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Smart, Sustainable Living: The Importance of Environmental Intelligence

Dr Robin Precey

It is easy and right to feel upset, angry and guilty about the state of our relationship with our planet. For all of our lifetimes, we have unknowingly and sometimes deliberately exploited the earth and its resources not giving a thought for tomorrow. Future forecasts on climate change, resource depletion and pollution are upsetting.

This needs to be recognised and “owned” and the damage needs to be urgently rectified as much as it can be. There is potential to turn the juggernaut around (or at least off its current track) if we are smart and active enough to turn the wheel and put on the brakes.

Whilst the agreement among nations at COP28 in 2023 is to be welcomed, we are yet to see if it really makes a difference or is indeed a “copout”. Clearly, agreements and legislation at international and national level are critical to heal our planet but individual action is ultimately what will make a difference.

Fundamentally, the solution lies in our personal relationships – relationships with the natural world and also with others and with ourselves. These 3 relationships – environment, others and self are intimately connected. We will not get it right with the natural world unless we get it right with our neighbours and those the furthest away geographically and with ourselves. Environmental change comes from and loops back to those other human relationships.



Our knowledge about relationships in terms of emotional and social intelligence is well established and still developing. But we seem to have less to guide us in developing and using of our intelligence in relation to our natural world. This Thinkpiece and longer article (link pending) offers an attempt to rectify that.

An accepted approach to emotional and social intelligence (ESI) is to see 2 axes:

Combined, these generate 4 areas on inter-related competencies:



If this is an, albeit simplistic, view of what we know about social and self-intelligence, what about our intelligence in relation to our natural world? I feel that similar lenses can be used to both analyse and develop our own environmental intelligence.

Many articulate others have made the case for our environment being at or near the top of the human agenda (Gilean 2009) Most of us want to make the right choices as consumers. But how can anyone individual's choices make a difference? And, more importantly, what are the right choices?

Some writers such as Goleman et al (2012), referring to Ecological Intelligence, argue that our consumer thinking about issues such as the environment, health hazards or child labour has been one-dimensional, focusing on single problems in isolation from the rest. Our 'green' awareness is so superficial we often do more harm than good by ignoring the adverse impacts of the far vaster proportion of what we buy and do. Such works as very important but I prefer the term Environmental Intelligence in order to recognise that the environmental is our personal, social and ecological lives are inextricably inter-twined. An important starting point is the concept of integrity meaning what you believe in and think lines up with what you say and what you do. This is very difficult but is the core of our view on environmental intelligence. These are underpinned by our values (what we believe in) and ideally should be watermarked by the tough stuff of integrity.

My attempt to link social and emotional intelligence to environmental intelligence is shown below:


Using the 4 well-researched separate yet intrinsically linked dimensions of ESI, we can see Environmental Intelligence in the same dimensions. It is most important to remember that there is great overlap between these and in doing one act we muse many dimensions. For example, keeping and Eco-Diary (see the link at the end of this post) means improving our self-awareness and as we do this we think and start to self-manage and this in time makes us aware of the behaviour of others and a desire to share this in some way.


3: SO, WHAT? Four main areas emerge from a rich soup of ideas and the full article on this website (link pending) explores these more:

  • Education

  • Accurate information

  • Affordable alternatives

  • Legislation

It is vital that people, especially children, are positive about their future. We need to be agents of change and not victims of change. Eco-anxiety is a real problem, and it is important that we all have hope and are empowered.



If you are interested in developing Environmental Intelligence in your educational setting, please get in touch via the 'contact us' feature on our website.

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