Best transformative resources for sustainability?

Posted on August 25, 2007


Karlson ‘Charlie’ Hargroves is the Executive Director of the The Natural Edge Project. He sent us these open source education materials.

Their whole system design suite gives a comprehensive introduction to whole system design approach as the basis for transformative action. Education for Sustainability has to be more than “bolt on” environmental papers in existing programmes, and this is the best example I’ve seen of resources to support sustainability as an integrated and transformative driver.

‘To use an analogy; in the health care fields we have moved (conceptually) from (a) alleviating symptoms, to (b) curing illness, to (c) preventing disease, to (d) improving health. Development control is still largely at the first stage – mitigating impacts (i.e. alleviating symptoms). Restorative Whole System Design for sustainability approaches instead seeks to reverse impacts, eliminate externalities and increase natural capital by supporting the biophysical functions provided for by nature to restore the health of the soil, air, water, biota and ecosystems.’ Whole System Design for sustainability is not simply about reducing harm but about restoring the environment.

The case studies (with more to come) are comprehensive and readable. Perhaps more importantly, they seem to be successfully written in a way that will engage participants from the specific engineering field, but also transfer to other areas: I enjoyed the vehicle design case study as much as the server design one.

The section on E-Waste is also useful. While it makes reference to specific E-Waste regulatory and eco-labelling schemes, the focus is on the bigger picture, without sinking into being preachy:

An effective Extended Producer Responsibility based policy would:
– Be non-prescriptive.
– Engage the whole product chain, not just point sources.
– Consider the entire life cycle of the product.
– Prioritise prevention of environmental problems at the source over end-of-pipe solutions.
– Provide incentives for the manufacturer to attend to its responsibilities.
– Prevent waste.
– Close materials loops.
– Result in more environmentally compatible products.

And well done on the open source nature of these materials, we’ll certainly be making use of them, and hope to contribute to this field.