In this world of sustainability, we often think of everything that we do as bad. When we take showers, we think of how much water we’re using. When we drive to the supermarket, we think of how much carbon dioxide we’re emitting. But I’m here to challenge that thinking. We cannot hold on to this Puritan idea that if it feels good, then it must be bad. We have to instead confront the problems we face with optimism, creative thinking, and intelligence. But not guilt. Guilt works very hard to degrade our quality of life. We should develop sustainable practices that increase our quality of life. So instead of taking that 2-minute shower, stay a while and relax. Use the brush as a microphone for a few more minutes, because as designers we can make a shower that collects, cleans, and recycles water to come through that shower head a few more times. Turn up the radio and push that speed limit, too, because one day we will retrofit roads to collect the energy of moving cars to power our street lights. Small scale problem solving can produce multiple intersecting positive feedback loops and increase the effectiveness of the systems working around us. Outputs can be fed back into another system as input, resulting in little or no waste.
Luckily, some of these ideas are already being pushed forward. The shower I mentioned earlier: that’s real. A few companies have already designed and are trying to sell their shower systems. Check out their sites.
In architecture, a field of very high energy consumption, a contemporary leader has emerged to rethink today’s systems. Bjarke Ingels is a Danish architect on the front of architecture’s push for sustainable systems. It was, after all, more or less his idea to use small scale output as small scale input. The diagram he presents is one that could be implemented across many scales.
And he has already put the idea to use in the design of many of his projects. One of my favorite’s rests on the principle of hedonistic sustainability: the idea that sustainable practices can be fun. This project deals with the “problem” of a waste-to-enrgy plant in Denmark. While the plant is efficient and useful, it was an eyesore on the Copenhagen landscape. So Bjarke Ingels Group designed the hulking mass to be transformed into a ski slope and resort. They quite literally turned environmentally-friendly infrastructure into a place of recreation.
Check out more of Bjarke Ingels’ work
and check out his TED talk