Sustainable life, sustainable design… Sustainability.
What does this word we have been hearing more and more every day mean exactly? Where does it come from and why is it always on the agenda? Why is sustainable future-based designs and architecture so important?
I, myself, have noticed that sustainability is recognized as a marketing strategy or a new trend. However, in order for a company or an organization to exist, it needs to learn how to act with the principles of sustainability. This is not an ethical choice but a must. When I realized the severity of the matter, I decided to write on “sustainability” as my first blog post.
What does “sustainability” mean?
When did sustainability first appear in the world’s agenda?
In 1987, in a report named “Our Common Future” prepared by the Brundtland Commission under The United Nations Environment and Improvement Commission did the concept of “sustainable improvement” come into the world’s agenda for the first time.
What is our common future? And do we have to be sustainable?
We consume everything fast. The sources of energy are being exhausted. Unless we stop this tendency, we’ll fall into a dead-end.
Sustainability means not ruining but protecting what exists. First, we have to be sustainable and then we can move on to regeneration. Regeneration, which is a term people interested in sustainability highly favor, means fixing the ruined parts and elevating them to the next level.
Fragile Ways to Produce and Consume
In order for every person on earth to reach an ordinary American’s life standards, we need 5 worlds.
All right then… But how will all this be fixed? How will the companies, the designers know how to act? How can the societies change? How can this practically be done through taking solid steps and in real life?
Companies and local authorities need certainty and definitions and methods that clarify the matter in order to use the applications for sustainability. In 1989, In Sweden an organization named “The Natural Step” (TNS) was formed to give training, consultation and research services for hundreds of companies to come into this path. Today many companies such as Interface, IKEA, Nike, Starbucks, Hydropolymers, Rohm and Haas work with TNS.
Around 200 scientists and specialists came up with the idea that “If we know what is not sustainable, then the rest is sustainable” and at the end of 2 years of work and research, they created a detailed model designed to create plans in complex systems: TNS Frame Work. They also set up 4 main principles for a sustainable society but none of these principles goes parallel with one another:
We must eliminate our part in the systematic accumulation of certain elements on earth, such as heavy metals and/or fossil fuels.
On earth, metals such as iron or aluminum exist in such huge quantities that no matter how much you take out from underground resources, you cannot increase the underl or above ground concentrations. But heavy metals such as uranium or fossil fuels are not similar to this. They exist undergrounfd, not above. If we contribute in their systematic increase on the face of the earth, then we are stuck with what is left and en updoing something that is not sustainable. Of course, even if we decide today, we cannot “do” it immediately. We can only place it in our vision. We need to take steps and make strategic plans for this and that is exactly what TNS is doing!
We must eliminate our part in the systematic accumulation of chemicals and and their components the population produces. (Dioxins, PVCs etc.)
All the human productions that are not natural fall into this category. So are we never going to use plastic? We are but it’s a way to make the existing ones recyclable and use them over and over again. Or we can produce materials from eatable sources, such as bio plastics made of corn or potato starch, both of which dissolve in nature. However, it is not as simple as it seems. Arguments on bio plastics continue. In order to produce biological plastics, a very big amount of genetically modified agricultural product is used since these fight the harmful things and improve productivity. Unless you fight the harmful, the economic cost is more deadly. These genetically modified seeds can only be used once and so they are called “the sterile seed” which kills the biological variety in the region. This causes another deviation. You can provide sustainability only if you stick to the 4 main principles. In short, we have a very strict check-list in our hands.
We must eliminate our part in the increase of physical corruption and the systematic destruction of nature and natural processes. (Intensive logging, constructions in the sensitive wild life areas, excavations, intensive mining etc.)
When you are doing something if you are using too much fossil fuel or taking up too much waste, no matter how well your production dissolves in nature, you are hitting another deviation. By caring for R&D, you have to take these to minimum. There is no such thing as “unsolvable”. We just need to change the way we think.
We must eliminate our part in preventing people’s capacities to meet their most basic needs. (Unsafe and unhealthy work conditions, low wages etc.)