Schematic Design of Sustainability

(see also #1 Issue in Sustainability Today)


Well, not compounding your returns has the same sort of Catch 22 that doing great sustainable design and having the profits go to pumping up the world’s appetites does. You need to build a broader reason for doing the right thing. For sustainable design we definitely do still need to learn how to live in a sustainable world, even if we don’t have one, and it has to make business sense.

On the first level we just need to respond to the contradictions involved, rather than avoid them. Once there’s a critical mass of people who see that finance has to be different in a sustainable world, then you can think of how it’ll work for the community as a whole.

Up until then spending your returns is a leadership choice that puts you at a competitive disadvantage, unless you consider getting real in your own head and having a little extra money to use for steering the world a fairly good trade. For me it’s a good trade partly because I figure I won’t stop work as long as I’m able because I enjoy it and will probably be able to. That’s not the case for some people.

What the effect would be when everyone spends their returns means describing speculative models of economics, and that gets a little unwieldy. This is the central switch of money, and flipping it would have huge effects. Reinvesting returns is the primary means of concentrating wealth and power, though it’s a ruse to say the money wouldn’t be used creatively if it was not in their hands.

If that money flow just simply reversed by people making individual choices, money would distribute and lower the bottom of the ladder, flow more to service rather than control. Surprising change would continue but not be increasingly disruptive, with competition staying high but not continually intensifying, etc.

Most people click ‘next’ on that sentence where you talk about what happens when the people in charge give up a large part of what puts them in charge. . . Well, once the people with money, virtually everyone now, realize that the world is a physical place and people can’t handle ever more complicated decisions they’ll consider it. One option is for people to keep their money invested, but not to multiply, and keep their toys, comforts and fun with their friends, and join everyone else in trying out a new game.

The primary alternative is to push the earth to crisis and have most everyone loose their money and toys, and a lot of the fun with their friends. The trick as far as I can tell is convincing large numbers of people that we live in a physical world where decision making lag times really matter when your plan is to make bigger decisions ever faster, as sort of the crowning touch on all the other ways we’re undermining our own life supports and the earth.

A lot of work would have to go into designing where to draw the financial line, but just the principle of spending returns on investment would not interfere with the barter and distribution functions of investment, business or consumer markets. It would just affect individuals and their choice of whether to use their returns to multiply their returns or use them to express other values.

It’s also the purpose of growth in living systems to make new living things. We’d be letting go of the exponential part and allowing our world’s 600 year growth spurt to produce something new and lasting (other than a big mess). It would give our long history of growth a real purpose. I hope that satisfies some of your curiosity. There would definitely be a lot that the institutional people would have to sort through fairly thoroughly, that most individuals only need to understand in principle. The question is whether the sustainability movement wants to raise the issue, because our creativity is serving mixed purposes and that’s uncomfortable. We hand out points for lots of other improbable things. We could invent some points for this too!

Cheers, Phil

—–Prior Message from Jodi—–


There’s something I can start to grasp. . . and do.

Tell me more about the investments and how to a) make that happen and b) how that effects long-term personal goals such as retirement and college for your kids. Right now we are investing and using the profits to further invest in order to have a nest egg for a (hopefully) long and content life. Do these ideas work together?


—–Prior Message from PFH—–

Sent: Friday, January 26, 2007 2:06 PM To: COTE Forum


Having a better idea of how the functional issue I’m raising is being missed is very helpful. Thanks for responding. There’s really no way to know how to answer silence, and anyone’s gut reaction does not need to be carefully reasoned to be helpful for adjusting carefully reasoned views. To answer what you asked first.

I’ve done quite a bit in the direct development of sustainable design methods, and just living simply. I’m also an architect detailing a $100M LEED silver building. I’m also doing the one thing that would make our economic system sustainable, spending all the interest on my investments.

It’s usually just a phone call, have the returns returned to you so they don’t multiply. If we don’t do that we won’t be confronting one of the things that guarantees that our world is unsustainable, it’s growth imperative. I don’t expect designers who know their own business and care about the earth to necessarily also understand the details of how natural feedback systems work. If you’re working within a system that is veering ever further out of balance, and can’t smell a rat, though, we have no business thinking we can show others how to live on earth.

If you trace the enormous (to borrow from Ross Perot) ’sucking sound’ you always find surrounding big money, you find it comes from the money practice of using the profit to multiply the investments. That way they get to have huge piles of money and hire us and our sustainability banner, to serve their purposes.

We should be outraged, but most of us are just so delighted to be highly rewarded for what we love and do best, (hearing it as support for *our* purposes unfortunately) we just ignore what the people paying us are doing with their profits from our work. They’re smiling very nicely and using the profit to continually multiplying the very appetites we’re trying to tame.

I’m not sure how I stumbled onto what seems to be a very clear and understanding of this, and still find it very hard to convey. It has something to do with switching my thinking to be about a physical world rather than an imaginary world. There’s something in our culture that teaches us to treat the world as if it were imaginary, and to treat our images as if they were an accurate representation of the world. Images are nice, but. . . there are things missing.


—–Prior Message from Jodi—–


First, if anyone thought that choosing any particular “track” would lock them into that path forever, no one would make any decision to take any step onto any track. We are at least starting to see people who think longer term than they ever have before when they build a building or choose a light fixture.

Many people are becoming used to thinking about recycling (at least) when buying all the consumer crap they don’t need. It may be the wrong track, but it is at least a step toward understanding of the right track. And we are not locked into any choice (until, of course, it is entirely too late for any choice to matter anymore).

Second, I really appreciate the discussion that we need to reassess our growth/sprawl/efficiency, etc. But I also feel that you are preaching to the choir AND denying reality. We on this list, for the most part, agree a paradigm shift is needed. There – that part of the conversation can be completed. The reality is that we cannot convince the entire population of the world to change their goals from continued growth to continued sustainability by swapping words on this limited web list.

Tell us what you are doing (doing, not saying) to show people the need for this shift and to help them achieve it. I’ll sign on and set up the same shows/lectures/tours here in Albany to get the word out.

I’ll beat the drum to the masses and teach them steps to take to improve. I will not help them decide to never build again – I am an architect and I truly feel that schools and hospitals and libraries are perhaps the necessary evils of growth that I can actually support – and personally need in order to have the career that I love.

What are you, personally, doing that is working and making a difference. I guess I’m really American (though I often wish to deny it) in that I am a do-er and need to know what steps I can take. Show me what to do and I will do it, and by doing it I will teach others to do the same.

Jodi Smits Anderson, Architect, LEED AP

—–Prior Message from PFH—–

Sent: Friday, January 26, 2007 9:32 AM To: COTE Forum

Subject: Then what about the schematic design of sustainability?

Say we’re in the schematic design phase of sustainability. If these early phases are where you get on the right or wrong track, and making corrections later gets ever more impossible, are we on the right track? Is what we’re doing making the earth sustainable? What if the schematic design for sustainability included giving points for property investors choosing not to devote their profits to the perpetual growth of profiting from the earth? Would that address something that’s missing in our formula?

Phil Henshaw ¸¸¸¸. •´ ¯ `•. ¸¸¸¸



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