The world of sustainable design is filled with visionary thinkers, people who have revolutionary ideas about reinventing our post-industrial society and embracing more creative alternatives than simply being "less bad" to the environment. Revolutionary thinking pushes the definition of green design much further than "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs ." Rather than peer down egocentrically from top of the food chain, more people recognize our vulnerable place within the ecosystem, and see humankind as part of the cycle of life. Visionary thinkers in sustainable design have moved light years beyond "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle" to "Renew, Replenish, and Restore."
Rather than simply doing "no harm," a more inspirational goal is to "do good." How can we shift from a deficit model of design to one that renews and replenishes Earth's resources?
Big Ideas, Big Thinkers
The Modern Environmental Movement
A pioneering champion in sustainable design is Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring, published in 1954, paved the way for creating public awareness of the dangers of DDT, and sparked the beginnings of the modern environmental movement. Carson's book, The Sense of Wonder, is considered a classic about the importance of wild places and the importance of nature to early childhood.
Cradle to Cradle
William McDonough, visionary architect, educator, and author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, has spearheaded the notion that we should end the "cradle to grave" production mentality and move toward a world that operates like a natural system, in a closed loop, with no waste. Today 95% of consumer production eventually ends in a landfill. In a cradle to cradle world, everything would be reused, and there would be no waste. McDonough offers an optimistic vision of using our ingenuity and creativity to redesign the way we live and make things.
Eco-effectiveness, a term coined by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, demands that we discard the notion of being "less bad" by making incremental changes in our lifestyles. Rather, we should use our ingenuity to do more, and do it in ways that are complementary with the rest of the natural world. Rather than working toward eco-efficiency (a popular concept used by business to describe incremental improvements in materials use and reductions in environmental impact), McDonough offers: "What if instead of simply reducing our ecological footprint, we designed systems that celebrate an abundance of human creativity, culture, and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe, our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?"
The concept of biomimicry was made popular by science writer Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry. Her book uncovers how scientists and innovators in many fields are looking at nature as a model, a measure, and a mentor—analyzing nature's best ideas in order to adapt natural processes for human use. The science of biomimicry looks at the basic principles of nature and provides a framework that we can apply to our own work as designers working toward sustainability.
Basic principles of nature:
The idea of natural capitalism, coined by authors Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, and Paul Hawkin of the Rocky Mountain Institute, suggests that business can be good for the environment if we rethink the way we make things according to the principles of nature. In the past, the environmental movement emphasized the idea of making and producing less. Natural capitalism argues for more production, but production based on natural principles, and recommends an even stronger marriage between environmentalism and capitalism.
Revolution in Industry
Ray Anderson, founder and CEO of one of the nation's most successful and fully realized green operations, Interface, Inc., has taken sustainability where no other corporation has gone. Anderson has instilled lofty goals into all aspects of his company's operations, that none would have thought achievable even 10 years ago. Under his leadership, Interface has made radical changes toward sustainability, introduced inspiring new methods of working, and inspired corporations around the world to follow suit. Anderson's leadership has dramatically changed the carpet industry and will impact nearly every other business that wants to survive over the next 20 years.
Revolution in Education
David Orr, Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College, is an exemplary educator and leader in rethinking design. His integrated vision combines theory and practicality, with a call to action. Orr is recognized for his poetic, philosophical, and deeply moving writing about the importance of rethinking not only the way we design, but also the way we educate our children. The author of more than 20 books, Orr is full of charity, love, and deep respect for children and their future.
Principles of Sustainability
Among principles of sustainability most often quoted are the Hannover Principles and The Natural Step framework.
The Hannover Principles were developed by sustainability pioneers William McDonough and Michael Braungart in 1992, and were among the first to comprehensively address fundamentals of sustainability and the built environment. Recognizing our interdependence with nature, The Hannover Principles propose a new relationship with nature, including our responsibility to protect it.The objective of The Natural Step (TNS) is to get individuals and businesses to conserve natural resources by moving away from wasteful, toxin-spreading methods of handling materials and manufacturing processes. TNS is based upon four scientific principles and four systems conditions that systematically help organizations work toward sustainability. Concepts of The Natural Step are now used worldwide to help businesses set sustainability goals, measure results, and become sustainable operations. McDonalds, Starbucks, Ikea, Nike, and Ford Motor Company are among the corporations to have embraced TNS operating practices.