|In the 1960s Charles
and Ray Eames created a film titled Powers of Ten.
The film begins by focusing the viewer on a microscopic detail
of the fingertip of a young man. Dramatically the film pulls
away, by the power of 10, exposing the same scene from a distance.
This time we see that the young man is having a picnic with
friends. It then pulls away by the power of 100, then the power
of 1,000, then the power of 10,000 until we see the same view
from space. The Eameses are successful in illustrating how all
things, all people and all actions are parts of a larger systemthe
While the film was originally commissioned by IBM to demonstrate
the large computing power of mainframe computers, the principle
of how people and their actions interconnect to the whole system
is equally relevant today, especially in the aftermath of September
11, 2001. For most of us, the view of the world has been radically
altered. As our nation watched in horror while the tragedy unfolded,
a larger perspective emerged. And now, the view from 100,000 feet
is more focused, more concentrated on core values and more aware
of the powerful effect our individual actions have on the larger
system of things.
For many of us who work within the design-related communities, this
new view of the world represents a fundamental shift from what were
sometimes abstract notions of social responsibility to what is today
a very real and focused challenge. The overall issue of design responsibility
seems also to have shifted from the abstractsomething other
people should doto the concretesomething everyone can
and should do now. This is particularly true with regard to sustainable
design practices. Protecting the earth is, after all, a large job
and tends to fall into the category of things other people
For example, in Design Ecology, a white paper published two years
ago by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and
C&A Floorcoverings, based on an independent survey about opportunities
and barriers to sustainable design, leading designers and Fortune
1000 managers talked about leadership in sustainable design. While
all respondents agreed that sustainable approaches to design were
a high priority, each community of respondents believed it was the
other communitys responsibility to take the first step.
What the study pointed out is that the issue of responsibilitythe
matter of sustainabilityis simply an issue of leadership.
And although approaches to achieve sustainability are widely diverse,
there is a common thread among those who have assumed a leadership
role. That thread is a shared vision that joins all sustainable
activities together. A sustainable organization and the sustainable
design process bring about a necessary interconnectedness of people
with their physical, economic and environmental needs. It is this
interconnectedness that enables us to understand the power and influence
of our actions and to focus on their implications within a broader
perspective of our world.
THE PROCESS OF CHANGE
Those who have taken a leadership role show us by their actions
that sustainability is a mission of change. Rather than a stand-alone
event, sustainability is a life-stylea way to view the world
and interact with it. From my vantage point of working with both
the design and corporate communities, I have seen how those who
choose to lead on this issue teach us that it is as much about the
process as it is the finished product. From these leaders we learn
from their struggles, not just their successes.
Understanding the process of change is an essential ingredient to
creating a lasting effort, as Bill Ford Jr., chairman and CEO, Ford
Motor Co., observed in his interview last year with green@work.
Ford recalled how he sought out others who were actively involved
in sustainability issues, asking them why they made certain decisions.
Would they do it again? What were the obstacles and opportunities?
He was not interested in finished answers, but in understanding
how the process works so that he could develop the appropriate tools
of sustainability to fit his own corporate culture.
By seeking out examples of environmental leadership we can gain
insight into how it can be managed and made inspiring. Leaders do
so much to support the process of change by motivating, inspiring
and aligning people to the vision. They also support the mission
by providing examples of their work and in their willingness to
share their knowledge and commitment.
Today the notion of responsibility has taken on greater significance.
And as the view of the world comes into clearer focus we can see
that it is an opportunity and a privilege to become leaders in the
effort to achieve sustainable practices and commit to integrate
our business and personal values without harming the objective of
either. From 100,000 feet in space we can focus on the whole system.
We cant pass our problems to another generation to live with
and to fix. Environmental leaders show us ways to act responsibly,
inspire us to commit and help us to do things right.
Ross Leonard is director of architecture and design
marketing for C&A Floorcoverings, one of the founders of IIDA
and C&A Sustainable Leadership Awards.