Say Hello to my ECO Friend

By Nathan Kinch

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Say Hello to my ECO Friend

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Okay, now that you’ve vividly imagined a rather menacing Al Pacino (without ‘deliberately’ doing so. It just happened, right?), I’ll ask you to use your imagination once again. Only this time, let’s imagine with more explicit intention. Imagine my five year old daughter. Better yet, imagine your child, or a child that you know and care for deeply.


An image of my daughter watering the plants on our rooftop. I never share her face online for about a million reasons, one of them being the fact that there are consequences for doing so. At five, my little one isn’t exactly interested in deep sociotechnical analysis. Nor does she have the type of agency we assign to adults. Given this lack of agency, something she will progressively develop and exercise, all you get to see is the back

What happens when your eyes catch their gaze? What do you see and feel? What are their deepest hopes and fears? How do they see themselves in this world? How do you feel about the future they are inheriting? How do they feel about this future?

The ways we caringly connect, courageously collaborate and consciously coordinate will massively influence how they are able to live. This might seem obvious. But what might be slightly less obvious is that our formal organising structures, the ways in which we actually come together to coordinate collaboration, will massively impact our capacity to do this whole process well. As a result, how we organise will be one of the key determinants of whether we create favourable conditions for the emergence of a global civilisation that operates within planetary boundaries, whilst ensuring everyone’s social foundations are met.

Before going forward and attempting to describe some ideas for how we might make some of the right kind of progress, let’s go back a little.

Since the English and Dutch trading companies of the 1600s, corporations have had a huge impact on our lives and on the planet we all inhabit. We now know, and have known for quite some time, the paradigm that gave rise to these organising structures takes far more from this planet than can be regenerated in the same time period. In short, the modern corporation is part of our planetary problem. And let’s be frank (would you expect any less from me…?), most corporations show few signs (if any) of truly being part of a thoughtful ecology of responses to the crisis of crises we’re amidst (they exist to maximise shareholder value, not create conditions for a liveable biosphere with happy and healthy people).

This is now our TL;DR backdrop.

If you’re with me, you might be thinking, okay, so what sorts of organising structures do we need?

To answer that intelligibly, I’d need more time and space. So today I’m going to narrow the focus a little and begin exploring how we might legally instantiate benevolence, integrity and competence. In other words, how we might create genuinely trustworthy organisations based on their clear orientation towards people and planet (benevolence), the right relationship between their stated values and actions (integrity), and the consistency with which they deliver on valid expectations (competence).

This is something that myself, Sam, Andrew, Sacha, Jack and Paul have been working on as part of a transdisciplinary initiative we call Acacia. We will share plenty more about this over the coming months. Through this process, however, we have come up with something we are referring to as the Earth Custodianship Organisation, or ECO for short.

To start with, an ECO is an organisation that exists to act on the unique privilege and responsibility that humanity has as the only custodial species on this planet. It exists to create conditions for caring connection, courageous collaboration and conscious coordination. It exists to help bring life back within the safe operating zone of planetary boundaries (read: away from systemic ecological overshoot and toward systemic ecological harmony), whilst also improving people’s holistic wellbeing (read: deliver above and beyond necessary social foundations for every person on the planet).

Doing this requires big, bold thinking. It requires an inherent transdisciplinarity. It requires us, all of us, to overcome any ideas we might have about separation, hero’s journeys, multi-polar traps and winner-take-all mindsets. It requires us to remember that we are part of this beautiful, complex and dynamic dance of life. It requires us to accept what we’ve got today, whilst working towards what is most likely to serve all of us well in the future.

At this moment I need to be clear, we don’t have all the answers. The work of this ecology of practice draws inspiration directly from nature, from indigenous knowledge, from the cutting edge of systems theory, from various philosophical disciplines, and from the many ‘alternative’ organisational structures that have been tried, tested, and documented over the years.

Image of one of the world’s earliest organisational maps. Note how it distinctly represents something like a mycorrhizal network? A little different from your usual org chart…


Another interesting and relevant example that draws from Dr Anne Poelina and colleagues work

Given this all sounds rather ambitious, you may now be thinking, how the <expletive> are you doing this today?

Well, we start with something like a basic business setup. This gives us a legal foundation to operate within the current paradigm (a little like a social enterprise does today).

We add to that an ambitious and wholesome constitution that encodes our directional focus and breathes ‘legal life’ into our mission (help bring life back within planetary boundaries, whilst also raising social foundations. The two things need to be done in relation).

We then build a sociotechnical architecture – tools, rituals, ways of relating, approaches to observation etc. – and communicate it all with meaningful transparency.

We use our self-reflective process to ground all of this work and demonstrate what we are doing out in the open (I describe what we are doing as, “the meta-cognitive infrastructure for a wise, equitable and ecologically considerate civilisational transformation.” Yup, I know…).

We invite you to critique, query and build upon anything we do.

Although this won’t necessarily resonate with you all, we see ourselves, and the idea of an ECO, as accountable to the process of life itself. In this way we believe in the need for a genuine paradigmatic shift. A little like the one I mentioned from the 1600’s. We need a more caring, vibrant and fit-for-purpose organisational structure to support our intentions and actions. .

ECOs might well be the organising structures that help usher is a truly preferable future. How this plays out is up to all of us, so please join us on this journey.

With love as always.


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