Scott Boylston explains the basic tenets of natural capitalism, and how reframing the value of nature can help create a strong argument for not destroying it. He also introduces life cycle thinking, referencing William McDonough's claim that in nature there is no such thing as waste. He explains how upstream and downstream impacts can be minimized by cyclical thinking.
- So, let's imagine two people staring out at a coastal marsh. In their own heads, they're both imagining how such a natural resource could be utilized. One of them imagines the area could greatly enhance a nearby retail center by serving as a parking lot. In this scenario, the marsh is transformed in a one-time transaction. Once paved, it's gone forever. And as Joni Mitchell so famously sung, when you pave paradise to put up a parking lot, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
The other person sees the marsh as a different kind of resource, one that provides water filtration, storm water management, oxygen production, carbon capture, and food production for shrimpers and fishermen, and it has all these things for free. In this scenario, utilizing the resource means nothing more and nothing less than making sure it can keep doing what it has always done. This way of thinking is described in great detail in the book Natural Capital Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken and Amory and Hunter Lovins.
Sure, we need retail markets, but we also need nature's ecosystem services so we have to consider both forms of value before making decisions. How many ecosystem services are we willing to spend in order to have yet one more place to park a car? There's a high cost to creating services that replace what nature gives us for free and some of them by creating enough oxygen in the atmosphere for everyone to breathe could never be replaced. In this section, we're going to talk about how our perceptions create our own realities.
If, as cognitive psychologists suggest, behavior is dictated by our beliefs about what is wrong and what is right and what is normal, then the first task for designers for sustainability is to become intimately antiquated with the dominant worldviews or paradigms in their society. If we believe we should treat others as you would have them treat you for instance, we're going to respond to almost every situation differently than someone who was brought up to believe might makes right.
The second challenge is to understand how sustainable alternatives to unsustainable personal, social, and business habits can relate in meaningful ways to people who hold these worldviews. So, let's start by looking at how our normal product manufacturing works. Modern society has gotten very good at creating linear systems of production, creating what Janine Benyus has called a take-make-waste process. In these systems, we extract raw materials, put them through a process of manufacturing that includes intensive material and energy input as well as a lot of transportation from one manufacturing plant to another.
This is considered the upstream phase because it occurs on the way to the user. Consumers then use the products until they become obsolete which can mean everything from being no longer in style to breaking to requiring replacement upgrades. Much of this obsolescence by the way is actually built into the design in order to generate profits for companies which as we'll see later is a narrow way of thinking about long-term business success. Finally, once a user is done with a product, he or she discards it.
This end-of-life phase is considered the downstream phase. In this way, over 1,600 pounds of residential landfill is generated per person per year in America alone. That's equivalent to 128,000 plastic forks every year for every person. This linear system results in significant damage to the natural systems that support us. It's draining our long-term savings account of natural capital by spending extravagantly in the present for a lot of stuff that is too quickly transformed into garbage.
So, design for sustainability involves transforming linear thinking into cyclical thinking. Instead of decimating our natural capital in the system of single-use production, we can close the loop in our design and production processes. As William McDonough has observed, in nature there is no such thing as waste. This is not merely recycling. It's designing products to be easily disassembled in combination with designing new take-back systems and infrastructure that make it easier and less expensive for companies to collect the materials they'll use in one generation of products in order to manufacture the next generation of products.
This regenerative approach to design has taken many forms over the last several decades as we move towards establishing a circular economy.
- What is sustainability?
- Sustainable development goals
- Nature as a mentor
- Changing behavior through design
- Innovating technically
- Earning sustainability certifications
- Social innovation and change