Natural Change Sustainability Leadership

Natural Change is an innovative outdoor approach to sustainability leadership development. It combines outdoor experiences of nature with psychological insight and ecological understanding.

“We now stand at a cross-roads. The planet’s survival is in our hands and each of us must contribute to the process of renewal and restoration.”  – Sir Edmund Hillary

Natural Change and Hillary Outdoors are united in their growing concern about the current ecological challenges we face. Both share a deep awareness of the extraordinary potential of outdoor experiences to inspire and empower people to meet these challenges. 

Natural Change is an innovative outdoor approach to sustainability leadership development. It combines outdoor experiences of nature with psychological insight and ecological understanding. 

The approach has been around for over ten years in the United Kingdom, Europe and Scandinavia, where it has led to change that has literally impacted millions of people.

Over the last 50 years, Hillary Outdoors have delivered outdoor learning and training to generations of New Zealanders. Our expert staff and purpose-built facilities at Tongariro and Great Barrier Island provide unprecedented opportunities to engage with the transformative power of nature.

Natural Change and Hillary Outdoors have joined in partnership to bring the Natural Change Sustainability Leadership programme to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Natural Change is for you if you want to respond to our urgent ecological situation by leading transformational change in your team, organisation, community or sector.

It is likely you will be feeling a bit disillusioned with the business-as-usual and ‘same-old’ approaches to leadership and change. You will probably be fascinated by the idea of breaking-through the cultural conditioning that causes us to think and behave as if we are not part of nature.

Natural Change maximises the positive effects of extended time in wild places to engage your full range of human capacities. It creates a powerful mix of logic, emotion, instinct and imagination. It provides an unrivalled opportunity to reflect profoundly and explore how you and your organisation will respond to the defining challenges of our age.

Natural Change is suitable for leaders that are either newly concerned or have a long-standing commitment to sustainability.

It is recommended that you bring around five years of professional leadership experience to the programme. However, each application is considered individually, so please do ask if you’re not sure.

The Natural Change programme will equip you with a unique combination of sustainability leadership skills. You will learn how to:

  • Psychology: apply psychological theories and techniques to leading change for sustainability;
  • Analysis: critically analyse your cultural context to identify deeply-held assumptions that block change;
  • Communication: communicate more clearly, accurately and effectively about sustainability issues;
  • Strategy: create change strategies by understanding how social change works;
  • Frameworks: develop your own framework for leading change, based on your own experience and appropriate to your own unique context;
  • Creativity: boost your creativity to release truly innovative responses to wicked problems;
  • Engagement: engage stakeholders using psychological understandings and powerful experiential techniques;
  • Purpose: align your personal passions, aspirations and abilities with professional ecological challenges, to maximise impact;
  • Conflict: develop strategies and techniques for working with conflict around ecological issues;
  • Resilience: design and lead processes that will help you sustain yourself and your team in challenging times – to increase efficacy, avoid burn-out and reduce staff turn-over;
  • Self-care: address personal and collective ‘eco-trauma’ and ‘eco-anxiety’, to transform overwhelm into appropriate action;
  • Community: become part of a unique professional peer community, to give and receive support and share new opportunities and initiatives;
  • Evaluation: best evaluate change initiatives and programmes using cutting-edge research methods.

Natural Change is not your regular leadership programme.

This innovative and powerful approach is different. There are no frameworks or handbooks. There are no gurus. We don’t use PowerPoint presentations. We don’t spend endless hours in conference rooms or on Zoom. There isn’t a handbook. We don’t work on compliance. And we don’t count carbon.

We believe that sustainability leadership is more about who you are, than what you know.

Natural Change shifts the focus of sustainability leadership from seeing nature as a set of resource and pollution problems in need of technical solutions, towards developing strong personal relationships with the rest of nature. 

The programme takes place almost entirely outdoors … because that’s where we most easily experience ourselves as part of nature. It builds on this personal experience with powerful insights about the psychology of our relationships with each-other and the rest of nature. Evidence shows that this impacts our sense of identity – which fundamentally shapes the ways we live and lead (Chawla, 2004; Key & Kerr, 2011; Whitmarsh, 2010; Vesely, 2021). 

The process is holistic. As you explore your own place in the heart of nature, it provides numerous other benefits. 

Extensive research shows that time outside improves your mental wellbeing and physical health, which reduces burn-out and illness – while increasing productivity and work satisfaction (for example see Berman, 2012; Corazon et al, 2018; Li et al, 2009; Park et al, 2010; Triguero-Mas et al, 2017; Tyrväinen et al, 2014; Ulrich et al, 1991).

It increases your ability to solve problems, innovate, communicate and learn (Atchley et al, 2012; Wells, 2000) and it helps you concentrate and focus (Bratman et al, 2015). The evidence even shows that time outdoors tends to make you kinder, happier and more generous too (Piff, 2015; Weinstein et al, 2009).  

For many people being outdoors in nature also provides the context for cultural identity and spiritual fulfilment (Ashley, 2007; Patterson, 1998; Stringer & McAvoy, 1995).

The Natural Change process delivers a wide range of benefits to self, society and planet. It is led by expert facilitators who convene inspiring group work, rare opportunities to slow-down and reflect, time to create and innovate, and bristling conversation. It provides an unprecedented opportunity to be part of a unique international community of leaders united in their love of nature and deep-seated commitment to lead change for a sustainable future.

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The programme blends two, one-week wilderness residentials at the Hillary Outdoors Leadership Centre with four hours of online coaching and a one-day urban workshop, over a six-month period.

There is also an assignment to be completed between the two residentials. This is based on desk-research and the preparation of a short presentation (max 10 minutes), which will be made to the group at the second residential.

Duration: 13 days over six months.
Contact time: 108 hours.
Ratio: ten clients to 2 facilitators.

Further coaching and consultancy is available for those who would like continued support after the course.

We are at a critical moment in human history.

The evidence is now beyond scientific doubt that we are exceeding our planet’s capacity to provide resources and process pollution. The impacts are already being experienced, especially by those living in poverty. They will impact everyone alive today, including you and I. They will drastically impact future generations.

The window for simple, easy actions has closed. To address interconnected and global-scale issues like global warming, biodiversity loss and zoonotic viral spread, it is now going to take a fundamental shift in the way we understand ourselves in relation to the rest of nature. This includes challenging some of the basic cultural assumptions by which we currently live.

We can no longer rely only on science and technology and on environmental management or conservation for solutions. We must actually change who we think we are, to match the biological reality of what we are – animals living in an ecosystem. This is a psychological and cultural task that will require extraordinary leadership.

Fortunately, there are actions we can take to avert – and in many cases reverse – the damage. But nature will not wait – we need to adopt innovative new approaches to leading change quickly and at scale. Natural Change is one of these innovations.

Since 2008, the Natural Change approach has been creating a new type of sustainability leader.

Originally established as a project for WWF-Scotland it has led to massive personal, organisational and social change. It has even directly changed government sustainability policy in the UK.

Having run in various formats in Europe over the last ten years – from Norway to Spain and from Scotland to Hungary – Natural Change is now available for leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.

For many past participants Natural Change continues to be life-changing. Even now, over ten years since the first programme, their process of change continues. 

This is because Natural Change equips you to transform yourself. It gives you the practical skills, psychological insights and close professional friendships to support a different kind of sustainability leadership.

Natural Change is different from other sustainability leadership programmes in a number of important ways.

Outdoors, not stuck in a room

Most of the programme takes place outdoors. This is because the Natural Change process is based on deepening and exploring our personal sense of connection to the rest of nature. Obviously, this is best done where we can feel closest to nature: outside.

Experiential, not all in your head

Natural Change is not abstract. It works directly with real experiences of real nature – not from models or theories but with actual lived experiences. These form an unshakable bedrock for understanding ourselves, each-other and the rest of nature, which is profoundly empowering.

Love, not fear

Ultimately, most sustainability programmes and initiatives are based on fear about the future. While fear is an important and effective motivator in many cases, it comes with a lot of other psychological baggage which ultimately hinder change. These include negative coping strategies like denial, projection and reaction formation. And debilitating responses like burnout, exhaustion and anxiety.

Natural Change is based on deepening and exploring our love of nature. This compels and inspires us to take action without unintentionally stimulating unhelpful psychological barriers. It also provides frameworks and techniques for self-care and resilience through experiences of nature, which support and empower us to lead tenaciously.

Psychological, not technical

Most sustainability leadership programmes focus on ecological problems and their potential solutions. Natural Change recognises that there is a step before this technical level of engagement. 

Understanding our own psychology and how we relate to other-people and the rest of nature is fundamental to leading change, especially in a sustainability context.

Natural Change pays careful attention to our own sense of identity within our broader social and ecological context. This is because our sense of self underpins our own behaviour and our ability to influence that of others – regardless of our technical knowledge.

Counter-cultural, not industrial

Many leadership development programmes lie in the shadow of the culture they are attempting to change. This basically means that they are using the same assumptions, language, metaphors, techniques and narratives to achieve sustainability, that have caused us to live unsustainably in the first place.

Natural Change reveals these hidden elements and offers a counter-cultural perspective. This exposes the limitations to change that are invisibly built-in to the usual ways of doing things.

Process, not content

Natural Change recognises that knowledge alone is not enough to create change. This is a well established fact in psychological and social science research (Orr, 1991). Despite this, most sustainability leadership programmes focus mainly on knowledge: about ecological issues and their potential solutions.

First and foremost, Natural Changes focusses on psychological processes at every level: personal, social and ecological. Once we learn how to better relate to ourselves, each-other and the rest of nature, our ability to gain and apply knowledge is exponentially increased. Knowledge is important, of course – but without careful attention to psychological processes, it is at best limited and at worst counter-productive.

Holistic, not siloed

Based on social psychology research, Natural Change works in three realms of change simultaneous. These are personal, social and structural (Miell, 1996; Stevens, 1995; Wetherall, 1996). 

Almost without exception, other approaches to sustainability leadership development work in only one, or at best two, of these realms. Natural change connects and works in all of them at the same time. This equips leaders to greatly increases the speed, efficacy and scale of their efforts.

Natural Change is delivered through a collaboration between Hillary Outdoors and Natural Change NZ. 

They have combined their resources because they share a commitment to sustainability and understand the unique role that outdoor experiences can play in catalysing and supporting sustainable lifestyles and leadership.

The programme is led by David Key, working alongside Hillary Outdoors senior instructors – who are some of the most experienced and highly qualified outdoor leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand.

David Key – Natural Change programme leader

Dave works at the intersection of outdoor leadership and Ecopsychology. Since 1996 he has designed and delivered outdoor programmes for psychological wellbeing and sustainability to a wide diversity of organisations and individuals worldwide. He has also taught, supervised and researched extensively in the academic sector and is published in several languages.

Dave holds a BA (Hons) in Design and a MSc (Dist) in Human Ecology. He is a Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology (UK) and is on the editorial boards of several international journals. He is a National Governing Body qualified outdoor instructor in both the United Kingdom and Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Includes: 90 hours (APPROX) of residential contact time on a maximum 2:10 basis; 12 nights single-room accommodation; residential catering; group outdoor equipment and personal safety equipment. Four hours online contact time on a 1:1 basis; access to an extensive library of resources; reading guide and access to a private online forum.

Excludes: Travel to/from residential venue; personal travel and possessions insurance; personal outdoor clothing; optional additional coaching and consultancy support.

For further information about Natural Change, visit

Read our Sustainability Charter