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Stuart Cowan, Myles Sergeant, and Simron J. Singh

Organised by Perin Ruttonshea

Ecological economics was established as a field, to account for the dependence and impact of global economies on the natural environment. It also acknowledges the exploitation and marginalisation of racialised, Indigenised, low income, and other diverse populations, that have been driven by a sociopolitical fixation on economic growth. Meanwhile, resilience and complex systems thinking have identified the interacting effects that can arise among climate, ecologies, health, and societies, rendering related global challenges far from easy to resolve.

This panel discusses the variety of philosophies and strategies that have been arising as a counterpoint to neoclassical and growth-oriented economic conventions—inclusive of degrowth, Indigenous, circular, wellbeing, complexity, and regenerative approaches. We will also consider how to apply the work, therein, to fill gaps in existing programmes, policies, and institutional mandates for sustainable development, climate change mitigation, biosphere conservation, social equality, and global/planetary health.


This panel is organised by the CANSEE 2023 programme committee and hosted at OCADU as part of RSD12-TORONTO. It highlights the organisers’ shared interests in facilitating systems change for prosperous futures and building connections between systemic design and ecological economic communities.

The focus is the emerging range of approaches intended to supplement or revise conventional growth-based economic models, inclusive of degrowth, Indigenous, wellbeing, circular, complexity, and regenerative economies—and the strengths and weaknesses of existing local, national, and transnational programmes and policies for managing climate change mitigation, biosphere conservation, global health, and social equality.

By design or by disaster, the global economy must be fundamentally transformed as we come to terms with the biophysical limits of our finite planet, as well as the inequalities and instabilities that are being reinforced in the name of growth. To carry on with business as usual is to become complacent and complicit to the cascading consequences that are already undermining global food security, ecological integrity, safety, and human welfare. The limitations and rigidity of our current political-economic systems could not have become more apparent than during the current COVID-19 pandemic. As societies continue to debate how to protect public health interests while also keeping public and private institutions operating, losses of both life and livelihood ensue, with vulnerable populations being most affected. Just as critical as the pandemic, a climate-uncertain future necessitates a rapid transition to low-carbon economies while bracing for the potential of widespread and largely unjust environmental change. This conference aims to deepen awareness and strengthen the agency of diverse stakeholders, to explore and mobilize alternative economic futures.


Stuart Cowan brings 25 years of experience as a transformations architect, ecological designer, regenerative economist, and systems scientist. He is the Executive Director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, where he leads efforts to advance design science for system change and develop new sources of capital for systemic transformation initiatives. He also launched the BFI Design Lab to frame, scope, and co-convene open-source innovation ecosystems to address critical planetary challenges. While at Capital Institute, he was the founding convener of the Regenerative Communities Network from 2018-20, supporting 15 bioregions in the US, Latin America, and Europe on their journeys of regeneration. He is the Co-Founder of Autopoiesis LLC, which works to regenerate communities, ecosystems, and organizations using living systems. He brings a diverse range of experiences including Chief Scientist at the Smart Cities Council, Transaction Manager for the sustainable investment fund Portland Family of Funds, and Conservation Economy Research Director at the non-profit Ecotrust. He is the co-author with Sim Van der Ryn of Ecological Design (Island Press, 2007), and received his doctorate in Applied Mathematics from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on Complex Systems and Ecological Economics. He has taught and facilitated internationally for academic institutions, cities, companies, indigenous groups, government agencies, and NGOs. He is also an advisor to several international regeneration initiatives including Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, Costa Rica Regenerative, Financing Ecosystems for Systemic Transformation, and Common Earth.

Myles Sergeant is a family physician who has worked with vulnerable populations, including people experiencing homelessness and/or addictions, and the elderly, over the past 25 years. Recognizing the intersection between environmental issues and health, he is dedicated to addressing climate change issues and has co- founded Partnerships for Environmental Action by Clinicians and Communities for Health care facilities (, the charity Trees for Hamilton in 2012 (, and the not-for-profit Shelter Health Network in 2005 (  Myles is the Executive Director of the Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare and can be reached at In this panel, he will discuss the carbon footprint of a hospital and the most impactful initiatives which can be taken to reach net zero.

Simron J. Singh is a Professor and University Research Chair (URC) in the Faculty of Environment. Using the analogy that islands function like living organisms, he conducts socio-metabolic research to evaluate how small island economies utilize (or metabolize) materials, energy, water, and infrastructure. He investigates why and how these consumption patterns (or island metabolism) may accumulate “socio-metabolic risk” over time that increases their susceptibility to the challenges of climate change. He further analyzes how island economies can transition to a more sustainable, circular resource-use model, thereby bolstering their overall resilience to the impact of climate change. His research partnerships span island nations in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Asia-Pacific regions. He is the founder and lead of the research program “Metabolism of Islands”, the Executive Secretary of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE), chairs the inaugural board of Island of Industrial Ecology within ISIE, and co-chairs Risk-KAN, a global research and action network of Future Earth, Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR), the World Weather Research Program (WWRP), and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

Organiser Perin Ruttonsha is an interdisciplinary artist, cultural manager, systems-oriented designer, and complex social-ecological systems researcher, specialising in the facilitation of processes for transformative systems change. Ruttonsha has designed curriculum for, and taught on, subjects of visual arts, design, sustainability, and research methodologies, at elementary, undergraduate, and graduate levels, through the University of Waterloo, the Institute without Boundaries, George Brown College, and artist-in-the-classroom programmes. She is currently pursuing a PhD with the University of Waterloo, School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability (SERS), where she studies complex systems thinking as a foundation for a regenerative paradigm in global transition.

Panel on Planetary Accountability October 12
RSD12-Toronto and RSD12-ONLINE




Citation Data

Author(s): Perin Ruttonshea, Stuart Cowan, Myles Sergeant, Simron J. Singh
Year: 2023
Title: Planetary Accountability
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
Host: Georgetown University | CANSEE 2023
Location: Toronto, CAN | ONLINE
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 13 July 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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