• Egocentric leadership is at the root of our environmental crisis.
  • We must change the way we understand and relate to the natural world.
  • To do so will involve cultivating an ecocentric - not egocentric - mindset.

Our planet is in trouble. Even after mobilizing billions of dollars to mitigate and respond to the damaging effects of climate change, we may only be addressing the symptoms of a much deeper-rooted issue. We have seen a significant rise in declarations of climate emergency, conferences, coalitions and innovations to address climate change - but we are also seeing an increasing gap between what is needed and what is actually being done to safeguard our planet. What is the underlying cause that we are failing to address?

Today’s dominant leadership is egocentric

We humans view ourselves as separate, dominant and superior to nature. We see nature as a commodity to buy, sell, extract and exploit for our own interests. For well over a century, academics, thought leaders and indigenous leaders have warned against the commodification and exploitation of nature, and yet this attitude persists. We have developed a dualistic view of our existence on this planet – one that blinds us to our interdependence and interconnectedness with nature, and which has also created enormous divides in our society and across humanity.

This same mindset underpins much of our approach to climate solutions today. For example, as businesses, we take care of the planet only when this results in short-term financial gains. We deploy new initiatives to save water or energy only if it also saves money. We shift toward more ethical products and suppliers because consumers are demanding it, or because we need enough resources to sustain our business in the long term - again, to protect our bottom line. Where there is no such need, we appear to be happy to exploit and waste, if this is what the balance sheet requires. This approach of acting only when it serves our own interest is not enough to safeguard our planet for generations to come.

So what is the solution?

Two ways of seeing ourselves in relation to the rest of the natural world
Two ways of seeing ourselves in relation to the rest of the natural world
Image: Social Gabe / Flickr

Our planet needs eco-centric leadership

The environmental crisis is in fact a deeper spiritual crisis. We must shift the way we view and relate to nature, and understand that it is a single living organism which is inextricably interconnected. We must adopt an ecocentric mindset whereby we are grateful to and revere nature, rather than consider ourselves superior to it. We must discard our transactional attitudes and cultivate a personal relationship with nature, recognizing that the health and prosperity of society and our economy is dependent on the natural world. This way of living is not new. It is found in many ancient philosophies, religions and indigenous cultures, which commonly propagate values of stewardship, non-violence, compassion and a deep respect for nature; the term Mother Nature didn’t come from nowhere.

For true stakeholder capitalism, we must embody these values and shift our focus from rights to responsibilities - from “What can nature do for me?” to “What can I do for nature?”. At a societal level, we must translate this into building a regenerative economy. It’s only with this mindset that we will be willing to take the actions necessary to prevent consequences such as further biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, unpredictable severe weather events, rising sea levels, epidemics and the displacement of millions of people.

How can we cultivate and implement an eco-centric mindset?

1) Build a relationship with nature

Spending time in nature, as well as expressing gratitude and practicing meditation, can support you in letting go of a transactional mindset and experiencing the interconnectedness humans have with the natural world and one another. Studies have found that time spent in nature is one of the best promoters of mental peace and wellbeing.

2) Walk the talk

Authenticity is key to being an ecocentric leader. It is critical that you lead by example and make changes in your own life, family and organization to be more sustainable and in tune with nature. Furthermore, the Global Shapers Community identified authenticity as one of the five most important values demanded by young people from our leaders today.

3) Give nature a voice in the decision-making process

In New Zealand, rivers such as the Whanganui have been given “personhood” and legally recognized as a living being, equal to humans. Taking this a step forward, some organizations and boards have brought people on to provide a “voice for the Earth” - similar to how the Welsh Assembly (Wales’ devalued government) has a Minister for Future Generations.

4) Bring nature into reporting and governance mechanisms

Organizations should integrate themselves with nature by accounting for their impacts and dependencies on nature. They should adopt an integrated thinking approach to shift from a performance mindset that serves shareholders to a value-creation lens that serves all stakeholders, using tools such as the integrated reporting framework and natural capital protocol.

B Corporations are one type of business who make it a fiduciary duty of directors and officers to serve all stakeholders through both the operations of the business as well as the impacts of the business model. Thousands of organizations such as Danone North America, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s are certified B-Corporations, balancing profit with social and environmental considerations. At the recent COP25, 500 B-Corps committed to net zero emissions. All businesses should embrace such tools and make environmental impact a core consideration.

The 5 most important leadership values, according to attendees at the 9th Global Shapers Annual Summit.
The 5 most important leadership values, according to attendees at the 9th Global Shapers Annual Summit.
Image: Global Shapers Community

At the 2019 Global Shapers Summit, over 400 young leaders from 150 countries identified five core leadership values needed today. These include: empathy - being a servant to those you lead; courage - taking bold decisions; and accountability - striving for lasting impact. Now more than ever, our world needs leaders who are not egocentric - simply doing what is easy, following the status quo and acting to maintain their position of power. We need ecocentric leaders who truly embody empathy, walk the talk and demonstrate the courage needed to create a better world. Will you be one of them?

Join the Voice for the Planet movement

Voice for the Planet is a global online action campaign calling for action on climate change.

Launched by the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community at Davos in 2019 and in partnership with the Netflix and World Wildlife Fund "Our Planet" series, it encourages people to make commitments to change the way they eat, embrace renewable energy, restore nature in their communities, change what they buy and ask their government leaders to act.

Add your voice here.