Since its founding, the Garrison Institute has applied its core expertise to environmental issues: understanding mental models and frameworks that enable systems change, and how they can be applied to shift behaviors.

Its first program, initiated in 2003 focused on its region, the Hudson River Valley, with a series of dialogs that brought together scientists, artists and spiritual leaders to develop a common language of care for the region’s biodiversity.

In 2008, the Institute launched its Climate, Mind and Behavior program, integrating recent findings from the behavioral and social sciences, evolutionary theory, and psychology about the drivers of human behavior, in order to generate new thinking about behavioral-driven climate solutions. The program integrated contemplative traditions, academic research, and practical applications to propose ways of shifting environmentally impactful behaviors at scale. The Institute built networks of sustainability leaders in over 100 cities, many states, and several federal agencies, who continue to collaborate and apply these learnings, developing practical behavioral strategies for reducing energy consumption and GHG emissions.

When the Pathways to Planetary Health program (PPH) launched in 2018, it drew on two streams explored by the earlier Climate, Mind and Behavior program: morals and ethics; and behavioral insights. PPH seeks to combine them in actionable ways leading to practical, scalable solutions.

Pathways to Planetary Health Framework

The Four Pathways to Planetary Health are:

  • Half-Earth – conserving half of the earth’s land and sea to safeguard its biodiversity, and the conditions for ecological regeneration.
  • Ecological Civilization – applying ecosystems models to civilization’s activities of agriculture, energy production, transportation, urbanism etc.
  • Regenerative Economics – moving from consumptive capitalism toward regenerative capitalism that rewards actions that increase systemic health and dis-incentivizes systemic degradation.
  • Societal Altruism – building our human cultures imbued with pervasive altruism, an ethics of the common good, as a generative social field from which would grow environmental, social and inter-generational justice.

In this search for solutions, moral and ethical questions are far from trivial. In his most recent book Genesis: The Deep Origins of Society, E. O. Wilson observes that altruism is the essential element in every great transition in the evolution of life, from the formation of the first cell to what he called humans’ social conquest of the earth. Altruism is also essential in the next transition, the pathway to planetary health.


The 2020 Pathways to Planetary Health symposium was conceived as a search for a contemporary ethics of the common good, shared well-being, and societal altruism. Those themes ran through discussions at the symposium, but others also emerged, enhancing the way we viewed these propositions.

This report describes the discussions and key learnings of the PPH symposium, including the guiding values and ethics participants proposed, and how they might be applied. We hope that you enjoy it!

Following the symposium, we brought together some of the participants to plan strategic next steps. Their conclusion was two fold: That we design a course on the Ethics of the Anthropocene  applied to Planetary Health; and that the course be designed for leaders of global financial institutions, as shifting their behaviors would be a significant leverage point of change.

The course has now been drafted, with the input from professors at leading schools of business, public health, environment and theology. It will be enriched with film, readings and other supportive resources. We are now in discussions with several financial institutions who are interested in taking the course.

If you are interested in sponsoring the development of this work, please contact Kate Flanagan, Associate Director of Development, at