Thursday, June 10, 2004

Approaches to Sustainable Design

There are two main approaches to sustainable design (as outlined by Bill McDonough and others).

First, the approach common today which tries to minimize harm. To be less "bad".

Second, the approach that focuses on regenerative design. One that enhances ecosystems rather than depleting them.

Realistically, we need to work on both. But it is vital that we differentiate the two. We need to be honest and explicit that the "less bad" approach is just that, and not truly sustainable design. We need, and can, go far beyond to a truly regenerative approach.
Sustainability & Population

What is "ecologically sustainable" is a function of behavior and population. With a large enough population, it is very difficult (or impossible) to achieve sustainability.

There are of course natural and built-in population controls, such as ecological disasters, epidemics or wars (all either naturally cyclical or brought about by over-population).

Still, it is difficult to talk about "sustainable design" as long as the global human population counts more than 6 billion. We will either need an extremely sophisticated approach to sustainable design (regenerative rather than just minimizing the harm), or a less sophisticated (more realistic) approach and a significantly reduced population.

We often think of over-population as more serious in poor countries, but it may - ironically - be a far more serious problem in richer countries where the lifestyle of each individual has greater impact (impact = lifestyle + population).