Theory of Change

A world map of people

How is Crowdsourcing Sustainability helping to reverse global warming?

The IPCC says we need “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in all aspects of society that are “unprecedented in terms of scale”.

Fortunately, we already have the solutions to reverse global warming, and they’re economical.

*What we’re missing is the power to implement them.* 

Elizabeth Sawin calls this the ‘power to change direction gap’.

“Think of it as the gap between our current influence on the decisions that determine future emissions and the amount of influence we would need to close the emissions gap.

The ‘power to change direction gap’ is the one that will close first. Once it closes the emissions gap will follow.”

Other climate experts agree.

“The possibility of swift change lies in people coming together in movements large enough to shift the Zeitgeist.” – Bill McKibben

“Political will is not some final item on the grocery list to be checked off once everything else is in the cart. It is everything. None of the rest of it, none of the available policies and technologies, mean anything without it.” – Dave Roberts


Perhaps the best way to conceptualize and measure this power to change direction is through the “3.5% rule”.

“No single campaigns failed after they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population. And lots of them succeeded with far fewer than that.” – Erica Chenoweth

Erica believes the 3.5% rule likely applies to smaller-scale efforts as well.

Recent events imply she is probably right. Shortly after 3.5% of New Zealand’s citizens protested for climate action in 2019, their government took bold action. And just 1% of Amazon employees are forcing the behemoth to take big steps forward on the path to becoming a climate leader.

Grassroots power is succeeding where nothing else has for decades.

It is the first domino in the sequence of transformative change.

This is the power that needs to be built.


We’re creating new sustainability champions and strengthening existing ones to reach the needed 3.5% in schools, towns, states, companies, and countries around the world.

These amazing people are increasingly influencing policy and investment decisions where they live and work.

So, how is Crowdsourcing Sustainability doing this?

Informing minds, touching hearts, and inspiring action

At the moment, over 200,000 people from 150+ countries are subscribed to Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletters (nearly 6,000 more people every month).

And people *love* the newsletter. (removing all names of CS community members in order to share this publicly.)

“I love your newsletter…You strike a perfect balance between smart, understandable, funny and compelling.” 

“I really love the way you write. It’s an attractive mix of reality and inspiration. Thank you for your work.” 


As James Baldwin said, “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

Some perspective:

  • The average open rate for non-profits is 26%. The wildly popular climate newsletter called HEATED is 42.5%. Crowdsourcing Sustainability is right on par with HEATED.
  • Startup rule of thumb: When 40% of users say they’d be “very disappointed” if they could no longer use your product, you have found the elusive “product/market fit”. Crowdsourcing Sustainability has 62%.
  • 71% of people in the CS community are looking for instruction on what more they can do to reverse warming.

What we’re really doing, is building trust, relationships, and community. I’m speaking my truth – sharing the way I see the world. And sharing what I believe to be the most important information on the climate crisis and *what people can do about it that actually makes a difference*.

People feel my authenticity and passion.

“Love your heart Ryan!”

And it’s contagious. ‘Inspiring’ is the most common word used to describe our work.

“Inspiring resource for true change“

Some things Crowdsourcing Sustainability has inspired and empowered people to do:

  • Peacefully protest. And give speeches at protests.
  • Change careers.
  • Change majors.
  • Divest from fossil fuels.
  • Present to co-workers about the climate crisis and solutions.
  • Organize co-workers to make their company offer sustainable retirement funds to their 50,000 employees.
  • Present at their churches. And begin organizing them to implement solutions and affect change.
  • Organizing people in their town to successfully get climate initiatives passed.
  • Speak up more about the climate crisis with friends, family, and at the office.
  • Publish climate comic books.
  • Form climate groups with peers in their profession.
  • Write letters to loved ones in the future about climate change.
  • Get out the vote.
  • Turn anxiety and depression into activism.

“Your work and weekly emails kept me going, and they still keep me going every day…

..I feel more aligned with my center and after years of depression and terror, I am tapping into the deepest feelings of motivation and inspiration…

..As I was reflecting back on the strikes I attended, and the changes I am making to my life, I kept thinking about how your newsletter and community of courageous individuals has helped me be bold enough to make so many drastic changes that I have been wanting to make for years…

..It is through the power of communities such as yours that I can stand up for myself and for the planet without feeling burdened in doubts and negativity.”

Why is this working?

Crowdsourcing Sustainability is getting the right message to the right people.

Right people:

  • Research shows that 2% of American voters are already active in climate campaigns.
  • But there’s an additional 25% of people who want to get active but aren’t yet.
  • So we focus on finding, activating, and getting this 27% of people onto the same page.

What is the right message?

The right message helps people overcome the most common obstacles to climate action. Many people believe:

  1. Global warming is a distant problem – in time and place.
  2. What they do doesn’t matter.

Even among the 21% of people who are alarmed, “Most do not know what they can do to solve the problem.” (Yale)

Crowdsourcing Sustainability addresses these obstacles head-on, all the time.

These are our main themes:

  • The climate crisis is here now.
  • Effects of global warming (global and personal).
  • You are far more powerful than you believe.
  • *Most effective* actions you can take.
  • The narrative shaping society is wrong. Here’s the right one: 1. People/planet > profit. 2. We are a part of nature, not apart from it.
  • This isn’t our fault. Expose the powerful forces delaying action.
  • We have the solutions – they will make our world safer, healthier, and more just than it is now. Win-win-win!
  • Climate justice. This is a moral issue.
  • Stories of people making an impact (to give hope and ideas for action).

I’m a student (and teacher) of effective climate communication. I understand the power of story, metaphor, and pictures.

Many have applauded my quality of writing as well, including a climate communication professor who used to work at The New Yorker and The Atlantic. She said I am a “superb” writer with a “brilliant tone”.

That’s why so many organizations are reusing, have shared, cited my, or recognized Crowdsourcing Sustainability’s work:

  • The United Nations
  • TEDx Archivorum
  • Sierra Club
  • Drawdown
  • Skeptical Science
  • The Guardian
  • Michael Mann
  • MIT
  • 350
  • Boston University
  • Green Needham
  • Andrew Winston
  • Kickstarter
  • Climate Dads
  • The 51% Project
  • Prezi
  • Extinction Rebellion
  • Several climate newsletters, podcasts

(100+ sites have 1,000+ links to Crowdsourcing Sustainability, excluding social media platforms)

Crowdsourcing Sustainability is building a fast-growing army of climate champions from around the world. We’re building the power to change direction where people live and work – moving the world closer to that 3.5% threshold every day in schools, communities, corporations, and governments around the world.

Looking forward:

Building trust and empowering a community of readers was step one.

Step two is even more impactful. We are increasingly connecting people in our community and enabling collaboration so we can multiply our collective impact to help reverse global warming even faster.


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