A good first step with EcoTypes is to take the free, anonymous survey and discover your EcoType, as well as your axis and theme scores. But this is only a first step! If you wish to go deeper, consider the EcoTypes reflection form; and if you wish to go deeper with others across distance, consider asking to participate in the online EcoTypes forum.
Below are some answers to questions you may have as you go deeper with EcoTypes.
What can I read to learn more?
EcoTypes summarizes a huge literature on fundamental environmental considerations—the twelve EcoTypes axes. Aesthetics, Change, Ecosystems, Nature, Spirituality, Time, and other axes distill rich scholarly discussions and popular debates. The three EcoTypes themes of Place, Knowledge, and Action statistically represent the biggest differences found in these twelve axes among survey responses, and each also has its own scholarly literature and spectrum of organizational and media positions.
What is the theory underlying EcoTypes?
EcoTypes adopts a novel approach to exploring environmental ideas, based on important theoretical assumptions, which are covered in some depth in the forthcoming EcoTypes book mentioned above. Here is a quick summary of this approach, as it builds on four key questions related to environmental difference—the differences among people as summarized in their EcoTypes.
- (Descriptive: What?) What do we mean by environmental difference, and how do we conceptualize it? It is common to propose typologies to summarize environmental difference, but many are “trust me” typologies: intuitively appealing phrases such as “Light Green” or “Brown” that may or may not accurately represent difference. EcoTypes adopts an inductive approach, developing its typology based on thousands of survey responses. In a deeper theoretical sense, concepts such as ideologies and imaginaries may better express EcoTypes than, say, values or worldviews.
- (Explanatory: Why?) Why is there such environmental difference among us? EcoTypes does not purport to fully explain environmental difference, but the descriptive assumptions above may lead in more fruitful explanatory directions. By way of coarse explanation, scholars often resort to demographics—say, gender differences in EcoTypes, or differences by political persuasion. The EcoTypes survey does collect optional, anonymous demographics, and there are interesting patterns we have discovered that may offer some general explanation of environmental difference. But a more theoretically robust and nuanced approach builds on the concepts of imaginaries and ideologies mentioned above. One associated notion is that of theme attractors: common, attractive, yet only partial answers to each theme question. Attractors may be a key ideological strategy deployed by entities who hold communicative power, and a key component of the imaginaries we each weave in our own way.
- (Evaluative: Who’s right?) Given environmental difference, are some approaches superior or inferior? Here, EcoTypes takes a different direction from most work on environmental worldviews, which is often normative, by assuming that some worldviews are indeed better (more “green”) than others. The possibility considered in EcoTypes, that many care, just differently, is offered as an evaluative alternative for two reasons: (a) we may not actually know which worlviews are better than others; and (b) engaging across difference (see below) from a presumed position of superiority is a guaranteed conversation stopper. The theoretical question of evaluation remains important, but the process involves additional concepts, such as inclusivity and coherence, that require more of a book-length treatment, as in the forthcoming EcoTypes book.
- (Instrumental: What can we do?) Given environmental difference, what steps can we take? You may have seen above that each of the four questions builds on those above it; this is true as well with the final, instrumental question you may find to be the most important of all. If, for instance, we made the evaluative assumption that there are better and worse EcoTypes, then the obvious answer to this instrumental question is to get others to adopt more superior EcoTypes. But if we accept the reality of environmental difference, and take seriously the possibility that many care, just differently, then our answer changes markedly. The most practical answer involves engagement across difference, introduced below; a deeper theoretical basis for this answer, mentioned in the report you receive upon completing the EcoTypes survey, involves complementarity—a notion borrowed from physics, in which two opposing descriptions of reality are each true, yet a fuller truth arises from considering them both. Complementarity is also introduced much more fully in the forthcoming EcoTypes book.
What are some practical next steps I can take?
EcoTypes offers a powerful, novel way to understand our environmental differences, as summarized via our EcoTypes or environmental worldviews. And understanding your EcoType and how it compares with others is an important first step! It helps you appreciate that the way you care about issues of environment is important, but it may be just one way among others—at least you might consider that many care, just differently.
But this is not a full solution, certainly to the instrumental question above of what we can do. Like many other differences we encounter each day, the reality of environmental difference in our world often results in conflict, debate, and policy paralysis. Can we all come to agreement on how to achieve lasting environmental progress, in cases such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental injustice? When we can agree, that is a good thing; but often we can’t. Should we just assume that disagreement and debate is inevitable, and instead fight for our preferred solutions to these environmental issues? This may be justified in certain cases as well.
But EcoTypes suggests the possibility of a third thing we can do, beyond simple agreement or disagreement. This is the the art and skill of engaging across difference. If the concept of complementarity applies in some situations of environmental difference, then our next steps involve seeking out those with whom we are the most different: people with a complementary EcoType to ours. As we do so, we should not suppose that engagement will be easy!…after all, Place, Knowledge, and Action are things we may be passionate about, and it may be very hard to appreciate why anyone else might believe differently than we do.
Thankfully there are many examples today of organizations, workshops, and other resources to help you learn how to work with someone who is different from you, without presupposing total agreement or utter disagreement. If you are using EcoTypes as part of a college course, you may wish to ask your instructor to recommend their favorite resources; the list is thankfully quite long these days.
Practical next steps will be covered in more depth in the EcoTypes book as well, but here are three broad principles:
- Seek your shadow. Most of us spend our time with people who are more like than unlike us. We all know that it is hard not to do this, given the influence of social media algorithms and our understandable desire for comfort and safety. The first step toward engaging across difference thus involves seeking out difference: meeting people who are unlike you. If this sounds difficult or potentially threatening, you may wish to mentally prepare. You might, for instance, imagine how you would approach the persona representing your complementary EcoType, and what your initial conversation might be to ensure good trust and mutual interest.
- Learn to listen. A big ingredient in effective engagement is the ability to practice good listening, perhaps following active listening principles. You may find that people with whom you might disagree will be more interested in listening to you if you listen to them! Of course, engagement gives you the opportunity to speak, honestly and respectfully as well, but consider listening for starters.
- Keep it real. It might be fun, even less threatening, to engage with someone only over your differing EcoTypes—your broad environmental worldviews. But you most likely are passionate about concrete issues. The EcoTypes survey considers differences over such issues via the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The SDGs are a “big tent” approach, including a wide range of global issues. Almost everyone should find something in the SDGs they find important. But their priorities may not be the same as yours. If you’ve done the two steps above, seeking difference and listening, you may discover something interesting and important about a concrete issue facing our world. And your engagement partner may be more interested in hearing about your own global priorities! A conversation based on tangible issues like the broad SDGs may help you mutually envision next steps—say, organizations to support, or further research you may wish to do to learn more.