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  • Writer's pictureDirk Reber

Exploring the Ecological Self: A Paradigm for Sustainable Living


Our own wellbeing is inextricably linked to that of nature.

The term 'ecological self' originates from the fields of ecopsychology and environmental ethics. The origin and development of such concepts can be traced back to various thinkers and researchers who have explored the relationship between the individual self and the natural environment. An inspiring figure in this context is the philosopher Arne Naess. He coined the term 'deep ecology' and emphasized the idea that nature should not simply be regarded as a resource for humans, but that humans are part of a larger ecological whole.


These views contributed to the concept development of the 'ecological self'. The idea of the ecological self is an evolution of philosophical and psychological approaches that have developed over time. Different thinkers and researchers have helped to shape and define the concepts of ecological connectedness and the ecological self. For example, ecopsychology consultant and coach Dave Key who, together with Libby Prenton, further developed and visualized the concept of the 'ecological self'.




The ecological self represents a paradigm shift in the way we consider ourselves in relation to the environment. By recognizing our interconnectedness with nature, we, as individuals, can contribute to a more sustainable and harmonious coexistence with Mother Earth. Embracing the ecological self is not only an ecological imperative, but a path to collective well-being and a more balanced future for our planet. It reminds us that our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of nature, and that protecting our environment is an essential step towards a more sustainable and fulfilling life.


The concept of the ecological self has become increasingly relevant in today's world of environmental concerns and the need to address climate change. As a transformative paradigm for sustainable living, the ecological self goes beyond the traditional understanding of the individual and emphasizes interconnectedness with the natural world to promote a harmonious relationship between humans and their environment.


The ecological self recognizes that humans are not separate entities but integral parts of the larger ecological web: there is an interconnectedness with nature. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of all living beings and ecosystems and the interrelationships that sustain life on Earth. It also embraces ecopsychology and wellbeing, suggesting that a deep connection with nature contributes to mental and emotional health and fosters a sense of purpose, fulfilment and resilience.


A well-developed ecological self can boost individual actions for environmental protection.

Not surprisingly, and similarly noted in a recent Journal article focusing on biodiversity wisdom, many indigenous cultures have long embraced the concept of the ecological self. Their traditions often view humans as stewards of the earth and emphasize a reciprocal relationship with nature. Inspiration from such cultural and indigenous perspectives further enriches the modern understanding of the ecological self.


Embracing the ecological self requires the development of ecological awareness and mindfulness in daily life. Individuals can develop a heightened sensitivity to the impact of their choices on the environment and promote more sustainable behaviors. The ecological self can lead to a kind of self-advocacy for sustainable lifestyles that prioritize ecological integrity. Being aware of one's ecological self can encourage individuals to take action to protect the environment.


Moving from a conventional, self-centered worldview to an ecological self-perspective requires significant cultural change: both within yourself and within human society. Self-reflection, overcoming societal resistance and fostering a collective commitment to sustainability are key challenges. Education has a crucial role to play in fostering an ecological self, as outlined in our Journal piece on why COP28 should prioritize nature and outdoor education. Integrating ecological principles into school curricula and raising awareness on the importance of our connection to nature can empower individuals to adopt sustainable practices.


Adopting environmental education principles bolsters a collective commitment to sustainability.

Awareness of and reflection on the ecological self can contribute to a paradigm shift in how we see ourselves in relation to the environment. By recognizing our interconnectedness with nature, individuals can contribute to a more sustainable and harmonious with the earth.


Embracing the ecological self is not only an environmental imperative, but a path to collective well-being and a more balanced future for our planet. Becoming conscious of our ecological whole invites us to live more sustainably. It reminds us that ecological selves are intrinsically healing, and that our well-being is inextricably linked to nature: to live a fulfilling life.



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