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Leading Change toward Sustainability
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Leading Change toward Sustainability

A Change-Management Guide for Business, Government and Civil Society 

Bob Doppelt, Director of Resource Innovations, and The Climate Leadership Initiative, University of Oregon, USA. With a Foreword by William McDonough, McDonough + Partners
September 2003   270 pp   234 x 156 mm  
paperback   ISBN 978-1-874719-64-9   £17.50  


Review copies   Inspection copies

Ranked as “one of the best ten publications on sustainable development” (GlobeScan Survey of Sustainability Experts, 2004).


"Read it and you can make a difference."

Read Bob Doppelt's article, ‘Overcoming the Seven Sustainability Blunders’, in The Systems Thinker Vol. 14 No. 5 (21 May 2003)


Interviewed by Dr Moira Gunn on ‘Tech Nation’, 21 October 2003.
(Real Audio format. To download RealPlayer, go to

Although an increasing number of organisations have embraced the idea of sustainability in the last decade, why do so many initiatives fail, leading to wasted resources, frustration and cynicism? Why have so few organisations successfully adopted more sustainable policies or practices? And when they do get launched, why do so many efforts plateau after a short time and fail to ascend to the next level of excellence? What process is required to create change within organisations to move them towards sustainability?

Because so few resources are available to answer these questions, Bob Doppelt spent three years researching how the leaders of both private and public organisations that have initiated and sustained significant sustainability programmes designed and approached them. His findings, presented in this hugely readable book, will demystify the sustainability-change process by providing a theoretical framework and a methodology that managers can use to successfully transform their organisations to embrace sustainable development.

According to Doppelt, discussions about what to do-which new technologies and policy instruments to apply-have dominated the public dialogue on sustainability. Practitioners place comparatively little emphasis on how organisations can change their internal thought processes, assumptions and ingrained behaviours to embrace new tools and techniques. Organisational and cultural change is the key missing ingredient in the operationalisation of sustainable development. Without such change, sustainability efforts usually stall soon after they begin or fail outright.

Changing organisational culture requires interventions in two key areas:

First, the governance system of the organisation must be altered. A majority of organisations today hold a mechanistic, autocratic view of governance. In contrast, organisations that have made the most progress toward sustainability view all of their internal members, as well as external stakeholders, as vital parts of an interdependent system. In the leading sustainability organisations, these beliefs engender a skilful distribution of information, power and wealth among employees and stakeholders because managers realise that all of the parts of the organisational system must feel valued and be meaningfully involved for these higher purposes to be achieved. Transforming systems of governance to acheive these results requires seven core interventions. Each intervention builds on and reinforces the others. Part II of the book describes these interventions and how the leading organisations employ them to establish an enduring systems approach to change.

The second intervention is leadership. Organisations that develop effective governance systems typically have good leadership. Effective sustainability leaders have the ability to keep their organisation focused on achieving its higher mission while simultaneously managing numerous, sometimes contradictory, streams of activity. Savvy leaders can inspire and mobilise employees and stakeholders to embrace change as an exciting opportunity to learn. In the exemplary organisations, this style of leadership pervades not only top management, but also most levels of the enterprise.

Doppelt found that, when an organisation has an effective governance system and effective, forward-looking leadership, it is much more likely to be able to marshal the tremendous forces required to transform its culture and successfully adopt sustainability-based thinking, values and behaviours. When an organisation lacks an effective governance system or sufficient leadership, its culture will remain static and the adoption of a more sustainable path will be stymied, no matter what type of new technologies are adopted, quality-control tools are used, or consultants are hired.

Crammed with case examples, interviews and checklists on how to move corporate and governmental cultures toward sustainability, the book argues that the key factors that facilitate change consistently appear in the ongoing and successful (but incomplete) efforts Doppelt examined at companies such as Nike, Starbucks, IKEA, Chiquita, Interface, Swisscom and Norm Thompson and in governmental efforts such as those in the Netherlands and Santa Monica in California. For these and other cutting-edge organisations, leading change is a philosophy for success. In fact, in many ways Leading Change toward Sustainability is just a restatement of what their leaders already know and do.


After reading Leading Change toward Sustainability, those seeking change can't help but have a more clear understanding of what it means to say: 'Our goal is to become a truly sustaining organisation.' With the help of this useful book, they just might reach that laudable destination.
William McDonough, McDonough + Partners

Bob Doppelt has taken up [the] challenge to learn about experiences in sustainable development; and now he makes us part of his learning process. The result is fascinating and inspiring . . . I sincerely hope this book finds its way into the hands of managers of all kinds of businesses, small and large, to CEOs of the leading multinational enterprises of the world, to directors of government departments in whatever field of public concern they work, to people working for non-governmental organisations, to groups of farmers, to municipalities, to politicians.
Paul de Jongh, Policy advisor for sustainable development to the Dutch government; former Deputy Director-General for the Environment, The Netherlands

Implementing sustainable business practices is about much more than policies and plans. Bob Doppelt teaches us that leadership driven by vision, values and even a fundamental shift in thinking characterises true success. By taking us inside companies from around the world, he demystifies sustainability and presents a hands-on practical approach allowing the potential for a company's cultural transformation.
Carsten Henningsen, Co-Founder, Portfolio 21; Chairman, Progressive Investment Management

This book is packed full of sound experience gleaned from dozens of cases and is a must-read for anyone at all interested in embarking on an organisational change strategy to embrace sustainability in their organisation. One of the most useful books I have read lately. Calling it a Bible for the practitioner is too strong, but it conveys the right idea.
Larry Chalfan, Former CEO Oki Semiconductor; Current Director, Zero Waste Alliance

The journey toward sustainability is not easy but it is right and it is rewarding. Bob Doppelt's book provides a very practical and concise summary of significant commitments, efforts and processes for leading the change.
Jim Quinn, former CEO of The Collins Companies and current partner in Medallion Hawaiian Hardwoods LLC

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to move their business or organisation to the higher ground of sustainability. Whether you are looking for guidance or just need a reminder, Bob Doppelt provides a real-world approach for implementing sustainable business practices.
Buddy Hay, VP Sustainable Operations, Interface Research Corporation

Bob Doppelt has compared a variety of organisations and identified those characteristics of high performance-high performance in the primary work of the organisation and performing that work in a more sustainable way. It is valuable for anyone interested in how successful leaders function in organisations. More to the point, the ideas offered in this book can help move your organisation toward a more sustainable future.
Dr Craig W. Shinn, Associate Professor of Public Administration, Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University

Bob Doppelt expands the envelope of knowledge about the realities of reducing the environmental impacts of private and public organisations, giving real-world insights into the substantial economic benefits available to corporations and agencies through the adoption of sustainable practices, as well as practical steps to overcome the formidable institutional barriers involved with implementing these practices successfully.
Ernie Niemi, VP, ECONorthwest Economics Research and Consulting, Eugene, Oregon

This book takes on a key challenge for sustainability — how to harness the ideas and enthusiasm of people within an organisation. Instead of focusing on the latest technological fixes, Doppelt explains how organisations need to change in order to incorporate sustainability throughout their operations. Businesses and government agencies working on sustainability will be able to use this book to diagnose their situation and identify solutions.
Matt Emlen Program manager for the Portland-Multnomah Sustainable Development Commission


Based on a study of practices at firms like Interface, Herman Miller, Patagonia, Collins Companies, Chiquita, Xerox and Starbucks, this book serves both as a primer and study of the cutting edge.
Business Ethics, Fall 2003

Anyone involved in a business or agency that wants to transform itself into a better environmental citizen would do well to read this book.
Earth Justice
, Winter 2004

Starting from a seldom-discussed reality — that some sustainability initiatives simply fail ... his findings are presented in the form of a theoretical framework and methodology that can be used by managers to help their organizations embrace sustainable development.
UNEP Industry and Environment
, Oct–Dec 2003

This book is a really useful read for those leading or indeed aspiring to lead change to sustainability in organizations worldwide ... Read it and you can make a difference.
Consultnet, April 2004
Read the full review

... represents a comprehensive and passionate attempt to demonstrate that embracing sustainability is the only way, though not necessarily the easiest, for both humanity and the environment to escape a bleak future.
Natural Resources Forum, August 2004

Doppelt takes an honest and insightful look at the complexity involved in striving for sustainability, using numerous real-life examples of organizations that are both succeeding and failing in their efforts. ... Even though the book describes complex and high-level concepts about change management, Doppelt provides the reader with many tangible, practical tips and tools for implementation, such as appendices of organizational assessment exercises to use in your organization. His approaches involve a healthy dose of common sense but are not overly obvious ... Many change-management recommendations made in this book are not unique to sustainability. I found the chapter relating to vision to be particularly effective in explaining an abstract and difficult concept. His comments about the importance of persuasive and attention-grabbing communication tactics were equally insightful. Because of Doppelt's holistic and comprehensive approach toward sustainability-change management, I believe this book is appropriate for all who are considering sustainability initiatives or currently struggling with sustainability policies. In fact, Doppelt's insights are universal enough to benefit anyone who is interested in learning more about effective methods to manage and measure all types of organizational change.
Connette Gayle, onPhilanthropy, 12 May 2003
Read the full review

The Industrial Revolution has led to a host of modern advances; affordable energy, rapid transportation, fast, low-cost automated production and advanced information systems. However, with these we have also inherited a legacy of environmental and social problems. Most business leaders would not disagree that achieving a complete sustainable business is a colossal task. However, leaders with the vision to see the issues as opportunities rather than problems stand to gain the most in the pursuit of sustainability.

Providing the first in-depth explanation of how to involve people in sustainability, Bob Doppelt has brought order to a difficult and often messy area of business strategy.  He reflects on the relationship between vision, leadership and change and demonstrates the secrets of successful corporations.

Using case studies from Nike to the Netherlands he highlights the reasons why many sustainability strategies are doomed to fail simply by their lack of vision. Vision statements which just aim to minimise environmental waste or act in compliance with the law are backward and negative, Doppelt claims. Real sustainability can only be achieved when processes themselves are socially and ecologically beneficial in the first place. Furthermore, Doppelt dares to peek beyond sustainability at a new, enhanced business landscape where we manage totally safe and positive places in which to work. The book firstly demystifies many issues by providing a theoretical discussion of which new technologies and policy instruments to apply. It then gives a practical methodology to transform business with topics on:

    * Changing the dominant mind-set
    * Rearranging the system by organising transition teams
    * Creating an ideal vision and guiding principles of sustainability
    * Restructuring the rules of engagement and adopting source-based strategies
    * Communicating the need, vision and strategy for achieving sustainability
    * Correcting feedback loops: encouraging and rewarding innovation
    * Aligning systems and structures with sustainability

This book is appropriate for all who are considering sustainability initiatives or currently struggling with their policies. For guidance or just for a reminder, the book can be used both to diagnose a situation and to identify workable solutions.
London Management Centre,

Why does everyone talk about sustainability, but real changes are hard to find? According to ... Bob Doppelt, organisational change is the key to achieving lasting success. Both public and private organisations are the target of his research on how successful sustainability can be initiated and - even more important - effectively sustained…practical examples ... on successful AND failed initiatives provide useful examples.
European Circular Issue 21 (Autumn 2004)


William McDonough


Paul de Jongh

Part I: Why some organisations succeed and others fail

1. A tale of two companies

2. What went wrong?

3. A primer on sustainability

4. Socioeconomic implications of sustainable development

5. Sustainability, governance and organisational change (116K)

This item available in PDF format for free download     Download

Part II: The wheel of change toward sustainability

6. Change the dominant mind-set that created the system through the imperative of achieving sustainability

7. Rearrange the parts of the system by organising deep, wide and powerful sustainability transition teams

8. Change the goals of the system by crafting an ideal vision and guiding principles of sustainability

9. Restructure the rules of engagement of the system by adopting source-based strategies

10. Shift the information flows of the system by tirelessly communicating the need, vision and strategies for achieving sustainability

11. Correct the feedback loops of the system by encouraging and rewarding learning and innovation

12. Adjust the parameters of the system by aligning systems and structures with sustainability

13. Aligning governance with sustainability

14. Closing thoughts on the change process

Appendix A: Assessing your organisation’s ‘sustainability blunders’

Appendix B: Assessing your governance system

Appendix C: Assessing your sustainability change initiative


Bob Doppelt

Bob Doppelt is Director of the Program for Resource Innovations, a sustainability research and technical assistance organisation, affiliated with the Institute for a Sustainable Environment, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR. In addition, he is a Courtesy Associate Professor in the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management at the University of Oregon ( Doppelt is also a principal in Factor10 Inc., a sustainability change-management consulting firm (