Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rachel Armstrong: Beyond Sustainability 25 Points 3

Here is our next installment of the 25 points Rachel Armstrong made in her Twitter University lecture titled, Beyond Sustainability.

6. Currently ‘sustainability’ rewards ‘environmentally friendly’ industrial practices – this is a paradox. Less of more of the same – is not a different approach. 
We cannot be environmentally friendly, we must be environmentally based.  This has phrase "environmentally friendly" has been called by some "Greenwashing." The reasons why corporations engage in greenwashing are explained:

  • attempting to divert the attention of regulators and deflating pressure for regulatory change;
  • seeking to persuade critics, such as non-government organisations, that they are well-intentioned;
  • seeking to expand market share at the expense of those rivals not involved in greenwashing; this is especially attractive if little or no additional expenditure is required to change performance; alternatively, a company can engage in greenwashing in an attempt to narrow the perceived 'green' advantage of a rival;
  • reducing staff turnover and making it easier to attract staff in the first place;
  • making the company seem attractive for potential investors, especially those interested in ethical investment or socially responsive investment.

A documentary was made called Greenwashers.  We have included the trailer for it here.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

For a more detailed explanation of examples of greenwashing, you can see this video.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

Here is another wonderful explanation of greenwashing.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

   7. Biomimicry isn’t nature. It’s green lipstick on the industrial gorilla’s lips. It wants to be different to industrialization but it’s not! 
Mercedes Concept Bionic Car
This kind of biomimicry is a form of greenwashing.  In AskNature, we found an interesting discussion of how biomimicry can both be misleading and harmful to the earth.  In a discussion concerning "designing with biomimicry," Mike Westdijk from the Netherlands explained the problem with it succinctly:
Bill McKibben stated that human tools are always used in the service of a particular ideology. This is also the problem I encounter while I'm currently developing a method for (product) designers to apply biomimicry. 
While the life's principles (as presented by Janine Benyus and her Biomimicry Institute: would move the concept to a more 'biological character', sustainability or green product, what ever you name the goal, there are two problems. First, biomimicry has implications. It has a philosophical/holistic approach on how things should be done. But applying biomimicry does not aquire or 'force' this. One can still use it for designing a concept that in itself it not biomimicry, but only to solve problems biomimicrally. (Think of the Mercedes-Benz Bionic Car, which still uses petrol, will be used most by only one person with a lot of seats, space and materials being 'useless luggage' on the road which is very inefficient etc). Second, in the same reasoning, the appliance of life's principles does not necessarily guarantee the best solutions to be chosen, as the choices can still be made for economical/financial reasons, perhaps even choosing less preferable solutions from a 'biological' point of view.
Andreas Hopf was in accord with Westdijk's sentiments when he stated in response:
It is the intention of the user/designer that will result in sustainability" is the best sum-up of the dilemma I've read in a long time. The emperor is naked, it's just currently unfashionable to say so. Many design practitioners and educators who claim to posess almost religious world-changing powers are actually engaged in greenwashing and eco-marketing.
 8. Change is expensive. Most planning strategies for our cities are retrospective, not anticipatory. They respond to ongoing trends but do not drive them. 
All major cities, like New York, London are still thinking very traditionally.  They are still thinking of resisting nature, or working against it by industrialized engineering projects which pit machines against nature, thus assuring that nature will always win.  The key to pit nature against nature to achieve a good goal.  This is the way nature itself works.  It is a correct form of biomimicry.  We include a video lecture from Assistant Professor of Architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,  Anna Dyson delivered in the 2009 IdeasLab.  If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link:

 9. Cities are more than our sum energy consumption. They’re the entanglement of complex spaces, choices & systems. They cannot be ‘solved’ but demand our engagement. 
Perhaps Alex Steffen may understand part of this point with his explanation given at a TED conference.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

 10. Einstein advised that we shouldn’t look to the systems that created the issue for the solution - but we’re doing this in sustainability 
This statement of Einstein is true in every situation and in every age.  We are in a post-industrial age.  The age of the factory is ended whether we know it or not.  Knew way of making things which will be in harmony with the world we are surrounded by are being devised.  The results of our industrial age cities is the history of pollution, global warming and the elimination of entire species and ecosystems.

 11. How can we imagine what lies ‘beyond’ industrialization when we depend so heavily on gadgets and even consider ‘life’ as a machine?
Perhaps this will be the future of cities.  If so, they will be very resilient and will evolve and adapt to its environment.  See how different this world is from the one we imagine.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

We will continue with points 12-16 in our next installment in this series. 

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