Earth Day 2004 fell smack-dab in the middle of EnvironDesign8.
Celebrations honoring this annual day of commemoration of our Earth
took place in communities around the world on April 22, but none
more impassioned than that which happened in Minneapolis.
EnvironDesign, the conference that dedicates itself to all things
green, paid tribute to Earth Day by staging a two-day event featuring
the brightest stars, products and programs in the environmental
world. Six keynote speakers delivered messages as diverse as the
movement itself, yet all were profound and impassioned. Product
Learning Center exhibitors ranged from product manufacturers, NGOs,
professional firms, associations and trade groups and provided an
opportunity for in-depth, one-on-one dialogue among all constituents.
Forty workshops, organized into 13 tracks, featured a diverse selection
of learning opportunities by both new and returning presenters.
Pre- and post-conference events included tours of Minnesotas
greenest venues, which were carefully planned by members of the
EnvironDesign8 host committee.
EnvironDesign began in 1997 as a meeting for the architectural and
design communities to address environmental building issues. It
has become, in Bill McDonoughs and Michael Braungarts
words, a diverse forum of innovative ideas. As proof
they quote Gregory Unruh, who traveled all the way from Spain to
attend ED8, to take part in a GreenBlue workshop and meet
with the companies that are implementing cradle-to-cradle designthe
Shaws, the Herman Millers, the Visteons. Obviously, he said,
EnvironDesign is the nucleus of this. The people I met and
talked with in Minneapolis are really trying to apply what seems
to be the only logical solution to the business sustainability challenge.
Finally, as Bruce Babbitt observed of EnvironDesign, It is
amazing for me to see a gathering of people drawn together not by
narrow occupational categories, but by the implications and possibilities
of a thematic approach to change in all its diversity. Join
us next spring in New York City for EnvironDesign9 as we continue
Brainstorming With Brittlestars:
What Organisms Know about Deep Green Design
by Janine Benyus
Janine Benyus opened EnvironDesign8 by exploring all that is possible.
The priority for this conference, she said, is
life and the continuation of life. Were doing nothing less
than re-imagining the world here. Were reweaving it. Its
important if youre re-imagining the world to have something
big and beautiful to dream of. The author of The Little Prince,
Antoine de Saint Exupery, said if you want to build a ship dont
herd people together to collect wood, dont assign them tasks
and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity
of the sea. Its important to keep a big and beautiful dream
in front of us.
She continued by updating the audience on her ongoing work in the
field of biomimicry. As a self-described biologist with a seat at
the design table, Benyus searches for bio-inspired solutions to
sustainability challenges. Why is it, she asks, that organisms can
perform highly technical maneuvers without leaving any damage behind?
Why cant we be as elegant and restorative? Are our designs
well adapted to life on Earth over the long haul? The natural world
is full of examples of well-adaptive technologies that have been
around for billions of years and each of them has some sort of an
adaptation that we can learn from. That, Benyus suggests, is what
biomimicry is all about.
Sprinkled with lessons to be learned from mayflies, swallows, trout,
zebras, root systems and leaf pores, Benyus presentation stressed
whole-systems solutions that create more opportunities for life
rather than depleting it. She stimulated ideasflow forms and
log rhythmic spirals, for exampleheretofore unknown to an
audience largely made up of non-science nerds and promised helpful
tools to assist. Benyus sees the natural world as the amazing genius
that surrounds us and voiced her one non-negotiable policythat
life creates conditions conducive to life. She urged the audience
to sift all of their decisions through that filter. The swallow,
the mayfly and the trout are out there, she concluded, in
their slow turning cycles, theyre not going anywhere and they
are quite willing to help us and advise us and give us wisdom, if
only we would ask.
The 10-50 Solution: A Decade-by-Decade
Approach to Global Climate Change
by Eileen Claussen
The 34th anniversary of Earth Day began, appropriately, with a presentation
by the president of the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, Eileen
Claussen. With no greater challenge facing our planets viability
than global warming, Claussen discussed both the long-term and immediate
policies that need to be put in place in order to confront the problems.
Weve made significant progress in some areas since 1970,
she stated, but not nearly enough. Today we have a choice:
we can fall over ourselves seeking short-term gains for our businesses
and society, potentially at great expense to our future or we can
think ahead and invest in the strategies, processes and ideas that
will help to insure that our businesses and our life as we know
it are still around for 10, 20 or 50 years down the line.
I hope that environmental problem-solving will be the number one
growth industry of the 21st century.
Claussen began with a look at what is known about climate change
and whats being done or not done about the problem. She concluded
by suggesting a new approach that will couple a long-term vision
of progress with some understanding of the steps that will help
achieve that vision. Like Benyus, she quoted Antoine de Saint Exupery,
who said, As for the future, your task is not to foresee it,
but to enable it, and went on to describe the Pew Centers
recently developed 10-50 solution for solving climate change. First
we want to ask ourselves, Claussen explained, where we want to be
on this issue in 50 years which in all probability includes
a low carbon economyand then identify the policies and strategies
that we can pursue in the decades to come to begin achieving our
She outlined four things that would spark a low carbon future: how
to develop climate friendly technologies; how to market them; how
to ensure that while looking broadly at the many technologies under
development, closest attention is being paid to the most promising;
and how to arrive at a broad set of policies that will put this
country on a track to real reductions in emissions.
We need vision and we need spunk, Claussen concluded, and asked
all citizens to become engaged, to move the discussion of climate
change away from the decisive debate of environmental verses economic
tradeoffs. Many special interests are trying to make sure
we do nothing. But our side, she insisted, can be just
as strong or stronger.
The Environment in the 21st Century
by Bruce Babbitt
Bruce Babbitt, a former Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton
administration and governor of Arizona, has long been committed
to environmental protection. Hes spent much of his career
protecting the beauty and integrity of our national parks and federal
Impressed by the extraordinary innovations he saw in ED8s
Product Learning Center, he began his presentation with a pioneering
environmental tale of his own involving a new process for making
railroad ties from a composite material of used rubber from tires
and recycled plastic bottles. This innovation replaces the traditional
100-year practice of using white oak trees cut from old-growth forests,
which are then drenched in creosote, thereby creating a linear hazardous
waste site across the country.
With his cradle-to-cradle credentials firmly established, Babbitt
concentrated his message on what he identified as an overarching
problem for the 21st century in this countryland use planning,
an issue that doesnt get much attention. He spoke of the heedless
way we spread across the land, contaminate the landscape and use
resources, citing areas of the Rocky Mountains, the California coastlines
and the Chesapeake Bay as examples of the lamentable degradation
The protection of public lands, he said, has been somewhat successful,
but with two-thirds of the land in the U.S. in private hands, the
problem is far-reaching. Despite some inventive and successful initiatives
in places like Ventura County, CA, Babbitt feels that, We
are watching the landscape fragment and disintegrate in random patterns
without the ability to plan. We must order our development in a
way that protects water sheds, river and migratory corridors and
wildlife and that leaves us with a sense of the spiritual and biological
values of living in a more orderly manner on landscapes that reflect
the beauty and depth of creation.
What we need, he continued, is a rational approach to the planning
of open space that takes direction from the federal government,
using the Clean Air Act system of sanctions as a model, but leaves
action where it belongin the hands of the states and local
jurisdictions. The people of America, Babbitt concluded,
have a direct, diverse, but very common interest in that there
is an irreducible minimum of natural landscapes which must be saved
for generations to come.
Prognosis Poor, Surgery Stat
By Dr. Richard Jackson
During his long career as a public health official with the Centers
for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, and more recently with the California
Department of Public Services, Dr. Richard Jackson has become convinced
that the current design of the built environment has had a significant
and harmful impact on human well-being. He opened his EnvironDesign
keynote by defining his themethat the greatest threat to Americas
health is how we are managing our wealth. Our problems are systemic,
not isolated, yet our reductionist system impedes our ability to
deal with them holistically.
Jackson carefully outlined the dire and declining state of health
in the U.S. and its probable causes. The cost of medical care, he
stated, has risen to 15 percent of GDP, yet people are feeling progressively
worse, largely attributable to the supersizing of Americaour
homes, meals, vehicles, patterns of land consumption, neighborhoods,
schools and shopping malls. His talk was packed with statistical
evidence of supersizing, such as
* 25 percent of land development in the U.S. has occurred in the
last 15 years.
* Atlanta commuters spend 56 hours stopped in traffic going no where
* The rate of obesity in the U.S. increased from 10 percent of the
population in 1990 to 25 percent in 2001, an unprecedented rise
in just one decade.
* Trees are being removed at alarming rates, such as the loss of
58 acres a day in Atlanta to development and 400 acres a day in
California. New Jersey is within one generation of being completely
built out with no non-park green space remaining.
The resulting sprawl, according to Jackson, means higher injury
and death rates, increased incidences of obesity and diabetes and
shorter life expectancies. Perhaps the scariest slide of his presentation
showed that one-third of todays kids will have diabetes by
age 40 with an average reduction of life span of 15 years. Were
creating, Jackson said, the first generation that will
live less long than its parents by overfeeding ourselves and removing
physical activity from our environments.
Taking on this Goliath will require more than a few pebbles. Raising
public awareness and the sharing of data, full-cost accounting documentation,
reclamation of wasted urban land, the creation of beautiful and
pleasant walkways in our cities, putting our kids in neighborhood
schools and partnering with historic preservationists and smart
business interests are just a few of his suggestions. Jackson also
urged partnering between the design community and their allies in
the healthcare world.
World of Abundance
by Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough
Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart returned to EnvironDesign8
to share with the audience their lessons on making sustainability
work. McDonough began with a report on the traction that their work
at MBDC is receiving by summing up their philosophy in one sentence.
We hope for a delightful, safe and healthy world, with clean
water, renewable power, economically, equitably, ecologically and
elegantly enjoyed. McDonough continued to describe the tools
MBDC is using to help its manufacturing clients answer two fundamental
questions about their products: where do they come from and where
do they go?
Illustrated by their projects with Ford, The Gap, Nike, Shaw, Herman
Miller, Honeywell and
others, McDonough made the case for growth rather than the reduction
of our ecological footprint as so many others have done. In their
search for technical nutrients, he spoke of the development of a
pediatric filter for products where components are looked at as
if they are nutrition for children, and of deep protocols to analyze
products and systems that will allow the celebration of human activity
instead of bemoaning it. The idea is, he concluded,
to have a trajectory, to have a goal; the strategy of tragedy
has ended, we have a strategy of hope.
Michael Braungart, the chemist and former activist, spoke bluntly
of the toxins that are found in our products, especially toys which
amount to, he said, chemical harassment of children. Terrorism,
even weapons of mass destruction, he went on, can be found in childrens
The bulk of his presentation compared efficiency with effectiveness,
a common McDonough-Braungart theme. Eco-efficiency, he said, is
a negative agenda, the paradigm of the cradle-to-grave protocol.
Protecting the environment by doing less, reducing material flows,
trying to be less bad are all examples of guilt language. Efficiency
is doing thingseven the wrong thingsright. Effectiveness,
on the other hand, means doing the right things and removes the
necessity for perfection. Effectiveness is a positive agenda of
abundance that relies on two cycles: the biological and the technical
where durability is not a positive. Rather, defined periods
of use allows for planning for the next generation of these
technical nutrients from products of service.
Braungart concluded by urging the audience to have a big footprint,
celebrate abundance, design and human creativity and be proud of
what they do.
Leadership On the Edge
by Robert Swan
EnvironDesign8s final speaker was spellbinding. Robert Swan,
the first man to have walked to both the North and South Poles,
has been working since his journeys for the preservation of the
Antarctic as the last great wilderness on Earth. He told the assembled
a story of people, of whats possible to achieve with
people, of delivery against the odds with minimum resources and
of doing more and doing better with less. The bottom line of the
story, he continued, is about personal leadership. If
were not all trying to lead ourselves as best we can, how
can we take ourselves seriously, how can we expect
others to take us seriously?
The recounting of his journeys, first to the South Pole and then
to the North, replete with tales of harrowing experiences, was told
with his unique brand of humor, which Swan credits as the best way
to hold a team together. In contrast to himself (who he calls a
pathetic traveler), his quest to follow in the footsteps
of the men he calls the real explorersScott, Amundsen,
Peary, Byrd and Shackleton began with a massive fundraising
effort. Just 25 years old, and with no camping experience, Swan
managed to raise during seven years the $5 million needed to embark
on his first trek by engaging Jacques Cousteau as his patron. Cousteaus
only condition was that he leave Antarcticathe last place
on Earth that nobody owns and the last place that we have a chance
to preserve foreveras he found it.
Some have accused him of being mad, but madness, he believes, is
when one-half of the
world is starving while the other half is spending billions of dollars
trying to lose weight. Madness is the population of the Earth
increasing by 10,000 people every hour. Madness is the hole in the
ozone layer, which he experienced firsthand when his eyes burned
out and the skin on his face fried off. He and his team saw clear
evidence of the melting of Antarctica and nearly perished because
the ice in the North Poles Arctic Ocean began melting in April
rather than in August.
Swan believes that the most unsustainable thing one can do is to
drop an issue. His journeys have motivated him to do what he can
to inspire young people, especially in Africa, where he has led
groups of kids to clean up their villages and to clean up their
lives to keep them away from the scourge of AIDS. Remembering his
pledge to Cousteau, he also led an international group of 35 young
people to Antarctica to clean up more than 1,000 tons of rubbish
so that the penguins would return to the beach. Hes asked
why hes undertaken these desperate struggles and answers,
We do it because we believe that we can.