Questioning Sustainability

Again the question of what we mean by sustainability has arisen from various directions, and will, no doubt, continue to do so … Prompted by reading Lloyd Alters recent post in Treehugger, here are my thoughts …

Lloyd Alter in his TreeHugger post What’s a Better Term for Sustainable Design, calls for a vote between Sustainable Design and Responsible Design, citing standards such as One Planet Living, Living Building Challenge that go beyond sustainability.

I have long hooked on to a comment from Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia, The Responsible Company) that we should not be using the word sustainability until we give more back than we take, and that’s more back to the environment, but also to the place and culture in which we are based, the people we live and work with, those who work for us, and the society & communities in which we live work and play.

I am co-editing chapters for the forthcoming RESTORE Regenerative Design publication that also borrows much from regenerative standards, whilst embracing ecological perspectives, such as Commoners four laws of ecology. I would offer regenerative design as an alternative to sustainable or responsible design.

Listening to Bruce Springsteen’s brilliant Broadway performance I was struck by his piece on 1+1=3 – this is regenerative sustainability. It’s where the magic happens, it’s the magic of rock and roll, classical music, poetry where the sum of parts is far greater than the parts. Currently buildings and products struggle to make 1+1=2.

RESTORE 2018 publication (Sustainability, Restorative To Regenerative) defined regenerative sustainability as enabling eco and social systems to flourish but also pushed thinking forward, to embrace a Seva approach, where we design as part of nature, rather than apart from nature (the Eco stage). It requires a paradigm switch in how we see ourselves as part of nature.

This was highlighted on my recent visit to Future Build where more than one green building supplier used the expression of giving nature a home within our buildings. Seva thinking would reverse this, to promoting green build products that nature would tolerate in its home.

It is when the capacity of a place to sustain itself becomes ruptured that the human mind is forced to reflect upon ecology. Only then do most of us consider the interconnections between plants and animals and their environment. Ecology teaches that you cannot damage one part of a system without causing knock-on effects elsewhere. From Soul and Soil by Alastair McIntosh (a book I am currently reading described as ‘extraordinary, weaving together theology, mythology, economics, ecology, history, poetics and politics as the author journeys towards a radical new philosophy of community, spirit and place)

The abstract and papers for the forthcoming American Geographers event Nature’s New Urban Worlds: Questions of Sustainability perhaps reflects the current zeitgeist, where nature is being used in the design and forging of new urban worlds.

Within FutuREstorative: Towards a New Sustainability I flagged how the language we use is important, for clarity in what we are describing and attempting to achieve, but also in the often combative adversarial expressions we use, (of competitions, wining, beating etc) adopted from business and no doubt Sun Tzu’s Art of War thinking, and that we rarely, (although I must admit more increasingly), hear words of love, caring and compassion within the sustainability lexicon.

Is it ok to use the word sustainability?

My view, at the moment, is that it is ok to use the word sustainability, but not as something we have achieved, but as our striving for a tipping point (as per Chouinard’s quote). In this thinking we do not have many, if any, sustainable products or buildings. With perhaps exceptions such as natural, nature-based, building materials and buildings like the Bullitt Centre (not only for what it is today but also the ethos and philosophy on the way it was envisaged and designed)

I will be describing the work of RESTORE and the thinking behind Ego, Eco, Seva at the Living Futures 19 conference in Seattle on 2 May.

Bright Green – the new Black (Friday)

That Green is the new Black is illustrated through sustainability focused alternatives to the commercialism of Black Friday.

100-planet-tcl-1404x778-c-defaultPatagonia whose sustainability vision entails using business to make change will be giving 100% of sales to 1% For The Planet this Black Friday. 

This year Patagonia will donate 100 percent of global Black Friday sales in our stores and on our website to grassroots organisations working in local communities to protect our air, water and soil for future generations. These are small groups, often underfunded and under the radar, who work on the front lines. The support we can give is more important now than ever

pexels-photo-94616REI and others under the hashtag banner of #optoutside will be closing stores, encouraging staff to spend time with family and friends – out of doors.

Here in the UK we have adopted the US Black Friday sales madness. In conversation with a local outdoor gear store, they felt they couldn’t make the stand as Patagonia and REI are doing as they would just loose out (online) sales to competition over the black Friday 2 week period. But there are signs we are adopting the green Friday thinking here in the UK.

As I write this blog on a business trip to Brighton, I am encouraged to see BrightFriday activities in place coordinated through alt fashion Hubbub.org. Their three simple guidelines to create a BrightFriday also serves as a great circular economy statement.

How to create your #BrightFriday this Black Friday

1. Resist the pressure of buying things you don’t want or even need. Remember, the best bargain is not buying stuff you didn’t want in the first place.

2. Rekindle love for what you already have.

3. Create memories rather than buying them by trying something you’ve always wanted to do.

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Books that have shaped our thinking … Parts 1 and 2

Driving back from Andrew Platten’s funeral with Anne Parker, conversation was centred on how Andrew had inspired us, and others, in numerous ways; (for me, sustainability, academia/industry collaboration and cycling)

And as is common when discussing inspiration, our conversation picked up on books that have shaped our thinking. As we travelled over the M62, I rattled off a few of my all time favourites:

Linked to travels and expat work postings (India, Trinidad and S America) way back in my 20’s, novels  such as Fireflies, V S Naipaul / Midnights Children, Salman Rushdie / Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez were influential on my choice of reading for quite a while. I did, and still do enjoy reading books, novels or travelogues that are located in the area I happened to be traveling or working. One travelogue in particular  In Patagonia Bruce Chatwin, stands out as a brilliant read, highly recognised as a literary classic.

Let My People Go Surfing is on my list as a shining example of how an individual (Yvon Chouinard) and an organisation (Patagonia) rooted in the great outdoors can become environmental, sustainability  ‘cool’ and in doing so both shape corporate responsibility thinking and inspire so many.

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The final book I mentioned on that journey was Nan Shepherds meditation on the Scottish landscape, The Living Mountain, written during the second world war but only recently published. It is a great autobiographic account of life in the Cairngorms and a celebration of the mountains there that touches on current themes such as mindfulness, biophilia and rewilding. Her descriptions and insights, (going into the mountain, rather ‘up the mountain’) has certainly made me think of mountain and natural landscapes in a whole new light.

Part 2 – Anne’s Books 

It feels strange to say that I enjoyed the journey with Martin back from Andrew’s funeral but so it is.‘Death is the great re-organiser’ I read the other day and have reflected on how true this is – how paths then take new turns, how events are changed or adapted or gain new meanings, how people are further drawn together or sent further apart. Even more than that it is astonishing how much you learn about people and yourself from the death of a close friend.

Like many people I knew Andrew Platten firstly in a professional context and then he became a friend. This feels to me like a very joyful process and I personally love the interaction between friendships and professional contacts – why not? Do we need walls around different areas of our lives?

So it was with this conversation about books….My memory is that we discussed our ‘favourite’ books and so I was fascinated to read in Martin’s blog about books that shaped our thinking. I had a wonderful moment of reflection on this – is my list one and the same? Are my favourite books the ones that have most shaped my thinking? Largely, my answer is ‘no’! This amused me. Whilst I love books that give me new angles and new perspectives on things, my most favourite books are ones that somehow feel musical or poetic in some way – feel soulful or even romantic. So again, I learn something about myself!

So here we go Martin, my top 5 ‘favourite’ books and my top 5 ‘books that have shaped my thinking’ list. I can compare and contrast and develop further insights no doubt! Andrew would be amused too – he loved a fun take on working life. This is his most powerful legacy to me and for which I am truly grateful. It is the capacity to love work and have fun with it which paradoxically gives it the most enduring and deepest impact. In my experience all endeavours that are done with love are the most sustainable. Actions driven by fear or grasping of some kind somehow just don’t do it….

Here’s to you Andrew and to Fairsnape and enduring connections!

Top 5 ‘favourite’ Books

1. ‘Dracula’ Bram Stoker

2. ‘About Love and Other Stories’ Anton Chekhov

3. The Poems of Rumi

4. ‘Little House on The Prairie’ Laura Ingalls Wilder

5. ‘True Love’ Thich Nhat Hanh

Top 5 ‘Shaped my Thinking’ Books

1. ‘A New Earth’ Eckhart Tolle

2. ‘A Course in Miracles’

3. ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’ Marcus Buckingham

4. ‘The Way We’re Working isn’t Working’ Tony Schwartz

5. ‘Here Comes Everybody’ Clay Shirky

Advocacy and Activism: Patagonia ‘Tools’ Book Review

Patagonia Tools for Grassroots Activists.Edited by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers; introduction by Yvon Chouinard. Book Review

ToolsAdvocacy or activism. Advocacy has become a common descriptor for many sustainability folk, and one I’ve used for many years. Maybe now is the time for the activist description to become as popular as the advocate, moving from advocating for change to doing and driving change.

Advocate: a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.

Activist: a person who campaigns for some kind of social change.

Patagonia Tools for Grassroots Activists, the latest from Patagonia Books, captures the best wisdom and advice of 20 years of the Patagonia Tools Conference, ‘where experts provide practical training to help activists be more effective in their fight” 

Whether its scaling damns, (Damnation) protecting wildness (see the stunning Jumbo trailer)), circular economy thinking, (Wornwear), using clothing catalogues and promoting environment awareness through social media (dirt bag diaries and the Cleanest Line blog) or promoting family business, Patagonia continue to follow their mission – ‘using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’

Tools, has created a resource “for any organisation hoping to hone core skills like campaign and communication strategy, grassroots organising, and lobbying as well as working with business, fundraising in uncertain times and using new technologies

Each chapter, written by a respected expert in the field, covers essential principles as well as best practices is accompanied by a hands-on case study that demonstrates the principles in action.

And in the world of sustainability, including built environment sustainability we can learn a lot here. Within Tools, there are many stories to inspire strategic thinking, tools to adopt and employ, and tips to help, for example;

  • Using social media within organisations and externally
  • Leadership to insure that every decision made on a project or within an organisation contributes to the overall mission

There are many contributors those in sustainability will be very familiar with for example Bill McKibben (350.org) and Annie Leonard (Story of Stuff) and those in the built environment sustainability space will recognise Denis Hayes, the driver behind the Bullitt Centre, the worlds greenest commercial building. I was particular interested to see Wade Davis, author of Into the Silence, a 2012 Boardman Tasker award shortlist, included here.

Patagonia hopes the book will be dog-eared and scribbled in and always at hand, an insightful resource and reliable companion to the environmental movement, I am sure it will be.

Patagonia Worn Wear – UK Tour

“Let’s all become radical environmentalists” commented Patagonia chief executive Rose Marcario “As individual consumers, the single best thing we can do for the planet is to keep our stuff in use longer. This simple act of extending the life of our (stuff) through proper care and repair reduces the need to buy more over time, thereby avoiding the CO2 emissions, waste output and water usage required to build it.”

This remains in my mind, one of the more useful of circular economy thinking approaches

Patagonia’s Worm Well bus will be setting up temporary workstations at venues across the UK to repair garments, free of charge.

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Worn Wear at Kendal Film Festival 2015

The UK leg is part of a wider five-country mission across Europe to extend the life of outdoor enthusiasts’ clothing. It starts on 15 April in the UK and Germany before moving on to other European countries.

Dates and details are on the Patagonia Worn Wear website.

It would be great to see this extended into other areas, more built environment related areas, for example, FM organisations holding free equipment repair workshops in buildings they operate, construction and consultancy organisations returning to their buildings and providing free sustainability advice and repair service … The opportunities based on circular economy business models are huge.

Put simply, if it’s broke, fix it! Dont replace it

Related previous post: (2012) Construction CSR Makeover: can construction learn from Patagonia?

Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish: a sustainability visit.

Having just returned from a visit / tour of sustainability projects in the Cascadia, NW pacific area of Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish, combined with a outdoor vacation, I am now sorting copious notes, photos and observations from the trip that will form future blog posts and inclusion in my forthcoming book, FutuREstorative.

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There were so many ‘highlights’ of the trip that will feature in future articles, but, as a quick summary:

The lack of snow inhibited any real winter sports without really venturing deep into backcountry. I was later to learn that this year ‘pineapple express’ wind and low snowpack levels will have an adverse affect on water aquifers across the region.

Walking and biking in forests where bear, cougar and coyote roamed and (worryingly, so early in the year) had been spotted during our visit introduced a fission of alertness not known in the UK or Europe and made for interesting discussions on re-wilding the UK countryside!

A return visit to the Austrian House at Lost lake Whistler, a Passive House gift from Austria to the 2006 Olympics and Canada’s first PH registered project.

Understanding the distinctive heavy timber architecture of the Squamish area, and visits to buildings at the stunning location of Quest Campus, Squamish and the Environmental Learning Centre at the North Vancouver Outdoor School in Brackendale (winner of a Wood Design Award held in Vancouver that week)

Meeting with Sustainable Leadership Conversation co-host and friend Andrea Learned who took me on a great cycle tour through her ‘hood –  the Seattle Ballard area and along the Waterfront with stop offs at the Tractor Tavern (home of garage and grunge) Stone34 (Leed Platinum Brooks HQ) finishing with great social media / sustainability discussions over dinner.

Visits to Living Building Challenge projects, the CIRS building at University of British Columbia, the Bullet Centre in Seattle and the VanDusen visitor centre Vancouver as well as understanding other notable sustainability buildings such as the MEC HQ in Vancouver and Stone34 in Seattle.

Water featured in visits and discussions, in particular that we should start to address water in the same way we do for energy performance in buildings – from the impact on “fossil-water” through to buildings, like the Bullitt Centre acting like trees and returning 80% of water that falls on the building to the aquifer and in using the 20% many times in closed loop systems. And of course those waterless composting toilets …

Whilst in the Bullitt Centre it was fun to to provide a live update back to and converse with the Living Building Challenge UK Collaborative water petal workshop in Leeds.

But it wasn’t just the big restorative sustainability concepts that inspired, often it’s the small but awesome detail that is essential in reinforcing the messages, like the CIRS building on UBC where the solar aqua filter plant room is positioned at the entrance, viewed by all entering the building as a reminder. But perhaps the best message being in CIRS café area where two vegetarian meals are served for each meat meal, reinforcing the message of the resources in land and water to provide the meat meal compared to that of the vegetarian.

File 17-03-2015 09 03 34It was of course great to visit the Bullitt Centre and question behind the stories covered on the web and numerous articles; it really is an inspiring building and lives up to its green reputation. But now the real challenge starts – “to replicate the Bullitt Centre a thousand, a million times and fast” Over an iced tea with Denis Hayes we discussed the real possibility of a Bullitt Centre type project in Manchester as the hub for iDSP, the Institute for Design Space and Place.

Many inspiring chats and discussions gave insights into restorative sustainability for example with Tim Herrin at CIRS, with Brad Khan who really knows the Bullitt Centre inside out, with Denis Hayes, with the LBC team (great to meet and catch up with Amanda Sturgeon, Eric Corey Freed,  Hilary Mayhew, Stacia and Bonnie) and, completely by chance, at a Vancouver dinner party, a planner involved in the LBC certified Childcare facility at Simon Fraser University. An evening meal with Ken Carty, author and retired political scientist at UBC provided interesting insights into Canadian politics.

I guess no visit to the Pacific NW could be complete without getting to understanding some of the environmental politics – particularly to the north of British Columbia where the TNG and the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands bitumen pipeline is being fought to prevent environmental damage to an awesome wilderness areas. A visit to the newly opened, community located, Patagonia store in Vancouver provided further insights to Patagonia’s environmental and responsibility activity in the area via their excellent ‘zine booklet published for the stores opening ‘In the Land of the Misty Giants’ (issuu version here)

I should of course mention the reason d’etre for the trip was triggered by my partner, Soo Downe and her midwifery week at UBC with the highlight of her public lecture at the Inaugural Elaine Carty Midwifery Programme (Storify here)

But who would of thought that Cows would feature in my tour. Denis Hayes kindly gifted me a copy of his new book Cowed co-written with his wife Gail Boyer Hayes. Cowed provides a fascinating insight to how Cows impact so much both on our lives and the environment and was a great read on the long flight back from Vancouver.

So, many people to thank for such a great vacation and study tour, from Brett at the awesome Squamish airBNB, Andrea Learned, the ILFI team, our friends and hosts in Vancouver, those who gave time to talk or provide tours, Denis Hayes, Tim Herring, Brad Kahn and many more. And of course great company, thanks Soo, Chris and Emma

Future posts will use the hashtags #futurestorative and/or #VanSea2015

Towards a Responsible and Sustainability Construction Economy

Increasingly we hear more and more on emerging sustainable, responsible, collaborative economies. For example:

Patagonia, following on from Chouinard’s Responsible Business have launched their Responsible Economy initiative, and wisely, not having the answers shape the programme with the mission to start the debate – and ‘catch the wave‘.

Recently the TSSS and Earthshine launched an interesting and influential paper, BluePrints for a Sustainable Economy whose aim is to share a journey with people around the world, to help generate greater awareness of the issues and possibilities, to promote debate, to provide a sense of hope for what might be, and how we could all make the transition towards a more sustainable economy.

In the introduction to Towards New Innovative Collaborations  I wrote “Our built environment collaborative working journey is now venturing into new territories. The future for a responsible built environment will increase both  pressure and opportunities beyond collaboration and partnerships to co-collaborate and co-create hybrid projects, moving to open innovations that in turn stimulate further opportunities. 

So, what would a responsible, collaborative and sustainable economy for the construction sector look like?

Lets have the conversation.

How do we move from being the 40% negative sector to the 40% positive sector? How do we heal the future?

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“We can not call it a sustainable construction economy when we take more from nature than we give back”

We are seeing a number of excellent initiatives emerging, particularly in the area of restorative sustainability, converging on a sustainable construction economy – but what are the barriers, where are the leaders and drivers who will get us there?

This is just one of the topics planned in our Sustainability Leadership Conversations – join our Google+ community and participate in our twitter based conversations. The next conversation on Nov 5th with Eric Lowitt explores the Collaborative Economy.