Deep Ecology, coined by Arne Naess in his 1973 essay, is the concept that all living beings are inherently valuable, regardless of their utility to humans. It is an eco-centric philosophy that challenges the notion that we should only conserve the environment to facilitate ongoing exploitation of the natural world for human benefit (anthropocentric environmentalism). With this in mind, I would like to introduce one of the most common definitions of sustainability, from the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report. Sustainability is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I use this definition all the time in my practice. But reading it through the lens of Deep Ecology makes me question this definition. It is hard to ignore the similarities between anthropocentric environmentalism and modern-day sustainability.
The Deep Ecology Platform, as developed by Arne Naess and George Sessions includes the following eight principles:
- All life has value in itself, independent of its usefulness to humans.
- Richness and diversity contribute to life’s well-being and have value in themselves.
- Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs in a responsible way.
- The impact of humans in the world is excessive and rapidly getting worse.
- Human lifestyles and population are key elements of this impact.
- The diversity of life, including cultures, can flourish only with reduced human impact.
- Basic ideological, political, economic and technological structures must therefore change.
- Those who accept the forgoing points have an obligation to participate in implementing the necessary changes and to do so peacefully and democratically.
How can we take some lessons from Deep Ecology and integrate them into thoughtful sustainable development? We can incorporate habitat conservation measures into projects that extend beyond the creation of greenspace or parks for human benefit and examine ways to protect and maintain biodiversity through enhancements to habitat quality, quantity, and connectivity. Planting native species, reducing polluting substances from our projects, and making careful siting decisions to preserve undeveloped land and greenfields are some things we can do in the context of civil infrastructure. We can also incorporate ecology-focused public education within the scope of a project. This can include things like displaying educational signage on-site, preparing and distributing educational materials in the community, and creating partnerships with local schools to have field trips to the project site.
Spending time in nature is a fundamental part of my life. I am very fortunate to be able to walk in the woods or on the beach almost every day, most often with my puppy, Feynman. Being in the environment is good for my mental and physical health but I want to make sure that I contribute to a healthy environment, not only for my enjoyment but because it deserves to exist and has inherent value.
Are there other ways we can make sustainability more meaningful and representative of ecological interests?
Quin MacKenzie | MBA, BSc, ENV SP
Co-Founder & Consultant
-  Harding, S. (n.d.). What is Deep Ecology. Schumacher College. https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/learning-resources/what-is-deep-ecology