Fractal approaches to scaling transformations to sustainability

May 2023
Springer Link
Ambio, a Journal of Environment and Society

Responses to sustainability challenges are not delivering results at the scale and speed called for by science, international agreements, and concerned citizens. Yet there is a tendency to underestimate the large-scale impacts of small-scale, local, and contextualized actions, and particularly the role of individuals in scaling transformations. Here, we explore a fractal approach to scaling sustainability transformations based on “universal values.” Universal values are proposed as intrinsic characteristics that connect humans and nature in a coherent, acausal way. Drawing on the Three Spheres of Transformation framework, we consider how enacting universal values can generate fractal-like patterns of sustainability that repeat recursively across scales. Fractal approaches shift the focus from scaling through “things” (e.g., technologies, behaviors, projects) to scaling through a quality of agency based on values that apply to all. We discuss practical steps involved in fractal approaches to scaling transformations to sustainability, provide examples, and conclude with questions for future research.