My Eco-Quest image presented below is a journey that is formative and cyclical in nature. Every individual’s Eco-Quest will be different, but based on my own experience and what I see from others, it is likely that there are some common stages that people who are on an Eco-Quest experience. Here are some common stages that I, Jennifer Baron, content creator of Eco-Inquiry, see as the Eco-Quest stages and framework.
The stages of an Eco-Quest begin in childhood for many, or later in life for others, and move upwards towards a continuous cycle of service in working for a just transition to environmental sustainability. People move fluidly through the stages, and may spend much more time at some stages than others.
Within each stage, I will examine the “vital behaviours” (Grenny et al., 2013) which people and organizations display to effectively model and influence a change of behaviours that lead towards a just transition to environmental sustainability.
I will give examples of behaviours in related to Six Sources of Influence Model from the book “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything” (Grenny et al., 2013. I will show that the six sources of influence can be used to strategically make positive changes towards an environmentally sustainable future. Like the authors describe in the book, applying all six sources of influence has the power to create enormous change (Grenny et al., 2013
I will discuss goal setting to achieve results through an anti-oppressive lens of equity, diversity and inclusivity. You may be familiar with SMART goals, but it is time to adopt SMARTIE goals, so that moving forward in the environmental movement, we are working towards a inclusive transition with a focus on social justice and environmental sustainability for all.
While this may seem like a bit of work, as the signs say, “There is no Planet B”, so obviously saving this miracle planet is worth it.
And while some may be weighted down with eco-anxiety, the examples that I’m going to share will show you that people ARE doing it, you can do it too and we can all do it together! The examination of the first stage of an Eco-Quest – “Connect, Care and Compassion” – will drop mid-April on this page. There will be a FREE Eco-Quest Introductory Webinar to follow. Subscribe for the latest updates!
Stage 1: Connect, Care and Compassion
The first stage of Eco-Quest is Connect, Care and Compassion: which in this context means getting outside to connect with the natural environment to develop a caring and compassionate relationship with nature. The first experiences many people have spending time in nature is with their families. However, sometimes one’s nature experiences can happen later in life. With enough time spent outside, one may begin to have experiences that lead to a feeling of connection and deep sense of caring for the natural environment. This helps people to see that saving the natural environment is worth it! However, for others that sentiment may not arise spontaneously; and for others this experience may not feel safe, physically or emotionally. In those situations there are people who demonstrate behaviors which lead and support children, youth and adults in connecting with nature. Other leaders practice skills to intentionally develop a sense of care, compassion and connection. These behaviors have the potential to develop resiliency skills over the course of one’s lifetime. Let’s examine these vital behaviors through the Six Sources of Influence (Gerry et al., 2013) to see what could be replicated, as well as SMARTIE goals to set, for just transition to a sustainable future.
The first vital behaviour is personal motivation to make the undesirable desirable, and in this case that is related to spending time outside and connecting to nature. At first spending time outside in inclement weather, learning a new skill or challenging expectations and defying stereotypes of who is “outdoorsy” can seem uncomfortable, undesirable, and even unsafe physically and emotionally. Danielle Williams is the founder of Melanin Base Camp and Diversify Outdoors whose original goal was “to increase ethnic minority and LGBTQ+ participation in the outdoors” (Melanin Base Camp). Then she realized that this was already happening, so she changed her goal: “to increase the visibility of outdoorsy black, indigenous, people of color, to increase our representation in the media, advertising and in the stories we tell ourselves about the Outdoors”(Melanin Base Camp). All of the blog writers and digital influences on Melanin Base Camp and Diversify Outdoors demonstrate personal motivation of challenging the dominant mindset of white outdoorsy and adventure culture to promote diversity in outdoor recreation and conservation. Danielle’s groups have supported a diverse range of people connecting with nature. Learning new outdoor adventure skills and challenging stereotypes takes bravery, and each of the influencers in these groups, led by Danielle Williams, has demonstrated spending time in nature and wanting to preserve it.
The second vital behaviour is personal skills: surpass your limits. Demeisha Dennis is the founder of Brown Girl Outdoor World. On her website, you will see that she “is actively working to change present narratives related to change, inclusion, belonging and safety in outdoor spaces for diverse, historically excluded communities. As an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for building community and representation in outdoor spaces, Demiesha shares her love for the outdoors through various adventures, while encouraging others to get out and do the same.” (BGOW) Demeisha is a highly skilled outdoorswoman. Her passion is fly-fishing. She organizes outdoor events of all kinds, such as fishing, camping, snowboarding, SUP boarding, and more to build the outdoor adventure skills of the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) community that in turn “will be the representation in outdoor adventure”. BGOW
Both Danielle Williams and Demeisha Dennis demonstrate the third and fourth vital behaviours which are related to the social realm in life: 3) Social Motivation – harness peer pressure; 4) Social Skills – find strength in numbers. Both women work to create safe spaces for people with marginalized identities, and to expand the work in their geographical area of the United States and Canada respectively. The people who join their outdoor group events and social media sites as influencers motivate each other to find joy in time spent in nature, in adventure sports, and in the conservation movement. This develops resiliency in individuals and groups, and empowers others – including younger generations – to develop a reciprocal relationship with nature as well.
Demeisha Dennis, Founder of Black Girl Outdoor World
The fifth vital behaviour is structural motivation: to design rewards and accountability. Dr. Ameeta Dudani works in Ontario, Canada and the United States to support people to develop mindfulness in nature. Dudani sees that a genuine connection with nature can bring about the internal rewards of a state of enjoyment, calmness, relaxation and inner peace. She runs workshops to help people develop mindfulness strategies, as well the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku (“forest bathing”) and learning from the wisdom of nature. Community partnerships can inspire accountability, which is demonstrated in the consortium of First Nations communities and environmental education organizations in Learning The Land Learning The Land is based on Indigenous Knowledge of the reciprocal relationship between people and nature: “Understanding our connection will give life to what the land can teach us, how it communicates with us and how it looks after all life upon it. The land has a way to strengthen all things.” The reward is First Nations communities maintaining their connection to the land, and showing others the way. Also in terms of accountability as a vital behaviour, education systems can design curriculum to ensure students get outside. For example, in Ontario it is educational policy for children to have at least twenty minutes of vigorous daily activity, and that educators are encouraged with this physical activity implementation to: “trad[e] indoor time for outdoor time.” Author Richard Louv explains in “Nature Deficit Disorder” that children who spend time in nature can focus better and feel happier, as well as the possibility that this may alleviate symptoms of ADHD. Toronto District School Board is the largest school board in Canada, and the 4th largest in North America. It has a vibrant outdoor education centre program. Listen to Eco-Inquiry’s interview with TDSB Outdoor Education Centre’s Coordinator Sylvia Denton-Carryl about the importance of respectiving diversity and planning for inclusivity in Outdoor Education on the Eco-Inquiry Podcast, where you will also hear Pamela Miller, who coordinates TDSB’s Eco-School’s inspired environmental program, on the importance of developing youth as environmental leaders, and forming partnerships with other environmental organizations at a system level.
And the sixth vital behaviour is structural change: change the Environment. This means to make the behaviours easier to achieve by making the proximity closer and easier. Author James Clear writes of paying attention to propinquity to change habits extensively in the bestseller, “Atomic Habits”. Organizations that embrace everyday outdoor learning, connecting with the land and creating a culture of kindness and mutual respect support the development of children and youth to become adults who spend time outside for whole-health and develop an environmental ethic. Education in many countries at the system level support outdoor and environmental education. Daniel Goleman goes farther to say that “empathy” is the number one state of being that can and should be taught and developed in students at school in order to develop ecological literacy. This secular approach to teaching compassion and kindness meditation can have profound effects on the brain and on altering personality traits for the better, according to the research by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson in the book, “Altered Traits”. The combination of teaching about compassion for all living things in an outdoor setting in school programs around the world has the potential to alter human traits and behaviour in a profound way so that people would relate more respectfully towards nature with an ethic of preserving biodiversity and natural spaces on Earth.
Takeaways of vital behaviours for Stage 1: Connect, Care, Compassion
Spend time in nature to develop a lifelong relationship with it.
Develop skills to be able to safely spend time in a variety of outdoor settings.
Implement outdoor education programs for children and youth.
Use SMARTIE goals to develop outdoor and conservation programs specifically intended to promote diversity, inclusion and equitable representation of BICOP communities
Emphasize the gentle rewards of a lifestyle that embraces a relationship with nature: peace, joy, sense of adventure, altruism, whole-health and vitality.
Teach a non-secular approach to develop empathy and compassion for all living things.
Draw on traditions and knowledge from cultures wherein the reciprocal and respectful relationship towards nature is strong, in particular Indigenous cultures globally.
Engender a preservation and conservation ethic. More on this to come!
Stage 2: Curiosity
Children are born innately curious, wanting to learn more, and asking “why”? Their viewpoint is often one of wonder and awe. Scientists carry these traits into more formal observations to develop greater understanding and solve problems. Ecologists often spend a lot of time in one place, such as a marine habitat, and wind up observing details and interconnections, which they often share with the people. As a founder of The Centre for Ecoliteracy, Fritoj Capra explains through a “Systems View of Life” how humanity needs a shift away from Western scientific mechanistic thinking which breaks reality into parts and has lead to the ecological crisis, to systems thinking, which is based upon ecosystems innate ways of being including: interdependence, relationships, recycling, flexibility, change, patterning and creation. Ecologists err on the side of believing that preserving biodiversity is worth it for not just humans, but all components of the ecosystem. Their curiosity leads them to notice more details and interconnections. Ecological innovators come up with solutions to support ecological integrity, which, again, we are fortunate that they share with others.
One such person is Rachel Carson, who some say is the founder of the modern environmental movement. While Carson observed and wrote about life in the ocean, it’s actually her critique of what was happening on land and in the sky that gained her worldwide and boundless notoriety. In 1962, Carson published “Silent Spring” which caused the undesirable to become desirable. By this I mean that farmers were getting used to putting chemical sprays on their crops, such as DDT, as a pesticide. Carson wrote about how it was leading to the mass die-off of birds, hence the skies were becoming silent from the cessation of bird song. People with even basic ecological knowledge are aware that poisons enter our water systems and go up through the food chain. Carson’s work led to the ban of DDT and other pesticides, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. We have Carson to thank for our song birds!
The next vital habit is also personal: to surpass your skills. When I interviewed Billie Jo Reid for the Eco-inquiry Podcast, she was beginning her journey as a nature journalist. Nature journaling requires the skills of observation, patience, gaining knowledge, and often sitting outdoors in one space for a long period of time. Billie Jo explained that through John Muir Laws Nature Journaling program, which has a vast array of free resources online, that she helps her outdoor education students to reflect on three things: “I notice, I wonder, and It reminds me of”. Billie Jo has strengthened her skills as an artist, as well as an outdoor educator through the COVID pandemic and beyond, to reach as many students as she can in gaining these skills. Most recently, she helped to facilitate a nature journaling expedition while on safari in Kenya, where she and others observed the wonderful biodiversity of life there, as well as helping local school children to develop nature journaling skills. Nature journaling connects curiosity to creativity. Notice the somatic difference between feelings of control versus curiosity and creativity. Trying to control, manage, and dominate feels constrictive and holds us to “what was”; whereas curiosity and creativity are expansive, forward moving, connecting and at times even “mind blowing”!
Some Scientists and Ecologists have taken their knowledge of species, ecosystems and biodiversity to use social motivation, our third vital behaviour, to harness peer pressure through television to make systems thinking and ecological preservation more desirable. Examples of people who demonstrate these positive behaviours are David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things” , David Attenborough’s “Planet Earth” and Craig Foster’s “My Octopus Teacher”. Foster says in the film that he noticed changes in his son once he spent hours swimming in the kelp ecosystems in the sea, that he became “gentler” in nature. Diversifying Ocean Sciences is a program designed to support 18+BIPOC Gender minorities to step into the field of Marine Science. About the Minorities in Shark Sciences, the organization writes: “MISS provides a community and funded opportunities for gender minorities of color who wish to enter the field of shark sciences. We aim to show that there are many gender minorities of color succeeding in and interested in this field. We fundraise and apply for grants to create paid opportunities to attempt to knock down the financial barrier into shark sciences. We encourage other organizations in our field to do the same.” These Scientists have made and are continuing to make careers out of influencing people to see that saving nature is worth it and that together we CAN do it! Children could learn by the examples of these powerful role models to study ecosystems, and even to create videos of their observations of animals and biodiversity in their school communities to share in digitally responsible ways, and to choose career pathways in environmental conservation.
Citizen Scientists harness our fourth vital behaviour by using astute social skills to find strength in numbers. In 1900, ornothologist Frank Chapman turned the Christmas bird hunt tradition in the United States into the Christmas Bird Count with the Audubon Society. This was the beginning of the Citizen Science movement, wherein members from general public can participate in observing, recording and submitting important data about animals, such as Frog Watch, and biotic factors, such as Ice Watch, so that scientists can gather more information about species, habitats and climate. The Government of Canada has a link to many Citizen Science projects for their population to participate in, thereby finding strength in numbers! Seems like everyone has a cell phone these days, so honing our photography skills and some Citizen Science apps, such as iNaturalist and Project Noah, means that students can be contributing to gathering valuable data for Citizen Science projects.
Indigenous communities use traditional knowledge of their local areas to see the interconnections. Scientist and Author Robin Wall Kimmerer describes so eloquently in intricate detail the relationships between trees, water, air, sky, animals and people in her book, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants”. Edward Benton Benai harnesses the wisdom from phenology, the observation of changes in flora and fauna based on changes in sunlight and weather, to share what happens in each moon in his Anishinaabe community in “Anishinaabe Almanac”. Educators can apply this knowledge to planning their outdoor learning experiences to match the seasonal changes. Students can use their own observational skills in nature to draw and write about what they see and the changes through the seasons. Imagine the strength in numbers of having an ecologically literate and connected populace to nature willing to advocate for its preservation and valuing it for its beauty and integral significance!
Governments and Companies can develop structural motivation by designing rewards and demanding accountability for curiosity and creativity in environmental education. Through the STEAM movement in education – Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts and Math – students learn to apply their curiosity and creativity to design, build and test innovations that can help the environment. While still a teenager, Boyan Slat delivered a TED talk on the need to clean up the ocean, which lead to his company Ocean Clean Up, developing technology to take plastic waste out of rivers, lakes and oceans. He now is the CEO of Ocean Clean Up, a company with over 120 employees in 30 countries working together to clean up our blue planet. Astronauts who landed on the moon in 1969 sent us back the first glimpse of Earth rise, and what the world collectively noticed was that our Earth is the only blue sphere in infinite black space. Of this unique view, Astronaut Jim Lovell said, “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” Now that we have this perspective, imagine if the money from space exploration could be put into exploring ways to save our own planet! It’s going to take a great deal of structural motivation and accountability for governments and companies to work with each other and people to use both curiosity and creativity together to innovate genuine solutions to protect biodiversity and factors necessary for life on Earth, such as water, soil and clean air. It IS worth it, and together we CAN do it!
The final vital behaviour is structural skills, which involves changing the environment to harness the power of propinquity, aka proximity. When STEAM skills that are geared towards helping the environment are embedded into the educational curriculum, then every student would learn along a continuum from the time they are young children to entering the world of work. An organization called Science Buddies has developed Science Projects with an Environmental focus. Even Google’s renowned Science Fair gives extra recognition to those students who use their STEAM skills of curiosity and creativity to design solutions that help the environment! The United Nations called on governments to establish education for sustainable development a decade ago! Imagine if students worldwide had support from governments and companies to learn about their local and global environments, and to tackle local and global issues!
Takeaways of Vital Behaviours for Curiosity for you and your educational community
- Develop observation skills by spending time in one’s local natural habitats
- Teach and develop Systems Thinking
- Support BIPOC, LBGTQ2S and gender minorities in environmental educational programs
- Encourage curiosity, wonder and awe of life, biodiversity and nature
- Ask and encourage “I wonder” questions
- Learn more about species, habitats and ecosystems in one’s local area throughout the seasons.
- Develop skills of reflection through talking, listening, reading, writing, and visual art.
- Record observation skills through nature journaling and sharing with others.
- Combine curiosity and creativity to design innovative solutions for environmental problems.
- Build environmental education into the curriculum; leverage STEAM design challenges to help the environment.
- Share examples of youth scientists and innovators helping the environment.
- Show pathways for environmental careers
Grenny, J., & Patterson, K. (2013). Influencer: The power to change anything. McGraw-Hill Professional.