Home The Book Section II Chapter Three
Print E-mail



Section II - Guiding Principles
Chapter 3 - Sustainability Principles


The truth of the matter is you always know the right thing to do.
The hard part is doing it.

Norman Schwarzkopf


Have you ever had a problem framed for you from a new perspective that made it much easier to understand and deal with?

Not too long ago I was part of a Sustainability Salon in which it seemed to me that our conversations were constantly degenerating because economic viability was more critical than becoming sustainable. I mentioned to the group that I had recently heard a keynote address in which Dr. Paul Cienfuego from Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County said that, if we wanted to understand corporations in America, we shouldn't try to piecemeal the stories of Enron or the ‘dot coms', but rather go back to the Founding Fathers and then follow the historical changes that have been made to their original, principled thinking. I don't remember all of what he shared, but it was clear that the Founding Fathers didn't like European corporations that had assumed they could plant their flag and take American resources. He also said, among other things, that originally our corporations couldn't have stockholders, people whose sole motivation was personal gain; they must sunset and re-justify themselves every few years; and a part of their re-justification was showing what they were doing for the common good. It was clear to me that embedded in the guiding principles was the basis for articulating the vision of who we wanted to be.


One of the members of the group asked me to facilitate the next meeting with the intent that we determine the guiding principles for sustainability.

My strong attraction to guiding principles had coalesced a couple years earlier when we were holding one of our monthly conversation groups. We had deviated from our usual dialogue format and had a panel sharing their experience with Learning Organizations. One of the panelists was Dr. Judith Ramaley, past President of Portland State University. One of the members of the audience rotated her arms in a wide sweeping circular motion and asked Judith, "how do you create your learning organization?". Judith responded that she thought she might have a different conception of her learning organization. Instead of one big organization, as represented by the questioners arm motion, Judith said that she conceived of hers as being a set of smaller circles, partially overlapping, and linked together by common interests with members in each of the smaller groups. This seemed to me to be a good answer, and I had some dissonance. It occurred to me that the thing that most attracted me to groups was their sense of shared ethic, guiding principles that were more often than not implicitly understood. This was certainly the 'glue' that held groups together and kept me integrally involved. It was also the violation of principles that could be identified as the cause of members leaving a group or its entire dissolution. Being explicit rather than implicit regarding our principles is key to our success with our sustainability work. I drew the following graphic, and continue to use it when facilitating community conversations.

Community Perspectives

We used an appreciative process, from which emerged a set of virtues that informed us about our most cherished experiences and learnings. From them we developed our guiding principles and desired outcomes that are available in the Referenced Documents of this website, under the heading 'Sustainability Principles'.

You are welcome to use the principles, but I feel compelled to point out that there was general agreement in the group that it was the appreciative process, not the content derived from it, that was our greatest gift we might give to others. The appreciative process we used is based on the concepts and design of Appreciative Inquiry, developed by Dr. David Cooperrider at Case Western University. There is a chapter devoted to describing Appreciative Inquiry and an application of it in Section III.



Take a moment to reflect on a learning experience in which it was far more important to understand how an answer was reached than what the answer turned out to be.

What was the experience?
Why was the process more important than the answer - not just for you, but for others who benefited from their own discovery?
What were the ancillary benefits of the process - e.g. mutual learning, consensus, by-in, etc?


Rev. 2009-02-09 MOM


Go to: Your Journal
Download a PDF of chapter: icon Section II Chapter Three
Email comments: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Prev: Section II : Chapter 2 - The Power of Ethics
Next: Section II : Chapter 4 - A Principle Based Conversation

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment

security code
Write the displayed characters


Copyright © 2008 Appreciative Sustainability: A Workbook and Online Community for Co-Creating Our Sustainability Ethic. All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

InfoTeam: JoomlaCoaching.com