Ecological Sustainability through “Intelligent Design”

Cradle to CradleAlthough I haven’t finished “Cradle to Cradle” yet, William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s new book it provides much food for thought as to the manner in which we conduct business, our practices and translating those values for our clients. The main premise explores the concept of rethinking the current paradigm of the “human industry system” to a natural ecological form of intelligent design. In other words, instead of designing with the intent to out-last time and usefulness (cradle to grave) rather design within the cycle of life which includes “death” (cradle to cradle) as a natural part of the life cycle. It’s such an intriguing idea and so obvious. For us, honoring the idea of the life “cycle” guides the jungle in making more conscious decisions though our design projects for our clients and how we approach business. What’s more natural than utilizing the nature into our work, part of the ecological processes of creativity. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of “Cradle to Cradle: Rethinking the Way We Make Things.”

From the book, here’s basic principles of Natural Systems Design that any designer can integrate in their practice:

  • Ask more “why” questions. “Why is this project necessary?”,” Why are we doing it this way?” etc.
  • Ask more “what if” questions.” What if we did this?”,” What if we minimized effort here and exerted more here?” etc.
  • Ask more “how” questions. “How is this piece going to impact the world while in production and after? “,”How can I minimize these impacts?” etc.
  • Minimize and simplify your design
  • Design for cycles (reuse, re-manufacture)
  • Design for durability not obsolescence
  • Choose vendors that use renewable energy
  • Optimize your process, reduce your print waste, make sure its non-toxic
  • Support sustainable forestry, choose post-consumer waste (PCW) paper, FSC certified vendors
  • Rely on other designers, and vendors as a community of support
  • Communicate openly to your client about any concerns and help educate each other on the impacts of the project

Interestingly enough, Allan Chochinov wrote this article which appeared on Core 77 called 1000 words: A Manifesto for Sustainability in Design, where he outlines in 10 steps strategies for sustainability. The suggestions in his manifesto are so similar in concept to the ideas above, I thought I’d make the connection. Here are the high level steps, but I recommend your read the article for yourself:

1. Hippocratic Before Socratic

2. Stop Making Crap

3. Systems Before Artifacts

4. Teach Sustainability Early

5. Screws Better Than Glues

6. Design for Impermanence

7. Balance Before Talents

8. Metrics Before Magic

9. Climates Before Primates

10. Context Before Absolutely Everything

2 comments for “Ecological Sustainability through “Intelligent Design”

  1. May 25, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    This is an excellent book. I love this line: the biomass of ants exceeds that of humans, and ants only have a positive impact on the world.

  2. May 25, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Makes you think, huh?

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