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video resource “Entering an Ecological Era”

It seems that more and more  designers interested in sustainability and social impact have an improving range of techniques and tools to apply to individual design projects, for example we have lifecycle impact software, social impact tool kits, and a range of principles that should guide projects and even design practices. My ongoing interest and concern is that fewer have a good handle on the big picture. We are improving our projects bit by bit, but what about the whole system? Do thousands of individual, uncoordinated projects add up to systemic change?

It might be that this question simply becomes too overwhelming and it’s easier to stick within a project context. But I find that when people start to grasp the systemic nature of unsustainability, they are actually empowered by the understanding and usually able to see more creative paths toward change.

To this end I’m passing along, for anyone teaching sustainable design, or just wanting to improve their own understanding of the bigger picture around sustainable development, this video series by Peter Head of Arup. I wrote about it before in a post over on, after I saw him give the presentation here in London.

Recently I wanted to re-view his animations of the transition from industrial era city to ecological era city and found that the talk is available, in 6 parts of about 10 minutes each, on youtube, starting here:

Ecological Age Talk part 1 of 6

The thrust of this talk concerns the role of engineers (Arup being largely and engineering firm), but this focus amplifies the systems aspect of the talk.  The big picture of transition that he presents is suitable for anyone concerned with cities and the built or manufactured environment. In particular, part one presents a very clear and coherent overview of the problems with economic growth. That segment could be useful alone. His written report expands on the material in the talk and makes a good reference.

Another good overview comes from Pooran Desai’s book One Planet Living, which profiles the UK’s Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZed) and many of the features required for living with an ecological footprint that does not require any more resources than can be derived from earth (incidentally the ecological footprint is also a benchmark in Head’s talk). Desai’s book comes almost from a green developer context (to develop more compact urban settlements) and this also tends to amplify the systems aspects of unsustainability.

What are your recommendations for this big picture view?

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