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Greenprints focuses on a critical question: how can we create governance systems that help human societies to live within our ecological limits and nurture the Earth community? This project has been created because while we have 'blueprints' to document the design of building and engineering projects, we don't yet have effective 'greenprints' for helping us construct the governance systems we need, to build Earth centred human societies that can nurture the Earth community and flourish in a post-carbon, climate changed world.

AELA is working with experts from the natural sciences, Indigenous knowledge systems, law, planning, natural resource accounting, ethics, economics and the arts, to create Earth centred governance models for bioregional ecological health in Australia. AELA is also working with communities across Australia, to explore and pilot how the 'Greenprints' approach might work in their communities, and their wider bioregions.



Why do we need Earth centred, regenerative governance systems for human societies?

Currently, law and governance in industrialised societies supports human-centred "development", with either very little or no consideration of how human development will affect local ecosystems, surrounding bio-regions and global Earth Systems that support life. Our laws treat nature as if it is merely human property - a collection of objects for human use.  Our laws also support and promote infinite growth in a finite biosphere.  This approach has contributed to the situation we face today - the global ecological crisis. Earth jurisprudence proposes that we shift from this human-centred world view, to an Earth centred world view, which respects, protects and nurtures the health of the interconnected Earth community.

From an Earth centred perspective, human laws and governance should be designed to ensure human activities fit within the ecological limits and productive capacity of the natural world, so that all members of the Earth community – plants, animals and life supporting ecosystems – are able to exist, thrive and evolve.  To do this, we need to redesign our governance systems (ie the rules that govern our societies - formal laws, rules and moral/cultural ways of being) so that we (i) understand, protect and nurture the health of the Earth community and (ii), design human activities so that they ‘fit within’ ecological health at all scales - from our local ecosystems, to wider bioregions, and our Planetary Boundaries.

Why does Greenprints start with 'bioregions'?
Linking local, regional and Planetary Boundaries

AELA's mission is to build the understanding and practical implementation of Earth centred law, governance and ethics. A vital part of this is understanding our ecological limits, and working out how to live within them.  It follows then, that we need to 'set' what our ecological limits are! But industrial societies are built on ideas like 'unlimited growth', so how do we redesign societies to live within ecological limits? What are the limits, parameters or 'outer boundaries' that can help us?

AELA's Greenprints program connects practical approaches to governance, with current understandings in science and indigenous knowledge systems.  The ultimate 'outer limits' of ecological health have been defined in the ground-breaking concept of "Planetary Boundaries".  But how do we work locally and regionally, to live within our Planetary Boundaries? How can we work together to understand ecological limits at a scale that makes sense and offers a practical way forward? And how can we connect our local and regional work, back up to the planetary scale?

A useful 'starting point' for mapping out what Earth centred governance can look like, is a bioregion.

A bioregion is an area of land or sea defined by common patterns of natural characteristics and environmental processes (such as geology, landform patterns, climate, ecological features and plant and animal communities). A bioregion’s borders are defined by natural boundaries such as mountain ranges and soil types, rather than the political boundaries of many maps. Each bioregion has a unique collection of ecological communities as well as different patterns of land use and threats to biodiversity.  A bioregion is smaller than an ecoregion, but larger than an ecosystem or catchment area.

In Australia, we have the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA, version 7) - which you can see on  the map of Australia's bioregions [PDF, 3MB]. This is a well accepted classification system that we can build our Greenprints on.  Read about how conservation and land management groups in Australia already use bioregions in conservation projects.

The benefits of a bioregional approach are threefold.  By using bioregional ecological health as a starting point for human governance, we can: (1) implement a key aspect of Earth Jurisprudence, that is, we can develop our understanding of place and connection with our local Earth community; (2) map out what nature needs to thrive and (in contrast to the idea of ‘sustainable development’) we can build understanding about the critical parameters and ultimate ‘end-game’ for us to work within and (3) redesign human culture and society so that economic, social and political systems all work towards the same, life sustaining ecological goals.

Greenprints Mapping Tool: "Citizen Governance"

AELA is developing an easy to use mapping tool, as part of the Greenprints approach.  Anyone will be able to use the tool.  It will enable individuals and community groups to find the bioregion they live in, find information about their local and regional plant and animal communities, see how the bioregion used to be, see current land use impacts and environmental health, and develop different scenarios for how to restore ecosystems and manage impacts in the future.

The mapping and scenario tool, in conjunction with AELA's workshops and ongoing support, will help communities take control of the vast amount of information that's 'out there', and take control of their vision for healthy, productive, sustainable societies. We call the whole approach 'citizen governance' - which is a bit like citizen science, but empowers people to (i) understand what's going on in their local and regional communities, and (ii) work together to discuss and plan for the decisions that need to be made to ensure ecological and human health into the future.

Greenprints: a practical pathway  through the maze of great ideas and tools, that can help us live within our ecological limits

AELA's collaborative research process is drawing on a range of disciplines, and respects and builds on the excellent work that has been (and continues to be) carried out by people around Australia and the world, including:

  • the field of work known as 'bio-regionalism';
  • indigenous knowledge and law;
  • the work done by Natural Resource Management (NRM) and catchment management bodies across Australia;
  • work done by conservation and land management agencies across Australia;
  • planning and research carried out by local communities to protect their local ecosystems;
  • an understanding of the how the current planning and other laws currently work, and how they can be transformed;
  • effective methodologies for calculating human 'use' of the natural world, including the Ecological Footprint Method;
  • the various and diverse work being done within ecological economics, Steady State economics and the 'New Economy' framework, which aims to create local, sustainable, socially just economies


Principles of the Greenprints project

The Greenprints project is based on the following principles:

  • We must have an easy-to-use, practical method for communities at any scale - local, bioregional, national - to engage with Earth centred governance
  • We must move from an ‘economic growth’ paradigm to an ‘ecological health’ and Steady State and 'doughnut economics' paradigm for all human activities, and accept and respect ecological limits and Planetary Boundaries.
  • We must focus on mitigating and adapting to climate change, including an urgent transition away from our current fossil fuels based economy, towards sustainable, renewable energy systems.  An important part of this transition is that we must also reduce our demand for energy, not just aim to replace our current high-energy lifestyles with renewable energy sources.
  • We must place the protection and restoration of vibrant biodiversity at the centre of human governance, including, where appropriate, laws that recognise the rights of nature to exist, thrive and evolve.
  • Local communities must have a greater say over economic, environmental protection and resource extraction activities in their local catchments and wider bioregions.
  • Australia's current Federal, State and local laws affecting environmental protection and planning are deeply flawed and need to be reformed, to support Earth centered law and governance systems that enable human communities to understand, ‘fit within’ and protect bioregional and global ecological health.

Greenprints Reference Group

Our multi-disciplinary Reference Group will grow over the coming years, and currently includes:

  • Ross Williams, AELA Indigenous Advisory Group
  • Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, Griffith University
  • Professor Brendan Mackey, Griffith Climate Change Response Program
  • Revel Pointon, planning law expert
  • Dr Edward Morgan, Cities Research Centre, Griffith University
  • Marian Drew, artist and photographer

More information

Please email AELA -

If you're a community group interested in participating in Greenprints, or you have expertise you'd like to share with the project, please get in touch anytime -