Tag Archives: equilibrium

4 Laws of Ecology: Revisited

Four Lawas of Ecology

I undertook the task earlier this week of reviewing references for our upcoming RESTORE working group publication {Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative}. One of those references was to Barry Commoner’s popular quote and definition on ecology, that the first law of ecology is that everything is connected.

This lead me to pick up a copy and re-read deeper into Commoner’s 1971 The Closing Circle and revisit the Four Laws of Ecology.  The Closing Circle describes the ecosphere, how it has been damaged, and the economic, social, and political systems which have created our environmental crises. It gives us a clear and concise understanding of what ecology means that is evermore relevant today.

And timely, Commoner’s second law – everything must go somewhere – resonates with a comment I gave to our local Lancashire Evening Post on plastic pollution. (We need to We need to be critically questioning single use plastics and acutely aware of plastics impact on health and the environment – and be aware of what happens when we throw plastic away – as really, there is no ‘away’)

The First Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

The Second Law of Ecology: Everything Must go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown. Any waste produced in one ecological process is recycled in another. A core principle for the Circular Economy.

The Third Law of Ecology: Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but any human change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system” And in the context of chemicals of concern we are looking to eradicate from buildings (through eg the ILFI Red List) “The absence of a particular substance in nature, is often a sign that it is incompatible with the chemistry of life”

The Fourth Law of Ecology: There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Exploitation of nature, will always carry an ecological cost and will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless.

The four laws warn that every gain is won at some cost. Because our global ecosystem is a connected whole, any impact, anything extracted from nature by human effort must be replaced. There is no avoidance of this price and delay only creates the ecological disruption and biodiversity loss we are witnessing.

This reinforces statements I make so often in presentations (see Specifi Edinburgh and RESTORE Budapest for example) and within FutuREstorative, that sustainability is the point at which we start to give back more than we take, and that we no longer have the luxury to just reduce our impact but we have delayed too long to do more good to rebalance the ecosystem equilibrium.




A TQM for the social media, digital age?

I see Harvard University are initiating a Digital Problem Solving programme for the digital age.

The Digital Problem-Solving Initiative (DPSI) at Harvard University is an innovative and collaborative project piloted in Fall 2013 that brings together interested students, faculty, fellows, and staff and enables participants to work in teams on practicable and concrete digital use cases – problems and opportunities – across the university.

The pilot offers students and other participants a novel opportunity to enhance and cultivate competency with digital tools and online activity as teams engage with research, creative production, and policies governing the digital world.”

This looks an interesting project, dusting down the 80’s and 90’s Total Quality Management, (problem solving, team work, quality circles and more) and re-inventing for a digital age. Anyone remember great work done through National Society for Team Work (NSQT)?

Wondering if any UK University would be interested in or is running a similar pilot?

Before all those programmes and initiatives, and indeed the foundation for them all was the Deming improvment PDCA cycle ( Plan Do Check Act) which still holds great significance in a social media, digital enabled world.


For all projects, we need to consider the planning, the execution, the checking and importantly how we will act and improve for next time around.  (Which makes the Deming cycle an ever improving spiral) And of course requires continual effort to maintain equilibrium as my last blog post explored

The Checking is not just numbers and inspections, but critically the stories from those involved – as evaluation. Today, social media  can really enable the collation, sharing and analysis of stories, and hence has a huge part to play in future KPI’s (key performance indicators) as we move forward to ever more social businesses and organisations.  (Subscribe to this blog for future updates and support on this topic)

Helping your planning, doing, checking and improving efforts keep in equilibrium 

Sustainability: in equilibrium … or pedalling squares?


For me one of the best cycling reads of the year so far is Velo by Paul Fournel (review here) a collection of zen like thoughts on, well, all things cycling. And one I really do recommend for your summer readings.

From one of the brilliant posts, Circles:

To ride a bike is to make circles. You have to think about that when you pedal, as a little reminder the movement of the legs is circular,  you have to grant it this and turn the cranks roundly.

Cyclists have a sense of this.  As soon as the cadence falls and fatigue mounts they say they are peddling squares.

Cyclists have their own gyroscope, producing not only movement but equilibrium, the faster you turn your legs. the more harmonious this equilibrium becomes.

A cyclists equilibrium is a circular equilibrium

And so it is with sustainability, to keep moving forward, we need to keep circling think Edwards Deming Plan Do Check Act circle,

We need to keep pedalling, we need equilibrium,

The faster your progress, the greater your sustainability equilibrium, where all ‘competing influences are balanced’

Snapseed (1)

If you slow, become distracted or fatigue, sustainability efforts are no longer circular and become square, and if you stop you fall off …

Helping your sustainability stay circular