Keith R. Skene Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Keith R. Skene

Biosphere Research Institute

Born in the historic city of Armagh in Ireland in 1965, Keith has written five books on sustainability and anthropology, carrying out field research across the planet, from the Carpathian mountains to Vietnam. Keith established the Biosphere Research Institute (, becoming its first director. The Biosphere Research Institute does cutting-edge research on environmental, economic and societal sustainability, focusing on a fundamental dialogue around our place in the Earth system.


A former Association of Rhodes Scholars of Australia Scholar, Dr Keith Skene is the author of a many influential books and papers, centred around planetary function and sustainability transition, including Sustainable Economics: Context, Challenges and Opportunities (Taylor and Francis, 2017).  Keith has particular expertise in transitional anthropology (explored in his 2011 book, Escape from Bubbleworld), indicators of transition, biogeography and systems theory.  He has taught in many universities across the world, including on the Sustainable Development MSc at the University of St Andrews.  Keith is a regular keynote speaker at international events and has spoken at the Edinburgh Science Festival.  He has made frequent radio and television contributions on sustainability issues.  
His research, across twenty-five years, has taken him to South East Asia, Western Australia, East Africa, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean on a wide range of sustainability and conservation projects, including wetlands (The Nariva Swamp in Trinidad) and rainforest, working with governments and NGOs.  This has provided him with a deep understanding of global issues on the ground, across many cultures. Significant experience globally includes Kenyan agroforestry projects, working closely with farmers and with the World Agroforestry Centre (formerly the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry), related to reductions in fertilizers, soil stability and crop management.   Keith is the founder and director of the Biosphere Research Institute ( and responsible for vision enhancement, facilitation and development.  His work brings together scientists, economists, artists, architects and educators in order to co-design solutions and co-produce outcomes that will contribute to ecological, social and economic sustainability. Other areas of expertise include bioremediation, ecological succession, exobiology, eutrophication and social evolution.  Keith is fluent in English and French. Keith is a keen blues guitarist, having performed in bands and as a solo artist across England, Iceland and the States. He and has family have been foster carers for many years and live in a small village in Eastern Scotland.

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    Expert in social, economic and environmental sustainability, systems theory, evolutionary theory, ecology and thermodynamics. Author of over 40 peer reviewed articles and five books.

Personal Interests

    Keith loves playing music, attending live gigs and hill-walking.  His favourite hobby is watching his son play football and playing tennis with him. He loves woodwork, a trait inherited from his grandfather, who was a master joiner.  The smell of sawdust is the most powerfully evocative aroma for Keith, sending him back to his childhood and his grandfather's workshop in the small Irish village of Richill.


Featured Title
 Featured Title - Sustainable Economics - 1st Edition book cover


Ecological Indicators

Soil hydric properties and carbon stock in a semi-arid region of Iraqi Kurdistan: The importance of historical pedogenesis, climate and locality

Published: Dec 01, 2020 by Ecological Indicators
Authors: Aleš Kučera, Keith R Skene, Petr Kupec
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

Semi-arid ecosystems are recognized as key players in the carbon cycle, with a huge capacity for storing carbon but also with the downside of decarbonization during drier periods. t is important to understand the hydrological and carbon relationships of these ecosystems, and to encompass the huge inter-regional variation, while factoring in aspects of the historical pedogenesis that underpin much of the observed soil behaviour. We provide insight into the geosphere-hydrosphere-atmosphere nexus.

Environment, Development and Sustainability

No goal is an island: the implications of systems theory for the Sustainable Development Goals

Published: Oct 19, 2020 by Environment, Development and Sustainability
Authors: Keith R. Skene
Subjects: Geography , Environment and Sustainability

This paper argues that the Earth system fundamentally represents the organizational framework of the planet and, therefore, any attempt at avoiding the existential threat to humanity that our activities are creating must be integrated within this system. We examine how complex systems function in order to identify the key characteristics that any sustainability policy must possess in order to deliver successful, long-term coexistence of humanity within the biosphere.


In pursuit of the framework behind the biosphere: S-curves, self-assembly and the genetic entropy paradox

Published: Apr 01, 2020 by BioSystems
Authors: Keith R. Skene
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

The origins, evolution and functioning of the Biosphere are tightly linked. We examine the claims of thermodynamics to be the framework within which we can understand the evolution, functioning and development of the Biosphere, exploring the evidence from ecology, molecular science and evolutionary biology, and particularly focussing upon the maximum entropy production principle (MEPP), and its explanatory potential in terms of many of the logistic relationships found within the Biosphere.

Design Journal

Using the SDGs to Nurture Connectivity and Promote Change.

Published: May 31, 2019 by Design Journal
Authors: K.R. Skene and J. Malcolm
Subjects: Education, Environment and Sustainability, Art & Visual Culture

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) were introduced by the United Nations to replace the millennium development goals. This paper examines the impact of integrating these goals within a design challenge, as part of a level 3 undergraduate degree module. The SDGs were embedded as part of a future-building scenario, supported by a series of exercises and seminars. Students were asked to reflect on how the SDGs had impacted their design process, and to consider ethical and value dimensions.

Acta Oecologica

Thermodynamics, ecology and evolutionary biology: A bridge over troubled water or common ground?

Published: Dec 08, 2017 by Acta Oecologica
Authors: K.R. Skene
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

This paper addresses the challenge of a cohesive approach to evolutionary biology and ecology, given significant differences in the concepts underpinning their study. The importance of understanding how nature responds to change is now of essential rather than of metaphysical interest. This paper suggests that thermodynamics may provide common ground between ecology and evolutionary biology, and that this will enable us to move forward with otherwise intractable problems.

Sustainability Science

Circles, spirals, pyramids and cubes: why the circular economy cannot work.

Published: Jun 05, 2017 by Sustainability Science
Authors: K.R. Skene
Subjects: Economics, Finance, Business & Industry, Environment and Sustainability

This paper critically analyses the key principles underpinning the concept of the circular economy, specifically examining the thermodynamic and ecological foundations upon which these principles are apparently rooted. We reflect on how the economy of nature is based on an open system, not a closed system, that nature operates using short cycles, not extended lifetimes, that nature is sub-optimal, not optimal and that nature is eco-inefficient, not eco-efficient.


Life’s a Gas: A Thermodynamic Theory of Biological Evolution

Published: Jul 31, 2015 by Entropy
Authors: K.R. Skene

This paper outlines a thermodynamic theory of biological evolution, predicting that life diffuses into available energetic space towards a dynamic equilibrium, driven by increasing entropy within the genetic material. This equilibrium is punctured by extinction events, which are followed by restoration of diversity and entropic production. Finally, we compare and contrast our thermodynamic theory with Darwinian theory in relation to a number of important characteristics of evolution.

Journal of Business Ethics

The circular economy: an interdisciplinary exploration of the concept and application in a global context.

Published: May 22, 2015 by Journal of Business Ethics
Authors: Murray, A., Skene, K.R., Haynes, K.
Subjects: Economics, Finance, Business & Industry, Environment and Sustainability

The Circular Economy represents the most recent attempt to conceptualize the integration of economic activity and environmental wellbeing in a sustainable way. This paper traces the conceptualisations and origins of the Circular Economy, tracing its meanings, and exploring its antecedents in economics and ecology, and discusses how the Circular Economy has been operationalized in business and policy. We propose an alternative definition of the Circular Economy.

Ecological Modelling

The energetics of ecological succession: A logistic model of entropic output

Published: Nov 02, 2012 by Ecological Modelling
Authors: K.R. Skene
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

This paper presents a general model of the observed changes in entropic production during ecological succession, beginning with emerging evidence that the climax community represents a state of maximum entropy production. We then examine the outcome of this model, which provides a new insight into the driving process, direction and seral progression observed in succession. These findings also have significant implications for assessing anthropological impacts on ecosystems.

Plant and Soil

Non-protein amino acids: plant, soil and ecosystem interactions

Published: Dec 03, 2011 by Plant and Soil
Authors: V. Vranova, K. Rejsek, K. R. Skene, P. Formanek
Subjects: Environment and Agriculture

Non-protein amino acids are a significant store of organic nitrogen in many ecosystems, but there is a lack of knowledge relating to them. This review attempts to appraise the literature related to non-protein amino acids, both in terms of their metabolism, plant–soil interactions and at the level of the ecosystem, where they are seen as significant drivers of structure and function. Finally, important areas for future research are discussed.

Plant and Soil

The significance of D-amino acids in soil, fate and utilization by microbes and plants: review and identification of knowledge gaps

Published: Nov 18, 2011 by Plant and Soil
Authors: V. Vranova, H. Zahradnickova, D. Janous, K. R. Skene, A. S. Matharu, K. Rejsek, P. For
Subjects: Environment and Agriculture

D-amino acids are far less abundant in nature than L-amino acids. Both L- and D-amino acids enter soil from different sources including plant, animal and microbial biomass, antibiotics, faeces and synthetic insecticides. Moreover, D-amino acids appear in soil due to abiotic or biotic racemization of L-amino acids. Plants have a capacity to directly take up “free“ D-amino acids by their roots but their ability to utilize them is low and thus D-amino acids inhibit plant growth.

Botanical Journal of Scotland

Photosynthetic characteristics of nine species of marine macroalgae on the east coast of Scotland in relation to the intertidal zone in which they occur

Published: Apr 22, 2009 by Botanical Journal of Scotland
Authors: K.R. Skene and J.A. Raven
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

Upper shore algal species naturally subjected to longer periods of desiccation had higher photosynthetic efficiency (fluorescence characteristics), net photosynthetic rates and dark respiration rates (based on oxygen exchange), whilst hydrated, than those lower down the shore. The possible significance of these physiological differences are discussed within the context of a time use efficiency conceptual framework.

Environmental Pollution

Effects of nitrogen with and without acidified sulphur on an ectomycorrhizal community in a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis Bong. Carr) forest

Published: May 01, 2006 by Environmental Pollution
Authors: J.A. Carfrae, K.R. Skene, L.J. Sheppard, K. Ingleby, A. Crossley
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

We investigated the effects of acidified nitrogen and sulphur deposition at double the ambient levels on the ectomycorrhizal community associated with a 13-year-old Sitka spruce forest. These observations suggest that nitrogen deposition to a young plantation may suppress ectomycorrhizal fungi. It is proposed that enhanced nitrogen deposition increases ectomycorrhizal nitrogen assimilation, consuming more carbon and leaving less for extrametrical mycelium and sporocarp development.

Physiologia Plantarum

Iron deficiency induces changes in metabolism of citrate in lateral rootsand cluster roots ofLupinus albus

Published: Apr 28, 2004 by Physiologia Plantarum
Authors: J. McCluskey, L. Herdman and K. R. Skene

This paper describes the first measurement of enzyme activ-ities in cluster roots under low Fe stress, at different stages ofcluster root development and function. Results are discussed within the context of previous work on enzyme kinetics under low P, and the importance of a block in aconitase activity is highlighted

Canadian Journal of Botany

Key differences in photosynthetic characteristics of nine species of intertidal macroalgae are related to their position on the shore

Published: Mar 04, 2004 by Canadian Journal of Botany
Authors: K.R. Skene

This study demonstrated that algal species occurring higher on the shore have greater photosynthetic rates, respiration rates, maximum fluorescence / initial fluorescence ratios, and photosynthetic efficiencies while fully hydrated than do species that live lower on the shore. Algae higher up the shore (recoverers) have significantly different fluorescence characteristics from non-recoverers, particularly in the area above the Kautsky curve between initial fluorescence and maximum fluorescence.

Evolution on Planet Earth: The Impact of the Physical Environment

Chemistry of the early oceans: The environment of early life

Published: Feb 01, 2003 by Evolution on Planet Earth: The Impact of the Physical Environment
Authors: J.A. Raven and K.R. Skene

This chapter discusses chemistry of the ocean in relation to the origin and early evolution of life. The chapter emphasizes on how the early ocean could supply the energy and materials needed for extant life and also of putative ancestral organisms and prebiotic components.

Plant and Soil

The evolution of physiology and development in the cluster root: teaching an old dog new tricks?

Published: Jan 01, 2003 by Plant and Soil
Authors: K.R. Skene

We examine the key elements of cluster or proteoid roots. By viewing the root system as being composed of two categories of surface, the high transport capacity area, just behind the meristem, and the low transport capacity area (the rest of the root system), we examine root system architecture in terms of structure–function relationships, concluding that measuring total root exudation per unit area, volume or mass will not give useful comparative data for root transport properties.

Recent Research Developments in Entomology

Plant-insect interactions in ultramafic habitats.

Published: Jan 01, 2003 by Recent Research Developments in Entomology
Authors: K.R. Skene
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

Explores the concerns related to bioremediation, wherein metal capture by plants from soil can release these metals into the food chain.

Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences

Forensic Palynology: Spatial and Temporal Considerations of Spora Deposition in Forensic Investigations

Published: Jan 01, 2003 by Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences
Authors: B. Taylor and K.R. Skene
Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice, Law

Forensic palynology is a little used forensic science, only employed to any significant extent for criminal investigations in New Zealand. This review attempts to provide a summary of past and present uses of pollen in forensic science, and to highlight the potential uses of temporal aspects of pollen release as evidence.

Journal of Experimental Botany

Cluster roots: model experimental tools for key biological problems

Published: Jan 01, 2003 by Journal of Experimental Botany
Authors: K.R. Skene

The cluster root is made up of a number of determinate rootlets tightly grouped along the parent root. Each rootlet grows for a limited time, and then the meristem stops dividing and differentiates. It is suggested that the temporal and spatial predictability of developmental and functional events in these structures makes them valuable as experimental tools with which to investigate key issues in plant developmental biology, physiology, ecophysiology, evolutionary biology, and biotechnology.

Biology and Fertility of Soils

Nematode community and trophic structure along a sand dune succession

Published: Apr 23, 2002 by Biology and Fertility of Soils
Authors: J. W. Wall · K. R. Skene · R. Neilson
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

Changes in below-ground nematode communities, in terms of abundance, diversity and trophic structure and the composition of the community in terms of sex bias and adult:juvenile ratio were related to edaphic factors from sites along a sand dune succession. Omnivorous nematodes represented the largest trophic component of the nematode community in all successional stages. Omnivorous nematodes numbers increased along the succession in relation to increasing organic matter.

Journal of Experimental Botany

Cluster roots: model experimental tools for key biological problems.

Published: Jan 01, 2001 by Journal of Experimental Botany
Authors: K.R. Skene

It is suggested that the temporal and spatial predictability of developmental and functional events in cluster roots makes them valuable as experimental tools with which to investigate key issues in plant developmental biology, physiology, ecophysiology, evolutionary biology, and biotechnology.

Botanical Journal of Scotland

Changes in nutrient heterogeneity along sand dune and slack chronosequences at Tentsmuir Point, Eastern Scotland

Published: Jan 01, 2001 by Botanical Journal of Scotland
Authors: R.J. Averiss and K.R. Skene
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

Recent models have attempted to explain species coexistence and community structure by resource heterogeneity at a spatial scale below that of the individual plant. In this paper, we examine how heterogeneity changes through time. A comparative study of the heterogeneity of pH, phosphate, nitrate and nitrite levels was made within and along a transect inland from the shore at Tentsmuir Point, Fife, Scotland, an example of primary sand dune succession.

La Reserche

Very special roots for deficient soils. How to trap little available nutrients efficiently.

Published: Jan 01, 2001 by La Reserche
Authors: H.G. Diem and K.R. Skene
Subjects: Environment and Agriculture

Certaines plantes se révèlent tout à fait capables de pousser sur des sols pauvres en substances nutritives indispensables à leur croissance, tel le phosphore ou le fer. Elles s'adaptent à ces conditions drastiques en formant rapidement de curieuses racines capables d'exploiter au mieux les maigres ressources du sol. Par quel mécanisme? pourrait-on transférer cette capacité à d'autres plantes? (racines protéoïdes ou en écouvillon).

Journal of Ecology

Myrica gale L.

Published: Dec 01, 2000 by Journal of Ecology
Authors: K. R. SKENE, J. I. SPRENT, J. A. RAVEN and L. HERDMAN

Overview of the biology, ecology and biogeography of Myrica gale

Annals of Botany

Cluster Roots: Their Physiology, Ecology and Developmental Biology

Published: Jun 01, 2000 by Annals of Botany
Authors: K.R. Skene

In 1999, the first international symposium on cluster roots was held in St Louis, USA as part of the XVI International Botanical Congress. Bringing together many of the leading workers in the ®eld, a series of papers was presented that covered pure and applied research into the ecology, evolution, developmental biology, function and utility of these fascinating structures.

Journal of Experimental Botany


Published: Mar 01, 2000 by Journal of Experimental Botany
Authors: K.R. Skene and H.G. Jones

Introduction to special issue on roots.

Plant and Soil

A comparison of the effects of auxin on cluster root initiation and development in Grevillea robusta Cunn. ex R. Br. (Proteaceae) and in the genus Lupinus (Leguminosae)

Published: Jan 01, 2000 by Plant and Soil
Authors: K.R. Skene and W.M. James
Subjects: Environment and Agriculture

The effect of NAA (naphthaleneacetic acid) on the development of cluster roots in members of the Proteaceae and Leguminosae was investigated. The exogenous addition of NAA led to initiation of cluster roots in phosphate conditions normally inhibitory for their development, but initiation took place within the limits of the cluster pattern under low conditions. NAA does not induce cluster roots in species of Lupinus that do not produce them under low P conditions.

Annals of Botany

Pattern Formation in Cluster Roots: Some Developmental and Evolutionary Considerations

Published: Oct 31, 1999 by Annals of Botany
Authors: K.R. Skene

Cluster roots, or proteoid roots, are one of the major adaptations for nutrient acquisition in plants, occurring in many important plant families and in key areas of biodiversity. In this paper, meristem function and root initiation are described within the context of our knowledge of lateral root initiation and development. The first evidence of cluster roots having arisen only once within the Lupinus genus is presented.

Ecological Entomology

Metal content in insects associated with ultrama®c andnon-ultrama®c sites in the Scottish Highlands

Published: Apr 01, 1999 by Ecological Entomology
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

Concentrations of magnesium, manganese, chromium, and cadmium were measured in Coleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera and Hymenoptera captured at ultramafic and non-ultramafic sites in the Highlands of Scotland. Results showed that metals moved from the ultramafic soil through the plants to the insects. This has significant implications for bio-remediation of contaminated soils, threatening the health of surrounding insect, bird and animal populations.

Journal of Ecology

Cluster roots: some ecological considerations

Published: Jul 02, 1998 by Journal of Ecology
Authors: K.R. Skene
Subjects: Environment and Agriculture

In this short article, it isargued that cluster roots are the third great adap!tation for nutrient uptake in plants and, as such, demand greater attention from the ecologist than they presently receive.

New Phytologist

Cluster root development in Grevillea robusta (Proteaceae) II. The development of the endodermis in a determinate root and in an indeterminate, lateral root

Published: Feb 01, 1998 by New Phytologist

This paper follows the development of the endodermis in cluster roots and lateral roots of Grevillea robusta. Endodermal cells had three different origins. At the tip of mature rootlets, which are determinate, the endodermis terminates in a ` dome ' of cells, with the initial cell differentiating as an endodermal cell.

New Phytologist

Cluster root development in Grevillea robusta (Proteaceae) I. Xylem, pericycle, cortex, and epidermis development in a determinate root

Published: Jan 01, 1998 by New Phytologist
Authors: K. R. SKENE, J.A. RAVEN and J. I. SPRENT

The cluster roots of Grevillea robusta are composed of determinate rootlets that stop growing, but remain physiologically active for several months. Their apical organization, both before and after maturation, was studied by light and transmission electron microscopy. Each cell layer forms a dome, with an initial cell at the developed meristem. Cell fate was analysed in terms of cell position and is discussed in terms of pattern and development.

Annals of Botany

Structural Aspects of Cluster Root Development and their Possible Significance for Nutrient Acquisition in Grevillea robusta (Proteaceae)

Published: Jan 01, 1996 by Annals of Botany
Authors: K. R. SKENE, M. KIERANS, J. I. SPRENT and J. A. RAVEN

Light microscopy, scanning and transmission electron microscopy were used to study structure and function of cluster roots in Grevillea robusta. Cluster rootlets formed root hairs, basipetally, only after completing their determinate development. The rootlet hairs branched in two ways and some had apical swelling. Rootlets with hairs produced two different forms of exudate, one fibrous and the other globular in nature. The fibrous material appeared to be synthesised in the cortical cells.

Agroforestry Today

Cluster roots of Grevillea robusta - foragers or scavengers?

Published: Jan 01, 1996 by Agroforestry Today
Authors: K.R. Skene, J.I. Sprent and C.K. Ong
Subjects: Environment and Agriculture

The article reports on the research that was intended to find out whether cluster roots are produced in response of low levels of nitrogen and/or phosphorus, what mechanism lies behind the ability of cluster roots to extract insoluble forms of phosphates and lastly, whether are efficient foragers for nutrients.



Resolving the Climate Emergency YOuTube seminar by Dr Keith Skene

By: Keith R. Skene
Subjects: Anthropology - Soc Sci, Environment and Sustainability, Gender & Intersectionality Studies, Information Science, Other, Sociology, Sociology, Criminology and Criminal Justice

Dr Keith Skene discusses his book, Artificial Intelligence and the Environmental Crisis, at the Portobello Book Festival, available on YouTube, including a reading of the final chapter.



Sustainable Economics

Published: Dec 19, 2014

Keith Skene is director of the Biosphere Research Institute, an independent, international and multidisciplinary centre for global sustainability. He is the co-author of Sustainable Economics – Context, Challenges and Opportunities for the 21st Century Practitioner.