With hope for the future and experience based vision, community based timeless values have moved into greater focus and importance for me. Ten checkpoints that I use for my decision making are worth sharing.
- Does my design and planning process produce something that is made locally, minimizing transportation needs and energy consumption and enhancing local business and an indigenous architectural style? Simple choices can have results that affect our planet and our own backyard.
- Is the design based on materials made from renewable resources? If what we use to achieve our goals is finite and expendable, then what consequences can we imagine for future generations?
- When we need to extract raw materials, can we do so responsibly without impairing wildlife habitat, or degrading the natural environment in irrevocable ways? Is the water still fresh and clean; are those resources which we feel we need, truly sustainable?
- When nothing else will replace a material need for plastics, aluminum or other material potentially harmful to our ecosystem, then can we use recycled or reclaimed versions of these materials? Once we have taken fossil fuels from the ground or expended the energy to produce metals like aluminum, then we should try to reuse them at the end of each phase of their current utility to minimize impact and harm.
- Pure self preservation and care for those around us and those who will come into any contact with the material and design choices we make, means we must always select non-toxic ingredients. How could a responsible designer today specify any material that has even the smallest chance of being carcinogenic, as so many modern and man-made materials have proven to be, when safe and healthy alternatives are now readily available?
- Manufacturing should favour and reward methods that minimize waste, that eliminate pollution and that have no forms of toxic emissions. This trend is growing locally and internationally and we seek out and support leaders in sustainable stewardship.
- When the fruits of our efforts are to be distributed, can we minimize needs for packaging and can that packaging be such that it can be recycled and reused? One of the largest components of landfill waste is simply packaging, the result of poor planning and bad habits, both of which can be greatly improved.
- Not only to help stop feeding the myths of expensive energy, promoted with great delight by energy producers and utilities, but also with simple common sense and applied intelligence, we can design and demand tools and machines that are energy efficient. Buckminster Fuller once told me directly as a student, “We have no energy crisis; we simply have an ignorance crisis.” His words still ring true.
- The inherent value of great antiquities teaches us that we should strive to create works that last for a long time. There are so many justifications for this from embedded carbon footprints to efforts expended and the maintenance of intrinsic social values. “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” William Morris
- At the end of the utility phase of an object we have created, can it be deemed to be recyclable or biodegradable? Can we truly create cradle to grave and cradle to cradle products? If they do not meet these criteria, then why would we create these objects in the first place? We can and must do better than we have recently but our hope lies all around us in the detritus of history, the biodegraded waste of previous civilizations which are now compost for life forms today. Only our society in all of history has produced materials that do not naturally decompose over time and that cannot be absorbed back into nature without toxic effects. Why?
These are ten simple checkpoints for artists, designers, architects and engineers today, that is those of us who plan for the use of materials from their extraction through to the end of their utility and we should check these guideposts along the way to ensure that our generation does a better job of steering our local communities, and through our behavior within a new green awareness, we can benefit the planet and the life we all hold dear.