February 2023 Event Review: Deep Ecology: A lens to facilitating systems change in organisations and society

We were thrilled to kick off the year with guest facilitator, John Seed. John’s session explored Deep Ecology along with ideas about leading systemic change. It stimulated a lively conversation about sustainability, the contribution organisations make to the health of the planet, and our role as a community of OD practitioners. 

In the first part of the session, John shared some of his personal story and his work in Conservation and he explained concepts and philosophies related to Deep Ecology. It proved a rich and persuasive introduction; our engagement in the topic was immediate. 

John had planned an experiential evening for ODA and this was how we spent most of our time together. Our first activity was designed to help us connect with our ecological selves – to contemplate what happens when we add consciousness to an exchange of gases with a living plant. 

We were invited to have a plant close by in order to participate in the activity. Then, John guided us through a meditation on the exchange of gases between the plant and the person, alternating between generosity and gratitude. This was associated with our exhalation and inhalation, respectively. 

During the reflection on this experience, we were challenged to think about how we connect and work with people in organisations. John encouraged us to get in touch with the feelings that emerged during the meditation and think about what that could mean in our work systems. He proposed that an organisation is an emergent property of the actions, mental states, mental models and emotional states of people.


Group reflections included: 

  • The idea of being separate to nature is an illusion. Humans are anthropocentric – we cannot always see our interconnectedness and interdependence with what we call ‘nature’. 
  • A wondering about how the separation between the individual OD practitioner and the rest of the world shows up in our lives and the way we practice OD. 
  • Activities like the meditation on the exchange of gases produces a fundamental paradigm shift. It can support an individual or a group to move beyond their intellectual self and emotionally connect with their work and their organisation. 
  • Might we remember to see the other person as the plant, in an effort to connect? 


In the last part of the session, our conversation explored ideas and solutions that could inspire commitment and action from organisations in relation to Deep Ecology. 

From the many contributions made during this part came a realisation (and new questions). There is a difference between the concepts of Deep Ecology and Systems Change Leadership and the psychological, interpersonal work that is dominant in contemporary organisations. We know we have some choices in the way we practice OD, and those choices impact the effectiveness of our organisations. To that end, would it worry us if we didn’t change, and instead continued to do what we have always done (perhaps with another name)? What is our circuit breaker as practitioners in organisations? 


~ Heidi Vestergaard 


Note: Members can log in and watch the video of the session here. 

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