The Schumacher Institute: An Interview with Ian Roderick, Director

November 10, 2013 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Born in 1911, Ernst Fritz Schumacher was and continues to be one of the most inspiring environmental writers that the UK has ever had. He was an entrepreneur who worked closely with Clement Atlee’s Labour government (1945-1951) and involved himself in the management for such organisations as the Soil Association. But, perhaps his biggest achievement came from the publication of his book “Small is Beautiful”, which provided a much needed critique of unsustainable economic growth, its effects on the environment and people. Since his death, his legacy still lives on in organisations such as the Schumacher Institute.

Founded in 2008, the Schumacher Institute is a self proclaimed “Think and do tank”, with a committee of ten people and a handful of researchers. The Institute was set up to promote Schumacher’s philosophy of peace and harmony among humans and nature. Furthermore, their projects include essays on environmental and social research that “raises a practical or theoretical challenge for the sustainability movement”.

What’s more, they are a big influence on their community as demonstrated through the consultancy work with Bristol City Council, including their project “Bristol’s green roots” which was set up to provide coverage of historical and future developments in the environmental movement.

Following an email interview with Ian Roderick, the director of the Schumacher Institute, he was asked to explain the Institute’s core principles:

“…We advocate that by combining concerns for equity with concerns for the limits of the Earth’s resources we should aim for all societies to converge and that is done by altering the processes, which are controlled to some extent by policy and laws but are also driven by values and norms…”

When asked about how individuals and households could combat climate change as consumers in society:

“…Our consumption of any good relies on long chains of supply and connection that have various impacts all along the way. Changing what we do, like moving to a low carbon life style, may have unintended consequences – we just have to learn about them and keep re-adjusting as long as we are trying to move towards a goal and are open to looking at how we may help or hinder others in their travel to the same goal. Our message is to take on board the ideas of convergence – seeking and learning about how to use resources in ways that lessen the impact on the planet in total and systemic ways and at the same time is doen (sic) justly and shared out with others as fairly as possible.”

Roderick also talked about “Learning Processes”:

“…I think is important is to establish learning processes. We are all treading new ground and there is a huge amount to learn about how our societies use resources (and the atmosphere is just one resource that we use as a sink for pollution), what the consequences are in that use (global warming, ecosystem destruction, biodiversity loss, etc.), and how we are all part of an intricate web of dependencies…”

Roderick highlights the importance of influencing individuals in society to consider their approach towards an ecological lifestyle. He shows that through both; consumption and education, we can make the right changes through careful deliberation. Furthermore, if we are serious about eliminating the threats posed by global warming, Vanida Shiva also believes we need to be looking at “how we shop, how we move, how we live, how we eat”.

Humans have ‘connections’ through earth’s resources, but whilst we depend on them, they don’t depend on us, learning to acknowledge that Gaia isn’t going to heal itself is an important aspect of maturity for the human race.

The Schumacher Institute also works with other organisations such as; The New Economics Foundation, another independent think tank promoting “Social, Economic and Environmental justice” and “Green New Deal” (also inspired by the “Small is Beautiful” legacy) and Bristol University. When asked if the Institute supported the Transition Network, Roderick said:

“Yes, indeed. Rob Hopkins gave a Schumacher lecture this year and we connect well with the Transition Network through system thinking links. We are keen that the TN approach grows stronger as we are facing quite a period of lack in terms of global governance. The failures of the processes to reach any agreements let alone binding ones in areas of climate change, biodiversity, pollution, energy etc. mean that we have to turn to other means. I believe this failure is opening the way for grass roots action. The multitude of social movements and community initiatives at many levels (cities in particular) is encouraging (sic). Perhaps movements like Transition are where real leadership happens – not standing on pedestals rousing the mob to follow but getting involved in a huge number of small actions, getting hands into the soil – all quite Schumacher style.”

Roderick highlights the importance of bottom-up action, especially in social movements, in ‘fighting the battle’ against climate change and promoting community life, of which Transition Network are part of.

When asked what the Schumacher Institute’s plans were for the future his reply was:

“We are just at the end of a large research project called CONVERGE and we plan to make the most of that through two initiatives: the Convergence Alliance that will advocate and educate; and the Convergence Observatory that will continue to research, measure and monitor what’s happening and report. We have partners in Hungary and India in these ventures. We are involved in a project called Prepare for Change that is coming from a resilience perspective to look at the way that communities might respond to change over the next few decades – this embraces opportunities as well as threats. We are working closely with Bristol City Council on this. We have a consultancy arm that is getting involved in sustainability issues with businesses and the public sector. We have our learning programmes, which are based in systems thinking.”

The Schumacher Institute is growing, more so since the economic crisis of 2008, which has increased its grip on society’s freedom to develop. Alternative economics and philosophy is being sought out by individuals and businesses who not only want to save money but also the environment. Holes are showing up in the current economic and political system. The inability to maintain ‘Boom’ growth and the inevitability of ‘Bust’ in Neo-Liberalism is putting ‘small’ economics theory under the spotlight. As Max-Neef (2010) puts it “What we are going through at the present time is not just an economic-financial crisis, but a crisis of humanity”, we are indeed going through a process of consideration and chaos. The Schumacher Institute has a varied network of solidarity with other organisations where cooperation is rife and is one of the main reasons behind their growing success, even if it is on a ‘small’ scale.


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This post was written by Elijah Pryor

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