This project (2020-1-SE01-KA203-077872) has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

A leverage points perspective on sustainability

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Reference
Fischer, J., Riechers, M., 2019. A leverage points perspective on sustainability. People and Nature 1, 115–120. https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.13
Thematic Area
Development studies
DOI
doi.org/10.1002/pan3.13
Summary
Drawing on seminal work by the late Donella Meadows, we propose a leverage points perspective as a hitherto under-recognized heuristic and practical tool for sustainability science. A leverage points perspective focuses on places to intervene in complex systems to bring about transformative change. A leverage points perspective recognizes increasingly influential leverage points relating to changes in parameters, feedbacks, system design and the intent encapsulated by a given system. We discuss four key advantages of a leverage points perspective. First advantage: A leverage points perspective can bridge causal and teleological explanations of system change – that is, change is seen to arise from variables influencing one another, but also from how human intent shapes the trajectory of a system. Second advantage: A leverage points perspective explicitly recognizes influential, ‘deep’ leverage points – places at which interventions are difficult but likely to yield truly transformative change. Third advantage: A leverage points perspective enables the examination of interactions between shallow and deep system changes – sometimes, relatively superficial interventions may pave the way for deeper changes, while at other times, deeper changes may be required for superficial interventions to work. Fourth advantage: A leverage points perspective can function as a methodological boundary object – that is, providing a common entry point for academics from different disciplines and other societal stakeholders to work together. Drawing on these strengths could initiate a new stream of sustainability studies, and may yield both practical and theoretical advances. A plain language summary is available for this article.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The article proposes a leverage points perspective that  focuses on places to intervene
in complex systems to bring about transformative change. Influential leverage points
relate to changes in parameters, feedbacks, system design and the intent encapsulated
by a given system.

Finding approaches that can effect transformative change, bringing about a biophysically sustainable and socially just world, thus becomes the holy grail of sustainability science. Leverage points are places in a system where relatively minor interventions can lead to relatively major changes in certain outcomes
Point of Strength
The article applies Donella Meadows leverage points in a pedagogic way