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Curiosity and the Planet

Clare Inkster and Stefaan van Hooydonk

“I am always astonished by a forest. It makes me realize that the fantasy of nature is much larger than my own fantasy. I still have things to learn.” 

— Gunther Grass - 

Climate change looms as one of the most formidable challenges of our time, demanding urgent action to safeguard the Earth for future generations and species. In the global endeavor to combat this crisis, governments have taken significant strides toward greener policies. Furthermore, more and more companies are taking necessary steps to go green, and citizens all around the world are increasingly mindful about taking responsible micro-steps.

Amidst these efforts, one vital force emerges as a beacon of hope: curiosity. Curiosity not only ignites problem-solving and innovation toward much-needed new technologies and approaches but also helps us rediscover the restorative power nature has on us mortals. Research is rediscovering ancient truths that nature reduces stress, fatigue, and anxiety, while increasing cognitive performance, problem-solving capability, and creativity. It pays to be curious about nature at many levels.

Curiosity, often hailed as one of the most coveted skills of the 21st century, holds unparalleled significance in our quest for sustainability. In 2023, it ranked among the top five essential skills (World Economic Forum), alongside analytical and creative thinking, highlighting its role in navigating the complexities of our world. Through the lens of curiosity, we are invited to perceive the world differently—to observe, learn, and ultimately, to act.

In the face of mounting environmental challenges, curiosity emerges as our greatest ally. With 2023 marking the hottest year on record and sea levels rising at unprecedented rates, the urgency for solutions has never been clearer. Cultivating curiosity offers a pathway forward, empowering individuals and organizations to innovate and drive meaningful change.


Some of the most promising climate innovations of recent times have been driven by curiosity. Take MicroHarvest, for example. As the world faces an unprecedented challenge to meet a fast-growing protein demand, MicroHarvest is pushing boundaries to deliver the sustainable protein ingredients of the future by harnessing the power of microorganisms. Similarly, Novobiom is unlocking the potential of fungi to revolutionise waste management and build a sustainable future. These are just two examples from a long list of innovations, all of which are driven by curiosity.


Defining Curiosity

At the Global Curiosity Institute, we advocate for a three-dimensional approach to curiosity: curiosity of self, curiosity of others, and curiosity of the world. By understanding ourselves, fostering empathy, and addressing knowledge gaps, we pave the way for meaningful progress toward our net-zero targets. We utilise a simple yet powerful step-framework to achieve a state of productive curiosity. This framework can be applied to multiple application areas where curiosity is at the core of change.

1. Permission: This is the stage of conscious commitment to becoming open to novel experiences, exploring new habits, and allowing deep beliefs to be challenged, even in times of challenge and stress. Companies create permission for curiosity through their choice of corporate values and by demonstrating this through actions and behaviour: encouraging questions, creating a language for curiosity, embedding curiosity in people management, HR, and innovation processes and practices, welcoming experimentation, and creating green spaces for nature and connection. For example, the company Fora hires a resident beekeeper for their office roof garden.

2. Awareness: Once we start focusing on curiosity in our daily lives, it grows abundantly. In this stage, we slow down, observe, and become aware of our obvious and hidden drivers and barriers. We examine trends, strong and weak signals to help us tune into what is and what could be. Some companies encourage employees to pay attention to what's working from a sustainability standpoint and what could be improved, both big and small. A good example in this regard is the UK-based company BUPA, which actively invites employees to contribute to their sustainability actions.

3. Intentionality: This is the stage where we take proactive action and steps to improve in those areas we set our minds to. We become the change by applying strategies and hacks for ourselves, our companies, communities, and the planet. The intentional actions are as numerous as our creative powers: for instance, the African public bus transportation company Baobab Express gives incentives to their chauffeurs for defensive driving (thus consuming less petrol), and the sports apparel company Patagonia has set ambitious targets, such as having 100% reusable, home compostable, renewable, or easily recyclable packaging by 2025. At the Curiosity Institute, we invest 15% of all revenues into our three nature projects: creating a food forest where people and animals can thrive on 6 hectares, protecting the black honeybee, and inviting community members to co-create permaculture organic farming.

The Relationship Between Curiosity and Sustainability

Curiosity and sustainability are inherently intertwined and support each other. Curiosity empowers us to unravel complex problems and discover innovative solutions, while our connection to nature provides a canvas for observation, learning, and the cultivation of curiosity in practice. Together, they pave the way for a more sustainable future. Here are three key dimensions to explore this relationship further:


1. Activating Curiosity for Problem Solving

At the heart of the environmental crisis lies a complex web of challenges—from carbon emissions to plastic pollution. Curiosity fosters adaptive problem-solving skills, enabling individuals to navigate uncertainty and devise innovative solutions. By nurturing a curious mindset, we challenge conventions and unlock new perspectives for sustainable progress.

Curiosity helps us ask better and deeper questions. An inspiring and successful example is the concept of vertical farming, which has gained traction recently in the aftermath of COVID-19. After COVID-19, people never returned to work, and large numbers of empty office buildings are scattered in downtown cities. Inventive modern farmers are turning these buildings into vertical farming sites. Where people used to work, these buildings are now housing thousands of edible plants. The success of such vertical farming projects has been positive indeed: Vertical farms produce food in the cities where they are consumed, manage food better for diseases and climate changes, can deal with multiple and varied crops per year, food is fresher to the consumer, and they create local jobs. Curiosity brought together landlords and green entrepreneurs in finding a new use for empty buildings.

Moreover, paying attention to nature engages our bottom-up attention network, allowing us to simply notice and appreciate our surroundings without a specific aim. This mindful observation has been shown to restore attention and executive functioning, contributing to an overall sense of restoration and well-being.


Furthermore, when we approach nature with specific goals in mind, we tap into the field of biomimicry—an innovative discipline that draws inspiration from nature to solve human problems. Biomimicry has led to groundbreaking innovations, such as the invention of the first flying machine inspired by eagles and owls, paving the way for modern aviation technologies. Similarly, Velcro, mimicking the hooks on burrs that cling to animal fur, revolutionised fastening solutions. By designing materials, architecture, and systems based on biological principles, biomimicry facilitates a harmonious coexistence with nature, propelling us toward sustainable living practices and policies. Ultimately, biomimicry represents a paradigm shift—an acknowledgment of nature's unparalleled ingenuity and an invitation to align our technological advancements with the wisdom of the natural world.


3. Thinking in Systems

Curiosity serves as a powerful tool for fostering a systems thinking approach, particularly in the context of addressing environmental challenges. As we confront complex, multifaceted issues with inherent uncertainties, such as plastic pollution stemming from seemingly beneficial inventions like plastic packaging, the need for holistic understanding becomes increasingly evident. Systems thinking, as articulated by Peter Senge, encourages us to perceive and comprehend systems as wholes rather than mere collections of parts.

By applying curiosity to sustainability challenges, we embark on a journey of inquiry that enables us to grasp the larger dynamics of interconnected systems. Through probing questions, we gain insights into the root causes of environmental problems, understanding the needs, challenges, and motivations of all stakeholders involved. This approach prompts us to recognize interdependencies and anticipate the ripple effects of our actions, thereby fostering a forward-thinking mindset that considers the impact on future generations.


In 2019, the Swedish newspaper Dagens ETC took a bold step when they decided to ban fossil fuel advertisements. What started as a principled decision by the owners and staff created a ripple effect nobody at the newspaper had foreseen. Expecting a financial drop in advertisement revenue from companies advertising the direct or indirect use of fossil fuels like cars, city trips, etc., they saw new companies buy new green advertising space and attracted new subscribers.

In essence, curiosity serves as a catalyst for systems thinking, empowering us to navigate the intricate web of environmental challenges with clarity, insight, and purpose. Through a curious lens, we uncover the interconnectedness of systems, illuminate root causes, and chart a course toward a more sustainable future.

Applying these principles: Curiosity Hacks for Sustainability

Just as we train our muscles for strength and endurance, nurturing curiosity demands regular practice. Through applied curiosity practices, we can increase our curiosity quotient, enhance our understanding of the world, generate innovative sustainable solutions, and reconnect with a deeper sense of meaning.


Here are some actionable steps for applying curiosity in service of the planet:


1. Nature-based curiosity walking: Step into the natural world and let curiosity be your guide. Taking a leisurely stroll through nature not only rejuvenates the mind but also sharpens our cognitive functions. Venture into the wilderness of your local area, allowing your senses to roam freely. Simply observe the sights, sounds, and sensations around you. Notice the intricate details of flora and fauna, the play of light and shadow, and the rhythm of life unfolding. Nature-based curiosity walking is a simple yet profound way to reconnect with the earth and stimulate creativity.

2. Become Aware: Slow down and observe your practices, your language, your habits, your beliefs when it comes to nature and sustainability. Likewise, at the company level, assess the strength of management's desire to embrace sustainable thinking and how much nature is invited into office spaces, knowing that it positively influences concentration and well-being. Also, try to explore your unconscious beliefs. For instance, when you see an 'untidy' garden, is your first reaction thinking that the owner is unorganized or that they are actively rewilding their garden so that animals can benefit?

3. Be the Change: Take intentional action through Seventh Generation Questioning: Embrace the wisdom of the past and the responsibility for the future through the lens of the Seventh Generation Principle. This ancient philosophy, rooted in Haudenosaunee culture, reminds us that the decisions we make today should serve the well-being of generations yet unborn. When grappling with complex sustainability dilemmas, engage in Seventh Generation Questioning. Reflect on the insights that elders from 150 years ago would offer on our current situation. Consider the far-reaching implications of our choices on the world seven generations hence. By adopting this long-term perspective, we cultivate a sense of stewardship and foresight, ensuring a legacy of sustainability for future generations.

In closing, we have established that there is a symbiotic relationship between nature and humankind. Humans need nature not only to exist but also to thrive physically and mentally. Nature nurtures our curiosity about the world, increases prosocial behavior, makes us more grounded, decreases stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Simultaneously, the collective creative power of humankind can also solve many of the problems we have created ourselves, whether it is about creating new technology or deciding we have to change our behaviour and consume less overall.

Let's reflect on how curiosity can be our compass as we navigate the complex terrain of sustainability. Through its guiding light, we unveil innovative solutions, forge deeper connections with our planet, and inspire future generations.

Interested in booking a team session or keynote to explore the benefits of curiosity for the planet? Contact us


Clare Inkster, Curiosity Researcher at the Global Curiosity Institute

Stefaan van Hooydonk, Founder at the Global Curiosity Institute

Copyright: Global Curiosity Institute


Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline : the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York :Doubleday/Currency, 1990.

2. The Power of Nature Connection

Developing empathy for and connection with nature is facilitated through the field of nature connectedness. Nature connectedness encompasses an individual's intuitive sense of relationship with the natural world, transcending mere time spent outdoors to encompass emotional attachment and beliefs about our integration within nature's fabric. This connection forms a symbiotic relationship with curiosity, as curiosity about nature fosters a deeper bond with the environment. Our exploration of the natural world not only sparks curiosity but also reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue and enhances memory, cognitive performance, problem-solving, and creativity in ways other environments fail to accomplish. At the same time, exposure to nature enhances nature connectedness, leading to pro-environmental behaviours and bolstering individual well-being.

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