In 2011 AiREAS was founded as a sustainocratic community to address regional air quality and health as a shared citizen and institutional responsibility.
AiREAS became the first multidisciplinary, cooperative association that has no financial objectives for its members or itself. Money is only a means for the cooperative, just like so many other things. Its sustainocratic mission is defined to bring together all regional stakeholders and cocreate this healthy environment together. A core natural and human values driven mission. Around the AiREAS table we gather local government officials, citizens, scientists, business people and educators together, all within that same common challenging mission.
Despite the positiveness of the community shaping around such a great and shared responsibility, it remains extremely difficult to produce adequate and measureable changes that show improvement in our local health and air quality situation. Our polluting behavior is so deeply engrained in our societal functioning that it requires a huge makeover to effectively produce sustainable health.
This huge makeover has to do with a mentality shift. Once that is done, many small voluntary and big organized changes bring about a huge transformation.
This is probably one of the most important learning results within AiREAS after these 11 years.
At first this mindset shift was not there. Participants joined with many different motivations but hardly ever the one of shared responsibility for health and a healthy envirionment. Only years later the mentality shift started to occur.
We all know that we pollute our environment yet have great difficulties in letting go of this polluting attitude if this affects our lifestyle and comfort. This does not only apply for us as citizens. It also applies for industries, agriculture, permits providing governments, transportation companies, etc. Our lifestyle, luxury or profitability (in case of business institutions) comes first, our responsibilities second, sometimes very very far behind this first. We seem to have great difficulties in turning this around and imagine our happiness, wellness or success without the polluting structures.
Our societies are full of contradictions that show our confusion between our desired sense of wellness and our shared responsibilities towards each other and our environment.
When AiREAS was formed, the invitation to participate was focused on this shared health mission. Many attented the invitation but only very specific people and institutions stayed:
- the ones with financial objectives only, usually in a survival mode, disappeared quickly. AiREAS has no budget, no building, no resources of its own. It only has a shared mission and its multiple partners that are willing to invest (time, money, resources) in this cocreation.
- the ones with an existential mission around remedial activities, such as health care in an unhealthy environment, saw AiREAS as a threat to their positioning in society and were reluctant to commit to health. They did not participate.
- leaving only the people and institutions that were authentic, in creation mode, motivated for their own reason (self interest connected to the common challenge).
- many organizations that focus on their “thing” never even consider their impact on health or the environment unless someone confronts them with it. They had no natural intention to participate in Aireas since it did not fit their daily functioning. They often were not even aware of the existence of the cooperative.
From a citizens point of view it were often those citizens with a critical view to society, especially against government functioning that allowed pollution out financial interests or city design processes. Participation was often more fear than responsibility driven.
The participation in AiREAS became a self sellecting ecosystem. That itself was already an interesting topic to study. It also shows the complexity to transform an entire societal mindset when only a very specific type of pioneers engage to the new regional storytelling. A large part of society remains fixated within their old mindset that conducts their daily lives.
Gladly gradually all this changed and health and environment did become part of the (institutional) mindsets. For each of the AiREAS participants this meant a huge transformation of their own positioning in society. An admirable evolution.