While there is broad consensus about the necessity to reduce humanity’s adverse impacts on the Earth system, it is becoming increasingly clear that this transformation cannot solely be achieved through technological advances and political regulations. More and more stakeholders acknowledge that the ‘great transformation to sustainability’ will need to involve substantial changes in lifestyles and human behavior patterns for large parts of the world’s pop - ulation, particularly in the industrialised countries.
Based on the insights from disciplines such as neuroscience and social psychology there is a grow - ing understanding that merely increased knowledge and cognitive insights are not sufficient to drive these required changes in behavior patterns and lifestyles. Rather these changes seem to require deeper ‘inner’ changes in the human mind and core values, attitudes, culture and belief systems. Stimulated partly by the Pope’s latest encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ and similar assess - ments on the part of other religious leaders, there are growing discussions about the connection between climate change and spiritual questions and worldviews. In this context it is being explored how the cultivation of specific human qualities, ethical values, virtues and mindsets such as empathy, mindfulness, connected - ness and altruism, can facilitate transformations towards sustainability. For example, mindfulness practices could lead to more frugal consumption patterns through more conscious choice-making.1 Compassion practices on the other hand are considered as drivers of pro-social be - havior, eg. in prisoner’s dilemma or conflict situations.2
While such practices used to be fostered primarily in the context of individual well-being and personal development, their collective cultivation is now considered increasingly to be an important underpinning of social change towards sustainability. Defined by Thomas Bruhn
1. K. W. Brown and T. Kasser, ‘Are Psychological and Ecological Wellbeing Compatible? The Role of Values, Mindfulness, and Lifestyle,’ Social Indicators Research, 74:2 (2005), 349–368. T. Ericson, B.G. Kjønstad and A. Barstad, ‘Mindfulness and sustainability,’ Ecological Economics 104 (2014), 73-79.
2. S. Leiberg et al., ‘Short-term compassion training increases prosocial behavior in a newly developed prosocial game,’ PLoS ONE 6:3 (2011): e17798. T. Singer and M. Bolz, Compassion: Bridging practice and science (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 2013).