Notes from the Field: Integral Sustainability 101 in Seattle

Alan Seid and Sandra Paulson

Alan Seidsandra poulsonThe EOS Alliance ( hosted an introduction to Integral Sustainability on February 28, 2009. The course was co-led by Alan Seid, Director of Training and Lead Consultant for Cascadia Training & Mediation (, and Sandra Poulson, Principal at RealTrust Consulting (, and Senior Organization Effectiveness Consultant, Region 10 of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Seid and Ms. Poulson met at the Integral Ecology and Sustainability Seminar in Colorado in 2004, and this was their first collaboration.

Sustainability has many definitions. One variant: the long-term health and vitality of the economic, ecological, and social system. Another: satisfying the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Typically, sustainability involves the disciplines commonly associated with environmental concerns, and complements them with perspectives from the social sciences and more updated versions of economics. Though the impulse is integral, an analysis of sustainability literature and work shows a predisposition to the LR quadrant, and almost no knowledge (or implementation of insights acquired through knowledge of) lines, levels (waves), states, or types. With an integral approach, the field of sustainability is amplified, made more robust, and revivified through the renewed potential of real traction.

The content of the course covered holons, quadrants, lines, levels, states, and types—the entire AQAL model—offering examples, anecdotes, and samples of research highlighting the relevance of an integral approach to the field of sustainability.

The 15 participants included two Directors of Sustainability (one for a major state college and one for a large engineering firm), two urban planners, an architect, a green builder, someone who spent their career within the EPA, activists, and several other people with an interest in the topic.

Two inquiries, one personal and one professional, formulated by each participant, guided the day. We did some work individually, in pairs, in triads, and in the whole group.

One of the exercises consisted of one of the presenters playing portions of music tracks, with participants guessing and having some discussion about which Spiral Dynamics vMeme was most expressed in each song, and we had the gamut from thrash metal to Indian classical music.

The atmosphere was focused but relaxed, professional, generative, and very fun. The EOS space had good light, a projector, whiteboard, and yummy snacks and refreshments.

What follows is a conceptual flow used during the workshop, organized around the primary AQAL components:

Overview of Integral Theory Components (Holons, Quadants, Lines, Levels, States, & Types)

Depth vs. Span

Integral in other fields: Medicine, Business, Politics
Subtle Reductionism

Pre/Post Fallacy

Integral Change Agency
Relativism Gone Wild & the Mean Green Meme
Integral Multi-Lingualism



Oppressive Structures vs. Liberating Structures
nature, Nature, and NATURE
Holarchical Environmental Ethics: 3 types of value: depth, instrumental, & ground
BMI – The Basic Moral Intuition
ILP – Integrated Life Practice
Integral Spirituality, ascending and descending currents (experiential – how people feel connected – some people feel identified with one more than the other)
The I.O.U. Principle—Incomplete or Uncertain

Participants were all well versed in the Right-Hand Quadrant analyses and interventions. Many expressed frustration at how often interpersonal and team dynamics (LL) were the “Achilles’ Heel” of sustainability initiatives. We discussed Lower-Left Quadrant methodologies, such as Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, and a bit about their application. Much of the discussion also focused on the importance of the practitioner’s interior development (UL), and the degree to which that can influence interpersonal (LL) harmony and effectiveness.

Overall, the material was very well received. The primary complaint we heard was that people would have liked a longer workshop.

^––––––– ^

Sandra Sault Poulson is a seasoned organizational consultant, visionary change agent and dedicated mom. Sandra is principal of RealTrust Consulting, which focuses on organization development and culture change to achieve sustainability. Sandra’s practice develops leadership skills, awareness and collective capacity to achieve sustainability by orchestrating collaboration across sectors, silos and issues to achieve systemic, whole systems change. Sandra’s practice provides design and facilitation of organizational change strategies, collaborative processes, cross-sector learning communities, and group events/retreats to realize whole systems change within organizations. Most recently, Sandra has been employed by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a Senior Organization Effectiveness Consultant. Learn more about Sandra at

Alan Seid has been teaching for fifteen yearsthe most effective tools, processes, and methodologies that he could find, in the areas of sustainable living, personal empowerment, and organizational effectiveness. He has a self-designed undergraduate degree in Sustainability, holds a certificate in Permaculture Design, and is Certified Trainer for Marshall Rosenberg’s process, Nonviolent Communication. Thanks to the process at, also popularized in the bestseller Your Money or Your Life, (which he also teaches) Alan had a 7-year self-directed sabbatical from 1998 to 2005, during which he attended more workshops and seminars than you can shake a stick at. He lives on 25 acres of temperate rainforest in the foothills of the North Cascades with his wife and two daughters. You can learn more about Alan at