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Change theory: working with emergence

5 Mar
Herakleitos philosopher quote

Image courtesy of David Schiller's Zen Page-A-Day 2010 Calendar

I love this quote. It’s an ancient Greek version of ‘what goes up, must come down’.

Herakleitos, the weeping philosopher, argued our only permanent reality is that of change. (How’s that for irony?)

He viewed the world order as ‘ever-living fire, kindling in measures and being extinguished in measures’.

Over 2000 years later, I’m thinking he was onto something. Yep, just looked around me – change seems to be going on quite a bit. Tick.

But I keep wondering how? How does change, especially big change, happen?

In mid-2010 I was introduced to the Berkana Institute and emergence thinking by two insightful facilitators – Chris Corrigan and Geoff Brown.

The concept of emergence provides an elegant framework for contemplating change. As Wheatley and Frieze put it in their 2006 article, Lifecycle of Emergence:

In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas. If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale. However, when they become connected, local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global or comprehensive level. (Global here means a larger scale, not necessarily the entire planet.)

These powerful emergent phenomena appear suddenly and surprisingly. Think about how the Berlin Wall suddenly came down, how the Soviet Union ended, how corporate power quickly came to dominate globally. In each case, there were many local actions and decisions, most of which were invisible and unknown to each other, and none of which was powerful enough by itself to create change. But when these local changes coalesced, new power emerged…

To me, the guts of the theory is that we can learn how to work with emergence by understanding living systems – how they ‘begin as networks, shift to intentional communities of practice, and evolve into powerful new systems capable of global influence.’

Based on this understanding, Wheatley and Frieze argue we can encourage positive influential systems to emerge through a four stage approach: naming, connecting, nourishing and illuminating.

lifecycle of emergence diagram

Lifecycle of Emergence diagram courtesy

I thoroughly recommend reading the full article to understand these approaches better. It’s quite short and, if you’re anything like me, it will chime inside your head for some time to come.

But how does this thinking relate to our project? Well, it helped clarify how we thought change might come about because of what we were proposing to do.

Basically, by creating an upcycling partnership between Conserve India and like-minded supporters within the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games organising system we hoped to:

  • connect these pioneers and positively change how major sporting events are delivered by proving new, valuable products can be made with event waste materials
  • nourish Conserve India with new contacts and knowledge about how to work with major events. We wanted to discover useful product materials; to make and sell new products and generate new income streams, leading to more benefits for Conserve’s staff  and the communities this social enterprise supports
  • illuminate the pioneering work of Conserve India, and other upcyclers, by capturing some of the vast media platform dominated by these major events. We wanted to tell the project story in as many ways possible, and through as many channels as we could, to see if we could find new supporters who would buy the products we created.

We wanted to cast a few small droplets into the river of change we can feel is fast emerging…

Einstein and zen quote

Image courtesy of David Schiller's Zen Page-A-Day 2010 Calendar

To see our original full project plan, otherwise known as ‘Our Best Guess At The Time’, click on our program logic diagram below.

CD2010 Program Logic May 2010

CD2010 Program Logic May 2010

So how did we go?

Tune in tomorrow, dear readers, and I’ll show you…


Festival perspective

14 Dec

For our final instalment in the Conserve Delhi 2010 ideas hub I’d like to share a response from Riki Edelsten, Partnership and Resources Manager at one of Melbourne’s premier community events: the Sustainable Living Festival.

SLF River Crowds

Sustainable Living Festival crowds along the Yarra River

Over the past decade the Sustainable Living Festival has inspired large audiences to live more sustainably, by showcasing and celebrating sustainability in the heart of Melbourne city.

Much has changed since the first Festival in 1998, held in regional Victoria and attended by just over 2,000 devoted innovators: the Festival now attracts over 120,000 visits to the event in Federation Square each February.

In 2011 the Festival is expanding to meet people where they’re at. Inspired by successful community engagement and mobilisation models from around the world, the 2011 Festival two week extended format is reaching out into our streets and suburbs engaging new audiences on local and global issues and relevant solutions.

This will be the fifth year I have been involved with the Festival. I began as a volunteer in 2006, producing Festival communication materials. Then I went on to find employment with a major sponsor of the Festival, the Victorian Government’s lead agency on Climate Change, Sustainability Victoria.  This year I’ve returned as part of the Festival core team and I’m loving it!

2011 Sustainable Living Festival website:

1. What’s the motivation behind the Sustainable Living Festival?

The ongoing goal of the Sustainable Living Festival is to accelerate community uptake of sustainability. Therefore we were delighted that 90% of visitors to the Festival believed that information from the 2010 Festival will help them to take action to live more sustainably.

2. How do you deliver the Festival with minimal environmental impact?

The Festival aims to walk the talk in event production. Each Festival our team work hard to deliver an event following our ‘Own Practice’ principles:

Cyclic – creating no waste

Solar – using clean energy

Efficient – running with less

Safe – ensuring its harmless

Social – caring for people

Smart – adapting to change

Some of the ways we deliver on these principles are:

  • The Festival uses 100% accredited GreenPower.
  • Promotional materials are printed using a waterless printing process, vegetable based inks and forest-friendly paper stocks or recycled waste paper.
  • Throughout the Festival a well-signed, four-bin system encourages attendees to separate paper, glass, cans, plastic, and food waste for compost and recycling. A waste wise ‘menu’ is also available at tables in the café area, informing patrons about our system and how they can use it.
  • Another great sustainability workout for our volunteers is the Wash Against Waste (WAW) stand. At WAW, a team of volunteers washes and dries used plates and cutlery from Festival food venders, thereby eliminating the need for disposable food and beverage containers. So popular is this concept that the Sustainable Living Foundation developed a WAW service to deliver to other festivals around the Victoria.

For more on the Festival’s own practice principles check out our website.

3. What are the main challenges you’ve overcome?

The main challenges are staging a Festival through a team that is made up of primarily volunteers. With a limited budget, employment periods are short which makes forward planning near impossible.

4.  What are the main types of waste created at the SLF festival and what’s the most unusual waste stream you’ve had to deal with?

Probably not highly unusual, but definitely an unexpected waste stream, were plastis cups supplied by one of our partner organizations in 2009, accounting for the sharp rise in rubbish to landfill.

slf waste statistics

Sustainable Living Festival waste management statistics

5. Have you ever heard of upcycling being done with waste after an event like the Commonwealth Games? If not, how do you think it can be best included in major event production and management?

No, I’ve never heard of waste from an event being upcycled. The best way to include it into an on-going event is with a sales or marketing edge, illustrating a point of difference to event patrons. Imagine if waste from an event was made into products that were sold at the next event – like promotional, branded reuseable cups/bags/water bottles – then the upcycling tells a story event patrons feel a part of. The upcycled promotional products become the outfits of a subculture.

6. What kind of upcycled products would you make from major event waste?

Festival belts with pouches to carry your essential festival kit, water bottles, crockery and cutlery. Items that can be used at the event.

From banners to schools

6 Dec

“Um, so Dave what kind of vehicle will we need to pick up the banner?” We hadn’t really nutted out the logistics of collecting a 20m x 20m, 170kg piece of mesh PVC.

So, taking an educated guess and with fingers well crossed, we borrowed a Conserve India work car and arrived to find ICON’s British riggers resting on the already neatly folded banner. (We were too late to watch them repelling down the side of the building – dang! These guys were professionals – travelling straight from the airport, harnessing up and getting the job done within half an hour. Jet lag? Meh, what jet lag?)

Folding the Aviva banner

ICON's riggers folding the You are the Big Picture banner at Statesman House, Delhi

Transporting the Aviva banner

Loading up the banner haul at Statesman House, Delhi

collecting unexpected materials from Aviva

Don't know what to do with your carabeenas? We'll take 'em!

And here’s what we plan to make with the banner…

Stationery samples made from Commonwealth Games waste

Closing the loop with stationery samples made from Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games waste materials

Pencil case made from Delhi Commonwealth Games waste

Pencil case upcycled from Delhi Commonwealth Games waste

The diligent team in Conserve’s sampling unit whipped up these school products so we could convince Aviva to upcycle with us.

As I mentioned yesterday, Aviva is funding education programs around the world focussing on supporting street children with schooling or training opportunities. In India, Aviva’s main ‘Street to School’ partners are Save the Children and CRY. So we figured why not make products that Aviva can take back and use in these initiatives?

Material reaching the end of it’s first life, reincarnated and sold as products for those most in need: closing the loop with a little dash of soul.

But it’s not over yet, dear readers, this partnership with Aviva was a small, unexpected outcome emerging from our Games project.

There’s still a lot of Commonwealth Games waste material we’re trying to create products with. Stay with us as our upcycling adventure continues to unfold…

Unexpected outcomes

5 Dec

“Hello Liz, this is Abhigyan from Reebok India calling…”

About a week after the Commonwealth Games ended, news of our project broke in two of India’s most widely read English newspapers – the Times of India and Hindustan Times.

The combined reach of these papers is almost 20 million people. Just this fact alone was enough to send us double air-punching around the Conserve India office.

But what we didn’t expect was the response from people in companies, like Reebok, tracking us down to talk all things upcycling. (More on Reebok soon).

As you may have guessed from my last post, one of the companies was Aviva, a multinational insurance firm. Aviva recently launched an international branding campaign – ‘You are the Big Picture’. As part of this initiative, thousands of photos donated by members of the public were projected for a week onto a giant banner hanging from Statesman House in Connaught Place, Delhi.

Aviva has promised one pound for every photo uploaded to their website – up to a maximum of 250,000 GBP – will go to education projects, working with street kids across India.

Jenna on Aviva's Statesman House Banner

Jenna donates her face in Aviva's 'You are the Big Picture' campaign

So we were certainly intrigued when David Jiggens, Production Director from ICON – Aviva’s event management company, gave us a call looking for a way to recycle the banner. David was used to having options like waste to heat treatment in his home country, England, for disposing of materials otherwise heading to landfill.

I said: “Hey Dave, recycling is so last century! How about we energy-efficiently upcycle your banner into some brand spanking new products? And while we’re at it, we might even throw in some free Commonwealth Games material to make the products extra specially unique.” (Not quite how it rolled, but I’m summarizing several conversations. You get the drift.)

David liked the idea and we reached an agreement to spend his recycling budget on upcycling instead. Nice.

Tune in for tomorrow’s post and we’ll show you how the banner got from the side of a building to our factory…and what we’re going to upcycle it into…

Go well,


What’s the big picture?

25 Nov

Very quick post – there’s so much good stuff happening here in Delhi it’s been difficult to keep the blog up to date. We’ll be announcing news on where our Commonwealth Games project ended up soon:  it involves a big corporate, a global branding campaign and school kids.

Need another hint?

Watch this video teaser and see if you can work it out…

P.S. the song used in the video is from a contemporary jazz ensemble my sister put me onto a few years ago – the Portico Quartet. I’m a fan.

Style and substance

11 Nov

Today, as promised we welcome Pia Jane Bijkerk to the Conserve Delhi 2010 ideas hub. Her email came winging to us all the way from her houseboat in Amsterdam (thank heavens for the internerd I say)!

Pia is an internationally acclaimed stylist, photographer and author specializing in interiors, still life & food. She continues to use her home as her workshop and her travels as inspiration and delights in stepping off the beaten path to discover the unexpected for her clients and readers. Today she is the author and photographer of Paris: Made by HandAmsterdam: Made by Hand (June 2010), as well as the much-anticipated My Heart Wanders (2011).

Pia’s website:

1. Describe your average day as a stylist?

As a stylist, my average day consists of anything within 4 scenarios – I would either be propping (sourcing props) for an upcoming shoot; or in studio or perhaps on location for a shoot; taking borrowed props back to various boutiques and homes; or researching for my next shoot. All of these scenarios are quite different, but most of the time it means I’m traveling around the city on my bicycle like a mad woman, because being in a hurry is always something a stylist is in.

2. Do you see much waste created in your industry? What materials are likely to be thrown out at the end of a project?

Absolutely, there is a lot of waste and I find it quite frustrating. The worst is certainly food on food shoots – since it’s often necessary to make 2 or 3 versions of a recipe for just one image, there is a lot of waste. Sometimes the food stylist will try to save most of the food and split up the leftovers at the end of the day for each of the production team members to take home, and sometimes we’ll eat some of the food at lunch time. But still, there is waste that I believe can be salvaged. On interior and still life shoots, the waste often comes from carelessness with products – breakages, and over-propping.

3. You’ve written two books showcasing handmade style in Paris and Amsterdam. How do you personally define ‘handmade’ and how does it compare to upcycling?

For me objects ‘made by hand’ these days is about more than creating an object by hand, it also includes the act of restyling, restoring or reinterpreting a found object, giving it new life and new function. This includes upcycling – seeing something in a new light and giving it new use.

4. What are the most critical things you think are needed for your industry to become more sustainable?

In the food styling industry, I’d like to see a food salvage programme created – an organisation that has a schedule of food shoots around the city and goes to each shoot at the end of the day and picks up the excess food – food that is still edible would be taken to shelters, and the rest would be composted and made into soil that local people can purchase, or that is used for city gardens. In the rest of the styling industry, I’d like to see the stylists and production team members themselves take more care with over-consumption – to become aware of the unnecessary waste created on set and minimise it by being more mindful.

(Note: Great suggestions Pia. If you’re ever doing a food shoot in Melbourne you might want to check out Second Bite or Fareshare for their excess food collection services. I wonder if there are other organisations like these in cities around the world?)

5. What kind of upcycled products would you like to see made from Commonwealth Games waste?

I’d like to see Commonwealth Games waste turned into souvenir products that are made locally. I’d like to see the Commonwealth Games souvenir stores filled not with cheap, mass-produced items made overseas, but instead with items that are made locally (if possible) with product waste from the making of the Games. What are the items usually sort after and on display? I’d think about how these can be made from upcycling already existing materials.

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