Ecocity Insights

Understanding the Whole Systems Perspective behind the International Ecocity Standards

The International Ecocity Standards evolved from a whole systems perspective starting with Earth’s ecosphere. This is the web of life comprising air, water, soil, plants, and animals that together with energy input from the sun regenerate life in all its forms. This is the foundation for the Standards that is represented by the pillar of “Ecological Imperatives.”

Ecological Imperatives include standards of “ecological integrity,” “healthy biodiversity,” and “living within Earth’s carrying capacity.”

Humanity arose out of Earth’s ecosystems and is fully dependent upon them. A “healthy culture” is one that is well adapted to life on Earth and helps people understand their relationship to the natural world in which they live. Even people who live in cities are part of the global ecosystem and understanding this relationship is essential.

This understanding comprises the “Socio-Cultural Features” pillar of the standards and includes conditions for health in terms of decision making through “governance and community capacity,” “wellbeing and quality of life,” “equitable economy” and access to “lifelong education.”

The next pillar addresses the “Bio-Geophysical Conditions” needed to support health both of people and ecosystems. It addresses “clean air” and stable atmosphere, “healthy and safe water” for people and the animals that depend on in-flow water in streams. “Healthy soil,” and “access to nutritious food” are also important conditions for health reflected in the Standards.

With an understanding of the ecological imperatives required for global ecosystem stability, the socio-cultural features needed for a society well suited to living equitably, and the bio-geophysical conditions needed for health, the final pillar in the standards culminates in how society chooses to build its home, its cities and communities, addressed through “Urban Design.” This includes land use considerations for “access by proximity” to create compact, walkable spaces that provide “access to safe and affordable housing” in “green buildings” with “environmentally friendly transport.”

Human society is a sub-system of Earth’s ecosystem. Within it we agree on what has value and whether decisions that affect everyone should be taken by the few or the many. Together we choose what to believe. As we believe so shall we build, and as we build so shall we live. Let’s believe and build a better way to live that supports, as Richard Register likes to say: “Peace on Earth, Peace with Earth.”

About the author

Jennie Moore

Dr. Jennie Moore is Director, Institute Sustainability at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Dr. Moore has extensive experience in the realm of ecological sustainability and urban systems including climate change and energy management, green buildings and eco-industrial networking. Prior to joining BCIT she worked for over a decade at Metro Vancouver as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Her research explores the potential for Vancouver to achieve one-planet living. Jennie is a senior associate of the One Earth Initiative and a core advisor to the International Ecocity Framework and Standards.