Contemporary markets and societal norms externalise many ecosystem services important for a sustainable future. A range of external legal, market, social protocol and other mechanisms, referred to as ‘societal levers’, constrain or otherwise influence the behaviour of resource managers, and the expectations and assumptions of the society within which they operate. These ‘societal levers’ have progressively institutionalised evolving societal values, influencing markets and other choices. We use the STEEP (social, technological, economic, environmental and political) framework to explore case studies of societal transitions, analysing how emergent concerns become shared and ultimately transformed into ‘levers’, shifting societal norms. Emerging concerns become influential only when they are shared across societal sectors, and when broader implications are realised across multiple dimensions of the STEEP framework. We propose and advocate use of a ‘ripple effect’ of values as a means to direct and accelerate the pace at which environmental concerns shape mainstream societal norms and structures, and become institutionalised in the form of ‘societal levers’.