Engaging people in pro-environmental behaviour can be challenging, and sustaining this engagement is often even more difficult. The abandoned garden, the disused recycling bin, the meeting where no one shows up are sources of despair for those who seek positive change in human-environment relations. But what if, rather than trying to make engagement sustainable, we focused on making it more resilient? ‘Resilience’ has become a key concept in discussions about how to meet social, environmental and economic challenges. Resilience thinking recognises that we live in complex and constantly changing social-ecological systems. It sees these systems as moving through an adaptive cycle which, like a forest, must grow to maturity and then ‘creatively destruct’ in order to make way for a new cycle of birth, growth and maturity. Such cycles operate at a variety of scales and influence one another.

Resilience concepts suggest new ways of designing spaces and processes for engagement. Rather than trying to arrive at an ideal and maintain it, we can acknowledge that people and environments will go through cycles and that continual transformations that engage different people in different ways may be more effective than getting it right once and for all. We can rely on processes at other scales to both sustain the parts of a system that are struggling and plant the seeds for future innovation. We can ensure that our efforts take into account resilience characteristics ranging from building social capital to valuing ecosystem services. This potential for supporting resilient pro-environmental behaviour will be explored through a discussion of efforts to transform public green spaces, city neighbourhoods and college/university campuses in Canada, Mexico and the UK.