What will it take to build the sustainable future we want?

In the first chapter of his book, The Sustainability Transformation, Alan AtKisson relates a story about moving to Seattle to take his first sustainability job as the Managing Editor of Context magazine.  He reflects, “I think …the best part about getting this job… (is) learning that I’m not alone with this crazy sense that the world’s on the wrong track, and it’s going to take a lot of effort by a  lot of people to change that track.”  It was 1988.

Like it or not – you and I are among the “a lot of people”.  Here we are, just regular folk, with an immense responsibility on our shoulders.  A responsibility to our children, our children’s children and broader society.  We need to get it right.

I think we need the most effective methods for advancing sustainability that we can get our hands on.  Alan says the best methods are ones that “support people through a process of learning, thinking and doing”.  It just so happens that he has used a few.

Building the Sustainability Pyramid – an ISIS Accelerator Course

Building the Sustainability Pyramid, Toronto, Sept. 6 & 7, 2012

Over the last 24 years AtKisson has been working on developing and perfecting methods for sustainability implementation.  He has constructed a series of courses he calls the ISIS Accelerator.  He hopes they will speed up our progress.

The premise of his approach is that for the dream of a sustainable future to become reality, people have to make it happen by:


  • Working together across boundaries of discipline, culture, & interest;
  • Thinking systemically and exploring the real root causes of problems;
  • Generating ideas and making recommendations to decision-makers;
  • Coming to consensus on priorities so that they can take action together…

One course called “Building the Sustainability Pyramid” teaches us an effective process for achieving exactly these things.

At the heart of the process is a physical model of a Pyramid, which groups build as they identify and prioritize elements of their sustainability vision. This model is a reflection of the group’s learning, thinking, and planning around a sustainability topic. The Pyramid supports and documents the collaborative effort of building understanding, and generating ideas for systemic change.

Pyramid workshops have been used in sustainability planning sessions for companies, municipalities and institutions around the world, for over a decade. Pyramid takes diverse, inter-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder groups through a step-by-step process of collaborative learning and planning and it works.

The results of a Pyramid workshop include deeper, shared understanding of what sustainability means, and a consensus on prioritized sustainability actions.  Essentially, it builds a common language and understanding of sustainability for a specific organization.  It essentially gets everyone on the “same page”.

How it Works

In Pyramid workshops participants build a physical Pyramid, which grows taller, level by

Part of the ISIS Academy Certification

level, during the workshop process. The Pyramid model is a three-dimensional reflection of the group’s learning and discussion process. Two key elements of the workshop:

A. Compass of Sustainability – integrating four critical perspectives into the planning process – Nature, Economy, Society and Well Being

B.  Building the Pyramid – using collaborative teamwork

Four critical layers are built from bottom to top to make up the ISIS Method:

Indicators – to identify important trends

Systems – to sketch the causes and effects that are shaping the trends, plus to identify the leverage points where change can be most effective

Innovation – to generate the ideas that have the greatest potential to bring about desirable change

Strategies – to devise plans to put these innovations into action

These layers are all built with the 4 perspectives of the Sustainability Compass – and provide a wealth of opportunities to negotiate the essential components of each perspective.

The pyramid-building process ends with a capstone agreement that confirms the next steps and identifies who will do what, and by when.

Sustainability Outcomes

Imagine an intense and engaging planning process which handles immense amounts of information and results in a plan of action built on consensus.  Sound like a miracle?  AtKisson’s ISIS process has delivered these results hundreds of times in over 17 countries.

It delivers –

  • Group engagement and shared understanding
  •  Cross-disciplinary / cross-“cultural” appreciation
  •  Complex systems thinking and systems change capacity (not an easy thing to wrap your mind around)
  • Coherence and integration in sustainability programs
  • The implementation of new strategies, policies, programs

More than that – this program is fun, but fun in a way that produces serious results, on serious topics.  It moves the ball down the field.  It’s success lies in the power of bringing a group of people together, to learn from each other and to make decisions about new directions and initiatives using systems thinking.  As AtKisson says, “At such moments, the world is made – and remade”.  I think we can use all the help we can get.

Bob Willard, one of Canada’s most noted sustainability champions and author of The NEW Sustainability Advantage, has this to say about the course: “ISIS is a powerful and creative experiential learning approach to helping diverse stakeholders reach consensus on how far they want to go on their sustainability journey, strategies for getting there, and high-leverage first steps to take together. It should be in the tool kit of every serious sustainability champion. That’s why I plan to attend.”

What: Building the Sustainability Pyramid Workshop

Who: Facilitated by Roberta Fernandez, Senior Associate, The AtKisson Group (USA)

When: September 6-7, 2012

Where: Wellesley Community Centre, Toronto

How much: Early Bird Rate – $550 + HST – available until August 27, 2012 (save $ 45).  Only $ 525/person for group of 2 or more.

Info and Registration: WorldViewsConsulting.org

Presented by: WorldViews Consulting, in partnership with The ISIS Academy, Live Green Toronto and the Sustainability Learning Centre.

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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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