Rethinking our relationship with our ecosystem

Yesterday I was writing about what to do after declaring a biodiversity emergency. My conclusions was that the process starts with rethinking our relationship to our ecosystem. Not how can we do something to our ecosystem but how can we work with it. Today I want to get into more ways that we can achieve this shift in the way we think.

I have two aims here. My first aim is to shift from a paradigm in which we think we can master our environment, to one in which we realise we are dependent on it and therefore should care very deeply about it. The second aim is change the way we understand the problems we encounter in our ecosystem from being all knowable, to being complex and only partially knowable. With these two aims I think we can reset our relationship with nature to one in which we work with passionate care to learn what are the most effective ways to help our ecosystems recover.

But what does rethinking our relationship with our ecosystem mean in practice? As usual in this blog my primary focus is engineers but hopefully other humans will find these words useful too.

Culture drives everything

What we are striving for here is that people personally value the biodiversity of the ecosystem that supports them, that this personal belief is translated into organisatonal policy and is reflected in the culture of the places that we work in.

In an organisation context, culture is the set of unwritten, group-held beliefs and practices that dominate how things get done. If we want to work with deep-held, tacit beliefs about and ways of working with nature then we have to work with our culture.

I use culture change models in my work with organisation on building organisational creativity (see here) as well as how to respond to the climate emergency (see here). The two models I work with are Wilbur’s Four Quadrant model (from his Integral Theory)and Johnson and Scholes’ Culture Web.

These same model can help here.

Relating beliefs, behaviour, policy and culture

Four quadrant model

My starting point for conversations that involve the knotty intersection of policy, individual behaviours and organisation culture is Wilber’s four quadrant model. This model integrates people’s mindsets and beliefs, people’s behaviour, the organisational culture and organisational structures.

I have written before about how we can use Wilbur’s model to build a culture of creativity in an organisation. In the coming days I plan to do a fuller application of the process to the biodiversity crisis, but the headline questions to explore are:

An in organisation that cares deeply about our ecosystem and that works respectfully to help regenerate it:

  • What personal beliefs would you expect people to feel about their work?
  • What individual behaviours would you expect people to adopt?
  • How would the organisation’s aims, practices, projects etc align?
  • How would the organisation feel to someone on the inside or to someone encountering it from the outside?

From a deeper exploration of these questions we can start to explore how each of these different aspects influence each other. For example, how might individuals role model particular attitudes and behaviours towards their ecosystem and how could these role models affect other people’s personal behaviours. Also, how might group behaviour influence organisational culture.

Johnson Scholes Culture Web

I find the Johnson Scholes Culture Web a really a useful tool for defining the culture as it is now and how we want it to be. The difference between the two gives clear ideas of things we need to work on.

Using the culture web we can examine the culture with respect to a certain subject through six different lenses. The lenses are:

  • Rituals and routines
  • Stories
  • Imagery
  • Organisational structure
  • Control systems
  • Use of power

In rethinking our relationship with our ecosystem, we should should consider each of these lenses in turn. For example, take rituals and routines. What would the rituals and routines be of an organisation that valued its ecosystem? How would meetings be conducted? Where would key decisions that impacted on an ecosystem be made? And would the decisions to cut down trees be made in an office or at a meeting in a forest?

All of these factors across all of these lenses help to shape the culture of the organisation.

Conclusions

To conclude, in rethinking our relationship with our ecosystem, I have two aims. To reset the relationship from one of domination over to one of working with. And, to perceive our ecosystems as complex systems that we can never fully know but that we must attend to with care and patience to understand.

I see culture change with respect to how we relate to our ecosystems as key to reaching these aims. In this post, I have shared two models I use to think about culture change in an organsational context and we have started to look at how these two can apply in this context.

Over the coming days I plan to write more about how with these models we can identify specific actions that organisations can take to rethink their relationship with their ecosystems.

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