Understanding Change

   The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates, Philosopher


We all say we want it but then when it comes it disrupts us, it unsettles us, it stirs us and even freezes us.

There are times when change is rapid, devastating and unforeseen, we have seen many recent examples of how heartbreaking this type of change really is. These lead to grief, shock, anger and it’s not difficult to understand why.

But even slow change, and that which we seek and set off ourselves leads to similar feelings.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross created her model which sets out stages of grief, from the initial shock of loss through to eventual acceptance. The model has since become widely recognised as useful in understanding all types of change from organisational remodelling to life stages.

For those of us working in sustainability there are multiple layers of change that we need to face.

To begin with there is the type we want, where we influence our colleagues to adapt and develop processes and systems for the better.

There is the learning curve we must go through as individuals, over and over again as we explore new thinking, different models and ideas and challenge ourselves to open our minds too.

On a wider scale there are sudden impacts from extreme weather, and the need to adapt after events have happened to us.

On a longer term scale there is the looming, escalating challenge of a climate that is responding to the influence of the changes we have made.

We all need to adapt and give deeper consideration to our own personal response as we do so but on the other hand it is also helpful for us to think about the curve as people we are working with join our campaigns and projects, bearing in mind that they are in a different place to us and may catch up at a different speed.

In this series we will work through each of the stages of the curve, looking at some hypothetical ways that we might observe these responses.

The stages, as seen in the image, are:

1   Shock

2   Denial

3   Frustration

4   Depression

5   Experiment

6   Decision

7   Integration

Some versions of the model will use slightly different wording but essentially the details remain the same.

In developing sustainability strategy we must ensure we bring our colleagues with us as we seek to encourage adaptation to new ways. This model, one of several we are exploring in our blog series is a tool to help with supporting everyone in joining with us. If we can seek to understand how this process links with our personalities and individual contexts we can help each other along the way. All these elements contribute to those behaviours which make us human, that variable, eclectic mix of everything that we are.

Ultimately we all do the best we can, what we believe to be right according to the experiences we have had, are having and will go on to have.

That doesn’t mean we are never wrong, or indeed, always right, merely that we often don’t recognise why things don’t always go the way we thought they would.

When we design strategies we do it with the best of intentions. We already know that the impacts are upon us and consensus suggests we are beyond the denial stage, with the exception of some high profile laggards. It can be argued that we have also passed through frustration as we have debated current levels of legislation, policy and informative frameworks, and even through the depression stage where we regularly see positive reactions to those attempting to take us backwards. If we can reach the point where we are designing strategies with the best of everyone’s potential despite the complexity that brings then we are reaching the experiment stage collectively. In other words we are progressing into a different future. We are making our decision at a global scale to be proactive in our response.

As each project and global scale programme goes through the curve we move closer to integration, bit by bit, organisation by organisation, person by person.

We are already different. We still have a lot to do but that means we are building momentum and that means more of us are getting on board. Now is the time for we sustainability professionals to strengthen our bonds and keep lifting people up to the next level of the curve because it is only with everyone alongside us that we are truly integrating change.


Sandra Norval, Managing Director of Catalicity, has developed our organisation based on the principle that people are amazing, with all sorts of potential to be unleashed. Check out our other series, launched this week, for more on personalities and reasons for choosing our actions. To keep up to date join our mailing list, for more on our models visit our website and to discuss your thinking on these ideas call us to meet for coffee!

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