Inside-out sustainability – HE, SHE or business as usual?

A strange thing happened to me after Anja asked me to write about the importance of ‘inner sustainability’. Maybe you’ll recognize the process.

It started with my thoughts jumping, monkey-like, between the low-hanging fruit in my mind. First jump was to Gro Harlem Brundtland launching Our Common Future in 1987… Second jump was to sustainability today, with ever-present climate crises and biodiversity disasters… And onward I went to contrast the busyness of sustainability – with its global compacts, SDGs, Davos and COP summits – with nearby Oslo Fjord (on the brink of eco-collapse) and exploration-hungry Statoil – which changed its name, but not its attitude….

Another mind-jump took me to the 1980s ozone hole, created by CFCs and the scientist who had already helped [oil and car companies] poison a generation of urban kids with leaded gasoline – but which also generated our most successful environment treaty, the Montreal Protocol

These jumps were interspersed with a few less relevant inner dialogues: Yesterday’s dinner, tomorrow’s meeting agenda, should I wash some clothes?

Recognise the monkey-mind process?

Foto: Matias Hagen

Add a little intuition…

After a days’ pause (yeah, I washed some clothes), I made a longer and deeper jump – involving a little intuition – by opening a book that ‘asked to be read’. Lester R. Milbrath’s Envisioning a Sustainable Society analyses how we got to this point, why science and technology will fail to solve our problems, and how we must change to avoid ecological catastrophe.

It maps out how we developed for two million years without disrupting the stability of the ecosphere, organizing ourselves into “partnership” societies with an intimate understanding of our dependence on nature. Then came the development of “power societies” that use force, violence and knowledge to dominate others and nature itself.

Milbrath cites Schmookler, whose Parable of the Tribes describes this ‘power and domination’ paradigm as a still-prevalent disease that enslaves us all and drives human destiny to the detriment of people and planet.

Is this the root of our failure to realize sustainability, a deep and fundamental flaw in modern civilization?

Kevin Reeder
Course on Digital work-life balance. Photo cred: HerSpace

Do power-maximizing, competitive societies prevent peace, justice and quality of life? If so, suggests Schmookler, better technology and laws are not enough. We must transform the dominator model and redesign our fundamental people-profit-planet relationships.

Recognise the intuition process?

And a walk in the woods…

The final stage of writing this came after a snowy winter walk with my daughter’s dog, Eik. Deep in the forest, he suddenly changed from happy-waggle-tail-nose-on-scents mode to full-stop-raised-tail-intensely-alert mode. Eik doesn’t revert to instinctual mode because of a squirrel or a red deer, so I knew he had got the scent of something bigger, something wilder. On Nesodden, that can be an elk, a lynx, or even a lone wolf.

Involuntarily, I took a deep breath and felt my own body and senses come alive. We watched, listened and scanned the woodlands for the slightest movement.

I became acutely aware of both nature itself and my inner nature – this familiar, life giving, yet sometimes baffling biotope that I exist within – and how interconnected they are.

After the walk, I reflected on the connection between nature, human nature and this world dizzy with uncertainty and constant change.

Kevin Reeder
Eik the dog

Sometimes the “shift” we buzz about seems to consist solely of endless mitigation (measures to reduce emissions) and adaptation (measures to manage climate change impacts).

Can we really create a good future by managing symptoms while ignoring root causes? Are we facing an environmental crisis or a deeper crisis of civilization?

Recognise the reflection process?

HE, SHE or business as usual?

Milbrath suggests it’s a deeper crisis in which we can follow one of three strategies to shift from the ‘Dominant Social Paradigm’ towards a sustainable future:

  1. ‘Business as usual’: Economic growth is still the holy grail, we mitigate and adapt when forced to;
  2. ‘HE’ (Hyper Expansionist): Big tech and science are saviours, experts rule, bigger and faster change will save us;
  3. ‘SHE’ (Sane, Humane, Ecological): Primarily psychological, societal evolution, aims to develop individual, local and societal self-reliance, co-creation, regeneration and circularity.

I share Milbrath’s view that we must take the SHE path: To shift from maximising power and wealth to maximising global quality of life. To allow no human progress that degrades the planetary ecosystem.

But are we willing to change how we act, how we are and who we are? To do so, we have to see clearly, think deeply, care broadly – and act wisely.

Nesodden nature photographed by Anja Stang

Inner work for outer transformation

It is clear that facts and scientific proof – such as decades of IPCC reporting and COP summits – are not enough to get us to evolve beyond our preoccupation with wealth, power, status and consumption. So what does it take? Positive stories help. Technology is a double-edged sword. Local climatic and ecological disasters can be a wake-up call.

I am committed to supporting the development of the transformative power of inner work that creates presence, peace of mind, contentment, compassion, discernment and clarity of purpose.

Kevin Reeder 

The resulting action – the “doing” that comes from “being” – is the ultimate sustainability solution.

Happily, I’m not alone in this endeavour. On a Greek island a few years ago, I spoke to peace and reconciliation expert Dr Scilla Elworthy. After decades of hearing nations and international bodies say “we can’t afford peace”, she made the financial argument for peace contra conflict in The Business Plan for Peace.

Scilla knows that an “inner peace plan” is as vital as a business plan for creating real change. The Mighty Heart is her process for learning the essential skills of successful peace-builders.

  • Learn to listen
  • Overcome your inner critic
  • Transform anger into fuel for change
  • Develop presence
  • Use right brain intelligence
  • Take a stand for what you deeply care about

So my deepest wish for 2022 is that we all learn these skills and use them to create sustainability – from the inside out.

Talk on upgrading yourself for inner sustainability. Photo cred: Voyage Marketing / MediaMondays


Want to up your “inner sustainability” in 2022? I would love to get your input on an Inner Sustainability course for sustainability professionals and other change-makers that I am designing in collaboration with Bølgen bærekraftsenter in Kristiansand. Which tools do you want to see in an “inner sustainability” toolkit: stress management, self-care, intuition, positivity, presence, or xxx??  Please email input to me here

Kevin Reeder is passionate about psychological sustainability, helping people to manage stress and anxiety, and avoid burnout at home and at work. He is MindTrainer and Founder at MindLAB Oslo, a mental training studio that helps organizations and companies to develop awareness, EQ, resilience, sustainable culture and wellbeing.


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