Modus Vivendi’s Three-fold Way


Aware of global trends, we work on practical bottom-up projects with communities businesses and the financial sector, exploring & enacting ways to bring about change. We also use this experience to inform and ground our global work in reality, to communicate potential impacts on global trends and we help obtain finance from large to very small scale needs.


With others we assess long term global & regional trends in resource use; in environmental & social impact; and how changes in population, affluence, innovation, business & finance affect those trends. We develop tools to make better assessments. We use the results to create a joint vision. We work from the vision to identify stepped approaches for joined-up policy and action.


Through pensions & insurance many people invest in the future, & all of us want to, but working top-down & bottom-up is not enough. We therefore help build & support ‘complex coalitions’ involving communities, businesses, investors & everyone else with an interest, to help deliver change that would make it possible for potentially nine billion people by 2050 to live well.


Left: the etf logo was drawn by Phia at 6 years, who helps fundraise from a UK school for the Buenos Aires ‘villas’ (shanty towns) and drew the tree of life for all the world’s children. It is used as the label for an etf-assisted initiative helping mothers to sew professionally. Right: beautiful Macarena from Buenos Aires. Providing support, even small, allows children to bloom in these extraordinarily impoverished communities. Etf is seeking to make a bigger difference by being tied into other initiatives.

Bottom up: Ellos tendrán futuro – So ‘They Have a Future’

Etf is an example of how a small Buenos Aires city project, supported by a few dedicated families scattered around the world, and founded and overseen by Sarah Jones, can make a difference in the lives of children, parents and guardians. Among other things it provides seasonal and educational events for the kids so that the do not feel left out, explores employment opportunities for the adults, provides a subsidised shop for food and clothes and has a small micro-fund for business start-ups and health, training and recreational support.

Ashok Khosla, through TARA Nirman Kendra, has pioneered a range of building materials in India, including bricks that recycle industrial waste with low-embedded energy. Practical actions such as these inform Ashok’s involvement as co-chair of UNEP’s International Resource Panel.

Supporter: Ashok Khosla

Ashok Khosla, of Development Alternatives, India, President of the IUCN from 2008-2012 and founder of the Indian Environment Agency, says “… I was particularly impressed by your strategy of combining bottom-up and top-down action which has a reasonable prospect of ‘correcting trends’ … within a reasonable time-frame…”.

The WBCSD’s Vision 2050, drawn upon in our work for the EEA, carries a truly startling graphic (above) illustrating just how much must be done, along nine paths of activity and industry, to achieve the must haves by the end of this decade for a sustainable world to be created by 2050. One message, as so often, is that change can come at low cost if action is taken sooner rather than later. Another is the astonishing amount of investment that needs to be speedily switched to create a sustainable world.

Top Down: Future Business, Long Finance

Modus Vivendi worked with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and financial group Z/Yen on Future Business Long Finance, for the European Environment Agency. We analysed trends to be corrected towards sustainable ends, and how finance could deliver this. We considered the pros and cons of different business structures for sustainability, and the evidence for return rates on short vs. long term investments. The encouraging lesson, contrary to much current practice,  is that long term portfolio investments in intrinsic value has historically deliver better returns to investors than short term speculation.

Pisces-RFR (Pisces-Restaurants Fishers and Retailers) a UK based sustainable fishing initiative that aims to get fish on plates rather than reports on desks.

Bottom up: Pisces-RFR

Pisces-RFR, co-founded by restaurateur Caroline Bennett and Modus Vivendi,  seeks fishers striving to fish more sustainably, and to the highest food quality, and looks for ways to set up direct trading relationships. The pragmatic five point evaluation methodology, from worst to best practice, for environmental impact, food quality and social effect provides a model for other bottom up approaches.

The Long Finance initiative was created in 2005 by Z/Yen Group (a leading commercial think tank headquartered in the City of London) and Gresham College, supported by the City of London Corporation. This lead to Long Finance’s London Accord, an agreement between now over 50 investment firms to work on environmental, social and governance issues through regular research, events and initiatives.

Supporter: Long Finance

Long Finance asks provocative questions like “When would we know our financial system is working” and “What’s the point of pension funds?” Answer: How about “to create the world into which you will actually want to retire”? An important part of Modus Vivendi’s approach is to work with financial initiatives such as Long Finance to bridge the gap between the wants and needs of the world, and how the investment and financial community can help deliver them. Long Finance's recent work on Confidence Accounting (in conjunction with ACCA and CISA), seeks to replace accountancy’s claimed point value accuracy with statistical error ranges and distributions. Alternative assessments of social and environmental factors on current value can create a significant part of this uncertainty.

Complex Coalition building can take time. The final report of Invest in Fish was published in 2007, and took seven years from start to finish, including three years to create the coalition.

Clarity: Complex Coalition Building

Solving complex problems requires complex coalition building, and the experience to make them work. In Invest in Fish SW Sarah Jones, then at WWF-UK and Modus Vivendi worked together to ultimately help create and support a complex coalition of fishers and other interest groups to find goals all could agree, and then work back to try and establish the steps along the way. Complex coalition building also take time. The report that lead to Invest in Fish, WWF-UK’s Choose or Lose was published in 2000. It took almost 3 years to agree the coalition and gain the £1.5 million funding, and from 2004-2007 for the coalition to commission research, negotiate the implications and draw its conclusions.

Modus Vivendi explores ways to summarise complex data in simple metrics. One example is  Pisces’ pragmatic five point qualitative ‘worst practice to best practice’ evaluation scores. Another (above) visualises one way of summarising the impact of different public transport options for a city for various social, environmental and financial criteria, scaled to show returns per unit financial return on investment.

Context: Modus Vivendi and the Clarity Coalition

Modus Vivendi is lead by Malcolm MacGarvin and Sarah Jones. They share a belief that while many work on sustainable development, and there is a global commitment for 9 billion people to live well by 2050, action still remains well short of that required. They combine analytical insight, engagement with large to very small scale initiatives in developed, emerging and developing economies alike, and a passion to be involved in practical action to create change.