Exploring the Framework of Integral Ecology

Introducing the four quadrants of Integral Ecology


Integral ecology provides a framework of four quadrants, uniting multiple approaches to environmental questions. Its starting point is the understanding that purely scientific facts don’t provide an overall understanding of any given ecological issue, nor do they necessarily provide motivation for action. We need to consider both the objective facts and the subjective felt experience of each individual and communities affected. This way we include aesthetic experience, psychological dynamics, religious meaning, ethical issues, cultural values, communication and many more of the subjective reality of oneself and one community.


Introduce the four quadrants of Integral Ecology:

  • Experience: the subjective, felt experience of any individual organism
  • Cultures: subjective experience of any collective, community
  • Behaviour: objectively verifiable, observable reality of any individual organism
  • Systems: objectively verifiable, observable reality of any collective, community

Invite participants to form groups of four, and leave them a few minutes to collectively find one specific environmental concern they hold and they feel passionate about. Ask the groups to each member choose one of the four perspectives as a standpoint.

Ask the groups to indicate who will speak first. Ask the first person of each group to describe the given phenomena chosen by the group, introducing the topic using the pronoun “I” and the present tense of verbs. Allow 3-4 minutes for one person from each group, then signal the time and ask the second person to introduce the same phenomenon from his/her chosen quadrant perspective, using the pronoun “I” and the present tense. Each group takes four-times, 3-4 minutes sharing the perspectives of all four quadrants about the same phenomena.

Then allow time for the groups to share and discuss. If time allows, call people back to plenary and invite them for a reflection round on the process.


If you are experienced in working with art, you may choose to lead this activity outdoors. Groups can be invited to choose an actual natural phenomena/organism/object, then each person can use art tools to draw the given perspectives and then to share them with the rest of the group.


Use plenary for instructions and break-out rooms for the sharing, making sure people are clear on instructions. Get everyone back for each new round, then put them back again in small groups.

Possible traps

You need to understand the four quadrants first to be able to lead the activity and to help people to comprehend the different perspectives they may choose to take.

It is ALL about perspectives - this activity will show a great diversity on approaching the same issue from different angles.

Additional resources

For more information on the topic see the original book of Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and Michael E. Zimmerman or read a summary of this publication.

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Inner Pathways
Innovative approaches in learning for Sustainability
Pandora Association Hungary, Budapest, Sasvár utca 99/c.

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