than 76 countries with over $5.5tn (trillion!) of assets have committed to divesting in fossil-fuel companies and instead will invest in climate solutions. 

The needs are clear, with the planet and human health suffering in unprecedented ways — like the fact that unpaid health bills from air pollution due to fossil fuels accounted for US$5.3tn in 2015 (!) — that’s more than global health spending (and by the way, we talk a lot about the impacts of fossil fuels in our Move journal article). The UN has issued multiple warnings and clearly stated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report: “Unless humans transform the economy in such a way that has no documented historic precedent, the earth will experience worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040.”

While this cautioning is scary to consider, let a problem-loving approach override the fear, knowing that we all do have individual agency that, when activated for positive sustainable change, adds up to bigger collective shifts. 

Make no mistake, as more and more people do this, it sends strong messages to companies to consider their business models and actions to support renewable energy, sustainable technologies, and more responsible products. When it comes to fossil fuels, just 100 companies (all within the oil and gas industry) are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions — so aiming at divesting from any of these 100 companies can definitely have a large impact. And in doing so, there will be a ripple effect in “creating a new wave of the moral entrepreneur or norm entrepreneur, concerned with labelling a particular behaviour (carbon pollution) as morally reprehensible, and, by so doing, shifting attitudes about climate change mitigation.”

AoA Graphic Divestment Main.png
AoA Graphic Divestment List 1.png
AoA Graphic Divestment List 2.png

#Divestment Everyday Actions

  1. Move your money; ask your bank how they invest your money.  If it is in fossil fuels or other unsustainable industries (such as weapons, tobacco etc) - then move banks, and tell your bank why 

  2. If you have a retirement fund, you could be inadvertently investing in unsustainable industries.  If so, ask your fund manager to move to a more responsible fund

  3. For investments in stocks, bonds, funds you can avoid investing in companies you believe are harmful and choose to invest in those that support more sustainable efforts

  4. Swap your energy provider to a non fossil fuel based provider or support collective or community run wind and solar farms 

  5. Divest from fossil fuel or unethical companies 

Action 3: Energy Positive Homes

One of the areas we spent a lot of our money on is our living space. Our homes are a massive contributor to our personal ecological footprint, from rent to energy services, homes eat up a chunk of our personal budgets so they can greatly impact our anatomy of action. In the US, homes and commercial buildings consume 40% of the energy used throughout the country (and 10-20% of the average American’s energy bill expenditure might be wasted due to drafts, leaks, and outdated systems) — this, coupled with the fact that energy use per m2 in buildings needs to be reduced by 30% by 2030 to be in line with the Paris Agreement and follow the Sustainable Development Scenario, demonstrates what kind of opportunity lies in energy positive behaviors. 

Energy efficiency, renewables, appliances, and behaviors at home not only promote climate change mitigation, but also save money, generate utility savings over time, and increase the value of property; in fact, the World Green Business Council shares that “energy-efficient housing is more affordable over its lifetime than non-efficient buildings.” Renewable energy offerings are becoming more prevalent and therefore quite affordable; for example, US-based power company PG&E offers 100% renewable energy at the cost of USD $4.36 /month. Making your home more sustainable can also help support the local economy and can increase the level of comfort by enhancing the quality of your life. 

Swapping to a renewable energy supply moves us toward sustainable energy, but most of the savings can be attained through small technical interventions in the home, ensuring it is well insulated against hot and cold weather. And, as the US EPA has reported, “In addition to energy efficiency techniques, other emissions reduction opportunities for the home include actions such as: Making water and wastewater systems more energy-efficient; reducing solid waste sent to landfills; capturing and using methane produced in current landfills; reducing leakage from refrigeration equipment; and using refrigerants with lower global warming potentials. 

AoA Graphic Energy Positive Homes Main.png
AoA Graphic Energy Positive Homes List 1.png
AoA Graphic Energy Positive Homes List 2.png

#EnergyPositiveHomes Everyday Actions:

  1. Find ways to save on your energy bill via do-it-yourself or professional audit of energy used/saved/lost in your home and make simple changes 

  2. Regulate home temperatures better by adding verandas, green roofs, high inertia walls, and bio-based insulation

  3. Adapt to the season: stay comfortable and save energy (wear a sweater, draw blinds in summer) 

  4. Take simple steps: seal windows and doorsteps, avoid thermic bridges, install double glass glazing, use LED bulbs, invest in high inertia radiators 

  5. Change habits: open the curtains for natural light; close shades in hot climates; cover pans when boiling, spend less time in shower, compost organics

  6. Produce your own energy: install a small scale solar installation to power your home

  7. Collect rainwater and reuse it for gardening, toilets, and washing machines

  8. Use appliances as intended, consider buying more energy and water efficient appliances when replaced

  9. Compare energy providers available and choose a more sustainable one (renewable energy)

There are no simple solutions to complex problems, and the global economic issues we face are indeed complex and vast. While the global environmental issues may be big and sometimes overwhelming, they are the outcomes of many individual actions. So, the choices we each make as individuals, as workers, and as members of societies have the potential to reinforce undesirable actions or to create the opportunity for new, more sustainable solutions.  

The actions outlined in the Anatomy of Action are are some of the top-level actions any individual can do to help support the global shift toward a more sustainable and regenerative future. No matter who you are, every action you take has an impact, so by taking these more considered actions, you can contribute to a global movement towards activating the SDG’s and designing a circular economy that gives back more than it takes. There are many other things you can do; this list is by no means an exhaustive account of all the aspects of our lives, but all the actions in the Anatomy of Action offers a starter list that any individual, anywhere can take action on to help make a positive future for all of us!

Week 21: Anatomy of Action: On How We Move

AoA Move Blk.png

There’s no denying that we live in the age of busy — we are continuously on the go, living amongst a chaotic frenzy of personal responsibilities, appointments, leisure activities, and whatever else is demanding our presence and attention. But the way we move has led to some devastating impacts for our home planet and for all the people who inhabit it, like soaring carbon dioxide emissions and dangerous amounts of air pollution. Reducing these emissions is, without a doubt, a matter of life or death, as at least 3.7 million people die each year as a result of outdoor air pollution, and transportation currently contributes 23% of all carbon dioxide emissions

We all have to get places, and the impact we each have on climate change and air pollution is directly attributed to our transport choices. You can opt to drive less, share your ride, and swap to electric. Let’s dive into how the Anatomy of Action (AoA) explores the different ways you can move around your community to swap to having more intentionally positive impacts. 

AoA Move All.png

Action 1: Keep Active

Humans around the world are sitting more than ever before in our human history, and much of the push to a sedentary lifestyle involves a long commute paired to work that is paired with sitting at a desk all day. These sedentary lifestyles have quickly taken a toll on human health, with over 300 million adults around the world being categorized as obese. 

Then there is  the environmental impact that all this individual vehicle use is having, but there are many ways to transport yourself from one place to another, offering a perfect opportunity to use your body to get around. Human-powered transport, like walking, biking, skateboarding, are great for a variety of reasons; it’s much cheaper, cleaner, and better for your general health, and the increase in more human forms of mobility often increases road safety. According to this research, “Increasing median daily walking and bicycling from 4 to 22 minutes reduced the burden of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 14%, increased the traffic injury burden by 39%, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 14%.”  By just cycling to work, you reduce your chance of cancer by 45% and cardiovascular disease by 46%. In many places around the world, walking and cycling are the norm, but more can be done to enhance the infrastructure to ensure our cities are more human transport friendly. For example, introducing sidewalks in a city can reduce serious traffic injuries by 25%

Personal car transportation contributes huge impacts to air pollution and to your carbon footprint, so whenever you can, swap your car rides to human-powered transport options to help reduce these stats, to save costs and time, to reduce noise and congestion, and to encourage a shift in the way we design cities and move around them. 

#KeepActive Everyday Actions

  1. Pre-check and choose routes for walking and cycling, give yourself extra time, get exercise, increase your productivity and health and wellness, and reduce your transport impact

  2. Engage with green spaces and support urban conservation projects in your community by using public nature spaces for moving around, like bike paths

  3. Give your productivity and personal wellness a boost by walking or cycling instead of taking short personal car rides 

  4. Start a group of people commuting to work at the same time to make a walking or bike ‘bus’ if safety is of concern  

  5. Swap short drives for walks or bike rides (or learn to rollerblade, skateboard, or scooter if you want a cooler way to get around)

  6. Support local government initiatives to introduce better urban design, walkable cities, and mass public transport systems 

Action 2: Share your Ride

It’s true, sharing is caring! Not only does sharing car rides when you have to take them reduce emissions, but it also saves money. Transportation studies put “the annual cost of congestion at $160 billion, which includes 7 billion hours of time lost to sitting in traffic and an extra 3 billion gallons of fuel burned.” Or, consider this German study which has calculated that “a 10% increase in the modal share of walking and cycling in urban areas would mean that the German GDP would go up by 1.11% by 2030, representing €29bn, based on German GDP in 2012.” 

Of course, ride sharing will have positive impacts on air quality, too, which is a crucial point of intervention given that in 2014, 92% of the world population was living in places where the WHO air quality guidelines levels were not met. Rather than taking your car, by walking, cycling, or taking public transport like trains and busses, you not only lower your carbon footprint but also invest in the services to keep them functioning.  There are numerous case studies that show the positive flow-on effects of investing in design for human-powered transport or ride sharing — like this one from Portland, Oregon that found “the number of miles of bikeways (lanes, paths, and boulevards) increased 247% from 79 in 1991 to 274 in 2008. This coincided with the share of workers commuting by bicycle rising from 1.1% in 1990 to 6.0% in 2008.”

#ShareYourRide Everyday Actions

  1. Join bike, scooter, or car share services if your city has them

  2. Use public transport and give extra time to yourself (read a book, enjoy music, meet someone new)

  3. Join rideshare apps or start collaborative commuting with your neighbours or friends 

  4. When using on-demand taxi services, opt for the green option (if available) and the ride share option 

  5. If available, consider intercity or intercountry rail services over short distance flights

Action 3: Go Cleaner

In addition to using your own body to get around and ride sharing, you can opt for electric forms of mobility to help reduce the harmful emissions at the city level caused by petrol-powered transport options. There are multiple benefits of low-carbon mobility, like an improved economy, reduced spending on imported fuel, increased energy security, and of course better human health. Globally we are seeing a rise in electric vehicle use and charging stations, so now is a great time to find ways of swapping to electric.

Many countries are offering financial incentives for low-carbon vehicles, like the UK who provides “100% first year allowance for business owners up to 2021, UK Plug-in Car Grant of £3,500, Exemption from London Congestion Charge, Significant Fuel Savings vs. a comparable Combustion Engine Car and no car fuel benefit for company cars, and Scottish customers can enjoy interest-free loans of up to £35,000 (personal) or up to £100,000”. And it’s not just passenger vehicles that we’re seeing electric options pop up; battery- and fuel cell–electric trucks and buses, especially transit buses, are already in operation across many US cities and are continuously expanding their fleets, not just in the US but also across the world. In fact, the global adoption of electric buses is expected to triple by 2025

#GoCleaner Everyday Actions

  1. Explore all the options available to you getting around and find which ones have the least impact 

  2. Adjust your routes so that you are going the least distance 

  3. Swap short distance drives for alternative modes of transport 

  4. Look for and ask about flexible working options to reduce your commute, such as working from home, video conferencing or later start times 

  5. See if there are leasing services where you can give an electric car or bike a try

  6. Swap your fossil fuel car to an electric one

  7. Use cleaner fuel when you can

  8. Support government or business initiatives that provide alternative fuel and cleaner transport options for your community 

Why the AoA?

There are no simple solutions to complex problems, and the transportation  issues we face are indeed complex. While the global environmental issues may be big and sometimes overwhelming, they are the outcomes of many individual actions. So, the choices we each make as individuals, as workers, and as members of societies have the potential to reinforce undesirable actions or to create the opportunity for new, more sustainable solutions. 

The actions outlined in the Anatomy of Action are are some of the top-level actions any individual can do to help support the global shift toward a more sustainable and regenerative future. No matter who you are, every action you take has an impact, so by taking these more considered actions, you can contribute to a global movement towards activating the SDG’s. There are many other things you can do; this list is by no means an exhaustive account of all the aspects of our lives, but all the actions in the Anatomy of Action offers a starter list that any individual, anywhere can take action on to help make a positive future for all of us!

Week 20: Anatomy of Action: Getting to grips with STUFF!

AoA Stuff Blk.png

Stuff! It is everywhere, all around us, fulfilling needs and helping to make our modern lives possible. But SO much stuff is wasted, useless, or unnecessary, and the impact of the material world is astronomical. Wherever you are right now, you can look around and see a bunch of stuff that has been manufactured, purchased, and at some point, will be waste - this linear economy has resulted in heaps of unintended negative consequences on the planet, many of which we are now seeing come around to hurt us - like ocean plastic waste

It’s hard not to get overwhelmed when thinking about the amount of “stuff” in this world. The average American household contains 300,000 items, an average British 10-year-old child owns 238 toys but usually only plays with 12 of them,  and 77 million automobiles will have been sold by the end of 2019.  With the rise of cheap manufacturing and convenience-driven shopping (free 2-day shipping, anyone?), stuff is now as ubiquitous in our lives as food, only it doesn’t nourish and sustain us but instead, it often simply takes up space — first in your home, then in a giveaway box or most likely, a landfill, with 99 percent of stuff being trashed within 6 months! We have become obsessed with buying sh*t we don’t necessarily need, and the economy is fueled by the hyper-consumption loop that drives the faulty GDP system. That’s why, for the second category of the Anatomy of Action, we tackle how to improve our consumption habits with thinking beyond buying, slowing down fashion, and ditching disposables. 

AoA All.png

Action 1: Beyond Buying 

What’s behind so many of the negative environmental impacts we’re grappling with today? Although there’s no one singular, simple answer, we’d be remiss not to look at the linear economy that we’ve designed over the last century in order to meet human wants and needs. Our current economy is based on a waste-based system of production where we take raw materials and natural resources out of nature, process them into usable goods to meet human needs, and then discard them back into giant holes in the ground that, ironically, were often where we took the raw materials from to begin with.

This entire system is in opposition to the natural systems that sustain life on Earth — which are circular and regenerative — and it’s counterintuitive to the way we function as living organisms. For example, we all require nutrients to survive, which is part of the beautifully-designed system of nutrients cycling through bodies and back into the ground to grow the next generation of food; this nutrient cycle is one of the fundamental ecosystems that makes life on Earth possible. Basically, humans designed a broken system that needs waste to sustain itself, and thus everything is intended to constantly lose value after it's purchased. Our linear economy does not fit in a circular world, and we can instead find ways of circumnavigating this cycle and activating our agency within the economy by buying better things. 

This needs to be emphasized when we start to think “Beyond Buying”, as we cannot sustain the wasteful, reductive linear economy and thus need to transition to a circular economy in order to shift the status quo of our consumption problem. While many people automatically think that transitioning to circular systems design will result in monetary losses, it’s actually the opposite in that a circular economy offers some huge financial incentives. Current research indicates that the material saving potential alone, for example, is estimated at 500 billion € per year for the European industry, and the job creation potential of remanufacturing and recycling in Europe is estimated at one million new jobs!

Along with rethinking how we consume stuff and implementing circular design practices, there are also huge opportunities in sharing, swapping, repairing, and repurposing the things that we already have. Consider the fact that on average, cars in North America and Western Europe are only in use 8% of the time, or that the average electric drill is used 6 to 13 min over its lifetime. It makes absolutely no sense as to why we all need to own so many items individually, and it’s much more practical to consider collaborative consumption.

Similarly, we’ve also become accustomed to a throw-away economy in which instead of repairing our goods, we discard them and then replace them instead. This isn’t all the fault of the consumer, however — 77% of EU consumers say they’d rather repair goods than buy new ones, and indeed, there are systems issues with planned obsolescence and enforced disposability that encourage this uptick in buying new devices. This is especially true with tech gear and the trend of replacing smart phones on an annual basis (there are now more phones on this planet than people!), which is a massive missed economic opportunity among its other issues. In fact, a United Nations University report estimates “the value of the recoverable materials in discarded electronics was $52 billion dollars in 2014 alone.”  Similarly, if the industry were better regulated and made phones easier to take apart and recapture, then the cost of remanufacturing them could be reduced by 50% per device

So, as you can see through this small snapshot, there are huge opportunities in moving away from this exploitative economy and moving beyond buying. This is, in short, what the circular economy is all about: meeting our needs with new sustainable product designs, service delivery models, and new approaches to business where we get better experiences with less stuff. To start, we can find ways of introducing things into our daily lives that have more value and last longer, reduce disposability, and maximize material recapture. 

Whilst we wait for all producers of goods and services to adopt these new approaches, consumers of all walks of life can be more conscious of what they need, what they are buying, and how they value the things that fill our lives. Increasing the usable life by repairing, sharing, reselling, and reducing helps reduce the need for new goods. If you can, invest in goods with longer warranties and design durability, and find companies that offer buyback and repair schemes for their products along with swapping and sharing things you need. Consider what you need before you buy products so that you can ensure you acquire things that will last longer, be used multiple times, and are intended to be in the economy for as long as possible before being waste. 

#BeyondBuying Everyday Actions: 

  1. Consider what you really need and what impacts these have on the planet before making buying stuff and reduce what you buy

  2. Continue or start sharing, swapping things like appliances, tools, clothes, talents and services

  3. For new purchases, look into how you can get what you need via a service or a product that lasts longer and has been made sustainably 

  4. Find things with extended warranties and that can be repaired, and then make sure you repair things

  5. Buy beautiful second hand things and find new homes for things you no longer want

  6. For technologies and gadgets use them longer, repair and donate them and ensure you find a reliable recycler at the end of their life 

  7. Delete old emails and other files stored on the cloud (servers use heaps of energy)

  8. Offer your technical skills and talents to extend product use, help others, and build a sense of community

  9. Recommend and buy from companies that provide spare parts to repair, that offer take back services or use recycled materials in production

Action 2: Fashion Slow Down

One of the most pervasive subcategories of stuff that accumulates and creates waste is found in textiles. Fashion is a hyper-fast, resource-intensive industry that impacts nearly everyone on the planet in some way. We all wear clothes not only for functionality, but also to express a certain style and identity. But with global clothing production doubling in the last 15 years,  the fast fashion phenomenon exacerbates labor conditions (excessive dust, heat, rodents, lack of sanitation, etc.), and product quality is pushed as low as possible by brands to make inventory on a weekly basis. And then, after the newest styles are purchased for the thrill of newness and a low price, they often just sit in one’s closet, unworn. According to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “...the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used has decreased by 36% compared to 15 years ago, and the same pattern is emerging in China, where clothing utilisation has decreased by 70% over the last 15 years.” 

You know what happens next — after garments sit unworn in a closet for some time, they are then shipped off to the landfill whenever a tidying-up urge hits. Recycling isn’t happening: 84% of all textile waste is sent directly to landfills. Of course, all of this negatively impacts climate conditions, whereas  “reuse of clothing saves 29kg CO2e per kg of clothing compared to recycling and 33kg CO2e compared to disposal.” When we configure the economics of this environmental disaster, we find that “globally, customers miss out on USD 460 billion of value each year by throwing away clothes that they could continue to wear and some garments are estimated to be discarded after just seven to ten wears.”

 You can avoid contributing to this by breaking the vicious cycle perpetuated by constantly changing clothes by finding responsible brands that support the betterment of workers and the environment or by buying second hand. In becoming a conscious and responsible consumer through the power of your decision making, you will help the environment and society in significant ways.  

#FashionSlowdown Everyday Actions

  1. Celebrate being unique - buy vintage, redesign old clothes, create a core basic or ‘capsule’ wardrobe, and be bold in your fashion choices

  2. Give your clothes a second chance: share, reuse, repair, recycle, sell, and donate high-quality fashion for second-hand use

  3. Think long-term: buy quality clothes that last and take care of them. Today’s new pieces are tomorrow's vintage treasures 

  4. Let brands know when you are not happy with their practices and help encourage them to move towards sustainable production

  5. Use your consumer power to buy better clothes and to increase the availability of more sustainable fashion options

  6. Ask brands about how best to take care of their clothes, how they produce and source, and how they are committed to sustainability 

Action 3: Ditch Disposables

We have a collective global challenge unprecedented in the history of humans on this Earth. We have designed ourselves into a tightly-wound system of disposability that is wreaking havoc on the systems that sustain us all. No human is immune to these outcomes from our collective actions, as no one can deny that they need food, air, and water to survive and thrive. Thus, we are all implicated in the necessity to dramatically redesign our manufacturing, production, and consumption systems to be post disposable.

From the oceans to the air, our natural systems have become innocent victims of our hyper-disposable cycles of meeting human needs. This is not an alarmist warning — this is a biophysical realty of the planet we all share. The data tells the story here; with over 320 million tons of plastic being consumed globally and more plastic produced in the last decade than ever before, plastic is infiltrating all of our natural systems, especially the ocean with more than 8 million tons of it leaking into the ocean each year, thanks to poor disposal practices, broken recycling systems, and the lack of waste management in emerging economies where plastic is pervasive.

The UNEP reported in 2018, “Only nine percent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled. Most ends up in landfills, dumps or in the environment. If current consumption patterns and waste management practices continue, then by 2050 there will be around 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter in landfills and the environment. By this time, if the growth in plastic production continues at its current rate, then the plastics industry may account for 20 percent of the world’s total oil consumption.”  And we’re just scratching the surface on how all of this is also impacting human health, as we’ve recently learned that 90% of table salts contain microplastics and the average adult consumes approximately 2,000 microplastics per year through salt.

All over the world, our daily lives are overwhelmed with single-use products and plastics, from packaging to beverage cups and bags. As shared by UNEP, "The most common single-use plastics found in the environment are, in order of magnitude, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles,  plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam take-away containers. These are the waste products of a throwaway culture that treats plastic as a disposable material rather than a valuable resource to be harnessed." 

Disposable products are not just hazardous for the environment but also costly to remove and hard to recycle. By ditching disposables in whatever way you can, you are supporting the global movement to go #zerowaste and sending signals to producers and stores that we don't want plastic in our oceans and littering our streets. This is more important than ever before with the recent global shakeup stemming from China refusing to take more recycling — by 2030,  it’s estimated that 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will be displaced due to this new law.  But the good news is that from personal beverage containers to shopping in bulk and even making your own cleaning products, there are hundreds of micro actions you can take to support the global trend towards a post disposable future.

#DitchDisposables Everyday Actions:

  1. Swap daily disposables such as straws, bags, coffee cups, take out food containers, forks, razors, sanitary products for reusable alternatives, you will save money in the long run 

  2. Continue or start to buy at bulk food stores and bring your own containers and bags to take products home in 

  3. Carry your own vessel for water and hot drinks 

  4. Rethink food storage to eliminate plastic baggies and wrap, you can swap to reusable containers and beeswax wraps 

  5. Clean greener- from toothpaste to household cleaning products there are alternative and often cheaper ways of getting things clean such as bicarb soda and vinegar 

  6. Replace disposable hygiene products with reusable ones, such as swapping pads & tampons for the menstrual cups and moon pads

  7. Consider ways to refill products like cleaning and household liquids in bulk to reduce packaging 

  8. Use your consumer power where you shop, eat, and work to voice the change you want to see and reduce disposability from our lives!

Why the AoA?

There are no simple solutions to complex problems, and the consumption issues we face are indeed complex. While the global environmental and social issues being big and often overwhelming, it is important to be reminded that they are in part the outcomes of many individual actions. So, the choices we each make as individuals, as workers, and as members of societies have the potential to reinforce undesirable actions or to create the opportunity for new, more sustainable solutions to emerge.

The actions outlined in the Anatomy of Action are the top-level actions any individual can take to help support the global shift toward a more sustainable and regenerative future. No matter who you are, every action you take has an impact. By taking these more considered actions, you can contribute to a global movement for a more sustainable future. There are many other things you can do; this list is by no means an exhaustive account of all the aspects of our lives where we need to tackle to meet the SDGs. But it’s a starter list that any individual, anywhere can take action on to help make a positive future for all of us! 

Week 19: Anatomy of Action: Thumbs up for Food!

AoA Food Anatomy Blk.png

Food! Delicious, terrible, gross, amazing —  everyone loves it, we all need it, Instagram is filled with it, and it's the biggest impact of our daily lives, which is exactly why we chose it as the first action in our Anatomy of Action (AoA) set. Let’s take a look at the issues and opportunities that we all have with the food in our life, via the three action areas that we set out in the AoA: protein swaps, using all your food, and growing your own. Then pick and action and get started!

AoA Food All.png


If you’re at all into sustainability, then you’ve surely heard that reducing meat consumption — which we have coined as “Protein Swaps” in the AoA to have a more positive, inclusive impact —  has a tremendously positive impact on the planet’s health and the well-being of billions of animals and people. But before narrowing down on that, it’s important to point out that the staggering increase in meat production that we have all experienced in our lifetimes is a brand new phenomenon — never before in human history have we humans eaten so much meat. Experts estimate that total meat production has increased 4-5 fold since 1961, and in order to meet the demand, over 70% of the world’s farm animals are now factory farmed (including 99% of the animals in the US!). This massive uptick in meat production is accompanied by a massive uptick in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (and a huge freshwater footprint), with livestock and their byproducts accounting for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions. Which all makes sense when you discover that every year in the US alone, according to the US Meat Institute 9 billion chickens (yes that’s a B), 32.2 million cattle and calves, 241.7 million turkeys, 2.2 million sheep and lambs, and 121 million hogs are killed for meat consumption (here is a creepy real time kill clock).  

AoA Graphic Protein Swaps Main.png

Given the astounding snapshot of just how pervasive factory farmed meat is, there are, of course, many health and planet impacts that we are often blind to. Without going too much into the details, mass produced meat-based proteins contribute to desertification, deforestation, and nutrification (as well as the development of oceanic dead zones), all while subjecting factory-confined animals to heaps of animal cruelty issues.

It’s no surprise then that various governments around the world are encouraging citizens to adopt a more plant-based diet. For example, Canada released a new national food guide in 2019 that focused on plant-based eating, whereas the UK and the Chinese lawmakers have made statements about the benefits of reducing meat consumption. Similarly, New Zealand’s 2019 Sustainability Report also urges citizens to begin eating more plants, less meat, as did the popular EAT-Lancet Commission Report released earlier in 2019. The US, one of the worlds biggest meat consumers, is also seeing a change in consumer preferencing, with more people opting for plant-centric eating. 

Swapping meat-centric food habits for meals with different protein sources is good for your health and for the environment. In many parts of the world this is already a way of life. The best way to re-shape our global food systems is for people to swap meat to plant based options. By making the switch to a more vegetable-friendly diet and being more selective in where your meat comes from (adopt a flexitarian or reducetarian diet!), you can improve your health, lower GHG emissions and reduce biodiversity loss

#ProteinSwaps Everyday Actions

  1. Swap animal protein for more plant-based proteins 

  2. Diversify your diet and cook more at home

  3. Eat what is seasonally available 

  4. Opt for locally-produced foods; seek out local farmers and markets that offer sustainable produce

  5. Talk with your friends and family about healthy and sustainable food options to encourage them to swap their diets too 

  6. Become an everyday/weekday vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian 

  7. Try to have a rainbow of vegetables on your plate in every meal

AoA Graphic Protein Swaps List 1.png


Another enormous problem within our food systems that we examined through the AoA is the issue of prolific food waste — 1.3 billion tons are wasted each year, which is an incredible one-third of all food produced globally for human consumption. This isn’t just an ironic issue in the face of widespread world hunger; it also means that “huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain, and that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food that gets lost or wasted are also emissions in vain." And what about the end-of-life for this wasted food in landfills? Given that on average, the carbon footprint of food wastage is around 500 kg CO2 eq. per capita and per year, there are enormous environmental and fiscal opportunities in reducing food waste. In fact, it’s estimated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that the U.K. could save “USD 1.1 billion a year on landfill cost by keeping organic food waste out of landfills—this would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7.4 million tonnes p.a. and could deliver up to 2 GWh worth of electricity and provide much-needed soil restoration and specialty chemicals.” For these reasons and more, the second action area focus of our AoA food exploration is all about using all your food. 

AoA Graphic Use All Your Food Main.png

Using all your food helps reduce food waste which, in trash heaps and landfills, leads to releases of leachates and methane (which is 30x times more potent than CO2). Food scraps and stale bread are not trash at all! They are filled with the building blocks of life-nutrients, which your body and soil can use (replacing fertilizers and chemicals). So, by getting organics out of open dumps and landfills, we can reduce emissions released into the air and give nutrients back to the soil to produce healthier and tastier plants.

#UseAllYourFood Everyday Actions

  1. Design your meals to use up the entire food product

  2. Buy only what you can finish or save — don’t waste food after all you paid for it. If you throw it away, you are tossing your money in the trash 

  3. When buying foods, avoid excessive packaging and take your own produce bags

  4. Seek out "ugly" fruit and vegetables to give them a life in your meal

  5. Manage how you store food to maximize freshness, such as using sealed containers in your fridge and pantry 

  6. Get (more) into canning, preserves, and freezing to extend food life 

  7. Make stock out of food scraps 

  8. Compost your food scraps 

  9. Share excess food to help ensure everyone has enough (there are many apps that help with this)

  10. Find out what’s available in your neighborhood and advocate for communal composting and organic waste processing solutions 

AoA Graphic Use All Your Food List 1.png
AoA Graphic Use All Your Food List 2.png


Of course there are many food options for a healthy person and planet, but our 3rd one for the AoA supports you growing your own food and connecting to where it comes from in order to save money and to reduce transport, packaging, and food waste. While we hear a lot of conversation about plastic water bottles and plastic bags — especially when talking about plastic bans — the lesser known truth is that food’s plastic packaging accounts for nearly 50% of plastic waste (!) as waste is generated along the entire life cycle of food products, from the growing practices through to the supermarket and home wastage.

AoA Graphic Grow Your Own Main.png

By growing your own food, even if it only replaces just some of what you would otherwise buy, you can connect better to what you eat and reduce the impacts that occur from the growing, packaging, transport, retail practices and food waste. Producing some of your own food has multiple benefits so even a small amount of home grown produce is a great way to start.

Access to land and time to garden of course varies, so if you can’t grow your own food, consider finding local farmers and support them or join a farmers cooperative. There are many benefits to small scale community agriculture — better food, more nutrients, higher air and soil quality, pollinator plants for bees and inspects, and an enhanced sense of community.

#GrowYourOwn Everyday Actions

  1. Farm, plant, and grow whatever you can, wherever you can 

  2. Start or join an urban school or kitchen garden

  3. Connect with your food: find out where your food comes from and how it is produced  

  4. Regrow vegetables like leeks, carrots, and beets in your house in a glass of water instead of discarding them 

  5. If you can’t grow food yourself, support a local sustainable farmer or shop at farmers markets 

  6. Promote, develop, and support initiatives in your building, street, or  community that increases your access to food-growing space 

AoA Graphic Grow Your Own List 1.png
AoA Graphic Grow Your Own List 2.png


There are no simple solutions to complex problems, and the food issues we face are indeed complex. While the global environmental issues are big and sometimes overwhelming, they are the outcomes of many individual actions, and of course the decisions made by governments and industry as well. Food is certainly a vital area for progress and change which can start with us exerting our influence over the demand side of the system.

So, the choices we make as individuals, as workers, and as members of societies have the potential to reinforce undesirable actions or to create the opportunity for new, more sustainable solutions.

The actions outlined in the Anatomy of Action are the top-level actions an individual can do to help support the global shift toward shared good-life goals (check out the AoA action validation report to discover more). No matter who you are, every action you take has an impact.

By taking these more considered lifestyle choices, you can contribute to a global movement for a more sustainable future. There are many other things you can do; this list is by no means an exhaustive account of all the aspects of our lives where we need to tackle to meet the SDGs. But it’s a starter list that any individual, anywhere can take action on to help make a positive future for all of us! 

Week 18: Introducing our UNEP collaboration: The Anatomy of Action

By Leyla Acaroglu

Over the last year, the UnSchool team and I have been working on an exciting project in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to activate sustainable living and lifestyles.

The outcome is the Anatomy of Action, and this week, we are launching it into the world!

Here are the how’s and why’s of this exciting new initiative. 


When I talk about sustainability, a topic I have spoken about a lot over the last 15 years of my career, people often react in one of three ways: 1. they are really into the idea but don’t know what to do about it; 2. they are openly hostile about it, usually because they have had a bad experience with some form of environmentally-motivated actions/product etc; or, 3. they are confused by what it actually means and whether it is achievable, which makes them feel overwhelmed by it.

I try to remind people that sustainability is about the social, economic, and environmental considerations of what we do in our personal lives, the way we do business, and the government decisions that our elected representatives make on our behalf so that we can sustain the systems (such as food, air, and water) that every single living thing on Earth needs to survive and thrive. What it is not is a hippy-dippy, tree-hugging, wishy washy, anti-business concept that means you have to give up a lot and go back to the ‘dark ages,’ which is literally what some people who fall into the openly-hostile category have said to me. By being human, you need the planet, and as a result of our collective actions, the planet now needs us to alter damaging practices and replace them with more sustainable and regenerative ones. 

I will be the first to admit that we have a whole bunch of historical legacy issues to overcome when it comes to sustainability, as, in the past, actions by environmental movements and organizations have accidentally pigeon-holed the ways in which people view and care about the planet. Whilst often very good intentioned, the use of fear and shaming have been two well-executed tools in a space that often ends up being polarized between people who ‘care’ about the planet and those who ‘don’t’ — which is very strange when all people need the planet to live and thus don’t really have the option to not care about it. 

There are also many issues with the boom in greenwashing that we are still trying to shake off from industries who spend more money on marketing green credentials rather than doing them, and thus the resulting consumer cynicism from people who feel they were duped into buying crappy, often more expensive, so-called ‘green’ products. 

Now, though, we are in a more sophisticated era of understanding the ways in which we can design products and services that meet human needs but don’t destroy the systems that sustain us all. That's really what the core of sustainability as a practice is — a better understanding of systems and how we participate in them, which then leads to more informed and creative decision-making around how we all live well on this shared planet. And by shared, I mean not just with all the 7.5 billion other humans, but also the biological miracle that is the diversity of all the different species that make Earth the only known life-sustaining plant in the universe.

The current trend toward circularizing the economy is, in part, a reaction to the phenomenal waste crisis that we have designed ourselves into. The sad reality is that yes, recycling is broken, and we have global supply chains churning out stuff designed for the dump every second of every day. With many people profiting off this linear system, it does seem hard to turn the tides on such a well-oiled production-to-waste machine.


But now, many of us humans are seeing the feedback loops from this by way of mounds of ocean plastic waste and air pollution, which is one of the world’s biggest killers. In fact, cities around the world regularly peak above the WHO safe living index, and recent studies have shown the link between air pollution and all sorts of cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s disease. And then there is the climate crisis, a massive, scary, overwhelming concept that is freaking many people out. So, what in all of this mess and chaos is one individual to do about this, when we are presented with so many issues in need of solutions like the 17 in the Sustainable Development Goals? How do we overcome the inertia felt by the magnitude of the issues at hand, when we see there are just so many things that need to be addressed and we are just individuals trying to live a good life? How on Earth do we do anything that has any impact at all? 

Every issue holds its own solution, and that’s the case here. We each make up the world by the actions we take; the planet is in the state it's in not because we exist, but because we do the things we do each day. Sure, many choices are taken out of our hands and all industries and governments have a lot to answer for when it comes to obtaining a sustainable and positive future. But for each of us, we hold in our own two hands the opportunities to change the economy, as it is made up of all our individual actions accumulated as an economic outcome.

If you have ever worked for a company that sells goods or services, you will know that the trends in consumer behavior are the things that dictate the next steps for the company. So, let’s say you work for a large supermarket chain, and suddenly, people start avoiding overly-packaged products. When you look into why, you discover it's because of the concerns about ocean plastic waste and that there is a trend toward package-free products. So then, you make a case to your boss to have package-free options that meets the rising trend in consumer preferences. That is how the market works — actions breed reactions in the market — so if we want to be a part of designing a future that works better than today, then we need to redesign our lives to mimic the kind of future we want to live in. 

Why We Buy.JPG

The complexity of sustainability is in the fact that we don’t really have all the answers yet. There is much work to do on the technical solutions to meeting our needs in more regenerative and planet-positive ways, like how do we mass-produce carbon-free energy and provide power for transport devices as large as airplanes? But, the very fact that we discovered how to fly was a miracle not too long ago, so the future will result is these issues being addressed, once we have a more widespread acceptance of the base reality that all humans need the planet and that our actions have negative impacts on it that, in turn, negatively impact us all. There is absolutely no escaping this, no matter how much power or wealth you may have. 

But, there are many things we can do, and I want to make it really clear that we each have agency and some kind of control over the future we create, even if it doesn’t seem like it at times. We make up the economy through our actions, and in turn, the economic system dictates what we value and how we live our lives. So, we are in a dynamic relationship that often feels as though the way things are is the way things have and will always be. But 10 years ago, smartphones were a brand new thing, and 20 years ago, we all had to plug our desktop computers into a phone line to access this new thing called the Internet. As such, in 10 or 20 years, the future will be very different from today, and I, for one, will be working to ensure that the kind of future we end up in is more equitable, sustainable, and regenerative than today. 

This is my very long introduction to a project we have been working on with the United Nations Environment Program’s economic division. For the last year, we have been exploring what types of actions individuals can take that will actually have an impact, if replicated and normalized, as part of people's everyday lifestyle actions. The outcome is the Anatomy of Action, an initiative we will launch this week at UNESCO in Paris. We wanted to not only design something that supports lifestyle changes for sustainable living, but also base it on a deeper understanding of what is working, along with why and how to amplify it so that we get new types of behavioral normals that encourage positive shifts within the economy. 

In 2016, I was awarded Champion of the Earth by the UNEP for my work with the UnSchool and my creative products that bring a science-based, innovative approach to sustainability. So it was fitting that we would find a way to collaborate on the complex and fascinating topic of sustainable lifestyles and how to activate more of them. 

For this collaboration, my team and I started by shining a light on all the bright spots of organically-growing cultural movements that exist outside of the traditional sustainability or environmental movements — things like zero waste, minimalism, guerilla gardening, ride sharing, etc. We identified over 80 movements, categorized them into which everyday lifestyle areas they were addressing, and then dissected the actions that these movements were identifying and taking. Next, we searched for the last five years of peer-reviewed academic papers and studies to see which of these hundreds of identified actions have positive impacts if amplified out among more people.

This helped us refine the list of actions down into a more detailed action heat map, and from that, we developed the five themes that make up the Anatomy of Action: food, stuff, movement, money, and fun. Experts within the UN system then reviewed the long lists of validated actions and confirmed the high-level ones that we could share as significant actions that anyone can take to have a positive impact in their daily lives.

Untitled design.png

The resulting 15 sub-actions are all positively framed; for example, we are not asking everyone to go vegan (which is shown will have significantly positive impacts) but instead to ‘protein swap’, which everyone can do a few meals a week. We chose this intentional language because we know that globally, food options are very different, and health conceptions as well as cultural conventions are also very diverse. For me, a protein swap is achievable, and if we get more people doing this, it will encourage meat producers to move away from intensive factory farming and instead, produce high quality, ethical, grass-fed meat, which will result in a better place with many environmental impacts. 

The action set presented in the Anatomy of Action shows everyday lifestyle swaps that fit easily into daily lifestyle choices. I drew heavily on behavioral and cognitive sciences to gain an insight into how to frame these actions as opportunities rather than losses, as the reality with sustainability is that it is a massive opportunity! For example, the benefits in swapping your car drive for human-powered transport are massive. Not only do you get exercise, but also the less cars we have in urban environments, the better air quality we get. Additionally, there is a lot of research as to when people disrupt their daily habits and rituals — usually when there are already in an altered life state, such as going on vacation, having a baby, or moving houses. This struck me as fascinating, as we often fall into rutted ways of doing things, and as the old adage goes, “A change is as good as a holiday,” because change often brings positive results for us. 

  • Part of the Anatomy of Action asset set, Illustrations by Emma Segal. See all assets here

In designing and making the Anatomy of Action, I wanted to create a memorable, but simple memetic tool that reminds us all of the choices we make everyday. Nearly everyone has hands and we see them in front of us everyday, doing the things that make up our lives, so this reference is easy to remember when taking actions. But the critical thing is taking action! So to launch the initiative, we are challenging everyone to pick one of the actions, swap to it, and then share your habit disruptions on social media, tagging three friends to challenge them to get started too. Then repeat! For example, I personally moved banks for the UnSchool and started to move over other banks for my personal life because part of the research showed that divestment from banks and energy providers that are relying on the old carbon-producing industries could be done pretty easily. It takes time, for sure, but the outcome is investing in the kind of companies I want to see more of and divesting from the ones that need to change. 

Keep in mind that, due to the need to reach a diverse range of humans around the globe who live among different circumstances, the final action set is simply a chunk of things you can start doing now, but there are MANY things you can do and that need to be done. The next stage in our progress toward a sustainable future is discovering the things that we have impact on, both in negative and positive ways, and then designing these so that they are more effective and efficient. That's exactly what we're doing with sustainability — we are researching and working to figure out where the impacts are and what we can each do to address these, in our lives, in our businesses, and through the actions we take everyday that have an impact on the economy. 

We need many approaches to communicating, engaging, and activating a sustainable, circular, regenerative future. The Anatomy of Action is just one, but I hope it inspires you to reconsider some of the daily lifestyle choices you make, as well as how we each impact the economy and how, in turn, it impacts us, because the future is made up of our actions today. In doing so, we can all, over time, work to change the narrative of sustainability and design a future that works better than today.

Week 17: Five More Years! Five More Years!

By Leyla Acaroglu

5 years ago I started a school for adults to activate systems change and sustainability through design and creative problem solving. here is the 5 year birthday story, and what I hope happens next.  

leyla unschool is 5 today

It was around five and a half years ago that I sat bolt upright in bed from a flash of an idea that had just woken me up. I grabbed a pen and scribbled on an old receipt: “UN-SCHOOL OF DISRUPTIVE DESIGN”. By the time I had gotten out of the shower and dressed, I had the full concept formulated in my head. I spent the next few weeks obsessively sketching out a pitch deck in InDesign, and the following weeks shopping it around for seed funding to places like Autodesk. 

At the time, in late 2014, I was in the final stages of my PhD and the entire experience of doing it had somewhat scarred me on the reductive nature of adult education. This was combined with several years of experience in the ‘real world’ through running my first creative agency (Eco Innovators) and developing all sorts of design education tools and projects for advancing sustainability.

These experiences had taught me so much about just how broken the way we educate is, and I was also feeling pretty isolated in my personal goals of wanting to contribute to having a positive impact on the world around me. I had assumed that I was not the only one feeling this was, and perhaps that there were others out there who also wanted to activate creative ways of getting shit done in a positive way — so I set the intent to design something new that could have a global impact. That something turned into this, the UnSchool, and on September 5th we turn 5 years old.

I never did receive any seed funding, but I did channel all my energy, creativity and personal funds into building this crazy little intervention anyway. Today we celebrate many things —  mainly that we have made it here to this milestone and made some creative change along the way, and plan on making much more positively distribute change! 

Why start a school for adults? 

For several years I had been teaching sustainability at all different age levels, going into primary schools and running programs at Universities as well. The one thing that was blindingly obvious to me was that many people were confused or overwhelmed by sustainability, and these feelings created a lot of inertia and resistance —  mainly from the adults. The kids totally got it. 

A few years before I started the UnSchool, I had been doing a project back home in Melbourne, where I had been invited into primary schools to teach an introduction to sustainability and life cycle thinking. I had developed interactive games for six year olds to learn about life cycle thinking by printing images of the life cycle stages of fun things like chocolate chip cookies, and stuck them to little cards so that they could work together to map the life of a product. The kids got the concept really quickly and would make insightful comments like, “The factory uses energy, which releases gasses into the sky that makes the weather change,” — all unprompted, I might add. I think it was the third or fourth school in a row when as I was leaving the class, the teacher stopped me and said, “This is so interesting! I had no idea about any of this stuff.” Another one had just told me she was so grateful I had come because she was so swamped that she just didn't have the time to do the research to be able to teach the content that was now required in the curriculum. 

These experiences and many others I had been designing and running for young people became the inspiration for the creation of teacher support tools that were interactive and easy to use, like the Design Play Cards and The Secret Life of Things animations.

For years after this work, the teacher’s words still echoed in my head, and I kept thinking, If these people are teaching the young people, then who is teaching the teachers and the rest of the adults? After all, they are the ones with the power to make the changes that we need in order to bring about a sustainable and positive future. So, the idea of a school for adults, focused on experiential and immersive education that blew minds and supported rapid transformative change was born. The moment I finished the first draft of my thesis, I left Australia for the United States to start this crazy idea — which wasn’t really fully formed until that day I sat bolt upright in my bed (actually just an air mattress in a Brooklyn sublet). 

A quick side note: the Secret Life of Things project won a Melbourne Design Award, helped change the high school curriculum in Australia to include life cycle thinking and sustainability, and ended up in the Leonardo Di Vinci Museum in Milan and the National Gallery of Victoria. I had such a small budget that I did all the voiceovers (yes they are terrible!) and I even enlisted my little brother for this one the final in the series!

The Pain and Joy of Starting Something New

The process of starting anything new is a combination of sheer panic, adrenaline, and massive amounts of courage. When I went to register the name The ‘UnSchool of Disruptive Design’ in New York City, the lawyer called to tell me that it was rejected by some authority unless I could get an official letter from the United Nations saying that we could use ‘Un’ in front of school, in case people thought it was a brand impeachment on the United Nations! Five years ago, I was not in a position to just call up the UN and get that kind of thing. So instead, I registered a company called Disrupt Design and a couple weeks later, threw a party in a gallery on 5th Avenue that I had managed to convince someone to lend me.

We invited anyone I had heard of from the design and social innovation community in New York (of which none I knew), and 150 people showed up (I even hired some buskers from the subway who later become friends). It was really a fantastic way to launch this project into the world. I had concepts up all over the wall and a giant interactive find-a-word poster for all the types of things the UnSchool and Disrupt Design stood for. But of course, I had no idea how I was going to do all the aspirational things I wanted to accomplish from the UnSchool, like challenge the reductive education system, support systems change within the design community, or normalize sustainability in a new generation of creatives.

All I knew was that I wanted to make change and help others to make change too. 

Then mini program that we launched with in NYC in Sept 2014 (and the old website we had!)

Then mini program that we launched with in NYC in Sept 2014 (and the old website we had!)

I really was playing out the ‘fake it until you make it’ mantra of startups, accidentally as it was, but nonetheless, I had started this thing and had absolutely no idea how to make it work. Did I mention that since I had not obtained any start up funding, I only had a tiny bit of money that I had taken from my first company? The lack of funds was a pain, but also a great influence, as I had to be very creative and agile.

A couple years in,  the lack of funds coupled with my strong equity access ideals meant that I really did need to find a way to sustain the UnSchool. So, I started to look again for investments via the startup channels I had in NYC, and I quickly discovered just how perverse the startup world can be. I had been approached by a couple of people who had seen my TED talk and were interested in what I was doing. After a few months of making pitch decks and being rejected for being too idealistic, or even worse, getting hit on, I decided the startup world was just another way of exploiting people and turning good ideas into things to extract all the value for individual gains. So I then decided that I would prefer to make change rather than money from the UnSchool — and if that meant making money elsewhere from giving talks and doing creative projects and then reinvesting it back into an equitable and integrity-based project, then so be it. It also inspired us to diversify the way UnSchool earned money, from just in-person programs to building the UnSchool online

Early on the, we ran all sorts of provicational events to activate and explore the communities desire for positive change. This was for our Park Demolition Tea Party.

Early on the, we ran all sorts of provicational events to activate and explore the communities desire for positive change. This was for our Park Demolition Tea Party.

From day one, the most important thing that I needed was a space to host workshops and events, so I traded my time to set my school up in the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) in NYC. For the next six months, I spent two days a week as the “Innovator in Residence,” and the rest of the week I ran lunchtime classes on all sorts of topics I wanted to include in the Disruptive Design curriculum. I solicited feedback from the beautiful humans who showed up for them, and threw a bunch of random events and fun experiences to engage people with this concept of experiential, non-traditional educational and collaborative learning (not to mention sustainability, systems thinking, and design for creative interventions that make positive impacts). 

To name just a few things we did in those first couple years: secret dinner parties in construction sites, drink and design nights in tech company offices, verbal fight clubs in dive bars, and park demolition tea parties... in parks that were about to be demolished. Sometimes lots of people came, and other times not so many, but each time I learned what people were interested in and found inspiration for the next thing. It was certainly very stressful, as there was never really any money after we bought the beer in a keg that could be returned to the local brewery (and transported it on the subway!), as well as purchased 100 reusable vintage glasses that I lugged around NYC to stick to my no-disposables rule. But without all of this early community exploration and building, prototyping, and discovering, I would never have created the beautiful thing that is the UnSchool of today. In the end, hundreds of people came to these early community engagement events, and we now share these tools that were refined during those times with our alumni who run similar experiential programs with their communities of changemakers. 

Six months into building the UnSchool, I advertised our first Emerging Leaders Fellowship program to happen in NYC at CSI, where I was still the Innovator in Residence. I built the concept for this 7-day, adventure-based learning experience and popped it up online with very little explanation about what would actually going to happen, other than to call for all the creative rebels who wanted to activate their career in making change. Over 80 people applied from around the world! So many incredible people applied for that first program that I went from wanting 10 people to accepting 16, and that first Fellowship was magical.

Columbia University heard about it, came and interviewed me, and made a video as part of a research project on alternative education. Those 16 courageous people came to help build this thing, and every program since then, hundreds of people have come and helped build it even more, bringing their passion and curiosity and above all, their commitment to learning how to design a future that works better than today. The UnSchool is the sum of its parts —  the people — which makes it a beautiful complex whole of creative humans willing to activate themselves to contribute to a more positive and sustainable future. This is the shot of optimism that I get every time I run a program or meet an alumni. Despite how messed up the world appears to be, it’s also filled to the brim with humans wanting to help change the status quo and get to a more positive future. 

After that first successful fellowship in NYC, we went to Mexico City, then Melbourne, São Paulo, and then next was Berlin. During these first few Fellowships, I called on friends and previous creative colleagues to help produce these highly complicated programs. Then Christchurch, the sixth program, was produced by one of our alumni (at 7.5 months pregnant as well!), and from then on, so was San Francisco and Mumbai. Next, Cape Town, which was our ninth program, was run entirely without me! I cried when I watched the video of this magical thing being made by others.

This year in November it will be our 10th Fellowship in Kuching, Borneo, and it's our first non-major city Fellowship program, hosted by alumni from our Mumbai program. I could write a million words on the appreciation I have for all these humans that come to help make magic happen because they care about sustainability, equality, and a future that works better for all of us. But instead, I recommend that you watch a couple of the fellowship videos to get a sense of just how chaotic and wonderful they are. For me, they are pure chaos and joy with massive amounts of human-made magic. 

From Fellowships to an Online Learning Lab, a Brain Spa, and More

Five years later, here we are. Hundreds of people have come to in-person programs all over the world and are out there doing cool shit (in fact, every year we partner with the Ellen MacArthur DIF festival to showcase just a few of the creative changemaking activities of our alumni). We have won awards, created incredible partnerships with the UNEP and others, and designed curriculums around our content for Finland, and now Thailand as well.

We have almost 10,000 people taking courses in our online learning lab and recently started the Brain Spa in Portugal. I am immensely proud of this crazy idea that turned into people from all over the world connecting and supporting change. The fascinating irony is that after doing all this work and building this thing that I couldn’t officially name, I ended up being named as a Champion of the Earth by UN Environment in 2016 for my work in advancing science and innovation for sustainability. And as life seems to offer you many moments of irony, now, as a result of this affiliation, many people DO get us confused with the UN! But we are excited by our collaboration between the UnSchool and UNEP to activate sustainable living, and proudly share any affiliation as we launch the creative intervention we designed called the Anatomy of Action — so you know, full circle! 

But that doesn’t mean that we’ve not had our share of challenges and made our share of mistakes. I have cried at least 5,000 tears of frustration and joy at getting this thing up off the ground, with no external financial support whilst obsessively trying to maintain the integrity of the idea and diversity of people who had access to it. One of the biggest challenges is finding the resources to ensure we can offer the content to a diverse array of people, so that it’s not just those with financial means that can get further educated in these fundamental thinking tools for the future.

One of the models from the start has been to ensure that every program has scholarships and equity access, which we fund ourselves. Nowadays, many people get supported by their companies to come to our programs, so that enables us to redistribute some of these earnings into covering scholarships for others who don’t have financial support. I have almost gone bankrupt a couple times, but ensuring that the UnSchool is available to many different types of people is at its core. We have given away somewhere around $200,000 in scholarships to emerging leaders who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend a program like ours because equity is just part of our DNA. Along the way, some forward-thinking companies have helped out, supporting particular fellows from emerging economies, or sponsoring us with coffee or wine for programs (we are a school for adults after all!), but mostly we just eat into any potential profits, which means we are basically a very undesirable investment proposition!  

But this project is not about making money; it’s about making change. I am really committed to supporting as many people as I can with our tiny-but-mighty team in uncovering the tools needed for making positive change. We offer value exchange internships, and anyone can apply for an equity scholarship for our online programs too. Obviously there are only so many programs we can run face-to-face, and even though I had initial resistance to online education, for the last two years, we explored, prototyped, and developed an interactive blended learning model that enables people to activate their leadership for change by equipping them with the tools they need to do so. 

Another exciting development: we now have a certification system so that anyone who engages with our content can choose to validate their changemaking work and perhaps even go on to teach our method themselves!

The development process for our certification system was tough and long, as I wanted to ensure that it was not just someone sitting in their room watching videos, but instead that we had a mechanism for motivating local community action. This all resulted in our community activation points system that builds in many aspects of motivated community participation by encouraging people to do different things to gain the needed points for their certification level. 

Our first approach was more of a pick-your-own adventure style system that didn’t quite work, as busy people need motivation, and many of the early adopters asked for more structure to support them moving through to a level they knew would validate them. So, I went back to some of the things that I had used to motivate me through my PhD and drew on the tactics I had developed to get me to the end goal (which was a challenge to say the least). Tools like a reflection and process journal, along with gamified tasks that I had set myself to apply new knowledge — these all helped inspire the version 2.0 of our certification system that we launched a few months ago, and now have many people tracking through!

The Practitioner, UnMasters, and Educator tracks are the outcome of these past five years and then some, teaching people how to activate themselves to make change. The format is designed to guide people through the complex content month by month, offering pauses and fast tracks. We are just about to certify our first few educators who then will be able to teach our content and run their own programs wherever they are in the world. The UnMasters is designed for career changemakers and entrepreneurs, and the Practitioner for people wanting to validate their skill set for creative change and positively disruptive design. 

Future Thinking: Do I have to have a 5-Year Plan?

So what about the future? I am not into making five-year plans usually, but for the UnSchool, I do have one. In five years, when we turn 10 years old, I would love for the UnSchool to be obsolete. I hope that we have created a momentum and supported enough leadership and experiential learning provocations that others are taking the pedagogical approaches and ideas and seeding them in new and exciting ways. This is why the current certification model is so important, as I hope that with enough supported emerging leaders, we can create a continuum of change that evolves and expands exponentially until we have addressed many of our pressing problems in entirely new and unique ways.

On a personal level, I want to have disrupted the way we educate enough to ensure that the future of knowledge transfer is experiential and transformative, not reductive and linear, as it is so often the case today. I want to see that we design curriculums that are dynamic and hands-on, so that we equip people of all ages with the tools they need to agentize themselves in a world that needs creative changemakers as much as it needs bankers and engineers. I would love for a 15 year old to answer the question, “What do you want to do for your career?” with, “Be a creative changemaker and help design a future that works better than today,” and for that 15 year old to have that opportunity available to them, no matter where they are in the world. 

And say in five years the UnSchool is still needed and we have not achieved these ambitious disruptive goals? Then I hope that the people who come to help build it each time will be more activated to continue to build it even more, be organized and inspired enough to take the ideas and spread them even further and deeper so that we can work toward solving some of the complex issues afflicting this beautiful planet that we all share. 

What are the big challenges that we face in activating this change over the next five years? I see a bit of a battle in managing the digitalization of content, knowledge, and all the competition for attention that is going on as we move ever closer to a digitally-addicted age. I am not a Luddite; I love technology and all the life enjoyment that it brings.  But there are a lot of trade-offs that we must contend with, and one such issue is the manipulation of digital social spaces by larger powers for the misdirection of people into more narrow pathways of thinking and doing. All of the platforms for social sharing seem to have converged along the same pathway of attention-seeking behaviors, and this is something I have grappled with ever since communicating ideas became about competing for attention in ever-more ludicrous ways in a saturated market. 

So, our big question now is,  “What does ethical and equitable communication look like?” And how do we do it when two giant companies, Google and Facebook, own most of the digital communication space and require you to ‘pay to play’, funnelling you evermore into a myopic view of the world and the ways in which you can get access to ‘your’ people? This is a big challenge for us and many more integrity-based organizations, as the system is designed to extract more of your time as a viewer and more of your capital as a producer. Understanding our digital carbon footprint and working toward sustainable and equitable digital policy is our new goal. We, like many others, just don’t understand the impact of our actions every time we upload an image to Instagram or release a new video.  So we are working on that, and hope to have some way of sharing the learnings from this soon so that we can have more ethical intentions with our digital actions. 

To start this transition, we developed a more long-form communication exchange through our weekly journal articles (which you are reading now!), in which we cover topics relevant to our community and highlighting the incredible inspiring activities of our alumni. 

If the UnSchool has taught me anything, it is that everything worth doing requires work, and that the work you do teaches you how to do things better, or at least helps refine the way we each operate our life on this beautiful shared spaceship Earth. As I have mentioned in many interviews, one of the main reasons I ditched design school to become a sustainability-focused sociologist was because I had learned that everything was interconnected and that would mean I would have negative impacts without knowing it, which to me, seemed ridiculous. I know not all we do can be managed or controlled, and sometimes good intentions lead to not great outcomes. But we can throw our energy and creativity at the problems that persist in the world we live in, helping to etch away at them bit by bit so that we get to a place in the future, however far away that is, that is better, more equitable, sustainable, regenerative, and positive — otherwise, what’s the point? 

What I have learned

Reflection is key to what we teach, so here is me giving myself a challenge to come up with the top five things I have learned from making the UnSchool:

  1. Starting things is hard work, but everything worth doing requires work 

  2. Money does not always equal change; it helps, but change is valueless

  3. It’s possible to get a lot of shit done in a small amount of time and still be energized by it, especially when you have good people to work with  

  4. Burnout is a real. It creeps up on you, and when it happens it hurts to have lost all the passion for what you do. But the solution is to rest and regenerate, and then get right back to it

  5. There is no such thing as wasted time, just paths you go down that may not end up where you intended. But, the place you land will have some value to offer in getting you to where you want to be 

AND a big thank you to all these INCREDIBLE humans!

The UnSchool is the outcome of the people who come to it and over the years we have had hundreds of amazing and inspiring people join us on our adventures into systems change, sustainability and social impact. Here are the cohorts from our 9 emerging leaders fellowship programs!


2015 New York Fellowship

2015 New York Fellowship

2015 Mexico City Fellowship

2015 Mexico City Fellowship

2016, Melbourne Fellowship

2016, Melbourne Fellowship

2016 São Paulo Fellowship

2016 São Paulo Fellowship

2016 Berlin Fellowship

2016 Berlin Fellowship

2017 Christchurch Fellowship

2017 Christchurch Fellowship

2017 San Francisco Fellowship

2017 San Francisco Fellowship

2017 Mumbai Fellowship

2017 Mumbai Fellowship

2018 Cape Town Fellowship

2018 Cape Town Fellowship

Week 16: The Three Pillars of UnSchool’s Philosophy: Systems, Sustainability and Design

unschool pedagogy

If you’ve been keeping up with our work at The UnSchool, then you already know that we are all about activating systems change for a sustainable future by design. We work with people of all professional and personal backgrounds to support the rapid transition to being an activated creative changemaker. 

Our approach is deeply rooted in a philosophy of systems, sustainability, and design, forming three knowledge pillars that hold up all that we do. All of our programs, projects, and practices have systems thinking, sustainability sciences, and creative design solutions at the heart. These three pillars wraps up into the Disruptive Design Method, which is a scaffolding that enables people to think and do differently when it comes to understanding and working to help solve complex problems. In fact, we LOVE problems and embrace chaos and complexity at the UnSchool, helping others do the same!

In this week’s journal, we are exploring in more detail our three pillars of Systems, Sustainability, and Design. 


The world is made up of complex, interconnected, and interdependent systems, starting with the most important life-sustaining systems of all, the ecological system, Planet Earth, which is made up of the billions of individual yet interconnected parts that form the magical whole that we are all a part of. Earth's natural systems provide every single living thing with the resources needed to exist, and thus, it is in our fundamental needs to create things that meet our needs within the opportunities and limitations of Earth. 


We live within a set of complex social systems that subtly govern human society, from education to government and everything in between. Social systems are emergent outcomes of our collective desires for success as a species. Social systems breed the human-created industrial systems that work tirelessly to manufacture the needs of our desires, and yet so many of us are oblivious to how they work and what impacts they have. It's often at the point of these systems intersecting with nature, where we mine resources to obtain the raw materials required to make all the products we use, that we see many of our environmental and social problems evolve. The industrial system brings all the wonderful tools of modernity at the expense of the natural systems that we all need.  

unschool pedagogy

Understanding and working within the multi-level perspectives that systems thinking enables is fundamental not only for making change, but also for being an active participant in the world and the design of a future we all want to live in.  We use systems mapping and life cycle mapping to explore these connections, and one of the key tools we use for this is the three systems at play map (see above). This particular map helps people identify the types of systems that we humans have designed, as well as how they connect to the industrial systems we have created to meet our social needs. Mapping connections here demonstrates the reliance and destruction of the ecological systems that sustain the rest of the systems. 

Within the Disruptive Design Methodology knowledge set, there are several systems-based classes: Systems Thinking; Language, Influence, and Effect; and Systems Interventions.  


The ability to sustain life on Earth requires us to work within both the systems that nature evolved as well as the human-formed systems of society and industry. We all rely on natural systems for survival, which means that the imperative to enact sustainability is within all of us. No one can opt out of breathing, consuming nutrient-dense food, or drinking H20, so we are all implicated in figuring out how humanity can be a regenerative force on this shared planet, rather than continuing to extract and exploit the natural systems that sustain us. 


The fundamental quest of our time is to figure out how to transform our global economy and society from a linear one based on value loss and waste creation to a circular economy built on regeneration, sustainability, and value-gaining systems. The knowledge and power we have acquired through the industrial and technical revolutions have formed the tension between nature and our human needs, but now we can transition to meeting our needs within the boundaries and systems of nature, if of course, we have the tools to understand, participate, and contribute back more than we take. That is the essence of the sustainability concept, doing more with less, and understanding how the planet works so that we can participate within its means and evolve from an extraction-based society to a regenerative one. 

At the UnSchool, we embed sustainability into everything that we do, from  post-disposable considerations in all our programs and our food philosophy through to our new farm-based rural regeneration campus. We don’t get everything right, but we are on a constant journey of figuring out how to do things in a more sustainable way; for example, we are currently exploring our digital footprint and developing a zero waste digital communication strategy as we recently discovered just how much of an impact each video watched and email sent has on our carbon emissions. 

Learn more about sustainable practices in our Sustainability and Sustainable Design & Production courses. 


Design is a powerful silent social scripture that surrounds us at all times; it influences our lives from the moment we are born until the day we die. Everything, absolutely everything that we encounter in our day-to-day interactions with the world is by design, and thus can be re-designed to meet our needs in more elegant, sustainable, and sophisticated ways. That’s why we have the Disruptive Design Method as a tool to support anyone being able to contribute to designing a future that works better than today!

To form usable goods and provide services, design takes all the materials and resources it needs from nature. Therefore, every action we take has an impact on the natural world, so designing better products, services, and systems is one of the critical tools for bringing about a circular, sustainable, and regenerative future. 


Our current global condition of designing for disposability, overexploiting and undervaluing the raw materials and formed goods created in this industrial system perpetuates the unsustainability of our species, but through circular systems design, we can turn the tides on this trend. From this foundational perspective of design, we can approach the needs and reconfigure value to work within the natural systems that are required to sustain life on Earth, designing goods and services that not only meet human needs and desires in beautiful ways, but also add value back to the system that gives us all life, and support environmental regeneration. 

The Three Pillars, Combined

The combination of these three pillars make up the foundational tools for thinking and doing differently, for understanding complexity, and for developing the propositions for a better future by design. With systems, sustainability, and design at our core, we design systems of learning and positive impact that maximize social, economic, and environmental sustainability through the understanding of the complex interconnected systems at play in the world around us. This enables us to design experiences that maximize positive change. 


We translate these into all sorts of different things, reconfiguring our content and unique tools into learning systems like the Circular Classroom, our Fellowship Programs, and even our Living Learning Lab in Portugal. The beauty of having integrity-based models like this is that they hold regardless of the difficulties that you face, and for us at the UnSchool, our goal is to activate and equip people with the tools they need to agentize themselves to make more positive change in the world. 

Agency is the outcome of learning applicable tools that you can activate in your world, and the one thing we need more of is people willing to take action to solve the complex problems we all face. If you are keen to make change, you don’t need to come to the UnSchool to do so, all you need to do is get started! But if you want to get the tools to make change, understand how to design positive interventions an be a force for good, then we have you covered at the UnSchool!