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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Campfire Questions with Osbert Lancaster

Osbert Lancaster, friend of the Foundation and Executive Director of the Centre for Human Ecology, recently stopped by our virtual campfire for a catch-up and a bit of Q&A around human ecology, the new consulting firm he has recently co-founded, blogging and last but not least, what he is reading at the moment:

• So, what exactly is Human Ecology and how does it differ from ‘plain’ ecology?

Osbert LancasterYou could say 'plain' ecologists study the 'natural' world - 'out there' - as objective scientists, while the human ecologist sees him or herself - and all humans - as an integral part of the world. So understanding the world means understanding ourselves as well. Human ecologists recognise the importance of objectivity in the right context, but believe other ways of knowing are also important. We often talk about the importance of head, heart and hand - rational, critical, analysis; emotional engagement and compassion; and the skills for practical change.
• Why did you start checonsulting, what’s the mission and how do you measure success?

checonsultingcheconsulting grew out of the Centre for Human Ecology which is best known for its MSc in Human Ecology. We see a real appetite among all sorts of organisations to be more sustainable, but a year long postgraduate course is not a practical proposition for many professionals and leaders. checonsulting applies human ecology to help people improve the environmental, social and economic performance of their organisations - it delivers solutions in a particular situation, whereas the Centre for Human Ecology offers a wider and deeper range of understanding, insight and skills. One of the services we offer is 'Walk the Talk', taking people from an organisation out into the wilds of Scotland to discuss sustainability in real place, outside the training room.

Our ideal client is the leader of an organisation who is personally motivated to address sustainability and climate change, and wants their organisation to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Our initial measures of success will be clients who love the results of our work and recommend us to more ideal clients! Longer term I see us as being part of a wider movement reshaping the way the economy and business operates.

• How about the new blog you’ve launched – what’s focus, who are you trying to reach and what can our readers do to help spread the word?

My blog focuses on what I call 'ethical enterprise' - businesses where the owners and leaders have explicit objectives to deliver nvironmental and social good while being profitable. For me this includes fair trade, organics, social enterprise, but also 'conventional' businesses with similar values. The aim of the blog is to share my insights on these issues and explore with others who are working in the same areas. The big question is how can ethical enterprises help catalyse wider change in national and international trade - can we create a sustainable, equitable economy in a world of over 6 billion people?

My blog's fairly new, so I need to get word out that it exists much more widely!Wilderness Foundation readers can help by passing on links to colleagues and friends who might be interested, commenting on the articles, and linking from their websites.

• Give us a couple of top autumn reads that’ll broaden our mind

Ideas: a history from fire to Freud by Peter Watson was my summer reading. Watson gives a fascinating overview of how powerful ideas have shaped society over time - up to the early 20th century. There's a strong tendency in the environmental movement to hark back to a time when humans - supposedly - lived in tune with nature. But there is no going back - we have to move forward from where we are. Watson helps us see how we got to where we are, and to understand the complex of ideas and beliefs that shape our world views. We need to understand the past to shape the future.

I read that a Native American leader once said something like 'you stole our land, killed our people - and now you are stealing our traditions too'. Environmentalists and others concerned with creating a better world, often draw on religious traditions from around the world, especially Buddhism, Native American and other indigenous traditions. While I've often been inspired by such writing, I'm sometimes left uncomfortable with plucking wisdom from others like this. I'm therefore enjoying Michael Northcott's A Moral Climate: the ethics of global warming, where he considers the morality of climate change from a Christian view point. Northcott is an internationally renowned environmental ethicist (and a former board member of the Centre for Human Ecology). It's refreshing to learn what Christian traditions, which ave played central roles in shaping Western civilisation, have to say about getting out the mess we have created.
Thanks Osbert! - Now, if you'd like to check out Osbert’s ethical enterprise blog then it can be found @ http://osbert.org/ - and just like the Wilderness Foundation blog you're reading just now, you can subscribe in a reader or by e-mail.

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