Feature Article: Integral Sustainability 2006

Feature Articles / January 2007

byrne photoI recently had the opportunity to attend Integral Sustainability 2006 in Westminster, Colorado. I-S 2006 was an integral tour-de-force hosted by world-class instructors and attended by both seasoned integral practitioners and others just incorporating the framework into their lives and offerings. Participants were presented with leading edge academic syntheses, case studies and direct demonstrations. We were also afforded the opportunity to co-create with individual and group inquiry personalizing the experience. This participatory element included individual introspection, one-on-one direct inquiry practice and group exercise ranging from small groups of 3-5 all the way up through a simulation involving the entire group of 60+ participants.

Each day was full of relevant, compelling and inspiring modules. Tuesday was a particularly illustrative example of the flavor of the overall 5-day schedule. Highlights of the day include a 7 AM Three Body Workout (see below), an Integral Capital presentation from James Quilligan and Evolving the Self to Lead Sustainability by Barrett Brown, Big Mind with Genpo Roshi and a nighttime catharsis/celebration ceremony that was a particularly fulfilling personal experience. I-S 2006 was some of the most powerful and comprehensive “cross-training” this one-of-billions has ever done.

Of course, one would expect nothing less from the Integral Institute. The caliber of the participants was equally inspiring. Individuals representing non-profits, NGOs, startups and entrepreneurs, large corporations, city and regional governments, United Nations programs and independent change agents from five continents attended the seminar. In retrospect, the fact that the offering lived up to the expectations placed on this seminar is perhaps the greatest testament to the years of effort (and mostly volunteer hours) from many dedicated individuals that went into this production. The promise (from the website) was this:

We will focus on: developing the core skills you need to effectively use Integral in the field of sustainability, sharing the most useful tools of successful Integral practitioner, enhancing your physical, cognitive, and spiritual developmental practices so that you accomplish more in less time and with greater awareness of all the main forces that are influencing your results customizing this material to your specific sustainability initiatives, so that you can hit the ground running the following Monday morning analyzing case studies from leading practitioners around the world, and transferring their lessons to your sustainability work utilizing advanced Integral communications methodology for fostering sustainable behavior.

My intention is not necessarily to further the Integral cannon as it applies to sustainability (though I hope to offer some insight) but to share the personal motivation that led me to participate in this seminar and some of my overall takeaways as a consultant, teacher and individual. Each module could be the subject of (at least) an article of its own, so I will endeavor to share the whole experience as synthesized through my personal lens, both in my experience and observations. It is my intention in approaching this review in this way so that you may appreciate the process and (perhaps) investigate these insights (and the supporting materials) on your own.

In that light I offer some brief personal detail. This body has seen 33 solar revolutions and I am presently based in Ashland, (Southern) Oregon, USA. I have an MBA in Sustainable Enterprise from New College of California. I am a certified Permaculture (Pc) Consultant, Teacher and a Candidate for a Pc Design degree. I am a devoted husband and father and in awe of this divine mystery for all of its sublimities and challenges.

To this point in my life my inquiry into sustainability has been mostly academic. A major motivation for attending I-S 2006 was to further synthesize my awareness with my offering. That is, I am looking for a more effective way to plug-in professionally. I can intellectualize my path in a number of different ways, including the orange/green reconciliation that has occurred within myself in the last few years (freeing up a great deal of psychic energy), although no matter how I carve it up, what is true categorically is that my agency is seeking greater communion with evolution, specifically with regard to addressing the puzzle of sustainability.

I am also an independent student of Integral and am making my way voraciously through the AQAL cannon since becoming enamored by the breadth of potential applications about three and a half years ago. I had been introduced to the holon model in a Holistic Health degree course two years earlier. While it spoke deeply to me about the potential of reorganizing our method of understanding Universe, being thoroughly (vMeme) Green at the time, I resisted “the guy who puts his big face on every book.” This time around, however, I knew in the first few pages of Sex, Ecology and Spirituality that I had found a profoundly important thinker. I continue to make my way through the gift that is the collected works of Ken Wilber. The opportunity to participate in this seminar promised to be one of the highlights of my academic and personal experience.

So it is from this perspective that I arrived at the Westminster Hilton the day before I-S 2006 to attend “Introduction to Integral Theory.” My intention for this day was twofold. The first, of course, was to enrich my understanding of Integral with some detail that I may have missed in my independent study of AQAL. The second motivation was to observe the presentation of an introductory level of AQAL in order to be able to share this framework with others in my consulting and teaching. Both of these intentions were met by the concise and comprehensive presentations of Barrett Brown and Clint Fuhs.

My intention in attending I-S 2006 was to use AQAL Integral to inform my work (consulting to specific initiatives, SMEs, communities, etc.) and teaching (Permaculture and Localization), as well as develop my expertise and establish new connections (networks) for the cross-sector global/local work that lies ahead. Although I knew that I would be participating with those at the forefront of Sustainability, the study of “leadership” was not something that positively motivated me to attend. As I would soon discover, I was heading for a leadership seminar and I didn’t know it!

In general, and as it applies to the sustainability issue and its relevant subsets (food systems, business, restorative technology, etc.), I saw AQAL as a framework “to organize sustainability information, to diagnose the challenges facing a sustainability initiative, and to prescribe an integrated solution that accounts for all the major dynamics at play.” (Brown, Applying Quadrants for Sustainability, 2006). Of course, the instrument that this framework comes through is the Integral Sustainability Practitioner (ISP). As I quickly came to realize, the subject of Integral Leadership is particularly pertinent, because informed leadership is a critical component of addressing the ecological dilemma presently faced by humanity. So, while this was an enrichment of my toolbox, fundamentally it was tuning the instrument of self through which the sustainability issue that I will address.

Informed Leadership

As I put it in my scholarship request (thank you I-I!):

Our world will benefit from integrally informed sustainability professionals. The coming years (beginning yesterday) will need more than well conceived, proven designs that take the overall ecological system (human holons and our built environments included) into account. Many of these systems already exist and have yet to diffuse into the mainstream. Furthermore, competing voices hawking solutions and stopgaps will no doubt become louder as the confines of our contradictions become more apparent. Competent sustainability liaisons and coordinators who are able to effectively communicate the reasoning and method clearly among the cacophony of proposed solutions will be as important as the creation of these physical systems themselves. This is the level of the process that I have identified as my professional and personal calling.

Prior to the workshop, I had assumed the time would be equal parts inquiry into “the Big 3” of Sustainability: the agent(s), the culture, and the science. I was excited to adopt a structured physical exercise and meditative practice in the form of Integral Life Practice in order to enhance my offering as an ISP. I thought a great deal of the work would be focused on an integral critique, as a group, of the Sustainability issue. I was looking forward to the opportunity to engage in a group inquiry into the effective cause of the Ecological Crisis and—as 2nd tier practitioners—thereby have a plan informed by a vision toward a common goal: a sustainable coexistence of the human experience within the biosphere. This critique could then be translated into appropriate messages for diffusion into the population, thereby contributing to the catalyzing of change toward sustainability.

In all of my inquiry into the issue I have concluded that the shared meaning of “sustainability” is underdeveloped (or rather, diffuse). Much like Wilber points out (again) in Integral Spirituality regarding popular use of the term “Spirituality,” there are competing definitions of the term “Sustainability,” which are implicit in the context assumed by the user. In fact there is not one agreed upon meaning when people speak of this as a goal for their initiative. Therefore, rather than a unified approach to the dilemma, what we have are competing definitions of sustainability as illustrated in one synthesis, titled “100 Definitions of Sustainability” (included in the collection of papers presented to the attendees, available on the Integral Multiplex site). What this means for the ISP is: First, do not assume that everybody means the same thing when expressing interest in instituting a sustainability initiative; make this inquiry your first process within the “we space” of the initiative. Second, realize that overlap of this meaning across initiatives and/or sectors may cause interference rather than resonance if this is not pro-actively addressed.

Further to the original point about Sustainability, the proposed solutions (hybrid/hyper cars, biofuels, clean-tech) have yet to address anything more than the symptoms of the problem (Inconvenient Truth included). As Joel Kovel identifies in The Enemy of Nature, the true work of the Sustainability movement should be to address the effective cause of the ecological crisis, not the symptoms of it. Using Mr. Gore’s most recent offering as an example, if you take Climate and Ecosystem Destabilization to be a feasible postulation (as I do, more on that later), then what is the true cause of the ecological crisis? If carbon-dioxide is “causing” climate destabilization, then what is causing the excess CO2? Further to the point, how do we stop it? If it is unchecked growth and the lack of “Clean” Technology, then how can we (pro-actively) cause that to change? Following the long tail of causation through the overwhelmingly complex global system was a capacity I was hoping to exercise with a global collection of 2nd-tier practitioners. The exciting promise of integral is—of course—to appreciate the cross-quadrant influences in addition to the standard flatland critique.

UR/LR critiques were in fact incorporated into the conversation (e.g., Plan B 2.0 as front-loaded reading, a brilliant Integral Capital Presentation by James Quilligan) backed by the categorically meticulous research and citation of Barrett Brown and other contributors to the exponentially expanding Integral Sustainability knowledge base, as well as tools for effectively defining and measuring Sustainability goals by Gil Friend, David Johnston, and Chris Soderquist. Brown introduced a study in which he analyzed popular sustainability books by counting lines dedicated to the various quadrants (The Four Worlds of Sustainability, AQAL Journal, Brown 2006, submitted). The results were then charted and presented (see Figure 1). While the narrative results were not surprising to integrally informed practitioners working in Flatland, having the analysis presented in a tangible metric was quite an astounding corroboration of the disparity of focus in issues of sustainability. Identifying the incomplete nature of the analysis is, of course, the promise of an integrally informed approach to any initiative, and in this case it is particularly apparent when the lens is trained on issues of sustainability.

Fig 1: One example of the disparity of quadrant focus in sustainability texts.

However—and rightfully so—a flatland critique was not the main focus of this workshop. In returning to my original intentions (expressed in the quote from my application ab0ve), while systems theory analysis is a necessary component to the sustainability inquiry, it is not sufficient to the success of the movement. In order for any sustainability initiative to succeed the benefits will have to be translated and communicated in a way that is appropriate to each stage-audience. The answer to the Sustainability imperative lies in a two-fold process of intention followed by accomplishment. The accomplishment will come by pro-actively cooperating with ecology in the holonic biosphere (LR) and changing ingrained human behavior, the cumulative effect of which is presently on an unsustainable course. In order for this to be accomplished, systemic (LR), behavioral (UR), cultural (LL) and individual (UL) aspects of the situation will need to be addressed. For this to occur on the global scale commensurate with the scope of the issue, we must first establish a shared intention on a trans-national scale. Just as a culture of yeast has never found its way out of a vat before succumbing to the realities of its situation, humanity will not accidentally stumble on the sustainability formula. This will require a collective, focused, preconceived and integral approach to the leadership that will guide the process.

What follows are some of my greatest takeaways from I-S 2006. They include:

  • How to use AQAL to more effectively analyze, strategize and collaborate as leaders across initiatives, departments, organizations, movements, industry and sectors by using quadrants and stage-appropriate communications to craft the most effective sustainability programs; and
  • How to be an integrally buff instrument of evolution through the unique offering that is the individual.

To the former I will briefly mention the Eight EcoSelves and Quadrant Analysis. To the latter, we have 3-Body Workouts, ILP, Big-Mind, and Inquiry Practice. From there I will mention some of the modules and experiences that were particular standouts for me.

Stage Appropriate Analysis and Translation

The Eight EcoSelves are stage characteristics of individuals built upon Spiral Dynamics (SD), vMemes and other developmental models. These were developed and introduced by Barrett Brown and others in order to help construct messages and intervention strategies that are appropriate to the various constituents that make up the actors in an initiative. The archetypal values and frames of each of the developmental stages were outlined and examples of “hot” and “cold” buttons (i.e. motivators and de-motivators) were offered. Awareness of the distribution of archetypes can then be used in communicating to a focused group (i.e., a specific stage) or to a general audience (where multiple stages are present). This is similar to the method of teaching that offers materials and techniques appropriate to every learning style. However, in this case there is also a need to avoid any of the de-motivators of one stage that may also be motivators to another. Further detail may be found in a number of places in the aforementioned Integral Sustainability Library (see Brown and Riedy2006). : Use of the Integral Framework to Design Developmentally-Appropriate Sustainability Communications, Submitted)

Quadrant Analysis Methodology

A sophisticated quadrant analysis methodology is a fundamental tool for developing the effectiveness of the ISP’s contribution to Sustainability Initiatives. (Notice first that, while this was presented in the context of Sustainability, it is appropriately applied to any initiative, and hence an invaluable tool for any leader.) Again, this is presented in detail in Brown’s aforementioned AQAL Journal submission, but as it is one of my most important takeaways from the seminar, I will summarize the three tools and their combined use as a process here.

The first tool is a cross quadrant analysis of the forces that enable or inhibit a particular initiative, developed by Cameron Owens.

Building upon the work of Cameron Owens, Brown has developed a method called the Q-DyTS problem solving process. (Q-DyTS stands for Quadrant Dynamics: Thwarting or Supporting.) For an MBA, this is reminiscent of a SWOT analysis (SWOT stands for “Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats”), however the former is done through an integral lens. The result is not only an awareness of the SWOTs of a particular situation, but the further realization of what you can and cannot influence and the identification of “trim tabs” (i.e. great potential influence at minimal effort) to success.

From Brown’s paper, the summary of the process is as follows:

Byrne Figure 3

Figure 3: Brown’s Process Summary

Being a student of aikido, to introduce the final component of this methodology, I quote from Brown’s article at length (my emphasis):

A final insight into how to analyze a sustainability initiative using the quadrants comes from developmental psychologist Susanne Cook-Greuter. She calls it a “multi-layer AQ scan,” where AQ stands for “All Quadrants.” This is how it works. Anything can be looked at through the four quadrants. Therefore, any force which influences a sustainability initiative and is “placed” in a quadrant during an analysis, can in turn be pulled out and itself viewed through the quadrants…

Leverage points may be identified by doing this sort of analysis that was not seen before.

This practice is particularly useful for analyzing the “uncontrollable” forces identified when doing a quadrant analysis of an issue. By engaging in a multi-layer scan, it may be possible to eventually identify controllable levers that can influence a previously-considered uncontrollable force.

Byrne Figure 4

Figure 4: The Multi Layer AQ scan visually represented.

When combined as a process, these tools become a powerful methodology for identifying the key trim-tab elements to address in a complex sustainability initiative. It is important to remember that these lessons are about tools. What I do with them is up to me and commensurate with my capacity to hold complexity and sit within paradox. I’ll quote once more from Brown at length before returning to my experience (my emphasis):

Specifically, I have focused on the quadrants element…[m]y intention has been to show, through numerous real-life examples, the tremendous practicality of a quadrant analysis, and to make the analytical process itself less daunting and more user-friendly…

Yet fundamentally, I have only focused on the tool—a quadrant analysis. I have not focused on the tool user. The more conscious the tool user, the better the tool can be wielded. A basic quadrant analysis can be accomplished by anyone who can understand systems; typically this capacity arises with formal operational cognition. Yet increasingly sophisticated quadrant analyses become possible as someone gains the capacity to understand systems of systems, or even systems of systems of systems. With each leap in our cognitive awareness, we find increasingly sophisticated and nuanced dynamics within, and between the quadrants…

Integral analysis can become quite complex very fast. Yet I want to end by sharing a key insight I have learned from working alongside veteran Integral practitioners. A good Integral response tends to be simple. It represents the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Integral responses don’t need to be, and really shouldn’t be, incredibly complex whole-systems interventions that simultaneously address all dynamics in all quadrants, in all levels, in all states, in all types. It’s exhausting just thinking about trying to create something like that, much less implementing it and trying to develop metrics to monitor it. Rather, a good Integral response is based upon an analysis which uses the Integral framework to help identify the key leverage points which will have the greatest positive influence upon the initiative. For the actual intervention, the practitioner consciously pushes on the few key levers and observes the ripples as they spread through the rest of the quadrants and how the whole system changes.

Tuning the Instrument

One of my favorite insights afforded by Ken Wilber (although I can’t remember from where) is “name something the Buddha can’t do? Drive a car.” What this means to me is that we all have capacities inherent within our potential as human beings, yet their manifestation comes only from practice focused upon that particular line of development. So it is with capabilities that enhance leadership. While much of the work was in understanding the greater holon in which the ISP participates, an equal (perhaps greater) amount of time was spent in the UL/UR focusing on the individual and on our ability to work as 2nd tier collaborators within a greater population moving ever up-spiral.

The 3-Body Workout

A major focus of the Integral Life Practice is the 3-Body Workout, which is “a daily practice that integrates strength training (physical body), energy practice (subtle body), and feeling to infinity (causal body).” It was a great experience for me to officially kick-off my ILP with the help of the gentle ferocity of Sofia Diaz. The benefits to the ISP should be familiar to anyone familiar with AQAL and the notion of Integral Cross-Training. (See http://www.myilp.com/)

Big Mind

Describing this process at length would still not do this experience justice. What I will say is that Genpo Roshi astutely recognized that the method brought from the East to point to that which is beyond the self was not appropriate to the culture of the West. The example he used on the ILP DVD as a metaphor for the different approaches of East and West regarding meditation is of telling someone to get you a cup of coffee as opposed to saying “please”. Using a synthesis of the psychotheraputic work of Voice Dialogue, he asks the ego permission to access Big Mind. Brilliant.

Inquiry Practice

This was a contribution of Cynthia McEwen and John Schmidt (of Avastone Consulting), incorporated from the Diamond Approach:

Inquiry is a means of inviting our true nature–which has much greater intelligence and awareness than our ordinary mind will ever have–to reveal itself and guide us to a deeper understanding of reality and our own truth. The beauty of working with inquiry and its inherent intelligence is that there’s no place that you can get to emotionally that doesn’t turn out to be fine if you just stay with it.

This was presented in a number of different opportunities to inquire into the self, using a focus repeating question. It was done in pairs and the witness was encouraged to simply listen deeply–without responding verbally or visually (nodding, etc.). This “divine mirror” (my term from other experience) added to the richness of the experience as the lack of cues provided a space for the inquiry to develop, as well as triggering internal responses to the socially expected validation that was absent.

Integral Leadership Simulation: The Everglades

Everglades Watershed Region

I-S 2006 was divided into groups representing: three sugar companies, two municipalities, and Water Corp (the governing body for all water usage in the region). Also represented by the various participants were staff and volunteers. There were representatives from the Governor’s office and the media. Witness consciousness and “the view from the balcony” was documented marvelously by one integral mystic from Australia.

20 Years in 5 Hours

Fast paced, high intensity, by design.

In the end, whether the decisions that were made in the simulation were accurate was not important. What was extraordinary was the ability of the collective constituent agents of the various organizations to take meta-systemic perspectives and take a collectivist vision toward sustainability as expressed in the multiple elements of finance, ecology, and human well being. In the end, whether the decisions that were made in the simulation were accurate was not important. What was extraordinary was the ability of the collective constituent agents of the various organizations to take meta-systemic perspectives and take a collectivist vision toward sustainability as expressed in the multiple elements of finance, ecology, and human well being.


While not directly presented at I-S 2006, I would be doing an injustice to the ILR if I did not mention Holacracy (although I am sure many readers will already be familiar with this promising development of organizational structure.) Many of the participants were thoroughly intrigued by its potential in off-line conversations and I expect many will continue their inquiry in the future (myself included). (See: Brian J. Robertson, Holacracy: A Complete System for Agile Organizational Governance and Steering)

Leadership and the Reintegration of “The Personal Big 3”

An important integration for me as a human holon is bringing into resonance what I see as three overlapping sectors of a human being in this modern world: professional, community and personal. Much like the differentiation of the Big 3, with modernity the previously undifferentiated sectors of the individual was compartmentalized into the professional and personal (a function of wages) and the separation of the identity of the individual from community (where community is now seen as service–to be contributed to with 10% of your resources–rather than a piece of one’s identity). I had a realization a few years ago while working on my MBA and presented with this triad that the true aim should not be a balance of the three (as was suggested by the assignment) but in a reintegration of them. ILP and Integral Sustainability are excellent tools for my process in this regard.

Does Integral Leadership Imply Agreement?

True to promise from the materials, the workshop has enhanced my ability to “better assess, strategize, design, communicate, and implement, on the macro-, meso- and micro scales.” Does this mean that all of the participants have the same thoughts as to the best way to approach the restoration of the ecosystem or answer the question “what is the meaning of sustainable development”? Of course not. Will it help us navigate the initiatives ahead? Yes, indeed. The information that is categorized, the weight given to different data, and the diligence that is used to investigate the often conflicting data is what will ultimately inform the position of a given IP, not the Integral Operating System itself.

It is often said that the AQAL framework is neutral and may be used for good or ill. Without proper analysis of the details, the tools mentioned above may also be used ignorantly within a complex system to further the consequences one is trying to mitigate. An example would be (the executives of) a corporation using integral tools to convince concerned consumers that they are “ecological” because they can fit twice as much on a truck due to reduced packaging, thereby doubling their sales as consumers flock to support the newly changed spots of the company and save the world. Half the waste at double the volume would leave us…where? This is the catch of the Integral Approach. It gives you a great map with which to steer, however which way you steer is the result of your interpretation of the information you come across, and your intention for the highest good. That is, you can be an integral technician and still think ethanol is either the answer to the Ecological Dilemma or a boondoggle of precious infrastructure redesign inertia, depending on the way you interpret the data. You are still free to make your own conclusion with regard to the validity of the climate change concern.

However, if one is truly informed from a 2nd tier perspective, then one has the ability to take an aperspectival view of a given situation. In such a capacity, if you (in your agency) are presenting an unpopular view of a particular situation (e.g. global climate change is not a human caused phenomenon), as an Integrally Informed Leader you have a number of tools for integrating this situation. The first is that you are not attached (in an egoic sense) to your position being “right” while also being confident in your agency to take a stand that is not in line with conventional or popular opinion. From this place of grounded subjectivity, you can then include your perspective in that of the greater body of collective wisdom of which you are a part. This is where the greater good can be most effectively served, because rather than blind allegiance to you your own sense of what it is to be “right” or “wrong” on a given issue (and therefore stifling progress) one can take a higher level view of the situation. Through this “uncharged” process of inquiry, one of three results will occur: Either you will have the confidence and the grace to continue to advocate for your position; perhaps you will see that there is a collective wisdom that you had not considered and hence will reconsider your position; or you can see that–while you still consider the point you are taking to be “the correct one”–that the greater good of the progress toward a goal is not worth the energetic turmoil that the continued discordance would foster. Put simply, you can stand sure; change your mind; or let it go, all without personal attachment or resentment to the outcome.

However, whether you believe in the singularity, the wisdom of evolution, the perfect nature of it all, or whatever, sustainability addresses the ground of all being on the human scale within the bio-sphere. It is a meta-issue that should concern everyone. A singularity theorist would like to see h/h theory be given the chance to play-out, not be cut short by environmental elements creating causal events from outside the boundary limits of the theory (e.g. melting polar-ice caps flood the majority of the world’s computers.) Sustainability is therefore the fundamental meta-human initiative that must be addressed on a cross sector, cross value scale.

There will be a inordinate amount of proposed solutions to the ecological dilemma. There will be a number of actual implementations. The real contribution of Integral Sustainability was not in finding the solutions, but in helping the “solutionaries” to find a greater depth in themselves and in their offering. To quote one of the aforementioned connections I am fortunate to have made at this seminar to close:

“In the end Sustainability as a concept means so many different things to so many different people that it may only be useful as a reminder of what it is to be unsustainable, which is in effect to die. The yearning for sustainability is really a yearning for life, and if that is the case then the best chance we have is an integral approach. From a second-tier perspective, sustainable practice is integral practice.”

(Winton, PermaForest Trust Case Study)

Christopher Byrne earned an MBA in Sustainable Enterprise from New College of California. He is one of a growing movement of professionals bridging the gaps between business practices, sustainable technologies, and the wisdom of ecology. Chris’ mission is to promote sustainability through business by assisting companies and organizations in successfully meeting the challenges and realizing the rewards of “going green”. He can be reached at inquire@unitysustainability.com


Keep up the great work!