4 Laws of Ecology: Revisited

Four Lawas of Ecology

I undertook the task earlier this week of reviewing references for our upcoming RESTORE working group publication {Sustainability, Restorative to Regenerative}. One of those references was to Barry Commoner’s popular quote and definition on ecology, that the first law of ecology is that everything is connected.

This lead me to pick up a copy and re-read deeper into Commoner’s 1971 The Closing Circle and revisit the Four Laws of Ecology.  The Closing Circle describes the ecosphere, how it has been damaged, and the economic, social, and political systems which have created our environmental crises. It gives us a clear and concise understanding of what ecology means that is evermore relevant today.

And timely, Commoner’s second law – everything must go somewhere – resonates with a comment I gave to our local Lancashire Evening Post on plastic pollution. (We need to We need to be critically questioning single use plastics and acutely aware of plastics impact on health and the environment – and be aware of what happens when we throw plastic away – as really, there is no ‘away’)

The First Law of Ecology: Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir

The Second Law of Ecology: Everything Must go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown. Any waste produced in one ecological process is recycled in another. A core principle for the Circular Economy.

The Third Law of Ecology: Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but any human change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system” And in the context of chemicals of concern we are looking to eradicate from buildings (through eg the ILFI Red List) “The absence of a particular substance in nature, is often a sign that it is incompatible with the chemistry of life”

The Fourth Law of Ecology: There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Exploitation of nature, will always carry an ecological cost and will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless.

The four laws warn that every gain is won at some cost. Because our global ecosystem is a connected whole, any impact, anything extracted from nature by human effort must be replaced. There is no avoidance of this price and delay only creates the ecological disruption and biodiversity loss we are witnessing.

This reinforces statements I make so often in presentations (see Specifi Edinburgh and RESTORE Budapest for example) and within FutuREstorative, that sustainability is the point at which we start to give back more than we take, and that we no longer have the luxury to just reduce our impact but we have delayed too long to do more good to rebalance the ecosystem equilibrium.



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Regenerative Sustainability in Europe

Join us for a series of talks between Berlin and London about restorative buildings. Sustainability in buildings, as understood today, is an inadequate measure for architectural design, for it aims no higher than trying to make buildings ‘less bad’. Please join us in a series of events on week 16/2018 between Berlin and London to […]

via Restorative buildings across Europe. — carlobattisti

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The Preston Model: lessons for local value in property, construction, food …

The local Preston Model for ‘guerilla localism’ has received coverage in the Guardian over the last month or so. For those interested in how localism approaches can favour SME’s rather than out-of-town large investors, these reports make good reading.

In 2011 Preston hit rock bottom. Then it took back control

The Preston model – event review: ‘Cities are looking to us for hope’

Related: in the light of Carillion collapse, Nottingham City framework will be broken down into smaller packages to favour smaller construction organisations in the region.

Related: my LinkedIn article Co-Benefits of Built Environment.

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Regenerative Sustainability: Co-Benefits of the Built Environment.

A number of excellent reports and papers have passed through my reading list and feeds in the last week or so, that together represent a wonderful view on regenerative sustainability co-benefits.

No Longer have luxury

Health co-benefits from air pollution and mitigation costs of the Paris Agreement: a modelling study

The Lancet Planetary Health , Volume 2 , Issue 3. Although the co-benefits from addressing problems related to both climate change and air pollution have been recognised, there is not much evidence comparing the mitigation costs and economic benefits of air pollution reduction for alternative approaches to meeting greenhouse gas targets. We analysed the extent to which health co-benefits would compensate the mitigation cost of achieving the targets of the Paris climate agreement (2°C and 1·5°C) under different scenarios in which the emissions abatement effort is shared between countries in accordance with three established equity criteria.

New Harvard Study: Green Buildings Provide Nearly $6 Billion in Benefits to Health and Climate

Harvard University examined a subset of green-certified buildings over a 16-year period in six countries: the U.S., China, India, Brazil, Germany and Turkey. Known as HEALTHfx, the study found nearly $6 billion in combined health and climate benefits.

UTC Healthfx The Impact Infographic

Related see also http://forhealth.org

The Healthy Buildings Team created the 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building as a standardized, holistic approach to understanding how buildings impact the people inside them. In any indoor space – offices, homes, schools, airplanes – these foundations can be assessed via Health Performance Indicators, or HPIs. Derived from the business term Key Performance Indicators, HPIs are metrics that provide insight into how a building is performing.

 By tracking HPIs on all 9 Foundations of the built environment, we can discover how to optimize buildings for health. We call this “Buildingomics”: the totality of factors in the built environment that influence human health, well-being and productivity of people who work in those buildings.

COBE Co-Benefits of the Built Environment

CoBE (Cobenefits of the Built Environment) is a tool to determine the health and climate benefits related to reductions in energy use. Reducing a building’s energy consumption reduces amount of energy produced by power plants, resulting in fewer emissions of pollutants that contribute to climate change and cause premature mortality, hospitalization, and lost school or work days.

Doughnut Dialogues

Welcome to the Doughnut Dialogues, inspired by Kate Raworth’s book Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. This looks a brilliant platform to debate ideas, share links and examples, and start new conversations relating to Doughnut Economics see https://discuss.doughnuteconomics.org

BAMB Passports

The electronic Materials Passports developed in BAMB aim to be a one stop shop for material information. Materials Passports developed in BAMB are sets of data describing defined characteristics of materials in products that give them value for recovery and reuse, aiming to

  • Increase the value or keep the value of materials, products and components over time
  • Create incentives for suppliers to produce healthy, sustainable and circular materials/building products
  • Support materials choices in Reversible Building Design projects
  • Make it easier for developers, managers and renovators to choose healthy, sustainable and circular building materials
  • Facilitate reversed logistics and take back of products, materials and components

The Economics of Biophilia 

Not a new document but is now being re-published in 6 instalments. From offices and schools to hospitals and hotels, the case is made for incorporating nature into the spaces we live and work.

Sustainaspeak: A Guide to Sustainable Design Terms

The complex and evolving language used in the sustainable design community can be very challenging, particularly to those new to environmentally friendly and resource-efficient design strategies that are needed today.

Still to review this in full, but looks a good compliment to the work from COST RESTORE Working Group One Language of Sustainability report (available early April)


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5 reasons why walking is good for physical and mental wellbeing — Wild about Scotland

It’s official: nature is good for you. In fact, according to England’s Chief Medical Officer in 2010: “If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity, it would be regarded as a “wonder drug” or a “miracle cure”’. But nature isn’t just a remedy for a healthy body, it also nurtures a […]

Re-blogged from

5 reasons why walking is good for physical and mental wellbeing — Wild about Scotland

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Imagine Better

imagine better costrestore budapest

People, Planet and Prosperity: A regenerative sustainability perspective of the classic Social, Environment and Economic ‘Venn’ diagram.

Image result for Social, Environment and Economic 'Venn' diagram.

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Blockchains: enabling a sustainable future?

pexels-photo-119562Mid way through last year I raised the concept of blockchain in relation to transparency and responsibility aiding and disrupting material supply chains (within the context of the Grenfell Tower tragedy).

Arup Foresight have just published a useful guide to Blockchain within the context of BIM that really should be essential reading for anyone working in or interested in BIM and Digital construction.  

The Built Environment delivery, operation and service provision sectors are the last bastion of old analogue methods and traditions. The sector is characterised by fragmentation, low margins and unpredictable performance. Over the last five years interventions by a number of Governments led by the UK have seen the first tentative steps in digitisation through the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) technologies.

BIM has shown us that it is possible to create useful structured data which describes brief, design, manufacturing and operational scenarios. However, the sector is limited by the existing data processing and exchange methods which remain characterised by analogue methods that support old adversarial behaviours.

What is the solution to complex data transactions where openness, transparency, honesty and immutability are the basic foundations?

Enter Distributed Ledger and blockchain, with the promise of permanent, secure and valuable transaction methodologies.

However, from my perspective, one of moving forward towards a built environment that is regenerative (BIM 6D?),  it is the application of blockchain to create immutable records that is of note. The Arup publication provides a snippet of what will be possible, given the speed of digital implementation, within a very short timeframe:

Immutable Data for enabling Circular Economy
Data captured from a building could be used to accurately predict the remaining lifespan of a (device, element, product, building) and its suitability for re-use in other buildings or applications, reducing the likelihood of waste and over-supply, therefore cutting down material use and carbon emissions, and underpinning the principles of the Circular Economy.

Material passports via blockchain enable recovery and re-use of materials, thereby helping realise a truly Circular Economy.

Immutable Life Cycle Energy Usage and Efficiency Record

The accumulated data that could be gathered by the blockchain can allow anyone to view an immutable and complete record of the energy used by a building over its life. The data could be used to compare how effciency a building has used energy relative to similar modern buildings, and those built in the past.

Immutable Life Cycle Performance Efficiency Record
The performance efficiency of individual components can be recorded, meaning a total gure for an entire building can be calculated. As with energy efficiency, this could be compared to the performance of previous buildings, to measure progress over time.

Immutable Life Cycle Carbon Footprint Record
The carbon footprint of individual devices and even materials could be calculated, giving an overall total. This data would be extremely valuable for helping to identify if a building is meeting carbon emissions targets.

Immutable Recyclable Material and Component Record
The quantity of materials such as plasterboard and steel, as well as IoT devices, that are able to be recycled to some degree, or even reused, could be easily recorded on the blockchain.

Immutable Recyclable Material and Component Location Record
Tying in with the previous use case, this one would help to quickly identity where recyclable components are located exactly, in turn reducing the time to remove them from a building.

P2P Surplus Energy Transfer
In the future, buildings could become net producers of energy. Any surplus energy generated could have its ownership transferred in a peer-to-peer manner to other buildings that require it, enabling buildings to generate their own profit.

Blockchain Explainer:

blochain explainer

The Arup Report: Blockchain Technology, How the Inventions Behind Bitcoin are Enabling a Network of Trust for the Built Environment can be downloaded from Arup Foresight page here.

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