Living Systems Leadership at the Metropolitan Airports Commission

Life replicates what works. So if it works to use a living systems framework modeled on nature — the world’s longest-running innovation lab — it should naturally spread and scale across an organization. 

That’s proven true for the team at the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), who we have worked with since 2019 alongside organizational change coach and author Dr. Kathleen Allen of Kathleen Allen and Associates.

Seeking organizational alignment around sustainability, the MAC put out a call in 2018 for consultants who could recognize and help them build upon their long and meaningful history of sustainability. With Dr. Allen, we proposed applying a living systems framework to their sustainability and change management efforts. The MAC recognized the living systems approach as potentially beneficial for their relationship-based organization and that’s how our exciting partnership began.

Three years later, now having embraced the living systems lens, the MAC has taken important steps to define sustainability, set 2030 sustainability goals, and implement a governance structure that drives consensus and progress. 

We recently helped tell the story of our work with the MAC to the Sustainable Growth Coalition, a collaborative group of around 30 Minnesota businesses convened by the Environmental Initiative that are innovating the future of corporate sustainability. The virtual webinar highlighted the living systems framework, how it can be applied to sustainability and change management, and how living systems leadership is making an impact at the MAC. 

The living systems framework is designed around the foundational principles that living systems:

  • Cannot be steered or controlled, only attracted or nudged.
  • Are never static. They are always in flux.
  • Become more diverse as they evolve.
  • Are filled with feedback loops that facilitate evolution.
  • Only accept solutions that the system helps to create.
  • Are interdependent. Change in one part of the system influences other parts in expected and unexpected ways.
  • Only pay attention to what is meaningful to them here and now.

At the MAC, transformation has taken many forms. The MAC thinks not in quarters or years, but centuries. Knowing that living systems evolve with feedback, we have helped develop new feedback loops by engaging staff through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and workshops. Additionally, we helped to establish an Executive Steering Committee (ESC) that applies lessons on resilience and adaptability from natural living systems to the MAC’s ongoing sustainability work. 

The living systems mindset, along with the ESC and several working groups give the MAC a structure to identify opportunities, remove barriers, innovate and accelerate progress toward its 2030 sustainability goals.

Read our case studies to learn more about our work with the MAC and other organizations. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And reach out to us at

(Photo by Weston M via Unsplash)

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