Global change frequently disrupts the connections among species, as well as among species and their environment, before the most obvious impacts can be detected. Therefore, we need to develop a unified conceptual framework that allows us to predict early ecological impacts under changing environments. The concept of coupling, defined as the multiple ways in which the biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems are orderly connected across space and/or time, may provide such a framework. Here, we operationally define the coupling of ecosystems based on a combination of correlational matrices and a null modeling approach. Compared with null models, ecosystems can be (1) coupled; (2) decoupled; and (3) anticoupled. Given that more tightly coupled ecosystems displaying higher levels of internal order may be characterized by a more efficient capture, transfer, and storage of energy and matter (i.e., of functioning), understanding the links between coupling and functioning may help us to accelerate the transition to planetary-scale sustainability. This may be achieved by promoting self-organized order.