Carol Sanford
4 min readAug 31, 2023

Lifeshed: History of the Idea and Term!

My half Mohawk grandfather often said “you cannot speak of trees without speaking of their home. Nor bears or fish without their dinner table in the water.” It was filled with metaphoric references that suggested the whole at work.

It always made me look askance at environmentalist and well-intended people who worked on single subjects. I listened to policy bodies and activists groups because of my work as an urban planner, assistant professor in urban planning and business at San Jose State University. They formed efforts around Rivers, …or Forests, …or Wildlife and I was most annoyed by this dissecting for fundraising, activism, and planning purpose. Like they did with a frog in biology lab.

My master’s thesis in Urban planning (1985) was about Preservation of Agriculture in Santa Clara Valley. I used the Uvas-Llagas Watershed, within the larger Pajaro River Watershed as the boundaries of my study originally. I was asked by faculty, to reduce the scale to make things more measurable, “in human terms.” I was resistant but lost the battle. I wanted to graduate and teach there. So, this mental battle of how to frame and shape what we see and consider is a very long time in the making in my life.

As I become a consultant in my early career to businesses and a Senior Lecturer eventually in urban planning, I was part of a new, but short-lived, program that brought these streams together. I was trying to make it reflect more the whole of a place my grandfather awakened in my mind. The Dean in Business School kept a joint degree alive for 4 years until he retired. If you wanted a master is business, you took courses in urban planning and vice versa. Apple was one of the first companies I convinced to put their engineers seeking business degrees to study both lanes via this program. My grandfather would understand and cheer.

At that time, I was selling my 40-acre tree farm on a mountain Ridge outside Battle Ground, WA and very worried about how people would care for it. It was daily on my mind. One day, I made up the term Lifeshed, about 25 or more years ago, that felt resonate with what I perceived. But I had by then railed against people for over 40 years before I coined the precise idea and then the word Lifeshed.

I continued to hear people saying ‘watershed’, ‘air shed,’ ‘food shed’ as they fragmented life, unable to see it was a system at work. Plus, it was a human centered view. Our water, our air, our food. So, I renamed the Place to align with…

Carol Sanford

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson |# 1 AmazonBest Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator