News and Events

A people-focused systems approach to sustainability: published article

September 29, 2021

Toimata Foundation and Enviroschools would like to acknowledge a great achievement from long time Enviroschools collaborator Niki Harré and Charlotte Blythe, School of Psychology, University of Auckland, and Western Springs College Ngā Puna ō Waiorea (WSCW), a Green-Gold secondary Enviroschool in Tāmaki Makaurau/ Auckland.

Koha cups made by WSCW students for a wananga.

Their article on WSCW sustainability journey has been published in the American Journal of Community Psychology, which is the top community psychology journal internationally. It is published with open access which means anyone can download it.

You will find the link to the full article here, as well as the title, abstract and key findings, below.


A people-focused systems approach to sustainability

Niki Harré, Charlotte Blythe, Lucy MacLean, Shagoofa Khan

Creating organizations that promote human and ecological flourishing (i.e., sustainability) is a key challenge for contemporary societies. Here, we offer a people-focused systems approach to organizational sustainability based on an action research project conducted at Western Springs College/Ngā Puna O Waiōrea, a bicultural high school in Aotearoa New Zealand. The project ran from 2008 to 2018 and drew on the values and skills of community psychology and environmental education to build what we call a “sustainable social system” (SSS). In 2018/19, we conducted interviews with 23 key people involved in sustainability efforts at the school and analyzed the minutes of 46 meetings of the school’s Sustainability Panel. We used a complex systems approach to produce a map of the core people, purpose, infrastructure, and activities components and sub-systems in the SSS, as well as its emergent properties of a sustainability culture and identities. We describe the historical trajectory of the SSS and discuss seven features that we consider of particular significance in contributing to its growth and resilience. We then offer steps toward a people-focused SSS led by insiders with sustainability values. These include establishing a democratic and inclusive sustainability network, and attempting to integrate sustainability with the organization’s essential activities.

  • The current study offers a people-focused systems approach to promoting environmental sustainability in organizations.
  • We describe a case study of a sustainable social system and its 11-year trajectory at a bicultural high school.
  • The current study uses complex systems thinking and methodology to map the sustainable social system.
  • Findings suggest a democratic process for change designed to empower and connect sustainability advocates.

Sustainability students.

In, about and for the environment.