Sustainability Policy, Law and Governance

Case Study: Radical but Tempered Leadership

John Blewitt

The idea of being tempered radical, i.e. of being a loyal member of the organization working within an organization but aiming at initiating (ultimately) radical change, is not new. It emerged from the US civil rights movement in the 1960s and was initially taken up by feminists and some black activists. Today the idea has almost become mainstream and is perceived by many as a way of being a leader, particularly in an organization, without having the benefits of either having significant power or authority. Thus a tempered radical is an individual who challenges the status quo of his/her organization, both through their intentional acts and just by being who they are. They are loyal to their organization but may not necessarily be in tune with its values and practices that they would like to change. It requires certain qualities and these include being:

  1. moderate
  2. tough
  3. hot or passionate, but
  4. composed.

In other words being a tempered radical is seeing how far you can go without being fired. There are inevitable tensions and these will probably involve:

  1. not necessarily fitting in or feeling one fits in;
  2. recognizing that there is some conflict between one’s personal values and those of the organization one works within;
  3. sometimes, perhaps often, feeling frustrated;
  4. trying to achieve too much and burning out as a result; and
  5. the perennial advantages and disadvantages of being simultaneously an insider and an outsider.

There will also arise certain ambivalences from inhabiting this position and these include:

  1. perceptions of hypocrisy;
  2. multiple (self) identities;
  3. dangers of assimilation and co-option particularly in the use of language;
  4. isolation and therefore being seen as a bit of an oddball;
  5. a tendency to defer radical commitments in the interests of compromise and incremental gains.

Tempered radicals are perhaps natural compromisers and accommodators who need to be able to enjoy ‘playing the game’. If they can do this then small wins and local achievements will be considered as victories and the need to be opportunistic or at least spontaneous sometimes will be seen as simply being pragmatic. However, it is important for tempered radical to seek support where they can from both inside and outside the organization. This helps personally, psychologically and professionally. Thus having a number of affiliations is important especially in regard to:

  1. the importance of external ties and relationships;
  2. the varied sources of information, resources, emotional support and empathy; and
  3. the support and sustenance from like-minded people.

Further reading

Keith Hammonds interview with Debra Meyerson in Fast Company, available at:

Meyerson, D.E. and Scully, M.A. (1995) Tempered Radicalism and the Politics of Ambivalence and Change. Organization Science, Vol. 6, No. 5.

Meyerson, D.E. (2004) The Tempered Radicals: how employees push their companies – little by little – to be more socially responsible. Stanford Social Innovation Review

Case Study: Schwarzenegger's Guiltless Green

John Blewitt

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California made a keynote speech at a global warming conference at Georgetown University in 2007. He said:

For too long the environmental movement has been powered by guilt. You know the kind of guilt I'm talking about: Smokestacks belching pollution and powering our Jacuzzis and our big-screen TVs and, in my case, powering my private airplanes. It's too bad for us that we can't live the lives of Buddhist monks in Tibet, but you know something, it doesn't happen.

I don't think any movement has ever made much progress based on guilt. Guilt is passive, guilt is inhibiting and guilt is defensive. … Successful movements are built on passion, they're not built on guilt. They are built on passion, they are built on confidence and they are built on critical mass.

California as you know is big, California is powerful and what we do in California has an unbelievable impact. We are sending the world a message, what we are saying is we're going to change the dynamic on greenhouse gases and carbon emissions.

I was followed around by environmental protesters with signs. They didn't like my humvees and Hummers and my SUVs or anything that I did, so even when I promised I would improve the environment when I became governor, they didn't believe I would. Here we are now, 3 1/2 years later, and I'm on the cover of Newsweek as one of the big environmentalists. Only in America.

We don't have to go and take away the muscle cars. We don't have to take away Hummers or SUVs or anything like this, because that's a formula for failure. Instead we have to make those cars more environmentally muscular.

The tipping point will be occurring when the environment is no longer seen as a nag, but as a positive force in people's lives. I don't know when the tipping point occurs, but I know where – in California.

Source: Schwarzenegger quotes from Coile (2007) San Francisco Chronicle.

The question is: can you drive a Hummer and sport a green warrior badge?


Coile, Z. (2007) Schwarzenegger's Guiltless Green: he touts keeping muscle cars, but filling up on biofuel. San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, available at:

Case Study: Securing the Future: Sustainable Development in the UK

John Blewitt

In the UK following growing public interest in environmental issues throughout the 1980s with Prime Minister Thatcher making a speech on global environmental issues to the Royal Society in 1988, sustainable development emerged as a national and regional policy issue. The Conservative government published a comprehensive White Paper on the environment in 1990 called This Common Inheritance and responded directly to the 1992 Rio Summit by producing the UK’s first national strategy on sustainable development in 1994, Sustainable Development: the UK Strategy. This was prompted by continuing debates relating to world trade, development, pollution control and various anxieties derived from economic and consumer growth and, more specifically, the Treasury’s application of monetary values to ecosystem services. This rationalist cost–benefit approach to sustainability has continued tending to characterize the policies of both Conservative and Labour governments.

In 1999, the ‘New Labour’ government openly addressed sustainable development in a series of policy statements and public speeches, though action came slower than words. In the UK government’s 1999 statement on sustainable development, A Better Quality of Life, the tension between social and environmental equity and economic growth remained evident. A Sustainable Development Commission was established in 2001 with former Director of Friends of the Earth and cofounder of the charity Forum for the Future, Jonathan Porritt, in the chair. Despite its insider status, the Commission issued a critical report on the government’s record on sustainability in 2004. This led to a reworking of UK policy resulting in a more refined understanding of sustainable development, which explicitly acknowledged the significance of ecological limits to economic growth. The five guiding principles discussed in Securing Our Future (DEFRA, 2005) include:

  • living within environmental limits;
  • ensuring a strong, healthy and just society;
  • achieving a sustainable economy;
  • promoting good governance; and
  • using sound science responsibly.

The government also identified four clear priorities for action, including:

  • sustainable consumption and production;
  • climate change and energy;
  • natural resource protection and environmental enhancement; and
  • sustainable communities.

Cross-disciplinary research and the design of sustainability indicators that consistently measure human well-being were also identified as key priorities.


DEFRA (2005) Securing the Future: delivering UK sustainable development policy. London, HMSO, available at

Recommended Routledge Books

Supplementary Reading




Free Journal Articles

Otto-Zimmermann, Konrad, 2012, ‘From Rio to Rio+20: the changing role of local governments in the context of current global governance’, Local Environment 17(5), pp 511-516
Al Doyali, Sarah and Leo Wangler, 2013, ‘International Climate Policy: Does it matter?: an empirical study’,  Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy 2(3), pp 288-302
Levin, Kelly and Brian Petersen, 2011, ‘Trade Offs in the Policy Process in Advancing Climate Change Adaptation: The Case of Australia’s Great Eastern Range Initiative’, Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research 3(2), pp 145-162
Tanzabuing, Joseph, Isaac Luginaah, Godwin Djietror and Kefa Otiso, 2012, ‘Mining, Conflicts and livelihood struggles in a dysfunctional policy environment: the case of Wassa West District, Ghana’, African Geographical Review 31(1), pp 33-49
Lidskog, Rolf and Ingemar Elander, 2007, ‘Representation, Participation or Deliberation?: Democratic Responses to the Environmental Challenge’, Space and Polity 11(1), pp 75-94
Kurtz, Hilda E., 2005, ‘Alternative visions for citizenship practice in environmental justice disputes’, Space and Polity 9(1), pp 77-91

Blogs and Websites

  • This institute was set up by Lester Brown after he left the larger Worldwatch Institute in 2002. With a fairly small team of researchers, Earth Policy Institute has published several books by Lester Brown and it aims to provide resources for environmental activists.

    Earth Policy Institute

  • The United Nations knowledge platform for sustainable development gives useful insights into UN-related activities and publications. 

  • UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development

  • European Union/European Commission – Environment