Context Institute is an independent non-profit (501(c)(3)) organization, founded in 1979 by Robert and Diane Gilman, devoted to helping all of us create the best possible 21st century we can — for each of us, for our communities, and for all of life. We are one of a handful of organizations that have focused on sustainability as a central theme for more than 35 years, and we are internationally recognized as an authority in this area.
We began as a local living-lightly organization, with a mission “to develop, disseminate, and facilitate techniques and skills for low cash-flow, low environmental-impact lifestyles that make efficient use of personal, social, and planetary resources.” We are still pursuing that same mission, but over the years our understanding of that mission has grown deeper and more systemic. Today we describe it as “catalyzing a graceful transition to the Planetary Era.”
Central to our approach is our sense that the world is now going through a process of cultural change that is as profound as the shift, over 5000 years ago, out of hunting and gathering and into agriculture and cities. We refer to that previous shift as going from the Tribal Era to the Empire Era. We see ourselves as now in the transition between the Empire Era and the Planetary Era.
We recognize the great dangers of our times, yet, because the underlying momentum of change is so great, we also see these as times of great opportunity to develop humane and sustainable cultures for the Planetary Era, cultures that could provide a quality of life for all that would make today’s societies look like the dark ages. It is this positive vision of the possible, together with a keen awareness that time is of the essence, that motivates our work.
While we address some of the same issues as those addressed by environmental, political, social-action, and personal-growth organizations, our approach is different. As much as possible, we approach these issues from the context of the emerging Planetary Era, rather than within the context of the waning Empire Era. This leads us to focus on yes rather than no, on voluntary human-scale innovation, and to integrate the full gamut of human concerns — environmental, social, economic and personal — into a long-term, whole-system, constructive perspective.
Much of the Institute’s work focuses on encouraging the sustainable redevelopment of the industrialized world. We focus here because we feel that most of the world’s unsustainable practices have their roots in these globally dominant societies. Any real solutions must address, and help to transform, this cultural core. Indeed, we feel that such sustainable redevelopment, with all the profound cultural change that will entail, is the central challenge and task facing the industrialized world, and humanity, during the coming decades.