Nobel Prize winner Eleanor Ostrom began a movement in 1990 which used observed behaviour to dispute the validity of the theory of the commons altogether [16–20]. She and others showed through empirical evidence that the theory that individuals and small groups will not change their behaviour without external enforceable rules is far from inevitable [16, 26–33]. Community can shape the future through mutually accepted regimes of behaviour. In some instances these self-organised regimes have proved more effective than would have been feasible in the case of private action or top-down governance [18, 34]. Ostrom’s theory was that the most important factors which lead to cooperative behaviour by individuals towards the environment are the trust that the behaviour will lead to long-term benefits, and the belief that the majority of others are performing the same behaviour .
The science of change supports and extends the findings that different scales of activity are important and that not only community but also infrastructure and technology are key to driving change. The “magic of sustainability” is the idea that integrative solutions of community, business and government, can far exceed the sum of their parts
Targets for environmental initiatives range enormously, from those aiming for a very loosely defined state of “sustainability”, to those working towards a circular economy, or others directing their efforts towards reducing their ecological footprint [46–49]. This can lead to a sense that environmental initiatives will make little difference to the final outcome. Moreover, many people lack confidence that others are working towards the same end.
Incremental targets are less conducive to ongoing behaviour change than absolute targets . They indicate that the status quo is bad, and that we must continually reduce and improve. In contrast, science-based targets present a vision of the end goal. This allows a fundamental switch in conversation from negative conversations about the status quo, to hopeful conversations about a positive future.