Ecological Literacy

Eco-literacy demands that we consider ecological systems and an awareness of how society operates within natural imperatives as an educational staple. David Orr in the seminal book Ecological Literacy (1992) explains that by failing to include ecological perspectives in education, students are taught that ecology is unimportant. David Orr and Frijtof Capra defined the concept of ‘ecological literacy’ in the 1990s creating a new emphasis on the need for education to impart an understanding the interdependences between natural processes and human ways of living.  A new value entered education; the “well-being of the earth”.  

Sustainability is a qualitative and quantitative condition; demonstrating the human capacity to survive over time. It is qualitative in that we want well-being as well as survival and well-being is hard to measure. But it is also quantitative in that natural capital and ecological carrying capacity can now be measured with foot printing tools. It’s a biological and ecological imperative for human society to exist within the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. Ecological literacy provides the basis for integrated thinking about sustainability. It supports the frame of mind, ethic, and the type of practice will support the kind of thinking that prioritizes ecological imperatives.

Ecological literacy - the understanding of the principles of organization that ecosystems have evolved to sustain the web of life - is the first step on the road to sustainability. The second step is the move towards ecodesign. We need to apply our ecological knowledge to the fundamental redesign of our technologies and social institutions, so as to bridge the current gap between human design and the ecological sustainable systems of nature.  Fritjof Capra (2003)

To achieve sustainability we must dig deeply into the roots of our cultural assumptions and rework the flawed conceptual apparatus that is ecological illiterate. Our society has created industries, processes, programs and institutions that are destroying the ecosystem’s ability to support life. This unsustainable and reckless action is the direct result of a lack of ecological understanding and a lack of agency. Ecological literacy aims to replace fragmentary thinking with new cognitive and social capacities necessary for the design of sustainable ways of living.


More on ecological literacy can be found here.

Capra, F. The Hidden Connections. London: Flamingo. 2003.
Capra. F. The Web of Life. London: Harper Collins.1997.
Kuhn, T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1962.

Orr, D. Ecological Literacy. Albany: State of New York Press. 1992.
Orr, D. The Nature of Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2002.
Sterling, S. A Baker’s Dozen.  Towards Changing our ”Loaf”. The Trupeter Vol. 18, No. 1, 2002

Sterling, S. Whole Systems Thinking as a Basis for Paradigm Change in Education, Exploring the Context of Sustainability. University of Bath. 2003.
WWF. The Living Planet Report 2006. Switzerland 2006.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.