Exploring Sulitest TASK Matrix Frameworks — Moving our World Towards Sustainability via Levers of Opportunity
"Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world" - Archimedes
As more and more people are learning about and signing up to take TASK™-The Assessment of Sustainability Knowledge- we often get a simple question: What is TASK all about?
To begin with, the scope of TASKTM is informed by our vision of sustainability knowledge. We believe everyone should know and understand Earth systems; the social foundations of human welfare; and the systemic interlinkages existing between and across them. We also think it’s important for folks to know about the levers of action and opportunity that inform and influence our ability to build a sustainable future.
To this end, the TASK™ "fundamental matrix" of sustainability knowledge, as defined by Sulitest, is organized into three distinct knowledge-based frameworks:
- Earth Systems
- Human Welfare
- Levers of Opportunity
Inspired by the work on Planetary Boundaries (The Stockholm Resilience Centre) and Doughnut Economics (Kate Raworth), the first two TASKTM frameworks are largely about thresholds: i.e., timeless physical principles to understand, established stable realities to know and quantify, and current states and trends to recognize and evaluate.
The first framework is about the Earth system and environmental ceiling—how it works, what we’ve done to it, and what planetary boundaries we might cross at our peril. The second is about the social foundation of human welfare—what we need to live lives of promise and dignity, along with a sense of equity, justice, and empathy for those less lucky than we, however much we may be falling short on such goals which, by the way, are so well articulated in the UN SDGs. The Sulitest model of sustainability captures and expresses these ideas well, as you see below.
The Past, the Present, and What the Future Might Hold
Seen in this light, the first two TASKTM frameworks are all about where we’ve been in the past. And knowledge about the past is critically important because we all need to know how we got to where we are today. But as such, the Earth Systems and Human Welfare frameworks do not focus upon our shared future of environmental and social problems nor about how wicked these problems are likely to be in terms of higher temperatures, sea-level rise, wildfires, extreme weather events, and of course, the additional human misery each will bring.
For this reason, I think David Wallace-Wells gets it right when he says, “all told, the question of how bad things will get is not actually a test of the science; it is a bet on human activity. How much will we do to stall disaster, and how quickly?” (The Uninhabitable Earth, Penguin, 2019, p. 219). Answering this question and assessing how much knowledge we have about it—this is what the third TASKTM framework is all about.
Why the Term “Levers of Opportunity”?
Once you know why we decided to call the third framework of the TASKTM matrix “Levers of Opportunity”, you understand why this framework is both so important and so different.
Unlike Earth Systems and Human Welfare, the framework of Levers of Opportunity is about the future and what we will do to make that future possible, viable, and sustainable. As such, it’s about choices still to be made; about things we can still do; about using powers we still have; about saving what we can; about choosing to act quickly instead of slowly (or not at all); about—in the end—deciding our collective fate and common destiny together by seizing the opportunities still within our grasp to remedy the Earth crisis we have created.
Indeed, this is precisely why we chose to call this TASKTM framework Levers of Opportunity—they are levers we can use that give us a chance of getting through the Earth crisis alive; of forging a pathway forward; of seeing an occasion not to miss; of finding an opening for hope and action. Indeed, for the French version of TASKTM, we translate Levers of Opportunity as Leviers d’action because urgent, systemic-wide action from here on forward, is what we need—indeed all we have—to address this unprecedented crisis.
Action for systemic change—at this point, this is now our shared future and the only real opportunity before. A habitable and hopeful future now is only about changing systems, altering perceptions, modifying behaviors, transforming values, and leveraging our heads, hearts, and hands for building a sustainable future.
So, we should think about this third TASKTM framework in terms of leveraging our brains and our knowledge into an entirely new dimension; a process and ambition we might call something like “foresight intelligence”—i.e., meditating about all that we can still do instead of all that we have already done, alas. There are lots of metaphors available to us to express this outlook and mindset: a crossroads, a fork in the road, a turning point, a critical juncture, a tipping point. However we convey it, we should be seized of the fact that we are at a moment of decision, a crisis point, an opportunity, the chance to change the world, the chance to do something different in the history of Homo sapiens.
And what is this opportunity? It’s to build a sustainable world—forever, for everyone, and for all our fellow Earth travellers whether flora or fauna. But to do this, we must shift the world, reshape the landscape, and alter the positions of our mind. And to do this, we will need a tool—one that is as powerful as it is simple. What we need is the lever, a tool even more simple than the wheel and probably invented first. The lever empowers us with the mechanical advantage to move objects too heavy to move with our muscles. It gives us agency and power beyond our meager individual or even shared strength. This is the meaning and the message embedded in the phrase Levers of Opportunity—tools for transforming our world.
As such, the third framework of the TASKTM matrix lists all the levers at our disposal that we might choose to grab and use—now and tomorrow, and in new and different ways—to move the heretofore “immoveable” pieces of our fragile world into new configurations of sustainable structures, processes, and outcomes. These levers are familiar to us and are organized into four domains: Governance (of all types); Economy and Finance (at all levels), Science and Technology (in current use and still to be invented); and Individual and Collective Action (targeting cognitive, affective, and behavioral change). As the model again shows, the Levers of Opportunity are conceptually situated between the other two frameworks because they enable us to act upon both Earth Systems and Human Welfare simultaneously.
Making Sustainability Possible
Viewed together, these are the Levers of Opportunity that—as the subtitle of this framework intentionally states—"Make Sustainability Possible.” This is an important formulation because while it conveys the importance of action, choice, decision, opportunity, and agency (as well as hope, promise, and inclusiveness in the outcome), it also conveys that we must seize the opportunity, because transitioning to sustainability won’t happen by itself—we must make it happen. We must take the possible and strive to transform it into reality.
This conditionality … this contingency ... is at the very core of the Levers of Opportunity framework precisely because sustainability requires human agency, purpose, and intentionality which we may or may not choose to use in the end, just as David Wallace-Wells forewarns.
A Hopeful Conclusion
In the end, it’s important to realize that our future remains open to us. It is this fact that should empower and give us hope and resilience in the face of the huge task before us of slowing climate change, preserving biodiversity, and addressing so much human need.
As such, let’s recognize that the Earth crisis we face is not bigger than us—it is custom designed for and by us, and it fits us perfectly because it’s us who made it. Indeed, if we humans somehow managed to create such a global crisis, then logically it should be within our collective power to undo it. Indeed, we can do this, and the levers of opportunity we have at hand today can help us get there—but only if we take the opportunity to choose to do so. It’s all about whether we seize the opportunity to leverage these existing systems (governance, economy, finance, science, technology, and human action) in the cause of building a sustainable world.
To this end, the third framework of the TASKTM matrix is designed to assess and certify our knowledge of how these levers of opportunity have been, are being, and can be used (or abused) in the cause of making sustainability possible. This is why this framework is so distinct from Earth Systems and Human Welfare—it’s primarily about assessing knowledge about solutions.
So, as you see, we hope people score well in all three of the TASKTM frameworks because they are holistic and interconnected. Indeed, scoring well across the board is a strong sign that you have a solid base of knowledge upon which full sustainability literacy can be progressively built. But I admit that I look on with particular interest at the evolution of test results for Levers of Opportunity because this is the true knowledge of our age. This is the knowledge we so dearly need. This is the knowledge that gets us through the Earth crisis. For all of us, acquiring and leveraging this knowledge is the real challenge … the real task.
Thanks for reading! If you’d like to learn more about the Sulitest model and matrix of sustainability knowledge, read our updated Position Paper here.