A Book for Living Sustainably
1. Data … Information … Advice ?
image of a pile of data notes, some calculations and then perhaps a scribbled on sticker advice?
There are unending piles of data creating mountains of information surrounding us nowadays. These vantage points should give us a clear view of what to do and where to go from here, but good advice from this information can be appallingly difficult to find.
Most of the advice available is buried in impenetrable jargon, interpretative philosophy or shields of self defensive litigative disclaimers. Well, here at the peril of disparagement is a collection of advice, mostly tried and true, from many sources, collected through working in the practical world towards achieving the goal of sustainable aescetism. The more general and esoteric notions are collected from the philosophical treatises of numerous thinkers in environmental sustainability. The design considerations and personal strategies devolve from the work and living of many much admired cultural icons. The practical minutae come from the field and site experiences of many who struggle to bring the reality of sustainability into being.
This book is designed as a ready reference Guidebook of strategies for minimising our impact on the natural world. It attempts to bring together a broad array of researches and understandings of ways in which each and all of us can the reduce the impact of our living in this place. From the overall structural processes, through the mundane and the spiritual, to some minutae of detail, these Rules of Thumb seek to present individuals and entire communities with simple and straightforward strategies and actions they can take to improve the quality of our environment and the sustainability of our culture.
The idea is … If a question arises and some sort of advice is needed, then grab the book, look up an appropriate pattern, read the Rule of Thumb, have a little think about it all, read a bit of the story if more info is needed and then off you go ..
2. How Do You Use These Things?
A consistent template of presentation is used for quick reference and memnetic resonance. Each pattern is in four parts: header and image, the problem, discussion text and action strategy.
The title and header image set out the topic attempting to be memorable;
The perceived problem is clearly stated in italics;
The text discusses the nature of the problem, its causes and effects and goes on to detail possible solutions to the problems;
The Rule of Thumb gives some clear and implementable suggestions for dealing with the problem at an individual and then broader cultural level.
The patterns are designed to be jointly and severally achievable, they are not (whatever might be the perception of some) pie in the sky. Each pattern can be seen as a stand alone initiative, or as part of a group of patterns relating to a specific aspect of sustainability, or as a constituent ingredient of an overall strategy for achieving ecological, social and economic sustainability. They may not all fit in with the current technologist-economic rationalist institutions but they are all possible without major physical or cultural upheaval. The barriers to their implementation are perceptual, not real and the way to overcome them is through a personal commitment to understanding and action and a conscious and committed broadening of that into the community.
The simplest reference can be made by scanning the title at the beginning and the Rule of Thumb in bold at the end of each discussion. They can be taken One At A Time, Or All At Once, Or Somewhere In Between.
So … here follow some Rules of Thumb for living sustainably
A Book for Living Sustainably………………………………………………………. i
1. Data … Information … Advice ?…………………………………………………………….. i
2. How Do You Use These Things?…………………………………………………………….. ii
SOME FOREWORDS………………………………………………………………… 1
THE BARE ESSENTIALS………………………………………………………… 38
Ideas for some of the structural changes required of our culture to achieve sustainability
3. Consensus of Vision…………………………………………………………………………….. 39
4. Create a Sense of Identity and Continuity…………………………………………….. 40
5. Set Sustainable Time Horizons…………………………………………………………….. 41
6. Adapting to Change…………………………………………………………………………….. 42
7. Repair the Damage……………………………………………………………………………… 43
8. A Fair Share of the Biomass…………………………………………………………………. 44
9. Set Viable Population Limits………………………………………………………………… 45
10. Y.I.M.B.Y………………………………………………………………………………………….. 46
11. Successful Practical Projects……………………………………………………………… 47
12. Appropriate Technology…………………………………………………………………….. 48
If you don’t go any further have a look at these, they give some insights into minimal things you can do to save the world.
13. We Are The Problem…………………………………………………………………………. 50
14. Everything in Moderation…………………………………………………………………… 51
15. Seek Quality……………………………………………………………………………………… 52
16. The Evolution of Cooperation…………………………………………………………….. 53
17. War………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 54
18. Plant a Tree………………………………………………………………………………………. 55
19. Waste Not, Want Not………………………………………………………………………… 56
20. Get A Bike………………………………………………………………………………………… 57
21. Walk, Catch a Bus, Train, Ferry, Anything!………………………………………… 58
22. Power Your Life Yourself…………………………………………………………………… 59
23. Sirens, Bells, Whistles & Rings … NOISE!………………………………………… 60
24. Flashing Lights………………………………………………………………………………….. 61
25. Plastics Everywhere………………………………………………………………………….. 62
26. Small Buildings For No Reason…………………………………………………………… 63
27. Covenants…………………………………………………………………………………………. 64
28. Dying………………………………………………………………………………………………… 65
CONSUMERS GUIDE……………………………………………………………… 66
Some brief guidelines on what to consume and how to consume it sustainably.
29. Ecological Evaluation Systems……………………………………………………………. 67
30. Buy Locally……………………………………………………………………………………….. 68
31. Buy Quality……………………………………………………………………………………….. 69
32. Avoid Packaging………………………………………………………………………………… 70
33. Minimal Impact Eating……………………………………………………………………….. 71
34. Natural Clothing………………………………………………………………………………… 72
35. Energy Efficient Appliances and Fittings…………………………………………….. 73
UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUES…………………………………………….. 74
Some strategies for engendering understanding that will be vital to the future of our children and ourselves.
36. Make Sure Everyone Understands the Issues……………………………………… 75
37. Network of Advisors and Technicians…………………………………………………. 76
38. Communication………………………………………………………………………………….. 77
39. Developer Training Systems………………………………………………………………. 78
40. Designer Training Systems…………………………………………………………………. 79
41. Maker Training Systems……………………………………………………………………. 80
42. User Training Systems……………………………………………………………………….. 81
Ideas for assisting the evolution of our society into a sustainable, aware, inclusive culture.
43. Create a Sustainable Society……………………………………………………………… 83
44. Social Justice Infrastructure………………………………………………………………. 84
45. To Get A Job, or Not to Get a Job ……………………………………………………. 85
46. Internet Community Access……………………………………………………………….. 86
Ideas and principles for achieving long lasting, fair and equitable governance of, for and by the people.
47. Sustainable Governance…………………………………………………………………….. 88
48. A Green Constitution…………………………………………………………………………. 89
49. Rights With Responsibilities……………………………………………………………….. 91
50. Glass Bureaucracy…………………………………………………………………………….. 92
51. Community Participation……………………………………………………………………. 93
52. Virtual Community Governance Senates…………………………………………….. 94
Ideas and strategies for changing the way we perceive value and our methods for apportioning resources and wealth.
53. Create a Sustainable Economy…………………………………………………………… 96
54. A Fair Division of Wealth…………………………………………………………………… 97
55. Remove Economics from Politics………………………………………………………… 98
56. An Absolute Monetary System…………………………………………………………… 99
57. Ecological Balance of Trade……………………………………………………………… 100
58. Use Real Indicators………………………………………………………………………….. 101
59. Ethical Corporations………………………………………………………………………… 102
60. Sustainable Personal Financial Strategies………………………………………….. 103
61. Local Area Business Network…………………………………………………………… 104
62. Sustainable Internet Trade……………………………………………………………….. 105
Some principles for the environmentally sound procurement and development of resources.
63. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…………………………………………………………………… 107
64. No Supply Lines in or Pipelines Out………………………………………………….. 108
65. Localise, Integrate and Diversify Resourcing…………………………………….. 109
66. Small is Better…………………………………………………………………………………. 110
67. One Systems Output is Another Systems Input………………………………….. 111
68. Kerbside Recycling………………………………………………………………………….. 112
69. Waste Stockpiles for Future ‘Mining’………………………………………………… 113
70. Localise Sewage Treatment and Recycling……………………………………….. 114
71. Integrate and Layer Water Use………………………………………………………… 115
72. Localise Food Production…………………………………………………………………. 116
73. Eat Endemic Foods…………………………………………………………………………… 117
74. Use Renewable Resources……………………………………………………………….. 118
75. Timber Supply as Urban Planting………………………………………………………. 119
Our vehicles are killing us and our planet, here are some suggestions for beginning to solve this problem.
76. Transport … The Problem with Cars is …………………………………………….. 121
77. Communal Cars……………………………………………………………………………….. 122
78. Smarter Cleaner Cars………………………………………………………………………. 123
79. Pedestrian Ways……………………………………………………………………………… 124
80. Reduce Traffic Path Distances…………………………………………………………. 125
81. Bike Paths……………………………………………………………………………………….. 126
82. Low Speed Vehicle Ways…………………………………………………………………. 127
83. Appropriate Public Transport…………………………………………………………… 128
84. People Powered Movement………………………………………………………………. 129
Incident sunshine is the one clean, renewable resource we have on this planet, here are some ways of harnessing it and reducing the impact of current energy use patterns.
85. Energy Is Green………………………………………………………………………………. 131
86. Use High Energy Products……………………………………………………………….. 132
87. Energy Producers not Consumers……………………………………………………… 133
88. Minimum Energy Consumption…………………………………………………………. 134
89. Minimise Peak Loadings…………………………………………………………………… 135
90. Put in a Solar Hot Water System………………………………………………………. 136
91. Eliminate Super Voltage Grids…………………………………………………………. 137
92. Localise Energy Generation…………………………………………………………….. 138
93. Diversify Local Energy Generation…………………………………………………… 139
94. Energy Generation Everywhere……………………………………………………….. 140
95. Energy Sharing………………………………………………………………………………… 141
96. Match Energy Sources to User Needs……………………………………………….. 142
97. Heat Exchangers……………………………………………………………………………… 143
98. Sun Powered Living…………………………………………………………………………. 144
99. Alternative Energies………………………………………………………………………… 145
100. Big Scale Stuff……………………………………………………………………………….. 146
101. People Powered Buildings………………………………………………………………. 147
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT………………………………………………… 148
Ideas and concepts for creating a sustainable infrastructure for our villages, towns and cities.
102. The City as a Natural Ecosystem…………………………………………………….. 149
103. Create a Sustainable Infrastructure………………………………………………… 150
104. No More New Subdivisions……………………………………………………………… 151
105. Spaces at the Centres…………………………………………………………………….. 152
106. Increase Densities………………………………………………………………………….. 153
107. Variety of People and Buildings Everywhere…………………………………… 154
108. Smaller Houses………………………………………………………………………………. 155
109. CoHousing Schemes……………………………………………………………………….. 156
110. Conduiting of Information Technology…………………………………………….. 157
HEAL SICK BUILDINGS………………………………………………………. 158
Some strategies for improving the quality of the interiors of our buildings to avoid and repair the problems that lead to the so called “Sick Building Syndrome”
111. Diagnosis……………………………………………………………………………………….. 159
112. Change the Air………………………………………………………………………………. 160
113. Avoid Wall to Wall Carpeting…………………………………………………………. 161
114. Avoid Polymer Finishes…………………………………………………………………… 162
115. Avoid Glues…………………………………………………………………………………… 163
116. Pesticides, Insecticides, Fire Retardants and Herbicides…………………… 164
117. Avoid C.C.A. Treated Timber…………………………………………………………. 165
118. Natural Paint and Oil Finishes…………………………………………………………. 166
119. Porous Wall Surfaces……………………………………………………………………… 167
120. Real Polish Finishes for Timber………………………………………………………. 168
121. Radon Gas…………………………………………………………………………………….. 169
122. Ozone……………………………………………………………………………………………. 170
123. CFC………………………………………………………………………………………………. 171
124. PVC………………………………………………………………………………………………. 172
125. Dust Build Up…………………………………………………………………………………. 173
126. Mites…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 174
127. Minimise E.M.F. Radiation Exposure………………………………………………. 175
128. Radiation From Microwave Ovens………………………………………………….. 176
129. Radiation From Television………………………………………………………………. 177
130. Radiation From Computers…………………………………………………………….. 178
131. Radio Telephones and Mobile Phones……………………………………………… 179
132. Mobile Phone Transmitter Towers………………………………………………….. 180
133. Fluorescent Light Quality……………………………………………………………….. 181
134. Incandescent Lights……………………………………………………………………….. 182
THE NON BUILT ENVIRONMENT……………………………………….. 183
A series of strategies for minimising impact on the environments surrounding our buildings, cities and rural areas.
135. A Natural Landscape……………………………………………………………………… 184
136. Do Nothing Landscaping…………………………………………………………………. 185
137. Mix Natural Ecologies with Urban Patterns…………………………………….. 186
138. Habitat Preservation and Recovery………………………………………………… 187
139. Land Tenure………………………………………………………………………………….. 188
140. User Pays Degradation…………………………………………………………………… 189
141. Land Tax as a Transition Mechanism………………………………………………. 190
142. Sustainability Covenants………………………………………………………………… 191
143. Reuse Redundant Land…………………………………………………………………… 192
144. Decontamination, Rehabilitation,…………………………………………………….. 193
145. Develop Bioshelters for Land Regeneration…………………………………….. 194
146. Community Gardens………………………………………………………………………. 195
147. Remove Fences……………………………………………………………………………… 196
148. De-Pipe Street Stormwater Disposal……………………………………………….. 197
149. Don’t Interrupt Ground Water Flow……………………………………………….. 198
150. Weed Out Weeds…………………………………………………………………………… 199
151. Natural Toxins……………………………………………………………………………….. 200
ECOLOGICALLY APPROPRIATE SYSTEMS……………………….. 201
Alternative environmentally sound, sustainable systems for just about anything technical.
152. Living Machines…………………………………………………………………………….. 202
153. Sewerage Processing as a Work of Art……………………………………………. 203
154. Plants as Environmental Controllers……………………………………………….. 204
155. Living Machines for Buildings…………………………………………………………. 205
156. Water Saving Devices & Systems…………………………………………………… 206
157. Use Composting Toilet Systems………………………………………………………. 207
158. Integrated In House Recycling………………………………………………………… 208
Thoughts about sustainable design principles in general and the designing of buildings in particular.
159. Develop an EcoCost Budget……………………………………………………………. 210
160. EcoCost…………………………………………………………………………………………. 211
161. Minimise The EcoCost of Buildings…………………………………………………. 212
162. Make Buildings Better……………………………………………………………………. 213
163. Re-Use Existing Building Stock………………………………………………………. 214
164. Minimum Accepted Specifications…………………………………………………… 215
165. Watch for Natures Little Signals…………………………………………………….. 216
166. Look to the Indigenous and the Vernacular……………………………………… 217
167. Touch the Earth Lightly…………………………………………………………………. 218
168. Building for Now…………………………………………………………………………….. 219
169. Communal Places and Spaces at the Centre…………………………………….. 220
170. Closing the System…………………………………………………………………………. 221
171. Building a Place to Be…………………………………………………………………….. 222
172. Design to Fit………………………………………………………………………………….. 223
173. Building for Long Life…………………………………………………………………….. 224
174. Natural Environments Inside Buildings…………………………………………….. 225
175. Controllable Personal Space…………………………………………………………… 226
176. User Altered Buildings……………………………………………………………………. 227
177. Lightweight Building………………………………………………………………………. 228
178. Minimal Enclosure………………………………………………………………………….. 229
179. Open Up to the Sun………………………………………………………………………… 230
180. Natural Lighting…………………………………………………………………………….. 232
181. Direct Sunlight……………………………………………………………………………….. 233
182. Natural Ventilation………………………………………………………………………… 234
183. Catch the Breezes………………………………………………………………………….. 235
184. Mass at the Core……………………………………………………………………………. 236
185. Massing Around Heat Sources………………………………………………………… 237
186. Masses of Stone and Space Reduce Stress………………………………………. 238
187. Keep Roof Water for Drinking……………………………………………………….. 239
188. Wide Eaves……………………………………………………………………………………. 240
189. Insulate Yourself from it all…………………………………………………………….. 241
Strategies for actually putting up buildings with minimum environmental cost.
190. Spare the Soil………………………………………………………………………………… 243
191. Employ Local Tradespeople……………………………………………………………. 244
192. Something Close By……………………………………………………………………….. 245
193. Minimise Site Wastage…………………………………………………………………… 246
194. Supervise Minimal Materials EcoCost…………………………………………….. 247
195. A Good Joint…………………………………………………………………………………. 248
196. Natural Insulation…………………………………………………………………………… 249
Some in depth discussions and information about the procurement of materials.
197. Re-Use Materials…………………………………………………………………………… 251
198. Use Re-Usable Materials Re-usably………………………………………………… 252
199. Longevity………………………………………………………………………………………. 253
200. Minimal Processing………………………………………………………………………… 254
201. Toxic Materials……………………………………………………………………………… 255
SPECIFIC MATERIALS DETAILS………………………………………… 256
Details on the impacts and environmental effects of specific materials used in building today.
202. Concrete……………………………………………………………………………………….. 257
203. Masonry………………………………………………………………………………………… 259
204. Stone…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 261
205. Corrugated Metal Sheet…………………………………………………………………. 263
206. Glass…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 264
207. Ceramics……………………………………………………………………………………….. 266
208. Timber…………………………………………………………………………………………… 268
209. Composite Timber Products……………………………………………………………. 270
210. Straw…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 271
211. Rammed Earth………………………………………………………………………………. 273
212. Plywoods……………………………………………………………………………………….. 275
213. Fibre Cement Sheet……………………………………………………………………….. 277
MAKING IT HAPPEN……………………………………………………………. 278
Advice for bringing these ideas into being and a general passionate rounding off.
214. Making it Happen…………………………………………………………………………… 279
215. Selling Sustainability………………………………………………………………………. 280
216. Making it Possible………………………………………………………………………….. 281
Detailed, lengthy and convoluted discussions of what sustainability is, ecologically, socially and economically speaking.
As a designer and builder of environmentally sound dwellings for the last decade, the original idea in writing this book was to put down experiences and understandings of the advice needed for practicing in this field. The book remains heavily slanted towards this end. Building is one of the most resource consuming activities of humans, only transport and the military industrial axis consuming more. Buildings are the biggest single artifacts we make and we produce a vast quantity of them, they have always been the most obvious and long lived of the statements of a culture’s values. If in the procurement of buildings, ways can be found to lessen their impact then this can have a profound effect on our culture. Architecture has the potential to make philosophical and moral statements that can slowly pervade a culture and leave a clear message to whoever follows us of our values, goals and aspirations.
Many of the following patterns were developed as a response to the practical dilemmas of building from a perspective of environmental responsibility. The Rules of Thumb in the Designing, Building and Materials chapters are particularly relevant to those engaging in the physical processes of creating, modifying and restoring buildings.
The book though, became more than just a builder’s manual as more and more ideas came together from different sources. Once a search for ways of reducing environmental impact is begun in one area, integrity demands that the scope of such a search be widened to include all activities.
The problem is that so much information and detail is accumulated that it rapidly becomes overwhelming. A clear and simple set of principles is needed that can be applied to the myriad situations where some sort of choice has to be made about which is the least environmentally damaging way to go. This led to the development of the complex EcoCost system of ecologically based evaluations. As the protoypes of the EcoCost system were broadly applied to building work and later to more general themes, a series of general guidelines to allow meaningful decision making became apparent.
These guidelines are written up here, along with many findings of others, to promulgate these fledgling understandings as a contribution to the ongoing debate on appropriate solutions to the current ecological, social and economic crises we face.
A Pattern Language
The design and layout of the Book for Living Sustainability was originally prompted by the work of Alexander et al in their Pattern Language. It is now twenty five years since Christopher Alexander et al wrote the seminal text, A Pattern Language, on socially just, morally ethical and aesthetically satisfying design and building. This masterwork has been a bible to many in the design professions, particularly those who have taken to notions of a gentler, more humanistic architecture. Latterly those same people have recognised and begun to respond to the contemporary imperatives of environmental sustainability. Texts such as the Pattern Language now need to be extended to take in the new constraints, opportunities and understandings of environmentally responsible living as we perceive it.
The following ‘Patterns for Sustainability’ follow the same general format of Alexander et al’s self contained design Patterns which can be understood and applied as individual suggestions, segments of a group of patterns pertaining to a particular issue or as part of an overall strategy.
These patterns are still a long way from being a complete system for achieving sustainability. There is so much to cover that in any readable and more importantly, usable book, things must inevitably be left out. This book misses many details, particularly regarding the real ‘how tos’ of the development of a sustainable social infrastructure. What it attempts to achieve is a coherent picture of a series of strategies for individual action, which can be effectively implemented now.
Often, to expedite the language of the Rule of Thumb the terms: Campaign for; Call for; and Encourage are used. These are a shorthand for all the many forms of action and activism that can be used to generate public understanding and political will. These will vary from place to place, so consult an activists guide or your local green movement, GreenPeace, wilderness societies or Amnesty International, people who know how to get things done in the specific circumstances of your place.
The necessary simplifications of each idea presented in the individual patterns are grouped into chapters according to their fields of application. For the pedantic few, there are detailed discussions on the principles of sustainability and the evolution of a sustainable society in the following foreword. This can be quite heavy going, it’s not the stuff of ready reference but it is important background to attuning to the ‘path’ of sustainable living.
Implementing sustainability requires examining the fundamental principles upon which our society is founded. The concept of sustainability is the most complex, interwoven and intractable problem ever to face humanity. The perspectives of the past two centuries have shown us clearly that the planet upon which we live is limited and that human beings are now approaching those limitations.
The most dramatic event to bring this home was the release of the first images of our jewel of a globe sitting in the dark, empty vastness of space. An island in an eternity of nothingness. Subsequent augmentation of these same views has shown us that humanity has the potential to outstrip those limitations with potentially disastrous consequences for both the planet and for humans.
If humanity, and indeed the planet, is to have a long term future (that is thousands, not tens, of years) then a series of sound principles to guide human behaviour towards sustainability must be found and followed.
Sustainability is not a matter for compromise or political scheming, such things cannot fix this problem. It is a problem that cannot be out-maneuvered or sidestepped. The basic issues are uncompromising and physical, not just a matter of human perception. There is a real planet, with real limitations that will not alter according to how people or political movements want it to be or even to how it is perceived.
It is an absolute issue. It is caused by humans but the symptoms are non-anthrocentric by nature. As humans we have thrown off our responsibility to live in balance with our evolved ecologies, now we must face the consequences of these actions. Regardless of how many slick definitions by development lobbyists or rapid side-stepping by bureaucracies or fancy mental gymnastics of philosophers, the problems remain, completely intractable. The issues of sustainability must be faced squarely and in their own context, the physical world of action and consequence – the world of our actions and behaviour.
The Principles of Sustainability
To begin a realistic search for strategies for achieving sustainability, three principles are evident.
Principle One In order to be sustainable any activity must consume only those resources that may be regenerated ad-infinitum. Any activity which is a net consumer of non-regenerable resources, is not sustainable.
Principle Two In order to be sustainable any activity must have no net detrimental impact to the ecosystems around it. Any activity which degrades the environment beyond its ability to regenerate itself, is not sustainable.
Principal Three In order to be successful, any sustainable action of humanity must respond to the nature of humanity’s intrinsic physiological and psychological make up and must be acceptable to the consensus of humanity.
There are no solutions to over-consumption, only avoiding the over-consumption in the first place; there are no solutions to intractable toxic waste except to avoid creating it. There are no solutions to the intrinsic make up of the human species and psyche, except recognising it openly, accepting it, understanding and responding to it. These are the bare essentials of understanding in the search for sustainability and form a starting point and guiding reference for the following discussions.
The Language of Sustainability
Language, its nuances and intricacies are the central pillar of a culture, it describes and proscribes attitudes, understandings and behaviour. At this rudimentary stage it is essential to clear up some major misconceptions and misuses of terminology.
The widespread use of the term Ecologically Sustainable Development to cover the anthrocentric issues of profitability, employment, human rights and politics is an abuse of language. These important things belong in social and economic sustainability analysis. This is a vernacular fault, which must be amended as it is used to sideline critical ecological issues in favour of culturally centred concerns.
Almost all of our evaluation systems and cost benefit analyses are based on anthrocentric issues, leading to a general lack of awareness of the critical importance and relevance of non-anthrocentric systems and patterns. This leads humans to the current point of unbelievable selfishness towards other creatures on this planet. Other things are “out there”, beyond our ken and our intrinsic xenophobia insists we treat them as a threat and a competition to our wellbeing, rather than as the rest of the greater whole of which we are but a small part.
Ecological sustainability has nothing to do with economics or social constraints. An ecosystem is the corporeal state of interacting biological entities and physical environments. Ecological sustainability refers to the necessary and discrete conditions required for the maintenance of ecosystems.
If human cultures are to be considered isolated systems, regardless of their links to, and effects on, other ecosystems, or if they are seen as being of overriding importance to natural ecosystems, then the entire debate becomes irrelevant. Language has the power to determine perceptions, attitudes and underlying expectations, and should reflect the antagonistic dichotomy between the synthetic humanistic world and the substantive physical world of interacting ecosystems.
What we are trying to achieve is a sustainable human society, which requires recognising the differences between ecological, social and economic sustainability issues and a melding of their agendas into a cohesive way of living. The language we use to discuss these issues must reflect these underlying cultural desires.
It seems that against all its stated principles and the meaning of the term, the concept of sustainability is seen to be limited to a ridiculously close time horizon in current theory and governmental practice. We must begin to see things, including ourselves, as a part of a vast spatial and temporal continuum. For true sustainability the time horizon should be infinite, in both directions, or at least related to the life of this planet. So far sustainability has not even been dealt with in terms of eras of relevance to the evolution of this planet’s ecosystems.
The current time horizons are set by the assumption that things must be good by election time, or what is achievable within a single person’s career. Five years is not sustaining, it is throwing yourself across a line at all costs to the future. It is mortgaging the right of future inhabitants of all species to a beautiful, clean habitable world for the sake of satiating fleeting, materialistic desires today. There is an underlying paradigm in our culture that is very willing to imperil the future for the sake of immediate gratification, now. The future is viewed as an unknown, an unknowable thing, it is not ‘our problem’ but that of those who will come later and therefore does not rate our consideration.
A perverted notion of responsibility exists in our bureaucracies, a NIMTOF (not in my term of office) and this irresponsibility lies at the heart of much of our environmentally degrading ways. The alteration of our systems of governance and corporatism and levels of accountability (both elected and career systems) to respond to sustainable time horizons is vital to the achievement of a committed and inspired society.
In current literature, government policy and economic philosophy: short term is seen as this financial year; medium term is the current term of office three to five years and; long term may be the next term of office. This cannot continue if we are to achieve sustainability. Short term must be shorter, from hours to days, to allow rapid reaction to crises. Medium term should relate to the consequences of current activities, say the time taken for local ecosystems to recover to a mature stable state. Long term must at least be a matter of millennia as the nearest approximation we can sensibly make of the life of this planet given our current limited understandings of its functioning.
Sharing the Planet
The nascent requirement from humanity for achieving ecological sustainability is to determine its fair share of the planetary ecosystem. The planet is capable of supporting a limited biomass, dependent principally on incremental incident solar energy, the health of the system in terms of balanced ecologies, climatic patterns and, latterly, human intervention. The decision required of society is how much of this biomass should be allocated to humans, and human support systems.
The development of the concepts of optimal population and resource consumption tolerances are key issues in finding a path through this difficult debate.
Any realistic decisions must take into account the fact that Homo sapiens sapiens is but one species amongst many millions on this planet, (and one that is well and truly in plague proportions). If this one species is to have a vastly greater share of the available biomass than others, this must be recognised as philosophically and morally in need of justification from a non-anthrocentric point of view.
In order to commence to resolve this issue, each community must determine its own available ecologically sound resource base and develop resource allocation systems to enable it to live within the capacity of the ecosystem to support it. The ‘ecosystem (or biomass) catchment area’ for a community will be the area commensurate with the net allocation which the community has determined is its fair share of the global resource base.
The non-destructive development and use of valid endemic ecosystems as resource generators will allow the catchment for a community to be enhanced without ecological detriment. In a sustainable culture there must be a relatively fixed resource base. This implies a direct trade-off between population and individual share of the available resource. It is essentially a zero sum game between each human, and the rest of our species and the rest of the planet’s species. Infinite growth is unsustainable and thus impossible, the limits of growth need to be determined. This is the issue of ever increasing global populations.
The problems of environmental degradation are essentially problems of overpopulation. The capacity of the planet to continually supply resources and sink waste is limited. If there were only a few million of us we could get away with virtually any behaviour and the planet would just repair itself around us.
There are about six thousand million of us and every little action of each of us contributes to the critical overloading of the earth. It cannot cope with the numbers. We must seriously address the issue of overpopulation and ecologically viable human populations in the same way we determine if any of the other species on the planet is out of control or needs reducing. This is a core issue in achieving sustainability and the most perilous debate in the sociopolitical arena.
A further task in developing sustainable societies is the need to create awareness in the population of the limitations and opportunities available. The NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome must be inverted to a YIMBY, (yes, in my back yard). All environmental impacts should, and must, be contained within the ecosystem catchment area of the community benefiting from the actions causing the impacts.
Problems generated by actions must be seen as the responsibility of those deriving the benefits from those actions. Pipelines taking away waste and supply lines bringing in resources are not sustainable concepts and must be ideologically eliminated. They foster a mentality of carelessness, irresponsibility and ignorance of the effects of one’s actions. Each community must learn to live within the capacity of its ecosystem to sustain it, to nurture them and to deal with their effluvium within their confines.
In line with the above principles and clarifications of meaning, the overwhelmingly complex and interwoven problem of environmental sustainability can be broken down into manageable chunks and dealt with realistically. Each of the issues of ecological, social and economic sustainability can be discussed separately with regard to each observed factor and then mutually compatible strategies for the implementation of potential solutions for all three aspects can be elaborated.
Ecological sustainability may only be ensured by insisting that sufficient diversity and scope of habitat and purity of environment is maintained to allow the widely varying ecosystems extant on the planet to be conserved. It is thus incumbent upon a sustainable humanity to avoid further destruction of habitat and degradation of the natural physical environment and to begin to address the enormous devastation that has been done already.
Social sustainability will depend on creating a fair, just and open society with liberty, equality and communal inclusiveness as its core elements.
Successful economic sustainability will depend on the proper understandings of what our sustainable resource base really is, and how it can be developed without damaging and depleting the world around us.
The central issue of the fair allocation of resources links social and economic sustainability.
Environmental sustainability requires the integration and assimilation of ecological, social and economic sustainability decision making systems to ensure our culture can continue to survive and thrive in a beautiful healthy world.
The issues of social sustainability are extremely broad and varied, ranging from governance systems through human rights and employment issues to social equity. The overall principles which underline all of these factors is the need for fairness, equity and the acceptance of change. Sustainability is much more about attitudes, understanding and assuming responsibility than physical and institutional changes. Social sustainability is vital to achieving environmental sustainability.
To be sustainable in cultural terms a society must be capable of remaining stable and acceptable to all, in the state of constant flux our technology and gestalt demands but maintaining its sense of continued identity. Sustainability is about time, lots of it. To be sustainable a social system must be capable of adapting to meet the constantly changing needs and desires of the community it serves. This entails an intrinsic flexibility in the basic precepts of the system and necessitates that it continues to be seen as fair and equitable by a consensus of the community.
Equity is the most intractable social issue of our times, our culture has equity problems in almost all fields, race, wealth, sex, opportunity, politics, philosophy, education, health. A sustainable culture must be both just and perceived to be just. It must be just between its members, surrounding ecosystems and future generations. The humans and other beings alive today are a small fragment of the continuum of those who have lived and will one day inhabit the planet and the form the web of myriad species of planetary life.
The vast expenditure on physical infrastructure and the military industrial axis is symptomatic of the priorities of the patterns of governance over the last century. As an integral part of a sustainable society, an infrastructure must be set in place which actively perceives, investigates and implements social justice strategies. All people must be given a greater awareness of their options and more choice of lifestyles, ‘trivial’ issues like children’s day care and education must be addressed with the same seriousness as defense and corporate banking.
Community resources are just that, community resources, they belong to all of us and should be applied by consensus for improving the quality of life of us all and our environment.
For a community to be culturally sustainable it must have a strong identity and sense of purpose, there must be reasons for its existence, and the more compelling those reasons the stronger the community will be. In past eras the reasons were racial, regional, resource or trade based but with the requirements of modern consumption and capabilities of trading and communication systems such reasons have lost their validity. The development of a community vision of what it wants to be, a constitutional community entity and strong cultural goals gives the community a focus and a ‘raison d’etre’.
Any constitutional identification of ‘state’ should be based on real identifiable societal groupings of the peoples within its boundaries. It must also deal with ecologically interacting zones rather than irrelevant historical formations. Collectivisation must take into account the concepts of ecosystem catchments as well as the cultural cohesion of a community. The linking of administrative groupings to coherent topographical, ecosystemic and cultural ‘places’, optimises the potential for community identification and sustainability. Water catchments are the obvious and sensible place to start as we are part of a water based biological system.
The use of anthrocentric barriers such as river paths to divide communities is unworkable from an ecological standpoint. Though rivers have historically proved a barrier to human interaction, this is no longer an issue. A river is the centre of a zone of ecological effect and interactions. Any actions on land that acts as a catchment for a river basin can affect ecosystems and water quality anywhere in that catchment area. In order to develop and maintain strategies to minimise ecological impact, management of entire catchments must rest in a single governance. A ridgeline dividing catchment areas is a logical and environmentally sensible divider between governance zones.
A rational and thorough reworking of our community governance boundaries is a much needed precursor to effective and sustainable environmental ‘management’.
The fixation of contemporary economic modeling with the outmoded concept of a ‘job’ as the only problem of, and solution to, the current employment crises, is having a disastrous consequences on our culture’s ability to adapt to rapidly changing social, environmental, work and leisure patterns. The concept of a job is relatively new nineteenth century phenomenon and is not some immutable law of humanity. The difference between having a job and being something is profound. It is the difference between a career and a task, a life and a chore.
The whole concept of working away at a ‘job’ which gives little or no satisfaction or challenge for an entire lifetime, only to allow one to retire and begin living at 60 years of age, is a social and personal disaster for a great many people. If people are given the option to have a job or not to have a job without attached social stigma (and without the other strange, marketing induced fixation with material consumption), many would take a lower strata of personal consumption as a reasonable tradeoff. They thus gain the freedom to choose a way of contributing to the cultural melange that utilises their skills, challenges them physically and intellectually and that, most importantly, they enjoy.
Having a job is not the only way to be employed and being employed is not the only way to live one’s life and to make a fair and just contribution to a society in accordance with one’s reliance on that society. This is an attitudinal and marketing problem, we must deal with this hangover from the industrial revolution, religious power play and immature capitalism.
A series of social strategies should be developed which recognise that gainful employment may take many forms and that an official job is not all there is to life, in fact it is often an inhibition to a fulfilling and meaningful existence. A growing reliance on a community’s capacity for wealth generation to support members of the community who do not directly contribute to that wealth generation is a feature of this culture’s emerging state of gradually maturing capitalism. As has been predicted, advanced capitalism and communism approach the same end point, though it is still well away. The most positive way in which to treat this phenomenon is to not brand all those without a ‘job’ as somehow deficient but to recognise their capacity to make a valid and viable positive contribution to the society in whatever way they choose.
The segregation, almost an apartheid, occurring in our culture between those with a recognised, socially acceptable job and those stigmatised by the denial of such classification, must be combated immediately before it transmogrifies into a paralysing conflict. A sustainable long term solution to the employment crisis must recognise that the function of society and technology is to reduce the input required from humans to attain a sufficient standard of living. The end result of this is that with the intelligent application of society and technology, the physical wealth of a culture increases and the input of humans to that wealth generation decreases. With the meteoric path of technology, the requirement for reduced input from humans must be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Insisting that people have a ‘job’ to be a part of society is not a sustainable solution without giving everyone a job. As this is widely admitted to no longer be possible within the current paradigm, the current paradigm must change. We must seek either a ludditic society where human labour is again needed for manual tasks or a society that relies on its technology for its means of production and sees the accepting of tasks by its members as a matter of choice.
Emerging contemporary strategies including reductions in working hours, job sharing, broadening of the scope of self employment, communal ownership of industry and part time work practices are all effective provisional approaches. Together with a more equitable division of resources and wealth, combined with structural and attitudinal change, from the earliest education to the oldest reactionary, these can help us deal with the immanent elimination of the concept of a ‘job’.
This is one of the great opportunities for human well being that is offered as a spin off from the push for ecological sustainability. We are human beings, Homo sapiens sapiens, a mammalian species of the hominid genus, of the primate family, the concept of a job is not an intrinsic part of our physiological or psychological makeup. It is a hangover from a particular sub-cultural solution to the need for a rising labour base two centuries old now. The need for community acceptance, a sense of belonging and being a contributing part of a troupe, are intrinsic to our make-up. These attributes have evolved with us to make us the co-operative social creature that has is so successful.
To be sustainable in a rapidly changing technological culture, we must recognise the fundamental nature of humanity, what is intrinsic to us as creatures and reconcile that understanding with the opportunities, needs and constraints of our natural world.
One of the great limitations of our current legislative bicameral and partisan systems, is that their natural state is conflict rather than consensus. Radicals stir things up, eventually gain power through the democratic system, alter the legislative system, appoint like minded people to positions of bureaucratic control and enshrine their particular stance in the code of laws governing behaviour in the community. They thus become the conservatives and attempt to suppress the upcoming radical element whose views necessarily threaten the now dominant ideologies and power bases. Someone is always in control and someone else is always controlled. Power is devolved to a few, who are given authority to act in the interests of the many, with all the intrinsic ego driven pitfalls this entails.
Though this system has led humanity to its current awesome zenith, it lies in wait to bring the entire confection tumbling down at any moment, through its inability to respond to a serious long term outlook. Those who are chosen can only be given power for a few brief years, as it is felt they cannot be trusted to be accountable for longer periods. They thus have difficulty responding to the need for long term structural changes.
Social sustainability will require stability, but not stability through resistance to change and suppression of the new. Stability may also be derived by the creation of mechanisms allowing for constant cultural, legal and technological change by consensus rather than conflict. Continual review of all laws and modus operandi not only avoids the anachronisms prevalent today, but makes people constantly think about their cultural attitudes, philosophy of life and their relationship to the world around them.
An interesting parallel is that of the scientific method. The scientific system is the most successful of our culture’s developments, it rests on the principle that nothing is fixed or immutable, particularly not truth. Humanity’s explanations of the reality around us are merely theories which may be disproved by adverse empirical findings or supported by corroborative evidence but never absolutely proven. This system has accountability and constant reality checking as its basis and modus operandi. Conservatism in this form of melange has a much harder time taking root and is easily tumbled by the emergence of new fact and changes in perception. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of our systems of government and control extant today.
The continuity required to achieve a long lasting stable culture has led to an array of historical solutions. The most long lasting of all, the Chinese Imperial rule, evolved a unique system of continuous governance. Put simply, anyone could become emperor, the titular head of state, a new dynasty could be founded at any time by anyone who could muster sufficient support. The main thread of the culture continued through, the emperor was always the emperor, with a social and diplomatic role to play while the management of the society including long term strategic initiatives and projects like the canal and the wall, continued through the bureaucracy, regardless of figurehead.
This original nature and function of bureaucracies as an enabling mechanism, allowing continuity of civilisation and the bringing into being of community desires and aspirations has been corrupted into the current inhibitory and inflexible monolith of state at odds with its people. The secrecy imbedded in most public bureaucracies facillitates the development of internal aims and goals more appropriate to corporate activity than social service. When security and intelligence organisations determine whether representatives chosen by the people are to be allowed to govern with a free hand or not, there is an intrinsic flaw in the system.
The reasons for this are deeply embedded in the cult of secrecy that our bureaucracies adopted initially as a necessary wartime tactic to gain advantage over external threats but has become a way of sidestepping accountability. In the current world of widespread information technology, government secrecy is a fraud against its people. It is a paternalistic, patronising travesty of the responsibility of elected and appointed representatives of the people to act in their interests and in alignment with their will.
The Nature of Law
It is essential that a sustainable system of governance has as its founding principle, that all laws are creations of humans and are thus based on perceptions that have a temporal existence and are not immutable rules of the cosmos. The first legal systems evolved only when enough people began to group together in the world’s first cities. They are a code for normalising individual behaviour within whatever are perceived to be the acceptable limits of the community at that paticular moment. They allow us all to live together in some form of harmony, freedom and cultural cohesion. Stability can be derived by the creation of mechanisms allowing for constant cultural, legal and technological change. Sunset clauses for all laws not only help avoid the anachronisms prevalent today, but make people constantly think about their cultural attitudes, philosophy of life and their relationship to the world.
The more complex, mature and confident a society becomes the more tolerance it shows to dissent and variation within its melange. A truly sustainable society must be fully inclusive of all its citizens, it must be tolerant and accepting of the full spectrum of beliefs and attitudes that its members hold. Freedom of speech entails responsibility of expression.
A critical factor in the success of a socially sustainable culture will be the manner in which it chooses to govern itself. The two concepts of government (control over actions) and governance (consensus of actions) should be closely examined. Our current system of government evolved to allow an heirachially arranged existing group to maintain their power base over rapidly expanding populations. They believed that it was necessary to control these large numbers of people for the benefit of all. It was realised that at that stage there were no feasible mechanisms available to allow the entire community to be a part of the decision making processes. The system of representative democracy was developed to allow a formalised, proxy system of involvement in governance. This evolved into our current inately morally corrupt system of professional parliamentarianism and party politics in government.
With the emerging maturity and awareness of our societies, a major departure from this can be envisaged. Local communities wish to be able to make their own decisions about resource allocation, behavioural standards and cultural policy. They find governments and bureaucracies an inhibition to this desire. The achievement of fairness and equity is most simply and profoundly gained by ensuring all members of the community access to resource allocation and policy decisions.
Open, Inclusive, Participatory Governance
The forums of the first democracies at which all citizens could attend, state a case and be a part of decision making were lost in the Seventeenth Century, Cromwellian creation of representative democracy which spread to become the principal form of government throughout the world. We have now ended up with a political culture at odds with the true reflection of the breadth of community ideals. How often do we see governments too afraid to go to the polls or a referendum with an issue as they know that the majority of the people do not support their point of view? Is this appropriate behaviour for a representative democracy? It is this conduct that creates our antagonistic ‘us versus them’ attitude to government.
We have tried many strategies to make government and politicians more accountable but it is the system itself which leads to unaccountability. We do not need representative democracy anymore. We have the capacity with emerging technologies, widespread access to information and high levels of community understanding now emerging to have full participatory democracy again, for many cultures this is available now, for the rest it must be secured as a matter of imperative urgency.
Community consultation and consensus both during the development of a sustainable system of governance and for its ongoing operation must be paramount. Efficient systems of obtaining communal consensus must be developed, and this is a point at which enhanced social systems and communications technology may be applied to one of civilisation’s oldest tasks. Our modern prevalent system of decision by committee and executive has fortuitously given us very powerful tools for dealing with large public meetings. Points of order and debate supervision strategies are highly advanced and are capable of coping with large numbers in coherent and practical ways. Talkback shows and on-line tele-conferencing have also developed ingenious debate control techniques.
Current information technology: interactive TV; mobile phones; on-line networked computers and communications terminals, have created a planet wide cross-cultural cyberspace without walls or distances and also most remarkably without government, bureaucracies or police! Our newly emerging virtual world. One of the beneficial possibilities of cyberspace is the potential for instantaneous population wide petitioning and referenda of topical contentious issues, this is already happening. An instantaneous governance of, for and by the people, as individuals not by representationis available now, the systems are already in place, all they need is broadening and application.
Network communications technology creates the opportunity for a far reaching openness of information transfer. The Net has created information bases so broad and detailed and from such diverse sources that manipulation based on propaganda and secrecy is becoming considerably more difficult. The more people who actively use and contribute to the net, the less likely political manipulation is to succeed.
The zeitgeist of eliminating representative democracy in favour of technologically facilitated participatory governance is no longer a techno-fantasy but a virtual reality. Widespread access to the necessary technology and information paths must be secured and enhanced. Filtering of extraneous issues and fraudulent activities is critical and cyberspace security is a major international issue. In practice, however, this is no different to the current systems of debate and government, all are subject to interference on a number a levels. Such practical problems should be solved, not allowed to drown the solutions.
The great advantage of a network based governance system is that corruption is nearly impossible, each and all of us and our actions in debates, are fully accountable to everyone in the milieu. If someone bribes all the population to their end, then the whole population has benefited from the activity and have made a consensus moral decision by allowing it. No single person or group would have the power to assert its will over the population, groups and parties would essentially become redundant.
It would be a simple matter to set up a bulletin board on which any citizen could list an issue for public debate. Issues of a minor or local nature can be discussed sidereally by those interested. Major issues, decided by the number of concerned participants and lodgements of comments could be brought to major “chat rooms” and listed in real public places and virtual home pages as current. Decision making can be based on consensus resolutions or population wide referenda. Many different questions can be currently undergoing referendum at any given time as voting is only a matter of pushing a button or making a brief submission.
As far as the issue of changing our ways of doing things, it is not the technology but the obsolete rules and laws we have created that are getting in the way. The active involvement of the community in all decision making is perfectly feasible with these forms of technology, and this is a goal worth pursuing with vigour (and appropriate caution).
Economic sustainability is often seen as a task in isolation from, even in conflict with, ecological sustainability but they have a link which should be underscored. That is, any economy is dependent upon its resource base for wealth generation, and, as has been detailed above, the resource base in a sustainable society is limited by the ecosystem’s ability to sustainably regenerate materials and energy. For an economic system to be sustainable then, it must function with the constraints of the real physical limitations on resources, viable populations and growth that environmental continuance demands.
It must always be remembered that there is no such thing as an economy, it is a communal hallucination. It exists because we talk about it and in no other way, it is a convenient figment of our gestalt. An economic system no matter how good, complicated or resolved is merely a tool to allow humans to attain a desired cultural pattern and not an end in itself.
The requirements of a sustainable economic system are … it must be a system:
i) that works, that is it must promote the community’s ability to achieve social goals and visions;
ii) is stable in a sustainability long term time frame;
iii) is ecologically sound, non-impacting and functional within sustainable resource limitations;
iv) is equitable (meaning fair and just) for all those in the current generations and those of the future and for all the other species with which we share the planet;
v) is flexible and robust, capable of adapting to changing issues, understandings, priorities and technologies.
Any proposed systems must be judged according to something like these criteria, not how much currency it generates or its effect on a balance of payments.
A working economic system is big ask. An economic system exists to support the ability of humans to have a comfortable, secure, joyous life. This often forgotten principle must be clearly stated and be placed at the core of any sustainable economic system along with the principle that this must not be achieved at the expense of others including other species or at the expense of the planet itself. This is a zero sum game, whatever increase we make to our share of the resource base deprives others. In order to achieve real equity the rules must be rewritten from the start.
To facilitate a comfortable life, a sustainable economic system must have procedures which allow humans to develop resources, trade commodities and support an non-economically oriented cultural sector. So looking at our current system, one could be surprised it doesn’t work, it does all these things. Its problem is not in the way it works at its higher levels but its basic underlying assumptions.
The current monetary system is based on non-absolute, non-real, highly manipulatable concepts, that of faith in the continuance of the stability of governments, potential for future gain and the concept of risk assessment. Our monetary system is currently an element in a game, not a real indicator of value. It is at this basic level that a paradigm shift is required. If the basis of the monetary system is altered to represent real, fixed, absolute ecologically relevant costs and values then the task of developing an economically sustainable system becomes more realistic and achievable. The development of such a medium of resource assessment and allocation is of critical importance to the furtherance of the sustainability debate.
Stability is a response to the foundations of any system, a monetary system founded on human perception of reliability, risk assessment and future prospects is inherently unstable. A sustainable system must be based on the absolutes of the reality of the planet on which we live, respecting its limitations and recognising its sustainable bounty. Ecological soundness will derive from accurate, absolute assessments of the impacts of, and limitations on, procurement of resources, based on the reality of the planetary ecosystem.
The identification, assessment and analysis of these sustainable resources would be the precursor to the development of an economic ‘budget’ for any given ecological catchment. The gross domestic product cannot sustainably exceed the renewable resource base.
The need for equity in a sustainable economic system is critical, this may only be fulfilled with the elimination of want. Any disadvantaged sector will be active in demanding radical alteration to the resource allocation system. The current monetary system has been developed in order to apportion limited wealth, ‘…money is a symptom of poverty, …’. It is unlikely in the short to medium term that there will be sufficient resources available to satisfy all want. This then requires that equitable resource distribution and allocation systems which are seen by all to be fair and reflect community priorities must be instigated. The principal way of achieving this is by ensuring that the community, through open governance, has direct control over resource allocation decision systems.
The current patriarchal system of resource and wealth allocation has gone dramatically astray, as so vividly demonstrated by the results of recent UN research into the uneven distribution of wealth in the world. The ten richest people on this planet have access to more resource than the collective wealth of the poorest two billion. This is a terminal indictment on immature capitalism. It is not slowly filtering down from the benevolent go-getters to the whole of humanity as predicted by the economic rationalists. It is accumulating in great mountains in a pitifully few hands and staying there for who knows what good. How much resource can one person consume? How much wealth can it possibly take to support the most extravagant personal lifestyle? Each of us has only one mouth and one array of sensual organs, beyond the ultimate satiation of these what else is the use of such vast wealth? To do good? For whom, those that are denied access to the font of wealth and resources?
Such deep riven division in our communities must be overcome, they cannot continue in the face of such unfairness. The global information explosion presents us with the contrasts as never before. It is placed right squarely in front of us demanding that we see it and account for it.
Part of the vision of the community should deal with the future aims of the culture with regards to the goals it is attempting to achieve through the economic system. It must become the task of the economic system to directly account for its success in moving towards the stated goals of the community. Any system whose rules and operations are determined by a consensus of the population will necessarily focus on equity, equality of opportunity and fairness of resource distribution. These then must become the calibrations for success of the system.
Government Economic Policy
The purpose of government should be to determine communal resource allocation and distribution policy and to legislate for appropriate laws to ensure cultural pattern reinforcement and enhancement. The economy is essentially the creation and province of merchants and business minds. By allowing governments to attempt to control economic theory, policy and structural manipulation, a series of massive problems are engendered.
Firstly economics becomes linked to politics, which blinkers proponents to the overall appropriateness of the underlying economic systems. Adherents to a particular economic theory link it indelibly to their political ideological platform regardless of continual changes to the real world situation.
Secondly government economic policy is determined by politicians and marketing people whose fields of expertise and understanding are not necessarily related to the issues involved. Many professional politicians have almost no grasp of the complexities and intricacies of sociological and economic theory or practice and yet they end up controlling our society and our economy and making crucial structural decisions on both.
Thirdly, the valid evaluation of the performance of particular economic systems is clouded by the need for the government to appear correct. Politicians want their actions to be seen in the best possible light by their electorate. They thus dictate that evaluation of the performance of systems is made by often inappropriate measures in relation to the effect of the current systems on the well being of the community.
Finally, an overstressing of the role of economics leads to the manipulation of the economic system being wrongly perceived as the way of correcting problems which are essentially social, attitudinal and environmental in nature.
The implementation of an environmentally based monetary system would lead to the elimination of ‘economic settings’, which have been manipulated with such negative consequences in recent decades. The system would be based on real parameters which could not be altered by the intervention of humans. Stability would be achieved as a reflection of the condition of the planetary ecosystem. Economic modeling and theories would be subtly altered in their focus into predictors of social and ecological well being, linking environmental condition and resource availability to various actions and strategies.
Economic System Framework
The framework of a sustainable economic system must be robust and long lived, it must be linked securely to the absolutes of the global ecosystem and its limited sustainable resource base. The details and infill can be plugged into the framework and removed again once their usefulness is passed without altering the structural framework. The concepts of immutability of theory in economics must be eliminated. Economic modeling and theory are complicated to the point of obscurity by the fact that they are to do with human beings, whose nature is eminently unpredictable and changeable.
Currently methods of evaluating the performance of economic systems are essentially illogical and ineffective. To achieve any sense of the real effectiveness of all these economic modelings, application of a scientific method of analysis is required. That is, develop a theory or model, develop a test for the theory, apply the experiment, analyse the results, if they agree with the theory the theory is supported, not proven. If the results disagree with the theory, the theory must be modified or discarded according to the level of discrepancy. It is critical to constantly review the testing of the theory or model to ensure its continued relevance to the culture’s aims and goals.
The contemporary ad-hoc, scatter technique of economic theory development (rooted in fashion, political mumbo-jumbo and outright subjectivism) is a waste of time and effort. Supporters of any particular theory often have chosen that theory on ideological grounds, in support of political ends rather than any firm belief in the benefits or relevance of the given system.
Another aspect of our current economic system which is at odds with sustainability practices, just and fair distribution of resource and responsibility for action, is the corporate system. For humans to become citizens in our society, they must be born, reared, fed and clothed, educated, disciplined and led to an understanding over a couple of decades of their responsibilities to the community. Some still get it wrong.
For a corporation to become a legal citizen it must fill out a form or two and pay a lot of money to a bureaucracy. Corporations are set up to limit liability, the sole aim and guiding moral principle of a corporation is to make money. The corporation becomes a responsibility shield for the individuals who make the decisions of the corporation outside the normal acceptable moral mores of the community. The current corporations laws, company codes and attendant bureaucracies are woefully over complicated and in the same breath inadequate for the task of assuring that corporations behave in a socially moral way, as citizens should and must.
The focus of corporatisation must be shifted to the development of a company ethos. A company should be a group of likeminded individuals with a particular goal, and a defined moral code. Companies must be seen as public entities with the same responsibilities as individuals but due to the public nature of their activities they must have fewer rights to privacy. Many of the world’s major corporations are now experiencing this sort of emerging moral maturity. Such moves should be officially recognised and lauded.
Corporate and bureaucratic secrecy, which have created so many of the fears and problems in our culture must be eliminated, by law if necessary. Secrecy gives information power and corrupts any economic system which relies on an informed marketplace. Eliminating secrecy breaks the power of information and eliminates the destructive inhibitions and manipulations created by the paranoid fear of disclosure prevalent in many of our organisations.
Ecological Balance of Trade
An Ecologically Sustainable Culture must exist within the regenerable resource base available to it according to the culture’s determination of its allowable share of the ecosystem. This must be achieved without adversely impacting on exo-ecosystems outside the particular catchment.
Within the ecosystem catchment for the community there are two principal options for sustainable resource procurement:
Option One - a nothing in – nothing out attitude must be set, or;
Option Two - a method of determining a trading balance, in ecological terms must be developed.
Trade has, since the earliest historical times, proved to be an extremely productive and healthy source of cultural, intellectual and ideological exchange and a generator of wealth. In order to continue these beneficial social side effects, a sustainable cultural system should accommodate and encourage responsible trade both within its catchment and with other catchments.
An ecologically balanced trade would require an evaluation system based on absolute ecological principles and would have to allow for the ‘overheads’ of the ecological impacts of transport and quarantine. The detrimental impacts of removing resources from a catchment must be balanced by ecological benefits to the catchment. This balance must be achieved under ecologically sound principles and properly accounted for.
Systems for balancing the costs and benefits of actions in ecological and cultural terms are currently being developed by numerous proponents throughout the world. The system called EcoCost is attached as an appendix. A quick glance at this will strike fear into the heart of even the most tenacious. Such systems are inately very complex and require some convoluted mathematical and analytical reasoning. The development of a generally agreed upon system is, though, vital to the development of sensible ecologically and environmentally balanced decision making, particularly with regard to trade.
The application of such systems as the basis for a monetary and trading systems ensures a balanced accounting of procurement incorporating ecological impact.
The concept of trade should also be expanded and clarified and may be seen to be not just with other ecosystems but through time with other generations. If we wish to leave wastes which will be toxic beyond our own time then we must also leave resources to pay for that toxic burden.
Distances in both time and the three spatial dimensions should have penalties associated by the use of proper ecological accounting of the full costs of transport and translocation, making trade with adjacent and nearby areas and eras preferable to trade at a distance. The practices of wholesale discounting, subsidisation, custom’s tariffs and artificial trading barriers need to be altered to be valid in a non-anthrocentric / temporalcentric manner.
The introduction of such a system based on the ecological costs of resource procurement and trade allows the current bureaucratic trading organisations to continue without direct intervention but it would gradually, in the short to medium term, alter the priorities and operations of such authorities.
Balancing of trade and budget becomes a meaningful act of living within the sustainable resources of the planet.
We live in an era which is being forced into facing up to the dilemma of humanity’s destructive occupation of this planet. Through our short-sighted attitude of striving for infinite growth within a finite and limited environment we are threatening the planet’s, and hence our own, existence. Growth cannot continue for ever, it is unsustainable. To base our entire economic, resource and societal system on continued growth and ever increasing consumption is intrinsically at fault.
Something must be done, but what ? Before we can answer this question we have to have a deeper understanding of how it is that we damage the environment around us when we consume and how to minimise that damage while retaining cultural goals.
We need advice as to what it is we should be consuming and how much of it is a fair amount?
It is essential that we develop information and advice systems designed to give at least a preliminary usable answer to these questions within the framework of available data, understandings and attitudes.
If we are serious about reducing the disastrous environmental impact of our species it is crucial that we develop and employ accurate, quantitative methods of assessing the full environmental cost of using particular products, processes and devices.
Within the existing market pricing system, it is almost impossible to determine the environmental impacts associated with a particular product. It is too easy to use the product with the lowest market price. There is currently no penalty for using products which damage ecosystems and no system which encourages the use of environmentally benign products and methods.
‘EcoCost’ is an ecologically based evaluation system designed for building materials but it works equally well for any consumer item or process. The system assesses the reduction of biomass and biodiversity and the destruction of natural features, caused by obtaining, manufacturing, distributing and using materials. It is a complex system which requires a lot of background data and detailed research. The development of an EcoCost handbook is an ongoing process which may be ready one day soon. But for now this Book encapsulates the current preliminary understandings given by the application of the EcoCost system to the real world of resource consumption.
The parameters of the EcoCost system include: pollutant output from industrial processes; land degradation caused by raw material collection; energy consumption and generation; pollution and land degradation due to transport; longevity of materials; resource scarcity; reusability and recyclability, engendered in creating a material and getting it to a site. The system synthesises data from a wide range of sources to give quantitative, consistent, repeatable impact evaluations to the various parameters.
In order to give a frame of reference to the EcoCost evaluation and EcoCost budget for a particular project, some interesting comparisons may be developed. The EcoCost value equivalent to the extinction of a particular species could be calculated as a reference line. This would enable a comparison of the sort that … “the EcoCost of this particular project is equivalent to the extinction of this species”.
While such a comparison is verifiable with this system, observation might suggest that it is a dramatic overstatement. Observation, however, never sees the full ecological effect of action condensed into a particular event, it is usually widely dispersed in both space and time and often hidden.
To make such statements would be very contentious and bolster the strong feelings of antagonism and division between pro- and anti- development lobbies, so the wisdom of doing this may be questionable. It would though, clearly reflect the hidden effects of our actions. We have, after all, directly or indirectly caused the extinction of many species and the devastation of entire ecologies over the last century. This must one day be accounted for.
Our society has developed ingenious methods of hiding our wastes and mistakes. We bury them in holes, disperse them from lofty chimneys, dump them all over our ocean floors, we are even contemplating shooting them off into space. This is littering on a stellar scale! Whatever we do with these toxins they are still going to have an effect somewhere on something, such is the nature of the limited universe and particularly our planet. The true and full impact of our actions must be brought to light to allow informed decision making. Any workable empirically based evaluation system that can be employed to this end is better than the current situation of no advice at all.
That institutionalised paragon of wastage, inbuilt obsolescence, that insult to intelligence and any sense of real quality, is a prime indicator of the illness that pervades our culture. That we tolerate and promote such a concept is unacceptable in any society attempting to achieve sustainability. It, together with the entire throw away society, must be brought to a shuddering close. We will all benefit in many ways from the raising of quality, durability and longevity of all the things we consume and the lessening of the waste so evident everywhere around us.
Many of the contributing factors in the degradation of our environment are a result of the way in which we consume things as individuals. There are a number of ways we can think about using our individual and collective purchasing power, our market leverage, our economic consumption niche, to put pressure into the system to evoke some changes towards responsible production, marketing and eventually the consumption of the world’s resources.
The way in which we get the things we need and want for living will determine whether or not we completely trash this planet. We can turn it into a vast, depleted dust bowl or trash can and eventually have to leave or die out. Or we can take a good hard look at ourselves, our needs and wants and how we are to supply those sustainably and with respect for all the other life forms with whom we have to share this place.
The resources we require to live are multifarious and ever increasing. We are swamping the world in great endless swathes of monocultured ecological desert to procure our food supplies. We gouge the earth around the planet leaving indelible scars, polluted waterways and devastated ecosystems to gain the ores and fuels we want. We belch out vast and endless clouds of poisonous gas and smoke into the atmosphere in our vast and ubiquitous industrial processes. This simply cannot go on, the world is nearing its ultimate capacity to recover from this behaviour, it is well beyond its ability to deal with it incrementally. We are irreversibly changing this planet, right now, every second.
The more of us there are, the more resource we need to survive and prosper. This place is limited, though. There are real and close limits to the amount of resource this planet can supply and retain any form of balance. There are many millions of other species on this world that also require resources and it behooves us as self aware beings, conscious of the consequences of our own demands and actions, to ensure we place ourselves in fair and equitable balance with all these other life forms.
We must either dramatically reduce our levels of consumption or find new technologies to produce the things we want in a sustainable way.
An ‘Unlimited’ Resource
The only resource we have which is not limited to what is on this planet, is the incident energy from the sun. Our brilliant little G2 star, a vast nuclear furnace suspended in space eight light minutes away, has supplied all the energy to power this complex, balanced, living, thriving world for thousands of millions of years and will continue to do so for thousands of millions of years more, barring disaster. While our science and technology continue to reveal to us the complex structures of the universe and many potential sources for energy, all of these appear to have possibly dire repercussions and to be of limited availability here at the moment. We do though, have a growing capacity to harness the available energy from our companion star to power a modest, comfortable and aescetically balanced lifestyle without depleting this world.
Almost all available energy on this planet eventuates from the sun. Light, heat, waves, wind, photosynthesis, even fossil fuels are all storing energy garnered from the sun. Hydro-potential comes from the raising of water vapour from the seas by the heat of the sun to impart potential energy. Tidal energy comes from the kinetic energy of the moon and the sun. Nuclear energy is the only available energy source not solar originating, it derives from the transmutation of matter to energy, an ultimately destructive resource. Energy cannot be destroyed or used up it can only be converted from one form to another or transmuted to matter. We must approach a closed cyclic understanding of energy to allow us to reuse it continually and sustainably.
The cleanest and only sustainable way of harnessing the sun’s energy is through direct conversion of incident energy by solar electrical generation, wind, wave and tidal sources. All of these energies are dispersed around the globe and thus must be accessed by devices dispersed in the same way. Our current methods of setting up vast centralised energy producing installations are causing inestimable damage to the world we have to live in. Dispersal of energy generation is not only desirable, it is probably inevitable to avoid complete localised environmental breakdown in the proximity of the existing megastructures.
Solar panels, wind generators, micro-hydro electric systems and wave energy generators are excellent devices for the dispersal of small scale energy generation.
Cities seem to be a natural state for human beings. We make them for some very good though often unconscious reasons. The underlying opportunities that will make a city viable, both now and in the foreseeable future, are the availability for interaction between citizens, the development of unique cultural traits and identities and the provision of essential cultural services, food, security, health and inspiration. The increasing power of information and communication technologies will make most other activities of cities including commercial and industrial operations, essentially redundant.
The promotion of a strengthened artistic and entertainment sector is one of the principal functions of a sustainable city. The city must develop itself as a provider of services that cannot be supplied by information and communications technology. Providing gathering and interacting places for live art, participatory and interactive art, live entertainment, cuisine, health and participatory education is the future role of urban centres.
Many times over the last few decades we have had calls from politicians pushing sustainability as a ‘niche voter market’ by calling for ‘new cities’ and ‘newtowns’. The use of these large scale development projects as eco-sensitivity platitudes, rather than pushing for real reductions in humanity’s impact and degradation of natural environments, is farcical. These large scale developments are a large part of the problem when it comes to environmental impact. What is needed are ways to alter the manner in which current settlements are managed and it is essential to have guidelines for sustainability and ecological impact minimisation.
The concept of continuing unlimited growth, of constantly building anew, is not sustainable. Development must be perceived as the act of changing the existing rather than creating anew. This is a hard pill for developers, economists and designers to swallow but it in no way infers the end of creative design or of invention of the new; it is the focus of the application of these skills and talents which must be altered.
The practice of achieving sustainable cities, buildings and living is not about a new style of urbanity or architecture. It is about changing the way we do things, from the most basic things, to the most complex of our organisational structures. Sustainability is much more about attitudes, education and the realisation of responsibility than the physical forms and structures of our world. Many of the patterns in this book suggest strategies for behaviour rather than design ideas. These behavioural strategies are cumulative and when a large percentage of the community take them on board they will have far more profound effects at the community level than at the individual.
History has demonstrated that the design professions have not been very successful at paradigm shifts. The stylistic imagery of a new movement is consumed, assumed, digested, applied and excreted to be forgotten, usually without allowing the meaning of that philosophy to change the underlying attitudes or methods of doing. The expression of egocentricity through design imagery remains the paramount driving force.
In the case of sustainability however, the imperatives are so intractable, widespread and non-anthrocentric as to force a major paradigm shift in the way we actually go about things at very basic levels. The imperatives must come to underlie design rather than be a pastiche to it. This is not a philosophical or stylistic movement, it is a physical and cultural imperative.
Making it Happen: What You Can Offer
Each and every thing we do has within it the capacity both to achieve a sustainable way and to demonstrate the reality and possibility of such achievements.
These Patterns give some possibilities and potentialities to avoid the current thoughtless unsustainable paradigms. Most of the things we make and do inevitably go awry within a few decades, either through insufficient perception of need or through rapid cultural change or through social stigmatisation.
Instead of this dead end street, a thoughtful project can be a model of late twentieth century restraint, a symbol of the emergence of a cultural maturity that expresses our emerging perception of our place within the planetary ecosystem. It is possible for our living and doing to become a site for research into the potentials of this society, this place, for supporting humanity in a sustainable way. We can use our life, work and home as places for succouring and investigating the possibilities of valid endemic ecosystems that may be used to make a viable sustainable contribution to the culture.
There is a mountain of quality research and experience from those who have been investigating sustainability for decades now. The scientific understanding and the technological know-how is there waiting to be tapped. The Green Movement, Greenpeace, Conservation foundations, the Wilderness Society, the Ecoforestry Institute of the North American continent, Masonobu Fukuoka of The One Straw Revolution, David Suzuki, David Pearson and his excellent Natural House book, Amory Lovins and the Gaia foundation, the Rocky Mountains Institute, the Rainbow Power Company, and numerous other subversive organisations, have a range of profound solutions to the problems faced in the implementation of sustaianble develoment practices. Such policy documents as National Strategies for ESD set up major references and strategies for achieving sustainable development at the broadest levels.
Up to now most green organisations have been continuously sidelined by bureaucracies simply because they do not fit in the correct mould, their principles do not wear suits, talk in megabucks, play diplomacy or wheel and deal. They do however, through years of careful research and practical experiences of trial and error, have a poultice of answers to the problems facing society.
Your life and projects are your opportunity to help bring these solutions from alternative obscurity into the mainstream, to alter the path of our society from consumption and degradation to ecological, cultural and economic sustainability.
Vast carparks, hopelessly under-utilised major buildings and excessive roadworks dominate new areas. The optimal sustainability solution for these cities is to encourage projects which have the potential to improve already ecologically blighted land. We need to increase urban densities while at the same time improving human amenity. We need to overcome or sidestep other ecologically impacting problems, such as transport and resource procurement.
Many of our problems are caused by our existing vast sprawling, ridiculously sparsely laid out cities. The last few decades have seen some of the lowest urban densities in the world emerge. It will be fascinating to observe the effects on our physical and social cultural patterns when instantaneous mass transportation moves from the laboratories and becomes a reality. Our car based cities will go through an explosive dispersion. Virtual meeting places may become critical or redundant. This is a new problem that evolving responsible humanity will have to face soon. But for now, thousands of square kilometres of pristine viable endemic ecosystems and some of the best agricultural and wilderness land has already been destroyed for suburban sprawl. What land remains under agriculture is changing from mixed ecologies to such low quality production as mono-species broad acre cultivation and rapid turnover grainfed stockyards, devoid of any variety of species.
The world needs more land subverted to human ends like it needs a hole in the head. The world’s problem is not about how to develop new sites, we do not need new cities and suburbs and mega-developments, new farms, forests and plantations. We need to fix up and make better use of the ones we have already, to create quality buildings, spaces and systems.
Times are changing, our society is maturing, attaining confidence in its sense of itself. We are coming to realise that we cannot keep on with our present expansionist ways of doing things.
Perhaps by putting the billions of dollars of infrastructure development required for new developments into solving the problems of existing urban sites, we can come closer to achieving sustainable urban living.
Consolidating the existing city fabric, ecologising the service infrastructure and putting in place an attractive and efficient public transit system should be given much higher priorities than the typical, big bucks, androcentric ‘new’ building solutions. It may not be as grand a gesture or as exciting a project on the surface but the potential for developing applicable sustainable solutions is far greater. The formulation, application and evaluation of a series of guidelines for sustainable urban consolidation, regeneration and infrastructure development which may be applied across the range of developments would have an inestimable value in achieving sustainability.
It is essential that the international enthusiasm and willpower generated by Agenda 21, the Budderim report, the various UN ESD strategies, and other major statements of intent, not be lost to the usual cynicism of the uninformed and unconcerned. Accusations of ‘cliches’, the pessimism of ‘it’ll never work’ or the stupidity of ‘it’s too different’ or ‘it’s too difficult’ or ‘it cannot be done’ must be not be allowed to overcome the desperate need for things to be done better. It can be done, the knowledge and technology are there, the will is evident. All it requires is the foresight and inspiration of the decision makers or the eventual ceaseless force of community will to vault this society into a new way which we can be at least partly confident is sustainable.
The plethora of arguments espoused concerning international trading competitiveness or the need for continued growth are in direct conflict with achieving sustainability. Our culture needs to take a good hard look at itself, where it wants to go and how it wants to get there, and then go ahead and do it. If we do not have the expertise, strength of character, skills and research capabilities, who does? We must learn to trust in our own capabilities. If each of us join those developing sustainable practices then every little piece of the puzzle has the opportunity of assisting the dissemination of experience and techniques.
To use the basest yardstick, the market for sustainability throughout the world context is vast, vaster than any primary resource based markets. Implementing sustainability is about examining the basic principles upon which our society is founded. It is the opportunity to avoid the fundamental mistakes of our recent past. We must not allow a repetition of these mistakes to be hidden by laying a pastiche cloak of green over the proceedings. If we do not make the fundamental changes so clearly required by the findings of the professional scientific and environmental communities, then we openly declare that we accept risk the inevitable decimating ecological, social and economic consequences.
THE BARE ESSENTIALS
Ideas for some of the structural changes required of our culture to achieve sustainability.
3. Consensus of Vision
image of some magnificent big vista of undamaged wilderness
Consensus on a vision for the distant future of communities is far easier to achieve than agreement on dealing with current issues. Few of us can agree on what to do today but most of us have a pretty similar view on the sort of future that we would like to see in the very long term. A consensus of vision ensures a long term view of things and achieving sustainability is the only way of achieving any seriously long term goal.
By finding a consensus vision the entire community can re-examine the worth of contemporary projects and issues in terms of their practical capability to help achieve the vision. It can help conflict resolution and the development of a sense of community cohesion and cultural direction.
Environmental issues have been talked over by bureaucrats, professionals and decision makers for decades with little or no progress in real terms. It is time for involvement of the entire global community, not just the autocratic dictums of the men in charge of the world, in determining the future direction for humanity. It is essential that all aspects of issues be openly explored and debated, it also critical that consensus and not compromise is achieved. Compromise goals are nobody’s goals.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think and talk about the world you would like to see ours become. Help set up a broad community debate on visions of where this society wants to be in the far distant future. Ensure individuals, academics, community interest groups, industry, commercial interests, and public authorities all contribute to the vision.
4. Create a Sense of Identity and Continuity
In order to achieve sustainability and not simply to exist, a community must a raison d’etre. Many of our society’s urban centres have lost any real reason for their existence. They become self-regenerating but purposeless except to enable themselves to exist.
A community, like an individual, needs goals in life. A consensus of vision gives the community a valid goal. It is essential that this vision encompasses a sense of identity and ensures that that identity sits recognisably within its historical context and desired future direction.
A clearly stated community goal can dramatically improve both morale and productivity by creating a sense of purpose and belonging. A sense of an ‘us’, pulling together for something positive for ‘us’ all.
Together with a Sustainable Governance and a Consensus of Vision, the development of recognisable places, in terms of ecosystem catchments, as self administering entities will lead to the development of a social identity providing an immediately recognisable character and strengthening the communities sense of belonging to the place.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for a thorough investigation of the available sustainable development options for the community, identify which of these are unique to the place and use these to create an identity for the place. Link this sociological identity to its geographical and ecological icons.
5. Set Sustainable Time Horizons
It seems that against all its stated principles and the meaning of the term, the concept of sustainability is seen to be limited to a (ridiculously close) time horizon. For true sustainability the time horizon should be infinite, or at least the life of this planet.
So far sustainability has not even been dealt with in terms of genetically recognisable eras. In current literature, government policy and economic philosophy: short term is seen as this financial year, medium term is this term of office, three years and long term a decade or so!
Short term must be must shorter, from days to seasons, to allow rapid reaction to crises. In sustainable terms, long term must be infinite, practically speaking at least a matter of millennia. Medium term should relate to the consequences of current activities, say the time taken for local ecosystems to recover to a mature stable state.
The current time horizons are set by the assumption that things must be good by election time, or what is achievable within a single person’s career. A perverted notion of responsibility exists in our large bureaucracies, a NIMTOF (not in my term of office). The alteration of our systems of governance (both elected and career systems) to respond to sustainable time horizons is vital, a sense of handing over the baton faithfully carried. Community governance is not linked to the success of particular individuals or parties. It is essentially continuous rather than discreet. Time frames can be adjusted to reflect this nature.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think about the consequences of your actions in terms of meaningful sustainable time frame. Call for the implementation a long term time frame for community policy development and implementation.
6. Adapting to Change
Evolution Image ? birth, aging death cycle ?
Everything changes, all the time, this is the nature of nature. Creating a sustainable culture is dependent on adapting to the reality of a constantly changing melange. Seeing impermanence in all things is simply a matter of perspective, of time scales.
Within each of our lifetimes the structures of our cultural and physical world will change out of recognition many times. Our culture is undergoing an evolutionary process, as have all cultures. The difference now is the rate of evolution is being measured in years rather than generations or even centuries. Each of those changes is a response to a choice made either consciously or unconsciously by the consensus of humanity. We chose the world we live in. By exercising that power and understanding the ramifications of each of the paths available to us we can make the choice to achieve sustainability. This lies at the core of both the current environmental devastation our species has wrought and the solution to that immanent crisis.
We live in an era being forced into facing up to the dilemma of humanity’s occupation of this planet. Through our short-sighted attitude of striving for infinite growth within a finite and limited environment we are threatening the planet’s, and hence our own, existence.
Humanity must set up strategies for change that nudge us in the direction of sustainability. Each incremental change must bring us closer to a system that brings our culture into balance with the ecological cycles and systems that have created the world we know and the one we ache for.
So … Rule of Thumb … Recognise that change is at the heart of all things and any sustainable system must be capable of responding to this and succeeding within our constantly evolving world.
7. Repair the Damage
The time has come, the community will is in evidence and the resources are available, to allow us to begin the long process of restitution of the balance of humanities habitation on the planet with the rights of other inhabitants to a satisfactory, free and joyous existence.
It is not enough for us merely to become sustainable in physical terms, we must become morally sustainable. We must decide what is to be our ‘fair share’ of the planet. Together with this we must restitute the damage we have done. There is no point in crying over the actions of previous generations, there is a job that has to be done, we have seen the problem, we must act to correct it.
If the twentieth century A.D. of western culture is to be seen in historical perspective as the century of environmental devastation, then let the twenty first go down as the time when our culture matured, gained a profound perspective and learned to live as part of a greater whole.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make the beginning of the Twenty First Century the turning point for humanity’s philosophical perspective of the universe. Let us understand that there is nothing overridingly special about the species Homo sapiens sapiens. We are a single species amongst millions, which make up a global complex ecosystem on a small oxygen-water planet in an obscure solar system of a yellow star on an outer arm of a spiral galaxy amongst many millions in the space time continuum. It is not meant to be humbling, we have a great potential to be a part of the greater universe, but let us keep the whole picture and our precarious existence in perspective.
8. A Fair Share of the Biomass
This is the question of population. This is a not just a physical question of viable human population, the support capacity of the planetary ecosphere, but a moral question of what, as a single species amongst millions, is humanity’s ‘fair share’ of the planet.
The answering of this question needs not only a sound knowledge of the consequences of various given population scenarios but also a consensus of vision of humanity’s place in the cosmos.
Ecologists and biologists have long held a theory of attainable Biomass, that is, that this planet can support a maximum given mass of living creatures: animal, vegetal, insect, bacterial and viral; which is primarily limited by the incident energy available to the planet from the sun. This biomass has been set by various calculations at approximately seventy billion tonnes activated annually with some eighteen hundred billion tonnes in stored biomass (biochemical compounds).
A corollary of the biomass theory is that for every new kilogram of human being there will be one kilogram less of other living matter on this world. When the population of the earth reaches one thousand billion, on average seventy kilogram humans, there will be absolutely no room for any other species of living organism on this planet.
In a few hundred years, at the present increasing rate of growth, ninety percent of all living matter will be human beings and their support systems. Should we dread the day when man will be fighting for space with a virus, competing for nutrients with a mould spore ?
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for our culture to face the issue and decide, What is to be humanity’s fair share of the available planetary Biomass ?
9. Set Viable Population Limits
The human population of this world, now some six thousand million is decimating the planet’s ecosystems ability to support it at an alarming rate. Unchecked the population will be pushing ten thousand million by the middle of the next century. This is a dilemma requiring immediate action.
We must decide on a real, feasible limit for human population and develop ways of attaining it. This is a moral discussion over and above the scientific debate over the maximum attainable and supportable human population in biological terms.
The population question is avoided as politically suicidal. Nobody is willing to tackle the problem openly as it is seen to be bound up intrinsically with political, racial, social, religious and economic issues. It has been occluded by religious and political pressures and has been sidelined by powerful lobby groups. How the population target is met is the political trouble area, setting the target should not be. It has nothing to do with immigration, sexual activity or multiculturalism. It is to do with responsibly recognising global ecological limitations.
Setting the ecologically and morally sustainable population target is part of Consensus of Vision, and as with the development of a vision involves a debate on a different level to that of how the vision is achieved. It is a global birth control, longevity and consumption issue, an issue of personal responsibility for our living pattern choices.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think about your involvement in the rapidly increasing population of the world. How many children should you have? Talk about this. Encourage an assessment of the sustainable population of your locality based on ecological principles and address methods of attaining and stabilising this population.
Yes In My Back Yard.
This must be the new prevailing attitude amongst the community to ensure sustainability. Both resource procurement and impact rectification must be contained within the ecosystem catchment of those gaining the benefits.
Communities and individuals must accept responsibility for their own self support and sustained environment. Along with all the constitutional ‘rights’ of being a citizen should be placed constitutionalised responsibilities for the impacts of our actions. If people want something they must be prepared to pay the real costs of obtaining that something, and to understand what that payment really means. Utility operations currently viewed as undesirable are not only possible in local areas but can be socially and even aesthetically desirable.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to contain the effects of your own actions within your own field of influence. Call for a review of zoning practices. Encourage, sponsor and develop Successful Practical Projects such as Sewerage Processing as a Work of Art, in visible locations within local communities.
11. Successful Practical Projects
All this palaver is a fine exercise in desktop publishing skills and little more. Few will ever read these writings, fewer still will respond to them in a meaningful way. What everyone responds to urgently and enthusiastically are real, physically substantial projects, highly visible, on the ground and out in the community.
Practical projects remove the paralysing fear of the unknown which lies at the heart of conservatism. They alleviate the need for watertight philosophical argument and persuasive prose. Real initiatives involve people directly in the process of development and refinement of successful strategies for achieving goals. They run no risk of departing from reality or being swept away in joyous enthusiasm for unattainable goals. Real projects are proof of the viability of the systems they employ.
Real projects, which can be visited and experienced and understood at a basic personal level, are the way to inspire individuals into making the paradigm shift to sustainability. These projects can be private initiatives, infrastructure works or community endeavours. It will be important in the long term to ensure the instigators of Successful Practical Projects are publicly commended for their works and that the information on the projects is widely and effectively disseminated.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make each thing you do an example of how it could and should be done. Organise practical projects in the local community. Start simple, increasing the scope and complexity with experience and confidence.
12. Appropriate Technology
image thief stalking thief or fire fighting?
“Set a thief to catch a thief”, “Fight fire with fire.”
The bulk of the damage done to our environment can be traced directly to the instigation of new technologies. These technologies though, are a direct response to the demands of each and all of us for an easier, fuller existence. Technology is not an enemy it is a tool, an extension of the will of its user. It can be used in many different ways with many different results.
While current technology has finally begun to turn its sights to undoing some of the critical damage that previous technologies have created, we still have little idea of what spectres the methods we are using now will raise in the future. We do know though, that the problems already created can only be dealt with by the use of more potent technologies. Our technologies evolve in response to the evolution of cultural attitudes. They are rapidly becoming more green, more aware of the consequences of their creation and implementation.
Technolgies respond to the combined forces of scientific discovery and public demand. Both of these are manipulatable by conscious implementation of green philosophies. Directing greater resources to environmental sciences and research and development of green technology will ensure rapid transition of productive technologies and the development of effective restorative systems.
So … Rule of Thumb … Support new environmentally sound research and development businesses. Use their products and technologies, give them feedback on success and failure.
If you don’t go any further have a look at these, they give some insights into minimal things you can do to save the world.
13. We Are The Problem.
image of a collage of faces from everywhere
Each of us, with everything we do, cause a stress on our local environmental catchment. The problem, in all its vastness is caused by the cumulative effects of billions of individuals.
It seems at times that the problems facing us in dealing with the enormous environmental degradation our species has caused seem too overwhelming to do anything about. What difference can I make ? is a very common plea. If, though, each and every one of us caused a little bit less of an impact then the cumulative effect of that is vast, multiply a simple action by six billion times!
Those of us who happen to live in technologically reliant communities have an added responsibility for lessening our consumption. The first world nations consume resources and energy at hundreds or thousands of times the rate per head than those in the third world. Add to this that the vast percentage of the world’s wealth is concentrated in an appallingly few individuals who hold extreme power in first world countries and across the entire globe. Given the enormous capacity of these individuals to engender change, the responsibility rests heavily on them. But all of us who see the problem must act. Our perception of the problem makes us capable of doing something about it, integrity insists we act.
So … Rule of Thumb … We are the solution, each and every one of us holds the answer within us. Our cumulative actions cause the problems and can solve them. Those who see the problem must act.
14. Everything in Moderation
image of musicians – master-apprentice- tuning a harp or something
“If the string is too loose it will not play, if it is too tight it will break”
Being fanatical about things always leads to trouble. So much time, effort and anguish is gone through to gain an end result hardly better than the middle path. Remember that the joy is in the being and that lasting things come from balance.
Being fanatical can blinker perspective, wound up in such minutae and detail that the overall picture is obscured and the vital link to reality is lost. Being wordy beforehand and slack about the follow through also leads to trouble. It is essential that we follow things through, not let them drop in the heat of the moment, sustainability depends on thoroughness.
Don’t be scared off by others who come over all knowing and pedantic either. Anything that is done by humans, can be done by any human, it is just a matter of time, care and perseverance. Things can be done in a myriad different ways. The techniques taught in trade schools and academic colleges are only one traditionally evolved way, responding to cultural patterns rather than intrinsic parameters, often blinkered to other perfectly feasible ways of doing things. These ways of doing have evolved before the obvious manifestation of environmental problems has caused us to re-evaluate our patterns of living. New ecologically sustainable ways of doing things now have to go through a process of experimentation and evolution to find optimum ways.
So … Rule of Thumb … Follow the middle way, find the balance between too much and too little. Avoid terms like ‘never’, ‘always’ and ‘has to be’. Try to step back from the obvious to see the patterns behind all things. Be open to all things. No one has all the answers, so constantly seek better information and advice, find your own unique answers.
15. Seek Quality
image ? a dovetail or other fancy splice
The notion of quality is smothered in our current world of economic rationalism. This is a great tragedy and one that must be addressed if sustainability is to succeed.
There is always a trade off between quality and economic cost with our current system. This trade off does not exist with the EcoCost system. The higher the quality of a material or piece of workmanship, the longer it will last and the less waste it generates, therefore the lower its EcoCost. An artifact must be of high quality to last as long as possible, and each link in the chain must hold up to gain the EcoCost savings available.
Once the decision is made to pursue quality it imbues the entire creative process with a sense of specialness, importance even. The notion of quality can become a guiding principle throughout the design and production process, assisting in the constant decision making required. There is something uplifting and meaningful about making something you know is good and will last, something of quality. Artifacts made with quality are instantly recognised and are treasured down through the ages. Their worth is many times their original cost.
So … Rule of Thumb … Seek a sense of quality and meaning in everything you make and do. Use the highest attainable level of quality for everything, match the life span of all constituent parts to the overall project. Always aim as high as possible, make the result worthy of the consumption.
16. The Evolution of Cooperation
image of the ape to human to human with club to two humans hand in hand
A few of the world’s species have evolved a way of being that moves a step on from the Darwinian paradigm of ‘Survival of the fittest’, it encapsulates a broader way, ‘Success of the Co- operative’. These are the social species and Homo sapiens sapiens is one of them.
Human beings have created an entire worldwide, cross ecosystem dominance of available niches on this planet. The reason for this does not lie in our individual strength, resilience or adaptivity, regardless of how much we might wish it so. It rests with our ability to communicate and act co-operatively with one another to achieve communal goals.
Our ability to communicate together with our evolving understanding of our world, gives us the capacity and mechanisms necessary to allow us to live in co-operation with the concept of Gaia. We are in an inextricable bind with all the other species on the planet. Every time we exterminate a species, either knowingly hunting or harvesting it into non-existence or unknowingly devastating its habitat to the point of its extinction, we lessen our world. We lessen our capacity to take real and meaningful joy in the unimaginable complexity that millions of years of evolution have created. We alter the critical balance of Gaia.
This is not an issue of paternalistic responsibility, this is an issue of awareness and perception. Our future, if it is to be worthwhile, lies not in the dominance or survival of our species as the fittest but in the success of our species as the co-operative, not simply with our own species but with all the species of this planet.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to picture yourself as being involved in a great spectrum of interwoven life forms. Think carefully about the benefits and pitfalls of short term competition versus long term interaction and co-operation.
How mad is war? Knowingly going out to kill and maim other human beings, lay waste to vast areas of land, devastate ecologies without a thought and destroy eons of cultural civilisation? We waste a great part of our available resources on military activity. The environmental devastation due to war in this century of wars has been incalculable and unjustifiable.
We all live on this planet, we are all part of the same global ecosystem. When we seek to damage a part of the global environment, ecological social or economic, we damage ourselves. Competition for resources seems innate in the human psyche. The evolution of co-operation within our species has led us to see competition as something that only happens outside of the group. It is in viewing a group as ‘other’ that competition can occur. In our culture, competition with others presents itself as war and environmental degradation. The emerging global civilisation is gradually but inevitable removing the xenophobic definitions of ‘other’ that we apply to everyone and everything that is not of ‘us’.
Global governance allows all to be part of decision making, resource allocation and trade agreements. A monetary system based on ecological paramaters would make military activity prohibitively expensive, even for wealthy countries. A war would automatically bankrupt a country, particularly if strong global trading sanctions were automatically applied, as a matter of course, to any entity involved in hostilities. In this scenario, competition slowly becomes outperformed by co-operation and dies out. This is a natural and hopefully inevitable path of evolution. Herein lies a final answer to war.
So … Rule of Thumb … Actively campaign against all war and needless killing of any species. We are all part of a global system; all things are our kin. Campaign for open, inclusive global governance.
18. Plant a Tree
image from the man who planted trees or simla
Trees are beautiful things, they make the air breathable, and they produce timber which is one of the few environmentally beneficial, sustainable resources available to humanity.
Trees, especially when young and growing vigorously, have a huge potential for scrubbing the atmosphere and removing environmentally harmful substances from the air. Trees along with other vegetation forms constitute the complimentary other half of the ecosystems carbon dioxide and nitrogen cycles to animals. In urban areas, street and park trees form an integral symbiosis with the dominant animal species Homo sapiens.
People like trees. A simplistic statement but a statistically demonstrable community bias exists towards greenery in urban areas. Spaces given over to trees give rise to a series of unique sensations. Their quietness, removal from traffic and the hustle and bustle of human activity, make them much sought after and appreciated places. This should be responded to in a positive way. People rapidly tire of being challenged by blank, hard, bleak forms and spaces, they can be challenged just as effectively by Living Machines and Sewerage Processing as a Work of Art and be sustainable into the bargain.
So … Rule of Thumb … Whenever the opportunity arises, plant a tree and remember, trees are good but bush is better. Make it a tree that is grown from locally harvested seed from native plants. Encourage community tree planting programs and education about the value of trees, especially native ones.
19. Waste Not, Want Not
In this old adage we find a truism for our threatened age. We have wasted so much. So much resource, so much of our natural heritage, so much of the health and beauty of this world.
This wastage must be addressed, it must be stopped, here and now. It is simply a matter of attitude, forethought and care, of taking responsibility. Of doing just that little bit more to ensure that we can continue to live on and enjoy of this world.
So … Rule of Thumb … Waste Not, Want Not. Practice it, preach it. Think long and hard before you throw anything away. Can it be repaired, re-used, recycled? Can someone else use it? Can it be composted, is it toxic, will it disturb local ecologies or specialised species, was so much of it needed in the first place? Think longer and harder before obtaining more of it, do you really need it?
20. Get A Bike
image of critical mass ride or my new bike
Taking personal responsibility for the most serious environmental threat of our times, the car, involves a simple step. Get a Bike.
However many million people can’t be wrong, get a bike, be part of the creation of the critical mass. The critical mass happens when there are enough bikes on the road at any one place and time to make themselves a safe space and to become effective in securing right of way in automotive traffic. It is when the rules have to change to accommodate bikes.
A bike, trike, wheelchair, scooter or any other human powered device uses a renewable energy propulsion system powered by a biological fuel system emitting only water vapour and some carbon dioxide. It has virtually negligible parking requirements, requires only a twentieth the road area of an automobile, seldom results in serious injuries and it gets you fit, sheds those unwanted kgs quicker than… They can be assisted by solar powered electric motors if needed.
A bike can travel urban paths and distances as quickly or quicker than a vehicle in most urban environments. Trips to the hardware or the shop usually only involve a packet of screws or other small item easily carried on a bike. It can make a vast difference to the EcoCost of your existence.
So … Rule of Thumb … Get a Bike, recumbent, scooter, wheelchair or tricycle, make it a good one and use it all the time for everything, get in the habit and stay there. It will be one of the biggest contributions you can make.
21. Walk, Catch a Bus, Train, Ferry, Anything!
image of an old rusty car covered in cobwebs in a garage
Personal transport is going to be the biggest challenge for next century until we have teleportation. We have come to rely so deeply on our cars, psychologically, physically, socially and economically. They are an entrenched part of the way we live our lives, but they are killing us.
They have changed the physical and social patterns of our living. They are also the most environmentally damaging things we make and use. They are the single largest method of early demise in our world. If you are serious about reducing the environmental impact of your actions then try not using a personal motor vehicle. Use anything else, preferably your own body and keep the car as a last resort only.
If you have to use a car, a simple strategy is to think through strategies to cut down on the inevitable trips, get everything that will be needed for the forseeable future in a single trip. Don’t just fly off without assessing the timing and need for something, nothing is ever that urgent! Go to the nearest place that will have what you need, don’t traipse around all over town in a vehicle, use the Net, the telephone or whatever first. Try to set up a car pool or a ute club, to share the EcoCosts and resource-capital tied up in vehicles, roads and parking and maintenance. Join the AA., that’s automobiles anonymous for those who cannot kick the habit. If just transporting yourself, fill the car with others to ameliorate the costs.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try not to use vehicular transport if it can be avoided, minimise it if it must be used, think out a transport strategy. Walk first, then a bike, then all forms of public transport and only use a car as a last resort.
22. Power Your Life Yourself
We surround ourselves with a myriad unnecessary devices for performing tasks we can perfectly well do ourselves. These devices all use some form of energy source, resulting in millions of tonnes of batteries being deposited as toxic intractable waste throughout the world.
How often have you seen someone walk all over the house looking for the television remote, rather than just getting up and changing it by hand?
There are many beautiful tools designed to allow tasks to be performed by hand with care and excellent quality control. Mortar and pestles and fine knives can be beautiful things, as can rolling pins, whisks, saws, hammers, chisels, pens and paper (ah hem), lever mechanisms, window and door catches and locks, light switches and so many other things.
Our bodies are the most versatile and wonderful machines we know of, and our hands are their most advanced feature, they make us human. The sensation of using the tactile capacity of our hands to nurture our day to day living is profoundly satisfying.
So … Rule of Thumb … Surround yourself with finely made quality hand tools for all sorts of tasks, use them. Avoid any device with a battery in it.
23. Sirens, Bells, Whistles & Rings … NOISE!
image of the Chinese character To Listen by Will
The level of willfully created noise pollution in our world has reached intrusive and even dangerous proportions. In many urban environments a moment without noise is almost impossible to find. A quiet moment and peace of mind are inextricable companions.
Noise and sound are not the same thing. Sound is an essential and vital part of our sensorium. Noise is an intrusive and destructive inhibitor to our ability to perceive and enjoy sound.
So many of the devices we have constantly around us emit an array of alerting noises. Clocks, telephones, mobile phones, computers, faxes, printers, electronic organisers and diaries, microwaves, cars, and all the rest are constantly assailing us with alarming tones. They insist on our attention, taking us from the moment without notice and little reason.
Each one of these adds to the continual anxiety and stress that are becoming hallmarks of our culture. Are they necessary? It is a real and important question, which requires a considered and meaningful answer.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try just for a few moments of each day to find some time without noise. This doesn’t mean total silence but try to find somewhere deep and quiet surrounded by natural sounds. Turn off all your noisemaking devices. Campaign for the banning of sirens, whistles and bells.
24. Flashing Lights
image of the dash of a Jumbo ? or a stereo or times square.
There are a staggering array of Neons, LEDs, LCDs, and VDUs everywhere constantly glowing, flashing and strobing. It is hard in many urban environments to find true darkness or visual calm anymore, the comfortable darkness of the bush at night.
The same hormones in our system that need real sunlight hours to be properly triggered, have counterparts that need hours of real darkness to reach necessary levels. There are some obscure effects that can be generated in humans due to continual and rhythmic flashing lights. Alpha effects, as some of them are known, can stimulate epileptic seizure and subconscious trance states. Low quality and interrupted sleep states can result from too much background lighting or oscillating light levels.
It is good for the minds and bodies of humans to be immersed in complete darkness and look up to see the real night sky every now and again. The recent psychotic behaviour in some large cities during power blackouts demonstrates the lack of experience of real darkness in our culture and the dangerous side effects of that.
Besides, all these flashing lights drive you nuts with all their attention seeking and irrelevant information dissemination, worse than teenagers. They are constantly using up energy for no real purpose.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to cut down on all the thousands of flashing lights. Try to find the space, place and time to stand under sky in a fully darkened environment and count the stars. 967 are visible to the naked eye, apparently.
25. In the Kitchen
A look around any kitchen or in any refrigerator reveals a perilous array of toxic compounds, high EcoCost materials and plastics everywhere. All of this in direct contact with stuff that enters our bodies.
26. Plastics Everywhere
image of an array of plastic handles
Have you ever noticed how little natural surface you touch in a day?
Have a think about it as you go through your day. Almost everything you touch will be either some form of plastic or will be coated in a polymer plastic finish, sealant, conditioner, softener or paint.
Grip shaped handles on everything are pressure moulded in all sorts of plastics. As are every conceivable form of household or office appliance or workshop and site tool. How far do you have to go to see a proper high quality folded carbon steel chisel with a fine dense wooden handle?
The colours and visual textures of all these plastics, ranging from tacky imitations of natural products to flamboyant, iridescent glow in the darks, are deeply disturbing at a basic level, they are the antithesis of quality.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to surround yourself with some natural materials without any applied finishes on them, particularly for tactile objects like tool handles and kitchen and eating utensils. Some timber to touch, some things of stone and wood, some real untreated cloth, perhaps even a few living plants and animals.
27. Small Buildings For No Reason
image of a folly teahouse? BBQ shelter, Wombat
This may sound like a double take in an environmentally depleted world, but life itself needs to be of a higher quality to allow a connection to the beauty of what it is we wish to maintain and re-ignite in our world.
There is something essentially beautiful and whimsical about a small single roomed building. Their EcoCost is known and understood and respected. Designed for no pure purpose, rather than to the constraints of a typical building, they can evoke wonderful meditative and spiritual experiences. Placed in a natural setting and shared amongst many users, these are the ultimate aescetic follies for the environmentally aware.
We need them we need to know that there are still things we make in this world, which are fine and beautiful and spiritually profound.
So … Rule of Thumb … Contemplate the making of a high quality small building near somewhere beautiful as an aescetic folly. Think carefully about how it can represent your concepts of minimalism and sustainable living.
image wilderness shot dombrovski style subtitle call some paradise and kiss it goodbye
So many of the world’s beautiful places are under severe threat from over development. This is our doing. We all want a beautiful place. In order to achieve that within feasible ecological guidelines we must begin to approach the concepts of land ownership from a different perspective.
There are a large number of both formal and informal groups of people who have banded together to raise the necessary capital within the system to purchase title to large areas of threatened but ecologically viable land. Such environmental land trusts can then hand over management to government parks authorities, manage it themselves or just leave it well alone. The ecologies of these land areas should be protected with strong irrevocable legal covenants constraining use and development.
The profound sense of achievement that putting aside some land out of reach of devastation and development can engender is a precious thing in the desperate struggle to achieve sustainability in an unthinking ‘rationalist’ world. These pieces of land build one upon the other in an incremental battle to set aside places of worth and beauty for themselves, and for the planet, and for no other purpose.
So … Rule of Thumb … Get together with some friends, buy a threatened, beautiful bit of land. Register an irrevocable covenant that will protect the naturalness of that place and build a Small Building for No Reason to enable all to share the spirit of that place with sensitivity and gentleness. Go there to re-attach when it all gets a bit much.
image of a funeral pyre or cemetery
Even in the final act of living, dying, there is a last responsibility for all organisms, that is to return to the planetary ecosystem the valuable store of unrenewable resources that they hold trapped in their body.
Sustainability insists that we understand that everything, including ourselves, is cyclic. Six billion human beings presently take up some 250 million tonnes of biomass, principally precious water but with millions of tonnes of valuable nutrients. A sustainable culture can neither afford to waste this valuable resource or to see humans as different, separate to, or removed from, all the systems that sustain us.
The EcoCost of preservation of corpses (through burial, embalming, cryogenics) must be paid for, not simply in dollars terms but in sacrifice of resource use of the living. If it is of such importance to people to preserve the lifeless husks of the dead then they must understand the costs of this desire and be prepared to meet them. The proportion of dead animals to living is already overwhelming and escalates with every death.
The noblest spirits will see that their bodies have a valuable contribution to make to the planetary ecosystem once they have no further use for them and ensure that this parting gift to the planet becomes part of their reimbursement for living and a beautiful way of saying goodbye.
So … Rule of Thumb … Let your heirs know that you wish for an environmentally sustainable method of sensitively dealing with your body once you have finished with it. Ensure the return of its resource treasures to the living world in a demonstration of responsibility and caring for those who follow.
Some brief guidelines on what to consume and how to consume it sustainably.
30. Ecological Evaluation Systems
image of the EcoCost Equation
It is nearly impossible to understand fully the breadth and scope of the detrimental effects on the planet of humanity’s consumption. Within the existing market pricing system, there is no mechanism for determining the full environmental impacts associated with the consumption of any particular product.
If we are serious about reducing the disastrous environmental impact of our species it is crucial that we develop and employ accurate, quantitative methods of assessing the full environmental cost of using particular products. It is too easy to use the product with the lowest market price and disregard the real costs involved. The understanding of the complexity and inter-relatedness of ecosystems needed to allow absolute environmental analysis is profound.
Systems are needed that have some penalty for using products that damage ecosystems and encourage the use of environmentally non-harmful products and methods. This will not happen within the current economic system, this system is one of the most intractable causes of environmental degradation. We value products according to unreal anthrocentric criteria leading inexorably to over-exploitation of the ecosystem for short term human gain. Market pricing systems have no direct link with the ecosphere around us.
So … Rule of Thumb … Encourage the development of absolute ecological evaluation systems as the information basis for policy and resource allocation decisions. Find out about a thorough system like EcoCost and try to use it as widely as possible.
31. Buy Locally
image of a local marketplace, street scene
The world wide pattern of moving goods around the world causes enormous unnecessary strain on environments due to transportation impact but also is leading to an homogenisation of the world’s cultures. The boringness of seeing a McDonalds, KFC, CocaCola, Sprite, Toyota, Ford, Shell Oil, Mars bars, Heinekin and the myriad other products not only at home but everywhere around the world one travels is profound.
Indigenous and ethnic cultures around the world are being eaten away, slowly but inexorably being persuaded to give up their differences and become predictable little consumers whom the multinationals can target with something. It would be a tragedy to see the world diversity of culture and variation of local produce disappear. It would also spoil the world’s largest business, tourism!
For many multi-national producers, it is not a matter of supplying a product for a people’s needs, they create a people’s need for a supplied product. The tobacco companies are a premier example of this but they are not alone. Less scrupulous companies seek out poorly regulated countries in which to procure their raw materials and produce their product with no constraints on their activities. This often coincides with exploitation of local populations. Such practices are unethical and unsustainable.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to find local manufacturers and suppliers of the things you want, buy locally from aware producers who focus on minimal impact and quality.
32. Buy Quality
Low quality products wear out. They usually have the same or even more EcoCost than higher quality products. They constantly need to be replaced and repaired at further additional EcoCost. They break down when most wanted or needed. They cause much unneeded anguish.
Quality is more than simply good looks it is about an attitude to making. This attitude is happily often the least environmentally damaging way of making something, in the overall scheme of things. It relies on the maximum input from humans with the least input from other more limited and environmentally damaging resources and gives the longest lasting and most effective product.
Many products are actively designed to last a certain amount of time. They are carefully thought through to give the consumer just enough product satisfaction to avoid rebellion, just short enough to allow for maximisation of re-sales. This inbuilt obsolescence is an environmental crime, it is unnecessary, wasteful and an insult to all of us.
So … Rule of Thumb … Always obtain the highest quality, longest lasting variety of what it is you need. Avoid anything that is not going to last. The economic price is no reflection of the environmental cost. Call for the exposure of the cult of inbuilt obsolescence and its elimination.
33. Avoid Packaging
image of a packaging display wrappers within wrappers within wrappers.
Plastic shopping bags, layer after layer of individual wrappings and glossy iconography, marketing handouts, flyers, political drivel, advertising everywhere, gladwrap, foils, paper towels, tissues, disposable containers, disposable cup, disposable cutlery, disposable nappies, disposable clothing!
We have mountains of unnecessary waste flowing from our cities every day for no reason. They don’t just flow away either, they cloak our cities in detritus and filth, refuse no-one will touch. They float out into surrounding ecosytems, disturbing delicate balances and exterminating native species.
Why do we continue with such wanton, unnecessary wastage? For all these things there are perfectly easy to manage, ecologically sound, re-usable alternatives. We have cleaning technologies that produce the most hygenic and spotless results from steam or ultrasound with little adverse effect. There are simple straightforward solutions to this problem.
So … Rule of Thumb … Refuse all packaging, all the time, a simple “no bag thanks” is all that’s needed. Don’t buy packaged products. Don’t buy disposable products. Do buy in bulk. Buy the least processed and labeled products. Avoid glossy advertisements, use ‘no junk mail’ stickers.
34. Minimal Impact Eating
image of a plate of sushi
The preparation, presentation and consumption of food are very important from a practical environmental impact point of view and vital as an aescetic living decision. We are what we eat, philosophically and morally as well as physically.
The fixation of western societies on eating flesh from high off the food chain has led to the environmental devastation of vast areas of the world. It takes a much larger area to support a meat eating human than a vegetable or mixed diet eating human. Meat has a high EcoCost. Locally produced, non-monocultured crops have a low EcoCost.
The homogenity of our diets causes the creation of vast mono-cultures of cereal and grass crops, ecological deserts in some of the most fertile and viable areas of the world. Our insistence on eating the same foods regardless of season is creating an artificial world of greeenhouses, modified crops and international transportation of food.
Our bodies have evolved to be in tune with the food sources that become available with the changing seasons. Our required nutrient profile changes from summer to winter in remarkable correlation with that of the foods that come to readiness in that season.
Cooking food requires energy, usually from non-renewable sources. Slow low heat cooking can be done in conjunction with general heating. Quick cooking and steaming use little resource and leave foods intact. Baking, frying and boiling use large amounts of energy and alter the nutrient profile of food.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to eat foods that are grown locally, have low impact, are naturally available at the time, are the least processed and as close to their natural state as possible. Minimise energy expensive cooking.
35. Natural Clothing
image of a nude.
The contemporary fixation with artificial fabrics and fashion created by the massive juggernaught of the clothing industry has a vast and unnecessary ecological impact.
Endless factories spewing pollution and toxic waste, millions of exploited, suppressed, violated human beings, incalculable quantities of limited resources exploited to produce whimsical, single season fantasies in artificial cloth. How can this be justified in a sustainable culture? Fashion has its place in the artistic expression of cultural and personal mores. This cannot exist outside the overwhelming constraints of environmental responsibility.
So few clothes respond to the environments they exist in and are intended for. So much of fashion requires an artificial environment, heating, cooling and movement assistance, at enormous EcoCost. Clothes are not designed to last, inbuilt obsolescence is widespread and unchecked.
Quality clothes should easily outlive their wearer, allowing for reusing and recycling. Natural materials from renewable resources requiring little processing and no toxic processes are readily available. Insisting on such low EcoCost practices in the creation of environmentally responsive clothing for both aesthetic desires and protective needs can change the slant of the industry.
So … Rule of Thumb … Search out effective clothing made locally, from natural materials, produced from renewable resources. Look for quality and things made to last. Make the artistic statement of what you wear reflect your values.
36. Energy Efficient Appliances and Fittings
The range in energy consumption and quality of appliances available in technologically based societies is bewildering. Two devices may appear identical but have diametrically opposed specifications.
There are good environmentally low impact appliances available. Washing machines and dishwashers that heat their own water, save suds for the next wash, filter outgoing water and use minimum water and energy. There are heavily insulated fridges and freezers using non CFC refrigerants. New technologies are evolving using ultrasound to clean dishes and clothes without water and without chemical additives and soaps entering the system. Dual purpose appliances combining washers and driers are being produced reducing the capital EcoCost and space requirements needed.
There are certification schemes which will give a reasonable idea of the energy efficiency of a device, these are legal requirements in some places.
So … Rule of Thumb … Search for the most energy efficient appliances available. Look for new technologies for non water based cleaning systems. Avoid any appliance using toxic or environmentally damaging chemicals or processes, especially CFC refrigerants. Stainless steel and alloy surfaces do not require paints or applied finishes. Find the longest lasting, highest quality machine available.
UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUES
Some strategies for engendering understanding that will be vital to the future of our children and ourselves.
37. Make Sure Everyone Understands the Issues
The changes required for achieving sustainability seem incredibly broad and profound but in reality are only attitudinal alterations. They simply require obvious decisions to be made on basic matters followed by clear implementation procedures.
The difficulty in making these necessary changes partly results from fear of the unknown consequences of altering the systems that govern our life in such a seemingly profound and thorough way. The only answer is increasing the awareness levels in all parts of the community of the repercussions of our actions.
The enhancement of the education strategies which start at the beginning of formal education to go beyond our schools, is now essential. The time imperative has become such that we cannot wait for the next well educated generation to come along with the will and skill to instigate the answers so obviously facing us. The answers always seem to be a generation behind the problems, this must change.
Only when the whole population is fully aware of the imperatives of sustainability will the necessary attitudinal adjustments be possible. The problems we are facing today were identified decades ago, we have since had decades of lip service, hypocrisy, forgetfulness and willful abandon. It is tragic that things have to reach crisis point before enough people are jolted out of their comfortable complacency to realise the harsh reality.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make yourself aware of issues which are affecting our environment. Call for education campaigns taught by skilled commentators at the heart of the issues, as a public service. Encourage projects that improve community awareness of sustainability issues.
38. Network of Advisors and Technicians
One of the great inhibitions to the instigation of sustainability is the lack of awareness of the available viable alternatives and systems and the workability and maintenance requirements of these systems. This is particularly so with technical issues.
To address this, a network of qualified sustainability advisors and technicians could be set up to be generally available to the community. Sewerage processing, energy generation, water catchment and storage, health and fitness, welfare, community support services, local co-operative support systems, commercial and industrial support systems, pollution amelioration, recycling, reusing and reducing are all areas where both advisors and technicians could be trained and employed as a necessary community service.
These skilled people should be supported to set up as local advisors and technicians initially as a community service and, as a market is developed and secured, as self employed tradespeople or small businesses. Their function would be to advise on the choice of appropriate systems, products and techniques, and to ensure routine maintenance and emergency service is available. The particular skills of the advisors should match the unique aspects of the community and catchment.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the setting up an authority responsible for the training and provision of local ecological, social and economic sustainability advisors and technicians. Promote and use the services offered by these skilled people within the community.
Communication is the key to civilisation. The transfer of ideas and concepts between individuals and communities are what makes civilisations possible. Some profound changes in the way in which we communicate with each other are emerging, which can be used to help achieve environmental awareness.
Rapid advances in communications technologies are heading towards the wide spread use of personal mobile terminals for the emerging cyberspace. The potential effects, both beneficial and harmful, of continuous connection to the ‘grid’ should be explored and understood. Only systems facilitating the technology while minimising adverse effects should be instigated.
The capacity of the system must be sufficient to allow for the emerging technology of telepresence. This new phenomenon will have a profound influence on communication patterns especially in the service and consultative industries and individual interactions. Medical practitioners are already seriously investigating this technology to allow them to examine and deal with several patients simultaneously in separate locations. Most other professions would be keen to follow. The effect of such technology on the role and future existence of the urban centre and transport needs should be thoroughly investigated.
The potential for instantaneous information dissemination on a massive scale becomes a substantial opportunity for the community to improve its awareness. Systems to facilitate this must be immediately addressed.
So … Rule of Thumb … Be aware of new methods of communication and information transfer and how they may affect your life. Campaign to ensure all humans have access to socially enhancing communication networks and that all information systems are public, open and accountable.
40. Developer Training Systems
Due to the incomparable impact that developers have on the form of our cities, on the community and on ecosystems, it becomes essential for them to be made aware of all the issues involved in achieving sustainability.
Developers are ‘Can-Do’ people, they are money, time and human resource managers. Many developers consider sustainability to be a mickey mouse issue that goes along with day care centres and disabled access, requiring only token recognition and verbal geneflection.
In our current system of development most projects are instigated by commercial developers who perceive a market opportunity and use their organisation to group together the necessary skills and resources to promote, fund, design and construct the development. This system has major failings in that it divorces the end user from the design process and removes the responsibility for impact from those gaining the benefits.
The talents required of the developer have little to do with an understanding of the imperatives of ecological, social or economic sustainability. Developers make their profits from the exploitation of the requirements of the community, morally therefore they must function within the community’s guidelines for behaviour. Major development funding organisations; banks, building societies, superannuation fund mangers, insurance fund managers also must become more aware of the wider consequences of their resource allocation decisions.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the development of training systems and awareness programs for developers and entrepreneurs. Encourage the instigation of chartered institutes of developers and entrepreneurs that have an ethical regulatory role and environmental codes of conduct.
41. Designer Training Systems
Design professionals have, both individually and collectively, a vast potential for altering the dominant consumption paradigms within our culture. Designers overtly and subversively control what is made, hence what is available for consumption.
The artifacts of humanity’s civilisation are at the very root of our consumption of resources and energy, so any major shift in consumption practices in the way we design these things can have a profound effect on the impact of our society on the ecosystems that sustain us.
Like all other people, in order to make the change to sustainable patterns of behaviour, designers must be made aware of the problems and available solutions facing them. Extensive professional development activities are currently being drafted and brought into being for most of the design professions. These must be encouraged and supported.
So … Rule of Thumb … Rules of thumb and vague generalisations are not good enough for professional designers in the complex interwoven world of sustainability. Full and proper evaluation of all alternatives and requirements should be the fundamental task of all professionals, that is why they are called professionals. Encourage professional development programs, which focus on strategies for implementing sustainability, in particular focussing on available tools for implementing sustainable practice, this book included.
42. Maker Training Systems
It is not sufficient to change the paradigms at the legislative, planning or even design level, the practices of those making the world’s artifacts must be altered from the ground up. Professional designers are not involved in most actual making work and are not able to sufficiently supervise all practices.
Sustainability is about everyone doing the right thing because they all understand the imperatives and agree to actions ameliorating our impact. The proper sourcing of validated sustainable resources and the consistent use of minimal impact materials and processes is a fundamental task of those who make.
So … Rule of Thumb … When making things, make yourself aware of all the details of the materials and processes you are using. A full EcoCost analysis is really needed. Research all alternatives and choose the lowest impact materials and processes available. Call for the instigation of a properly organised, detailed sustainability and EcoCosting education and training program for all makers.
43. User Training Systems
In order for good operation of the novel and often more involved processes needed to minimise environmental impact, the people actually participating must be aware of imperatives of sustainability. Users must understand the systems that support them, how they work and why they work that way.
Understanding is a principle component of acceptance, especially where new technologies and changes to social behaviour are involved. Understanding of the systems that support and to a certain extent constrain the actions of the community is necessary in ensuring a sense of being a voluntary and contributing part of a community.
This is particularly applicable to those who wish to have things made for them, the clients. As an integral part of any brief setting, an analysis of available sustainability strategies should be thoroughly carried through. For this to happen the client has to be aware of the issues and imperatives associated with achieving sustainability. More importantly the client has to realise the need for adopting sustainable principles and has to value that need higher than the usual economic cost arguments. The cheapest solution is rarely the best, by any measure, but is by far the most used in our culture. The attitudes that lead to such decisions must be addressed.
So … Rule of Thumb … Find out how the systems that support you work, try to see how your actions could minimise the impacts associated with those systems. Promote general sustainability issues awareness campaigns in your community. Call for the introduction of practical technical advice courses on sustainable infrastructure systems, especially in maintenance areas.
Ideas for assisting the evolution of our society into a sustainable, aware, inclusive culture.
44. Create a Sustainable Society
Social Sustainability is more about attitudes, understanding and assuming responsibility than physical and institutional changes.
To be sustainable in cultural terms a society must be capable of responding to constant flux. A sustainable society must be able to survive, and even thrive in, the effects of change. It must facilitate the constant review of its stance on all issues but maintain its sense of continued identity throughout.
Social sustainability requires stability, but not stability through resistance to change and suppression of the new, such regimes must eventually fail as they inspire and encourage dissent and conflict. Stability can also be derived by the creation of mechanisms that allow for constant cultural, legal and technological change. Sunset clauses for laws not only avoid the anachronisms prevalent today, but also make people constantly think about their cultural attitudes, epistemology and relationship to the world.
A sustainable culture must be both just and perceived to be just. It must be just between its members, surrounding ecosystems and future generations. To be just it must be inclusive and representative. Community consultation and consensus during the evolution of a culture and in its ongoing operation, is of paramount importance. The active involvement of the community in all decision making is feasible with our communications technology, and should be pursed with vigour.
So … Rule of Thumb … All creatures have equal rights and responsibilities, regardless of species, race, sex, age, creed, sexual preference, political standpoint, philosophical view or employment state. The humans and other creatures alive today are a small fragment of the continuum of those who have lived and will one day inhabit the planet and form the web of myriad species of life. All things are our kin.
45. Social Justice Infrastructure
“It will be a great day when schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a cake stall to buy a bomber.”
The vast expenditure on physical infrastructure and the military industrial axis is symptomatic of the priorities of the patterns of governance over the last century. Big boys playing big games with other people’s money. The irrationality of the over riding dominance given to notional ‘Real World’ problems such as sovereignty, development and security over childcare, education and welfare is unfair, unjust and stupid.
As an integral part of a sustainable society, an infrastructure must be set in place which actively perceives, investigates and implements social justice strategies. The guiding principle with this pattern is to give all people a greater awareness of their options and more choice of lifestyles. This pattern entails the basic restructuring of priorities of government to governance. It is not a boy’s own world where big guns should get big bucks, ‘trivial’ issues like children’s day care and education must be addressed with the same seriousness as defense and corporate banking. A number of the world’s societies already allow citizens to direct the services to which their taxes can be applied and denied.
Community resources are just that, community resources. They belong to all of us, they are not ‘The Taxman’s’ (the Bogeyman of the twentieth century) or ‘The Governments’ (‘them’). These resources belong to us all and should be applied by consensus for improving our quality of life and our environment. The development of a community governance will ensure dramatic reprioritisation of resource allocation strategies.
So … Rule of Thumb … Create community awareness of current resource allocation priorities. Call for community input into resource allocation proposals. Ensure that the community has control of resource allocation decisions and the capacity to veto inappropriate direction of funding.
46. To Get A Job, or Not to Get a Job ….
The fixation of contemporary economic modeling with the concept of ‘job’ as a problem of and solution to the current economic crises is having disastrous consequences on our culture’s ability to adapt to rapidly changing social, work and leisure patterns. It is stifling creative solutions to finding a meaningful way of living.
The concept of a job is culturally new and is not some immutable law of humanity. Having a job is not the only way to be employed and being employed is not the only way to live one’s life and make a fair and just contribution to a society in accordance with one’s reliance on that society.
The segregation, almost an apartheid, occurring in our culture between those with a recognised, socially acceptable job and those stigmatised by the denial of such classification, must be combated immediately before it transmogrifies into a paralysing conflict. We are human beings, Homo sapiens sapiens, a mammalian species of the hominid genus, of the primate family. The concept of a job is not an intrinsic part of our physiological or psychological makeup. The need for community acceptance, a sense of belonging and being a contributing part of a troupe, are intrinsic to our make-up. These attributes have evolved with us to make us the co-operative social creature that is so successful.
This is an attitudinal and marketing problem, a hangover from the industrial revolution and immature capitalism. It is essential the status of not having a job becomes not only acceptable but conventional.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think carefully about how you wish to exist in terms of being a contributing and involved member of your community. What do you need from society, what can you give to society and how do you want to live your life, start at the very beginning without constraints.
47. Internet Community Access
There is a great risk in the current rapidly changing information technology scene of the emergence of an apartheid of a technologically capable class from those with no understanding of its capabilities, functions and internal social structures.
The recent threats of a large group of ‘hackers’ to shut down an entire country in the event of continuing abuses of human rights, highlights this situation. Those who understand the workings of “The Net” can seriously disrupt and to some extent control the activities of major organisations from governments through secret services, airlines and corporations. It shows the enormous power of the system and those who can use it.
Community open access to high technology information transfer centres will be an integral part of the development of sustainable governance and economies. These centres must be set up to facilitate access for all prospective users, from street kid hackers to the older, less technologically confident groups in our society. Access to all network services including international databases, online libraries and catalogues as well as CD ROM information sources should be a priority.
It will be essential that society provides an easy to cross bridge between people, business, industries and the international information network community. The net gives excellent access to product marketing, technological information updating and the formation of resource sharing interest groups from widely dispersed areas. The cost of such access is minimal compared with the potential returns in terms of trade, productivity, governance, information, social integration and justice.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the instigation of local Telecentres to provide community access to state of the art information and computing technology. Call for training of local community information technology advisors and technicians to set up and operate community Telecentres.
Ideas and principles for achieving long lasting, fair and equitable governance of, for and by the people.
48. Sustainable Governance
Legislative and Executive governments whatever the ‘archy or political flavour, by their nature are removed from the people and become a ‘them’, not an ‘us’. Things are seen as the fault of ‘the government’ which is perceived as an antagonistic entity, not as the instrument of the people. With our communications technologies governments are becoming anachronistic. We do not need representative government anymore.
Community led governance is the optimum sustainable form of decision making available to us. The long term success of a sustainable government requires that those being governed identify with the instrumentality doing the governing.
Confidentiality, secrecy and professional government are some of the great moral corruptions of our times. Each of these things presuppose that citizens are lesser beings than their chosen representatives and that we cannot be trusted with delicate information or difficult decisions. By eliminating secrecy and the withholding of information, the power of information is broken. By eliminating representative government we eliminate career politicians.
An environmental (topographical, ecological and sociological) analysis should form the basis of the determination of jurisdiction for a local governance, regardless of artificial boundaries such as grids and town boundaries (which change constantly). The groupings should be identifiable with a meaningful physical and cultural locale, a community.
So … Rule of Thumb … Encourage the development of localised ecosystem catchment community governances related to environmentally valid places. These should have authority over issues pertaining directly to the people as individuals and as a community. They must be directly accessible by all in the community.
49. A Green Constitution
image of a structure of catchment, continental and planetary governance
With the continual dissolution of colonial and imperial structures around the world, new regional identities are emerging, with the opportunity to create new sustainable cultural patterns. Defining such patterns is the purpose of constitutions and they can be sustainable.
A sustainable constitution should describe :
- the tenuous, dependent and interwoven nature of humanity within the ecology of this planet.
- the equality of all humanity regardless of race, sex, creed, belief, wealth or status.
- a bill of rights and responsibilities giving all citizens the necessary rights to pursue a meaningful, free life and the responsibilities to ensure that all other citizens and denizens of the planet have the same opportunity.
- a ecological catchment based definition of jurisdictional boundaries.
- the gathering of catchment based jurisdictions into a continental collective governance and arrangements for contributing to a planetary governance.
- an inherently open, participatory, inclusive community governance system.
- arrangements for using communications technology to give broad community access to the decision making processes.
- a procedure for all important issues to be resolved by referenda, either compulsory or voluntary depending on breadth of effect, using communications technologies.
- an enshrinement of voting by conscience, parties or formalised permanent groupings and party bloc or proxy voting should be expressly denied, a constitutionalisation of personal responsibility.
- a continental government whose role is an extension of community governance dealing with matters of import to the relationships between collective ecosystem catchment governances.
- an open, technologically enhanced senate at the planetary, continental and community levels.
- an appointed administrature, a management body appointed from the community’s commercial leaders whose role would be to ensure the fair, equitable and efficient distribution and development of resources according to the decisions and directions of the community senate.
- an appointed professional legislature, a drafting body, specifically directed to the development and instigation of legislation accurately reflecting community senate decisions, in spirit and wording.
- appointed or elected formal local and continental spokesgroups, whose role is to act in the capacity of titular ‘head of state’ to publicly state the views, opinions, desires and decisions of the community in all forums at the varying levels of inter-governance relations.
- a training and development system for the legislature, administrature and spokesgroup for developing the necessary competence to ensure they are informed on sustainability issues.
- a variable but limited tenure of office for all appointments, stressing community service and the achievement of real goals rather than career opportunities.
- a guarantee of right of access for all to all government, legislative, administrative and bureaucratic meetings, documents, research and findings, including necessary intelligence, resources, documentation, and information on decisions and affective enclaves.
- methods for continual renewal of the constitution to be ongoing, to be sustainable, to be amendable and responsive not to be a freeze frame of the culture at that particular point in space-time.
- Sunset and review clauses as an integral part of the constitution to ensure continued relevance of legislation and the system.
This is a pattern for the development of a sustainable, peaceful, reactive, responsible community. In sustainable governance it is more important to ensure the right decision is made, than simply to ensure decisions are made.
So … Rule of Thumb … Actively encourage the adoption of a constitution guaranteeing the adoption of a system of governance that supports a responsible, equitable, sustainable, environmentally aware cultural melange.
50. Rights With Responsibilities
image of a protest banner, land rights for gay whales or similar
Humans in our ‘advanced’ societies are constantly claiming rights to this and rights to do that, with no attached further thought of consequences. This is not sustainable. With any ‘right’ comes a responsibility not to misuse that ‘right’ or to abuse the community or our cultural and physical environment.
These responsibilities are all too often shirked in our society. By allowing this we demean a sense of participation in our community and inhibit the development of cultural maturity. Fancy legal footwork often allows both citizens and corporations to avoid their responsibilities for the consequences of exercising their rights. These responsibilities must be clearly spelt out and tied to the guarantee of rights inherent in any fair constitution.
It will lie at the core of a sustainable culture that civil responsibility is intrinsically and indelibly linked to civil rights.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think about what you claim as inalienable rights. Consider what are your inalienable responsibilities. Be aware, fair and considerate. Take your place in our evolving mature, responsible, sustainable culture.
51. Glass Bureaucracy
The more complex a civilisation the more complex, interwoven and entrenched the inevitable bureaucracy becomes. Disillusionment with bureaucracies makes them appear antagonistic to people but this is not the way they should be, or in fact really are.
The problem lies with the us-them perception of government that permeates our culture in both directions. This is a function of the secretive nature of executive government and the faceless nature of bureaucracies. Is it just a case of trying to avoid criticism and interference? Nobody likes criticism but all mature workers realise the value of critique and external input.
There is no reason for any of this secrecy, from whom are we hiding things? What possible harm can complete, factual knowledge of events and activities bring to the community? It can bring only retribution on those who misuse their authority, skills or position. To fully understand the imperatives and consequences of our decision making it is essential that all available information be made accessible to the community.
The patriachial attitude of executive government is demeaning, demoralising and ultimately destructive to a community. We are all equal members of the community, rights and responsibilities rest directly with each of us and all of us. The development of fully open, community led governance and an associated glass bureaucracy will facilitate the merging of citizen with government to form true governance.
So … Rule of Thumb … Exercise your rights to freedom of information. Call for systems of accountability for bureaucrats so they see themselves to be responsible for their actions. Insist on full public disclosure and openness in your dealings with our bureaucracies.
‘Nolli illegitimi carborundum’.
52. Community Participation
All our current political control and resource allocation systems are derived from a patriachial view of the universe. The prevailing paradigm suggests that strong men are put into the world (by a White Anglo Saxon Male Protestant god presumably) to ensure it is kept going, functioning efficiently.
The system is there (if you listen to the morality) to protect the weak and innocent. Protect, not encourage or empower. Why are they weak and innocent? The system, we all know, is there to ensure that the powerbase, and the wealth and status it entrenches, stays precisely where it is.
The patriarchal system has an internal fault though, the fine sounding provisions of the legal code (which were never meant to apply to anyone outside the inner circle) can subvert the dominant paradigm. Gandhi, Nader, Greer and Mandela, have shown the way at great personal risk.
With emerging communications technology, the performance of our elected representatives and leaders in their given jobs is under close scrutiny and is widely perceived to be insufficient. Many communities, feel that they could do greatly better than elected representatives at ensuring their wishes are followed. Seen in context, elected representatives were simply a convenient way to allow decision making in communities which could not organise coherent mass communication.
So … Rule of Thumb … Be active, assert your right to be heard, call for full community participation in all decisions that affect the community and its sustainability. Promote the concept of community governance.
53. Virtual Community Governance Senates
image of a cyberspace senate
The idealistic forums of the first democracies at which all citizens attend and contribute to decision making have been lost with representative democracy. We have ended up with a political culture often at odds with community ideals and a parliamentary system we no longer need. How often do we see governments too afraid to go to the polls or a referendum with an issue, knowing that the people don’t support their view?
Communications technology has very powerful tools for dealing with large public meetings and is capable of coping with great numbers in coherent and practical ways. Talkback shows, public polling and teleconferencing have developed ingenious mass debate strategies, interactive TV; mobile phones; on-line networked computers and communications terminals and so on, have given the potential for instantaneous population wide petitioning. An instantaneous government of, for, and by the people, as individuals, not by representation.
It seems ridiculous that now we can have a population wide governance capable of making instantaneous decisions for rapid response to issues that we put up with a bunch of self promoting, uncommitted, professional party politicians who take years getting around to making half baked compromises and constantly avoid taking the necessary actions to relieve the current world crises.
This zeitgeist is no longer a techno-fantasy but a virtual reality. Widespread access to the necessary technology and information must be secured and enhanced. The active involvement of the community in all decision making is perfectly feasible with these forms of technology, and this is a goal worth pursuing with vigour (and appropriate caution).
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the creation of a community governance public senate using all available communications technology with free, open and straightforward access for all.
Ideas and strategies for changing the way we perceive value and our methods for apportioning resources and wealth.
54. Create a Sustainable Economy
Economic sustainability is seen as a task in isolation from ecological sustainability but any economy is dependent upon its resource base for wealth generation. The resource base in a sustainable society is limited by the ecosystem’s ability to sustainable regenerate materials and energy.
A sustainable economic plan will have to:
- be stable in a sustainability time frame;
- be flexible and capable of adapting to changing priorities;
- be ecologically sound in the long term;
- be equitable (meaning fair and just) for the current generations and those of the future and for all the other species with which we share the planet;
- be based on the absolutes of the reality of the planet on which we live, respecting its limitations and recognising its sustainable bounty.
An economic system exists to support the ability of humans to have a comfortable, secure, joyous life. This often forgotten principle must be clearly stated and be placed at the core of any sustainable economic system, ensuring that this must not be achieved at the expense of others.
A working sustainable economic system must have procedures which allow humans to develop resources, trade commodities and support an non-economically oriented cultural sector. The framework of the system must be flexible and adaptable, robust and long lived. As such it must be linked to the absolutes of the global ecosystem and resource base and the nature of the human experience.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the commencement of debate for the instigation of a workable environmentally sustainable economic system, based on the real absolutes of the planets provision of sustainable resources for supporting human beings in gaining a comfortable, secure, joyous life.
55. A Fair Division of Wealth
image of bill gates pay cheque and a starving peasant
The provision of equity in a sustainable economic system is critical, this may only be fulfilled with the elimination of need. Any disadvantaged sector will be active in demanding radical alteration to the resource allocation system.
The current monetary system has been developed in order to apportion limited wealth, ‘…money is a symptom of poverty, …’ . It is unlikely in the short to medium term that there will be sufficient resources available to satisfy all want - so want must be modified and visibly equitable resource distribution and allocation systems instigated.
The current system fails to deliver a just division of wealth. Recent UN surveys reveal that almost all the world’s wealth is in the hands of an amazingly few people. The wealthiest few have more than the poorest billions. What can they do with it? Can they possible use such wealth? Or is it just a game to them? A game where the losers die of malnutrition, exploitation and disease. Each of these moguls relies on the continued support of society in amassing such wealth. Society has a responsibility to deny its continued support to such patently unfair division of resources.
So … Rule of Thumb … Insist on the commencement of a planetary debate on the fair or at least reasonable and sensible division of wealth and the instigation of mechanisms to ensure sustainable resource allocation strategies are followed through.
56. Remove Economics from Politics
The purpose of government should be to determine resource allocation and distribution policy and to legislate for cultural pattern enhancement, not to control economic theory, policy and manipulation. Economics becomes a tool for political manipulation and leverage, economic policy is determined by non-experts with little understanding of the issues involved.
Government intervention in economic policy to the current tune of attempting to assume complete control over the system is deeply flawed.
The function of government involvement in economic policy (if there should be any) is to ensure social goals are met. The intense focus placed on economic performance of the government (whose members are properly elected on social agendas and not professional faculty) not only warps the function of governance but creates a mess of the system. Particularly since most governments rely on supposition, guesswork predictions, fashion, political mumbo-jumbo and outright subjectivism.
It is essential to ensure the removal of politically motivated ‘economic settings’, which have been manipulated with such negative consequences in recent decades. Due to the entrenched and powerful nature of the current economic system and its proponents, it is necessary for a sustainable system’s adoption that the basic structures are left in place. The primary rule is do not disturb the investors, banks and entrepreneurs, just slant the playing field in a different direction.
So … Rule of Thumb … To put it simply ‘Don’t Fiddle the Rules, Change the Umpire’. Call for competent sensitive economic management of communal resources by qualified, talented, environmentally aware professionals, with proper time horizons, who understand the issues. Relieve the government of this burden for everyone’s sake.
57. An Absolute Monetary System
The problem with our current monetary system is not in the way it works at its higher levels but its basic underlying assumptions. The monetary system is based on a non-absolute, non-real, highly manipulatable concept, that of confidence in the system.
If the basis of the monetary system is altered to represent absolute costs of the impacts of procurement and limitations to resources, then the economic system becomes sustainable. The recent transitions of monetary systems from bullion asset backed to floated currencies showed how simple such things are. The introduction of a new ecological base for our monetary system requires a simple passing of an act.
Detailed research of the resource potential available to the planet from the only totally renewable resource available to us, incident solar energy is needed to determine a sustainable resource base. Removing the fraction of this energy source required for endemic ecosystem biomass support and the other net energy losses gives an available sustainable energy allowance on a day to day basis. The application of the EcoCost system to the worth of this allowance gives a quantifiable figure. This becomes the sustainable incremental ‘income’. It represents the potential for creation of sustainable resource from this energy. Expenditure over this must be offset against environmental capital. Balancing the budget using normal means then becomes a meaningful act of living within our true sustainable income.
So … Rule of Thumb … ‘Don’t fiddle the rules, simply change the ball’. Call for the alteration of the basis of the monetary system from a floated currency to a sustainable resource backed system. Call for budgeting procedures to recognise the annual sustainable resource income.
58. Ecological Balance of Trade
Trade between different communities around the planet is a vital part of the social core of the human inheritance, but it creates severe environmental problems with transport and the removal of effect from cause. As part of a sustainable economy, a balance of trade in EcoCost terms should be sought.
The perception of our culture as continuous rather than made up of discrete generations must also be encouraged as this strongly affects the concept of inter-generational trade. Using a much needed resource today would require putting aside another resource of equal value which a future generation could fairly need. To be sustainable such trade must still remain within the annual increment of resource availability.
These concepts should be applied to all levels of trade, from cottage industry, through industrial activity and primary resource procurement, to national accounts. Each trader should achieve a net environmental balance. It should not be up to the greater community to support a particular organisation which fails to achieve environmentally benign status. Such failures are akin to bankruptcy, environmental impact costs must be accounted for on the balance sheet and met by the perpetrators.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to make the trading you do have a net positive balance in terms of environmental impact. Environmentally impacting development or resource procurement must be balanced by environmentally improving strategies from the earnings associated with the impact. Call for community adoption of ecologically balanced trading rules.
59. Use Real Indicators
The contemporary method of determining the well-being of a society by such crude approximations as GDP, bank lending rates, building investment, the value of the dollar and Balance of Payments figures, focuses community concentration on peripheral issues while ignoring the real state of our society.
For the improvement of quality of life, which is the real issue, it is essential we do not stop at evaluating the tools we use to improve it, but instead evaluate the effect of those tools. We must evaluate directly, our quality of life and environment. Current information technology will provide the necessary information collection and processing required. The development of expert systems that can give advice from the available information should also be a priority. This advice should be available to all individuals, community groups, commercial and industrial organisations, bureaucracies and government decision makers.
The use of State of the Environment Indicators, surveys of personal well-being, Population Health Statistics and other Quality of Life Indicators in governance policy development is necessary to re-focus our resource allocation and management systems.
So … Rule of Thumb … Evaluate things on how much better they make your life, in the broadest possible sense, not in dollars. Call for the development of state of the nation indicators which rely on direct analysis of the quality of life of the various communities who make up the nation and the ecosystems which support that life.
60. Ethical Corporations
For humans to become citizens in our society, they must be born, reared, fed and clothed, educated, disciplined and led to an understanding over a couple of decades of their responsibilities to the community. Some still get it wrong. For a corporation to become a legal citizen it must fill out a form or two and pay a lot of money to a bureaucracy.
Corporations are set up to limit liability, their sole aim and guiding principle is making money. The corporation becomes a responsibility shield for the individuals who make the decisions, outside the normal acceptable moral mores of the community. The current corporations laws, company codes and attendant bureaucracies are woefully over complicated and in the same breath inadequate for the task of assuring that corporations behave in a ethical way.
In achieving sustainability, the focus of corporatisation must be shifted to the development of a company ethos and the assumption of responsibility. A company should be a group of likeminded individuals with a particular goal, and a defined moral code. Many of the world’s major corporations are now experiencing this sort of emerging moral maturity. Such moves should be officially recognised and lauded.
Corporate and bureaucratic secrecy must be eliminated, by law. Eliminating secrecy breaks the power of information and removes the paranoid fear of disclosure prevalent in many of our organisations.
So … Rule of Thumb … Only be involved with companies that have an ethical charter and take full responsibility for their actions. Call for the formulation of ethical codes for corporations and developers which respond to the culture’s morals and goals.
61. Sustainable Personal Financial Strategies
It is an unfortunate thing in this world but the environmental steamroller that we call economics is running flat out with the hands of every politician on the planet scrabbling for the throttle to push it harder.
So called economic rationalism is rampant and everything must be explained from a financial gain situation before the power brokers will contemplate it. For sustainability to be accepted by hardcore economic rationalists, it must be demonstrated to pay. For this to happen, a quantitative leap in the contemplation of time horizons and a qualitative adjustment in the concept of value must be made.
Although governments, if they are serious about sustainability, can set minimum performance standards and strategies including tax breaks and lease costs reassessments to promote and encourage Research and Development into ecologically sound products and practices, someone has to eventually financially support these companies by buying their products and shares.
This problem is once again a problem of compounded individual actions, and once again the solutions lie in individual actions. A number of investment advisors, trusts and quantity surveyors now specialise in environmentally responsible companies. ESD investments contribute directly to supporting those pursuing sustainability, practically and immediately. By investing long term funds such as superannuation and term investments in trusts that support sustainable enterprises there may be a world worth living in around when it comes time to collect!
So … Rule of Thumb … Support environmentally aware companies with ecologically sound, low impact renewable products. Check their EcoCost. Approach an aware broker for information on ESD aware companies and investments.
62. Local Area Business Network
Setting up of support networks, providing both essential services and moral support, have been shown to have a dramatic effect in promoting new sustainable enterprises and bringing them into the community as net contributors to well being.
Support networks can be any useful structure from informal groupings through to government authorities. The essential thing is that they provide information and advice and technical support to fledgling operations. Accounting support, management advice, development strategies, clerical support and infrastructure access are the principle forms of practical assistance needed by new organisations, particularly those seeking a paradigm shift.
With the development of sustainable enterprises, a particular need emerges for moral support to overcome the inexplicable latent skepticism of the current business community to ecologically valid ventures.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think about how your business can be made sustainable and environmentally benign. Support low impact businesses and encourage the setting up of a network support infrastructure for sustainable business development projects.
63. Sustainable Internet Trade
Communications technology and the emergence of cyberspace give unprecedented opportunities for the rapid and profitable inter-relation of businesses and organisations. It is essential to ensure equity of opportunity. The services that are offered by these technologies should be available to all. The maintenance of fairness and honesty of the system is a vital community role.
Trade via the Internet has the potential to dramatically reduce personalised and shipping transport requirements. Fewer trips to the shops in the car. An internet trader can easily develop a minimal transport strategy for the deliveries that must be made, reducing overall vehicle usage and mileage.
It is a simple matter to attach detailed information to product descriptions on an internet homepage allowing a full appraisal of a product’s environmental impact, quality and uses and thus its EcoCost.
To ensure openness of trading practices, local bulletin boards can be set up in public areas to allow widespread access to commercial news and links into regional, continental and global systems ensuring rapid information transfer and recognition of trading opportunities. A public virtual pillory box can be instigated for those who abuse the system.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make yourself aware of what is going on in the world of internet trade. Try to pass this understanding on to those without access to the net. Encourage general access to network services. Call for community, public net access sites and large scale electronic bulletin boards to be subtly placed in public places.
Some principles for the environmentally sound procurement and development of resources.
64. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
These three integrated patterns encapsulate the cyclic and continual requirements of sustainability.
We must develop strategies and actively pursue methods for reduction of resource consumption throughout the community, which is becoming continually more acute with increasing populations. Profligate consumption and the associated concept of inbuilt obsolescence are not sustainable. Longer lasting and higher quality products should be made more attractive to the marketplace. Manipulation of the marketplace, through the extremely persuasive media techniques available, in order to encourage unnecessary consumption must be curtailed, at the same time retaining market freedom and freedom of choice. It is a travesty to use the same demeaning techniques to create an awareness of the imperatives of sustainability but it seems the only way to circumvent the problem.
Using systems such as EcoCost to identify the full ecological costs involved in resource procurement and reflecting that in the cost of attaining these things, discourages profligate unnecessary consumption while making recycled and reused products considerably more attractive. The ingraining of a philosophy of making longer lasting, higher quality articles would actually result in lower EcoCost products as longevity is the principle amortising parameter of environmental impact.
So … Rule of Thumb … REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, everything and add in Repair for good measure. Call for the training and appointment of local community reduce, reuse, recycle advisors and technicians.
Use products that come from post consumer recyclers, watch out for pre and post consumer recycling claims.
65. No Supply Lines in or Pipelines Out
This surprisingly simple statement of intent represents a critical paradigm shift required for our culture at the heart of attaining sustainable living and consumption patterns.
Supply lines bringing in the necessities of life and pipelines taking away the waste and unwanted excesses are unsustainable concepts. These things must be eliminated in the first stages of planning for sustainability. They directly promote the current ideological separation of wants and rights from the responsibility for consumption and the degradation our activities cause. The current remoteness of the problems from those receiving the benefits makes proper and full accounting impossible.
The waste of effort, and the failure to make proper environmental accounting, of transporting goods around the continent and around the world cannot be supported by a society committed to sustainability. Working within the principles of an ecological balance of trade will ensure that any movement of goods or impact between communities is fully accounted for, adding substantial costs to such unnecessary actions.
Waste pipelines also concentrate potentially environmentally degrading substances and take them to a point, always out of sight (and mind), to ‘dispose’ of them, placing an intolerable strain on that localised ecosystem. The infrastructure requirements of waste pipelines have become a major drain on resources throughout the world and are not fully accounted for.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to eliminate the concept of waste. Ensure all byproducts are treated on your own site and accept that the impacts from activities are the responsibility of those deriving the benefits. Call for the general elimination all waste pipelines and the making of any import and export of goods subject to an Ecological Balance of Trade.
66. Localise, Integrate and Diversify Resourcing
The sourcing of raw materials and products from around the planet by large scale industrial and retailing corporations on financial grounds often leads to senseless decisions resulting in severe social and environmental consequences.
When properly analysed, the needless transportation involved, the uncontrolled environmental degradation of remote areas and the exploitation of inexperienced workers, can result in very high EcoCosts in what are now very economically cheap products.
The alternative use of small scale industrial techniques can ensure that resource production is integrated into the local resource spectrum, creates minimal impact, is immediately verifiable, and supports the community social fabric. It can also ensure that people understand all the processes that support their community and the environmental effects involved in those processes.
So … Rule of Thumb … If going into production, stay flexible, local and diverse. Source your raw materials from the local environment. Deal with any waste or pollutant problems on site. Encourage the development of local resource procurement programs suitable to the community’s environmental assets, needs and visions.
67. Small is Better
The concentration of resource procurement programs in mega-developments in almost all instances results in large scale environmental disasters while ensuring that a few people and multi-national corporations make obscene profits.
The ‘economies of scale’ have been shown time and again to be nothing but insubstantial theories and gigantophile bureaucratic platitudes. Quick fixes for shortsighted politicians at the behest of powerful corporations. Small scale, diverse, high technology, efficient resource development can be more flexible and environmentally benign. It affects much smaller areas over much smaller time scales, allowing rapid regeneration with less support infrastructure.
In the field of agriculture the elimination of monocultural practices is becoming the only ecologically valid method of maintaining production. The short term ‘efficiencies’ of large plantings have led to long term, large scale devastation through pest and disease invasion, soil erosion, water salination and chemical pollution. Ecologically benign, diverse agriculture systems have been developed and tested over many decades giving not only consistently better yields but improved clean products.
Efficient small scale mining and refinement technology has been around for centuries. Modern systems can be employed in small mine sites within the ecosystem catchment area of a community, including waste.
Dispersed small scale selective forestry practices in ecologically viable endemic species plantations are the only sustainable method of providing a continual supply of timber within the capacity of the ecosystem.
So … Rule of Thumb … Buy from small scale local producers. Call for community purchasing strategies that favour small scale, local production from local resources.
68. One Systems Output, Another Systems Input
In a sustainable system, constant and continual recycling and re-using of materials, structures and energy must be seen as necessary and desirable. The concept of waste must be eliminated. Circles of use, refuse and reuse must be formed.
By-products from processes should be identified and examined to determine their potential uses. With transport being identified as a major contributor to environmental degradation, keeping materials in an enclosed local cycle can have a profound secondary effect.
Everything in our part of the universe is essentially made up of a few hundred atomic elements, a couple of dozen of which are common. This implies that regardless of the economic constraints, full recycling of all materials is always possible and practical. It is a matter of understanding the necessary processes required. Our technology makes alchemy simple.
The largest inhibitors to continuous reusing and recycling are use and disposal patterns. A community attitudinal shift to an awareness of the value of all used materials and the need to ensure they retain their integrity could have profound effects. The only way of achieving an Ecological Balance of Trade is through developing thorough and complete recycling procedures to ensure that all non-renewable resources are either returned to the ecosystem in a benign way or continually recycled and reused.
So … Rule of Thumb … Identify circles of your suppliers and clients and set up infrastructure to encourage a full cycle of use is made of all resources. Try to organise a local Industrial Materials Exchange where local industry can deposit by-products and source raw materials supplies.
….. Cradle to Grave to Cradle to Grave to Cradle……
69. Kerbside Recycling
The simple, already widely used and successful, practice of kerbside collection recycling programs provide an initial step towards sustainability that allows everyone to feel they can contribute and take responsibility for their consumption. It involves people, letting them see that the problems are not insurmountable, that there are things that can be done, by them, to save the world.
The waste reduction and resource gains associated with these programs immediately eclipses the set up effort. They are cheap to run, in many cases they have been profitable for private companies and local communities. They should now be broadened to include all recyclable materials. New operations should be encouraged to try to take up more of the waste products we now just throw away, including food scraps.
Part of the recycling business is ensuring that there are operations extant that can take the materials being collected and processes them successfully. These producers must be strongly encouraged with preferential community purchasing polices.
Opportunities for kerbside recycling include a mobile mulching service that could travel around mulching organic matter, including household waste, for contribution to individual and community composting programs. A specialised building site sorting and collection system. More effort in office paper waste sorting and collection, particularly by public authorities.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make the effort to sort your own refuse for recycling. Buy post consumer recycled products. Call for a broadening of the kerbside collection services to include kitchen wastes and building sites.
70. Waste Stockpiles for Future ‘Mining’
The recycling industry has not yet developed the necessary capabilities to recycle the huge volumes and variety of materials that the consumer makes available. At present the vast proportion of effort in recycling goes into transporting materials to the particular industrial areas dealing with them. This transport compounds to create an environmental impact that may well exceed the benefits of recycling in the short term.
A strategic response to these short-term problems is the storage of waste in a structured manner that will facilitate its removal and processing at a later period. Rather than simply dumping in landfill situations, large scale separated storage of used materials in well documented sites will allow for future ‘mining’ of these resources when technological recycling expertise has been developed to make use of it.
This will also facilitate the concept of localised, used material storage sites close to the sources of supply which are then ‘visited’ by advanced recycling systems for on-site processing. Such systems minimise the need for transport and capital infrastructure while retaining impact and resources within the localised ecosystem catchment.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the creation of a local, communal, temporary, used material storage system. Encourage the development of small scale, mobile recycling plants. Make careful inventory of all materials and objects stored, ensure this information is available to consumers particularly for industrial by-product exchanges.
71. Localise Sewage Treatment and Recycling.
The perennial and ongoing arguments about where sewerage outfall pipes should spew their noxious contents are a farce, a rejection of intellect. Human sewerage is a valuable resource, it contains quantities of valuable heavy metals, is rich in Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium and Sulphur as well as most micro-nutrients. It incorporates a range of bacteria and organic compounds which can be beneficial in the right environment.
The ‘flush it away’ culture is unsustainable. A community should contain all its impacts within its ecosystem catchment and must develop cyclic systems for its by-products. There are a vast array of environmentally benign sewerage processing (not disposal) systems that have been developed over the last few decades as well as tried and true historically proven agricultural solutions. Our understanding of the health issues involved is so much more profound than in past eras that previously unacceptable methods of processing can be simply adapted to be safe.
Together with Sewerage Processing as a Work of Art and Living Machines this pattern seeks to ensure a cyclic approach to resource consumption, generation and procurement. Small local groups of neighbours could combine efforts to install and maintain environmentally benign systems.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think about how to treat your own waste on your own site. Composting and gas extraction systems are commercially available. Encourage large scale adoption of sewage re-use. Soil conditioners, fertilisers, biofuels and precious material extraction could pay for the infrastructure development and maintenance.
72. Integrate and Layer Water Use
Water is the basic substance at the foundation of many of the processes of living. We only use it once and then discard it when it is perfectly good for a broad range of further tasks.
Water can be used more than once, used water can be purified by Living Machines and filters and returned to the system.
Localised water collection and distribution networks can ensure local demand can be easily met. Local residents with surplus may be able to trade water for heat with local industry, especially water that has been pre-used in clean household tasks and mildly contaminated runoff water. Directing bathing water to garden watering or toilet flushing is a simple and effective water use reduction technique.
Each residence and local community should have a grey water strategy in place as part of the local area and ecosystem water management plan. Grey water can be safely used for general irrigation. Stormwater runoff is usually usable for many industrial, horticultural and domestic processes.
Used non-potable water can be pumped to elevated reservoirs with excess energy from wind powered microturbines and used by microhydro systems for power generation when required, and then irrigated on crops.
So … Rule of Thumb … All buildings can be made independent in terms of water use or net contributors to a localised distribution system. Re-use water as many times as you can. Investigate used water trade potential between dwellings and industry. Integrate all water use and movement strategies into an ecosystem catchment wide plan allowing sufficient clean water to flow to local ecosystems.
73. Localise Food Production
Our bodies have evolved to thrive on a diet of naturally occurring foods. Our biological rhythms respond to the seasons, as do all biological systems. Day length, temperature and seasonal hormone responses all alter the body’s biochemistry, and thereby alter our nutritional requirements.
The upshot of this is that the optimal food types required by our bodies are those that are naturally ripening and ready locally at any given time.
Sustainability requires localised self-sufficiency in all areas. Food production is a basic activity of civilisation, it is the seed which allows humans to trade a hunter-gatherer nomadic life for a settled existence. Choosing food products that are optimised to the support capabilities of a localised ecosystem is vital for sustainable agriculture.
The localisation of the production of the food resource should not limit its variety, but with native food sources and using horticultural knowledge currently available a wide range of naturally ready foods should be able to be generated in any given ecosystem. The matching of locality to product is a critical function as is the integration of food production and urban space use patterns.
So… Rule of Thumb … Grow your own food, start a vegetable garden, keep some livestock. Encourage and support private and community initiatives which enhance the capacity of the local ecosystem catchment to achieve self sufficiency in food production. Use Community Gardens for community food resource production.
74. Eat Endemic Foods
Throughout the world diets are becoming homogenised. They consist predominantly of a few exotic species of European and Asian animals and plants.
Imported species of animals and plants and the agricultural practices required to support them, have had a devastating effect on the natural ecosystems of the continents of the ‘new’ world. Through all this devastation, producers have struggled to maintain ‘international competitiveness’ for their agricultural products. Tapping into the wide reservoir of viable endemic ecosystems for food can symbolically and practically assist in the attainment of sustainability. A number of species native animals and birdlife around the world produce good meats. Numerous grasses can be employed as grain sources. There are edible native vegetables, roots, fruits and nuts in many areas.
The one area in which a culture has an unapproachable advantage over multi-national traders is the cultivation of its natural species. These species belong to that place, most are not found anywhere else on the planet. These species have adapted over millennia of isolation to become optimum sustainable balanced utilisers of local resources. These species can be ‘farmed’ in viable endemic ecosystems which without adverse ecological impacts or major environmental degradation. We must come to terms with being of a place, not colonists from other places.
So … Rule of Thumb … Find out which native species make good eating and eat them. Encourage the farming of native species for consumption and promote community awareness of viable alternative food sources. Encourage and support initiatives that utilise native species as food sources.
75. Use Renewable Resources
image of tree timber sawdust seedling tree cycle
There are few renewable resources used in our current melange. Any material that can be grown, or otherwise synthesised using only incoming solar energy will be renewable.
Plant and animal products and agricultural by-products fit in this category. Timber is a renewable resource and if selectively harvested, sensitively, from natural ecosystems it has a low EcoCost. Straw and reeds have been used for centuries for thatch rooves and wonderful resilient Tatami mats.
Straw bales themselves are being more widely used as a building material. Also becoming available are materials made from straw, Ortec is a compressed straw board, very dense and heavy with good insulation properties. Then there are a range of cellulose based products but additives and glues become a major issue here. Boards made from biological refuse are available, Caneite, made from the shredded husks of sugar cane after sucrose extraction and pressed with steam into boards. Masonite made from highly compressed timber pulp is a clean process and useful product but relies on a dubious base material.
Sheep’s wool can be used for insulation. Leathers and hides can be made into all sorts of coverings. Cotton, flax and hemp can be used for ropes and sailcloths for lightweight protection. Paper screens can be very diverse and create the most subtle and light of environments.
Cinders and fly ash from the burning of organic products can be used as aggregates for concretes, fill and structural works.
So … Rule of Thumb … Any material that can be seen to be made from renewable resources will have a lower EcoCost and be more likely to be sustainable.
76. Timber Supply as Urban Planting
Broad scale plantings of street trees have been carried out as part of urban renovations and greening projects around the world for centuries. These trees present a valuable resource.
An inspiring possibility exists to develop a sustainable resource within existing urban patterns. The local street plantings of an area could be given over to sensitive, professional operations which would be responsible for providing the public amenity and maintaining the tree stock in return for access to the timber of the trees as a sustainable harvest of forest products. Timber, barks, saps, fruits and leaves for medicines, herbs, food and latex would all be potential crops. The use of exotic species is much less critical in an urban milieu. Thus a highly visible local living thing also becomes a sustainable resource.
Contemporary timber harvesting technology exists to allow street trees to be stripped, felled, fletched and milled on site with all bio-refuse being mulched and returned to the soil to support re-planting. Timber harvesters would be responsible for tree nursery and arboriculture. They would be people who worked with the trees, in a highly visible and critical public realm, not just machinery operators. It is essential that they understand their role as community resource shepherds, not just harvesters but growers and carers. Their actions would be immediately obvious, making them directly accountable to the community.
The sensitive, selective harvesting and replacement of appropriate trees, not just clearfelling of a whole street, should be ensured. Makers could order particular species and grain forms from the locally available trees.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to source your timber from the culling and pruning of local street and park trees. Encourage the development of a sustainable resource harvesting strategy for urban planting schemes. Call for the street tree resource to be run as a viable forest product procurement industry and to develop new tree farming projects in urban open spaces.
Our vehicles are killing us and our planet, here are some suggestions for beginning to solve this problem.
77. Transport … The Problem with Cars is …
We use our vehicles with profligate abandon, defying one of the major principles of ESD strategy and simple logic, user responsibility. We all are directly responsible for the degradation of our planet caused by the use of personal cars.
Personalised transport produces the bulk of the greenhouse gasses and numerous other toxic compounds being emitted around the world. The transport infrastructure required consumes a considerable portion of most industrialised nations resources. It degrades vast areas of land, over 15% of the entire land area of some countries, and much more in urban areas. The quantity of waste products, including sump oil, tyres and tyre rubber dust, roadside litter, used vehicles and parts, is staggering.
Knowing that ducting exhaust into a vehicle’s cabin is a most successful method of suicide, how can we belch the stuff out into the air without considering that our atmosphere is just as much a closed system as any car cabin, just bigger. It takes five minutes to reach lethal levels in a car cabin; there are some 1500 million vehicles that are currently belching forth these exact same fumes into the air, how long will it take? It makes the practice of going for a Sunday drive look like knowingly assisting in planetary genocide.
The roadkill of native animals is a tragedy. The daily slaughter of humans is the principal cause of violent death, maiming and injury in our culture. The financial and social cost of road trauma is vast. The cost of transportation reflects none of these issues.
So … Rule of Thumb … Don’t drive, don’t own a car, stage a sit in on a road. Raise community awareness of the impacts associated with car transport. Show that environmentally benign ways of getting around may still preserve freedom of choice. Promote the health and safety aspects of alternatives. Call for car free days in your city.
78. Communal Cars
In most industrialised nations there are more vehicles than people. This ridiculous state of affairs means that there are always more cars unused than used. Most of them spend the vast part of their lives stationary.
The EcoCost of procuring, using and maintaining a personal car is vast, even if it sits still for most of its life. Worn, less technically advanced and less well maintained cars are far worse that the latest available in terms of pollution and safety.
Communalising a vehicle allows for the purchase and maintenance of a range of vehicle types. It facilitates the use of higher quality, lower impact vehicles, particularly solar electric or hydrogen powered vehicles. Communal cars, professionally garaged and maintained and shared between many users, allow a wider amelioration of environmental impact.
The overall reduction in vehicles and parking requirements could considerably ease traffic congestion and land degradation of parking lots.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to set up a car pool or a ute club, to share the costs and eco-capital tied up in vehicles, roads and parking and the EcoCosts of maintenance. Promote the establishment of community maintained car fleets that allow access to private vehicles when needed. Ensure these cars are the least impacting possible.
79. Smarter Cleaner Cars
The technology has existed for nearly a century to make non-polluting vehicle engines powered by electricity and hydrogen. As have the understandings required to make very small and light but comfortable and safe vehicles.
For some perverse reason of human fashion we decided instead to make the biggest vehicles we could manage and use one of the dirtiest, noisiest and troublesome automotive mechanism we know of to power them.
The resulting situation where a ton and a half of hurtling steel, glass and plastic, belching out kilograms of noxious fumes, travelling on a twelve metre wide strip of asphalt or concrete, is used to move a usually aggressive, swearing, seventy kilogram lump of flesh and blood a few hundred metres down to the shop, is obviously flawed.
Hydrogen can be used as a powerful fuel, its only output is water. Hydrogen powered vehicles are available on the market, as are fuel suppliers and fuel manufacturers who are using solar powered hydrogen fractionation to get clean fuel from water using clean energy in a continual closed fuel cycle.
Electric cars with integrated solar recharging systems built into their roofs are available which are totally adequate for short haul, stop and start urban use.
So … Rule of Thumb … If you really, really do have to have a car get a communal vehicle, the smallest feasible with a zero emmision power source and energy cycle. Call for the instigation of zero emission requirements and the tightening of safety and pollution checking of existing vehicles.
80. Pedestrian Ways
The requirements for pedestrian movement have been a very much secondary consideration for traffic engineers for the past few decades. The attitude that cars come first and vehicle travel time is the most important consideration in road design is unsupportable. A person on foot is a person no less than one encased in a cocoon of steel, glass and plastic.
In any fair society the road system should exist to facilitate optimum, safe and enjoyable movement of people. The bald statement from a traffic management study of a major world city … ‘Pedestrians are still the greatest inhibitor to free traffic flow in the city’, says it all. The real biggest inhibitor to movement of people through the city is the motor vehicle we so cherish and heavily rely upon, our symbiotic companion.
The traffic engineering paradigm must be altered to put ease of pedestrian movement first, bike path ways second, slow vehicular ways third and high speed, high power vehicular ways lowest on the priority chain as a disincentive to their use, particularly in urban areas.
Pedestrians must be given priority of movement in inner urban areas, and safe, vehicle traffic free, paths and ways through the city. The social value alone of widespread pedestrianisation of public space is enormous. People on foot greet each other, people in cars abuse each other.
So … Rule of Thumb … Insist on and use your right to safe and pleasant passage everywhere as a pedestrian. Call for the rewriting of the traffic engineering handbook to give priority to environmentally benign transport, particularly pedestrians.
81. Reduce Traffic Path Distances
One of the most frustrating hinderances to pedestrian and bicycle use in cities is the extensive use of dead ends and one way streets. These greatly curtail the variation in paths and ways and shortcuts available to non-vehicular transport forms and by eliminating alternatives, insist pedestrians must traverse the same routes in competition with motor vehicles.
While traffic engineering has firmly grasped the principles of minimal path, minimal obstruction design for motorways, the same principles have not been applied to alternative movement patterns. People when walking follow desire lines and avoid climbs but actual routes and hills are irrelevant to motorised vehicles. Insisting pedestrians follow the same paths as cars is a severe inhibition to the use of shank’s pony.
The greater the variety of pathways available to people, the more interesting and enticing pedestrian and bicycle use becomes. The provision of pleasant, efficient short cuts between high traffic nodes, making it quicker to walk or cycle than drive, can encourage people to use these environmentally benign alternatives.
An immediate benefit to people movement could be produced by opening up dead-ends and allowing two way pedestrian and bike passage everywhere, two metre wide pathways are sufficient if properly designed.
So … Rule of Thumb .. Explore the back ways and alleys of your neighbourhood for shortcuts and more pleasant traffic free paths. Call for an alternative set of right of ways for Bike Paths, Pedestrian Ways and Slow Speed Vehicle Paths.
82. Bike Paths
The provision of purpose designed cycle ways is already advanced in a number of cities. These have proved extremely popular and efficient. Supervised trials have shown a bicycle on a well designed bike path is considerably faster, safer, better for the body and cheaper, than any other urban vehicular transport.
Given the minimal construction costs and land area needed for bike paths and the number of people who can safely use those paths at once, they provide a near optimal solution for urban transit.
The provision of high quality, effective urban bike paths in conjunction with Pedestrian Ways and Low Speed Vehicle Paths would profoundly increase the opportunity for sustainability of our cities without major infrastructure costs or difficult paradigm change.
So … Rule of Thumb … Explore your city on your bike, trike, scooter, wheelchair, board, blades whatever, identify good paths, not just recreational but also commuter routes, and call for the building of bike ways. Call for the provision of short cuts through existing road dead ends and the avoidance of high-speed traffic ways and intersections.
83. Low Speed Vehicle Ways
The use of high powered, high speed, heavily consumptive and highly polluting vehicles in heavy traffic, inner urban areas is both frustrating and wasteful. These vehicles are designed for rapid, personalised, medium distance travel at high speeds. This is incompatible with the task of inner urban mass transit.
The encouragement of low speed (60km/h max), low power, zero emission automobile transport by provision of designated low speed roadways would have a pronounced positive effect on vehicle emission pollution and safety.
If inner urban roads are specifically designated solely for such vehicles, it would strongly encourage the use of these environmentally preferable transport types in the clogged centres of our cities. This would lead to a rapidly growing spread of electric, solar and hydrogen propulsion system vehicles, especially taxis, service and courier vehicles.
The legislated relegation of high powered internal combustion vehicles to inter-city freeway routes, main urban roads and country areas, would bring them back into direct competition with urban rail systems, to the advantage of the mass transit rail systems. The artificially supported convenience of the automobile must be recognised as prohibitively expensive and the full environmental cost applied, to discourage its use.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the setting up of a new transport category, zero emission, low speed vehicles and allot them separate road systems and priority access to urban centres.
84. Appropriate Public Transport
Many cultures tend to see public transport as being of lower status than the private automobile. This is often simply a matter of convention that would be responsive to both education and culturally driven fashion alteration.
A range of community owned, safe, comfortable, environmentally benign, efficient mass transit systems, relating to cultural living patterns and social requirements are required as a basis for broad community acceptance for public transportation.
Falling user numbers indicates a need to improve efficiency and services of extant systems. Unfortunately the bureaucracies link falling numbers to reduced demand and respond with reduction of services, triggering a spiraling further reduction in demand. It is essential in sustainable cities that environmentally benign mass transit systems be given priority. Full accounting of environmental impact should be used to alter the perceived viability of mass transit systems versus private motor vehicles.
Fixed route systems such as conventional rail, monorail, light rail, tramways and ferries automatically avoid the problems of automobile transport, they operate in isolation from vehicle transit paths and take precedence at intersections and embarkation zones. Such fixed path systems are perceived as more reliable and less subject to indiscriminant change than buses. They can be efficiently run on zero emission energy sources. They can also have a certain romance attached which add to their attraction. The installation of travelators can speed urban pedestrian movement to rival vehicles.
So … Rule of Thumb … Use public transport. Call for the development of a broader range of transportation systems, particularly those that respond to the cultural parameters of your society, especially high quality, non-polluting, non-radial systems.
85. People Powered Movement
image of cool ramp/stair/lift combination Louvre
In our culture few of us achieve the sort of exercise levels we know would be good for us and or bodies. Inactivity is encouraged by many of our technologies. We have a severe looming environmental energy crisis. People movement systems use large quantities of energy. What does this suggest?
A simple linking of these phenomena suggest a simple and profound solution to all of them. Allow people to use their physicality to perform at least some of the necessary moving around in our cities and buildings.
Stairs, ramps and other physically exerting systems should be encouraged as the principle method of movement through levels of the building with mechanical assistance reserved for moving loads distances and heights and for necessity. Mechanical systems can actually employ the potential energy of people on higher levels moving down, with funicular cars to lift loads from below.
Avoiding ugly threatening, cramped boxed in stairs and ways is vital, as is always having disabled access in mind, including their enjoyment of and participation in the movement strategies. This is an area that needs adventurous and innovative design and engineering strategies.
So … Rule of Thumb … Building beautiful stairways, ramps and pathways, in the centre of things, complete with enticing spaces for stopping, being, meeting and resting will help people rejoice in using their physicality and reduce environmentally costly energy consumption.
Incident sunshine is the one clean, renewable resource we have on this planet, here are some ways of harnessing it and reducing the impact of energy use.
86. Energy Is Green
image of a solar furnace
Using energy does not in itself cause environmental impact. The incident energy from the sun is the only major source of regenerable resource we have here on this planet at the moment. The use of energy rather than material particularly for short lived activities can dramatically reduce overall EcoCost if the energy is sourced directly and cleanly from the sun.
Embodied Energy is consistently used as a measure of environmental impact. This is not in reality an accurate measure of the environmental damage created in the sourcing, processing and transporting of a given material. The nature of the generation of the energy used is also moot.
Energy itself cannot be destroyed or used up, it can only be endlessly converted from one form to another or transmuted to matter. We must approach a closed, cyclic understanding of energy to allow us to reuse it continually and sustainably.
If the energy used to do things and make things is generated by environmentally low impact methods, solar, wind, cogeneration, waste energy wave, free flow hydro and so on, then a high energy activity may be less impacting than a much bulkier, more clumsy, low energy material.
The use of energy interference effects for spectaculars is also possible, setting up auroras in the higher atmosphere for visual effects instead of explosive fireworks is possible. Solar powered air walls can replace heavy insulation and isolation systems. Eventually energy fields may be used to replace physical enclosure, with profound environmental effects.
So … Rule of Thumb … Be aware that energy can be clean, renewable, reusable and ultimately green and that the impact a material or process has on its environment is a complex and not directly related to its energy consumption.
87. Use High Energy Products
One of the fallacies of the current environmental debate is that high energy products are intrinsically bad. This is not so, it is the environmental and in particular the ecological degradation associated with energy generation that must be addressed.
Energy from the sun, incident solar gain, is the major part of this planet’s sustainable ‘income’. Recognition of the limitations and opportunities of this resource should be a priority task. Exploitation of this sustainable resource in preference to the limited ‘capital’ of raw materials is essential to the success of sustainability.
With the application of sustainable environmentally benign energy supply techniques, high energy materials which are otherwise low in impact are demonstrated to be a major viable resource. A high strength aluminium alloy beam produced in a cogenerating plant fed from a local mine using free flow hydro power sources and a solar electric kiln would be a much more efficient environmentally than a low energy massive concrete beam.
There are numerous high energy products which have considerable environmental advantages in terms of raw material procurement, non-toxicity, recyclability, performance and transport requirements. Materials like recycled aluminium, carbon fibre, Dacron, Kevlar, recycled stainless and ordinary steel and recycled glass all fill this bill.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to find producers who are using environmentally low impact energy sources for their operations. Buy their products. Call for the development of environmentally benign, sustainable energy sources for high energy, low environmental impact processes and materials.
88. Energy Producers not Consumers
image of solar elec and mini hydro and wind turbine montage
Buildings should be energy self sufficient or net contributors to the energy matrix of the community.
Enough energy falls on a standard domestic block to provide all normal needs. The trick is finding ways to both collect and effectively harness that incident energy. Current off the shelf technology is readily available and capable of converting solar, wind and hydrological potential energy into electricity, heat and kinetic energy for domestic use.
Advancements in solid state rectification and regulation can produce steady state voltage and phase suitable for generic application to appliances and for feeding into existing domestic supply grids.
So … Rule of Thumb … Investigate potential options and develop a locally valid strategy for energy autonomy for your place. Solar electricity, solar hot water, passive and active solar heating, wind turbines, micro hydro should all be investigated.
89. Minimum Energy Consumption.
image of an electricity meter box perhaps with some high techery or perhaps some eskimos rugged up in an igloo ?
There is a great deal of new technology becoming available to help minimise energy consumption. Many times though, energy minimisation strategies are more about attitude rather than technology. The adage “put on a jumper rather than turn on a heater”, places it in a nutshell.
Comfort zones are an idiosyncratic thing, they tend to be more whimsical than absolute. Developing a mindset that sees each little bit done “to save the world” actually helps and that every little thing each of us do adds up to a major contribution, is vital. Going to that little bit of extra trouble can really help make a substantial difference both to the natural world around us and our quality of life.
The time taken to perform the little tasks around the place is often the same using energy consuming appliances as without them. Perhaps a little bit more human power and a little less industrial grade generation is a good trade off for our environmental conscientiousness.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to widen your comfort zone. Get yourself a wide variety of clothing. Install energy control and monitoring systems to reduce overall consumption. Use the most efficient low energy machines available. Use hand tools for everything as often as possible.
90. Minimise Peak Loadings
Peak loadings at different times of the day are a very difficult problem for effective alternate energy strategies. While energy generation from non-industrial sources tends to be incremental and slow, energy consumption in our homogenous culture tends to be massive, near instantaneous and synchronous. Grids and/or batteries have to be used to bridge this gap; both of these alternatives are inefficient and cause environmental problems.
There are numerous advanced systems for monitoring and controlling energy consumption both for domestic and large scale buildings. Computer based optimisation systems can learn the preferences of particular users and control background systems to optimise efficiency. Such intelligent processors can make guesses at future loadings and minimise other requirements for those times.
Using heaters that can store heat for later release, and running these in non-peak load times at a trickle consumption; avoiding use during peak periods, is a major technique in evening out consumption rates.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to find different energy use routines to avoid the usual peak times. Avoid using high energy devices at peak times. Install control systems to minimise peak loadings and spread energy usage.
91. Put in a Solar Hot Water System
image of a solar hot water system
Solar Hot Water Systems are a regulated requirement in many Local Government areas now. They are the simplest and most proven method of environmentally sound energy saving. They are very effective anywhere even in cold climates.
The latest systems incorporate glycol based heat exchange systems. These can be run with mains pressure storage tanks; they don’t freeze up in most conditions, have a better heat energy capture and transmission capacity and can be safely wetbacked onto most forms of heating system to capture otherwise lost energy.
Solar Hot Water Panels can also be used for active solar heating. A massive water storage reservoir can be placed within or under the building envelope and heated with solar panels and exchangers. This heated water can be channeled through heating elements in the building. Supply water for hot water services can also be taken from such reservoirs, reducing the energy required. Even if not actively pumped around the building such large masses kept at a higher stable temperature can be used passively. Placing a large heated mass in core areas and ventilation zones allows moving air to transfer heat to surrounding rooms.
Water reservoirs required for Keep Roofwater for Drinking and for other things, can be used for this purpose. Just keep a smaller take off tank for cool water for drinking.
So … Rule of Thumb … Put in a solar hot water system; the technology is proven, effective, cheap and works. Look to using the system for general building heating and for thermal storage.
92. Eliminate Super Voltage Grids
The environmental, ecological and health costs of the massive infrastructure of grid electrical energy transmission lines are extensive and difficult to determine.
Recent wildfire problems have led to energy utilities having a dramatic effect on viable ecosystems extant along the path of high voltage transmission lines. Vast swathes of land up to 100 metres wide and hundreds of kilometres long have been clearfelled, dozed and degraded for no other reason than an unsupported perception of improved fire safety. The aesthetic and aescetic disgrace of gargantuan steel towers and cables cutting through some of the finest wilderness left in the world is unsupportable.
Extensive research has revealed that Electromagnetic Radiation from high voltage transmission lines and transformers is highly likely to contribute to disease, genetic problems and reduction of well-being in humans and most likely other species.
The energy loss associated with large scale grid energy is vast, the system is convenient but inefficient and in an energy conscientious society it is unsupportable. Full costing of energy supply including energy losses, health impacts and ecological impacts from energy generation, will dramatically alter the focus of energy utilities.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the removal of all overhead electricity cabling. Call for a paradigm shift for energy utilities from national electrical grid implementation to localised energy procurement facilitators. Call for the setting up of localised networks of underground ducting of minimal resistance, maximum efficiency bundled cabling with sufficient E.M. shielding to avoid health hazards.
93. Localise Energy Generation
The use of major energy production installations sited in remote areas leads to the need for massive infrastructure requirements. Transport of fuels, raw materials, maintenance requirements and workers, together with the high voltage transmission grids constitute a vast EcoCost.
The concentrated environmental degradation caused by these plants is far too much for the local ecosystems to deal with and they collapse. This damage is remote from those using the energy produced, allowing a false view of the problems involved with energy use.
Even with supposedly environmentally sound sources, large installations can cause severe degradation of local environments. Hydro-electric energy should be clean and low impact. The mega-dams pursued by many utilities though, cause the annihilation of large areas of wilderness throughout the world. Hiding this ecological desertification beneath seemingly beautiful waterbodies. Massive wind farms have created acoustically driven ‘deserts’ where no animals will stay and have altered the wind patterns in areas causing startling environmental and microclimatic changes.
So … Rule of Tumb … Small is best for energy generators. Develop a system to power your own need and liase with others locally to develop a local, small scale, environmentally low impact power utility.
94. Diversify Local Energy Generation
Chemical battery power storage and insufficient available power on demand, are the most intractable problems with small scale environmentally benign power sources.
The need for battery systems can be dramatically lessened by diversifying energy production, creating small scale installations generating power from a range of environmentally low impact sources linked by an integrated small scale grid. In the way of things, different energy sources are available when others become unavailable. For instance, solar is usually at its peak when hydro and wind are low producers and vice versa. Wave and tide action can be used at times when there is no sun. Excess energy at any time can be used to pump water to a high head as a potential energy store, replacing the need for battery energy storage. The head can be used to power a microhydro or mechanical turbine system on demand or as a pressure head for water supply.
There should be significant diversification of methods and sources in order to ensure consistent energy supply with a minimum requirement for energy storage capacity. Local advisors can ensure the necessary maintenance of the variety of generators and systems is carried out and provide advice on energy generation strategies for retrofitting programs and new developments. Industrial co-generation, wind, solar-electric, wave, tidal, microhydro, geothermal, biofuel cells and any other environmentally benign, sustainable energy generation techniques should be employed as diversely as possible. Local knowledge will be critical in determining the best methods and the optimal blend of techniques.
So … Rule of Tumb … Set up a range of different complementary generation systems to supply your energy needs. Liase with neighbours to create an integrated diversified local power system. Call for the training and deployment of local energy service advisors and technicians.
95. Energy Generation Everywhere
A huge proportion of our available potential for sustainable energy generation is currently wasted. The roofs of buildings cover upwards of thirty percent of available land area in our cities. Tarmac takes up most of the rest. This space, after being overwhelmingly decimated in an ecological sense, is then totally wasted in terms of the available energy falling on it.
Roof-mounted solar water heating mechanisms and some solar panels are using some of this available potential but there is still much left. The rest of the roof area, the wind and falling rain all have energy for the tapping.
Panels only cover a fraction of the roof area and have to be mounted on a roof surface, the two functions of weather resistance and energy generation can be combined. Amorphous silicon endless sheets bonded to steel roofing sheets doubling as solar cells are commercially available. Ceramic semiconductors can be used as paving and roofing tiles.
Voltage stabilisers and converters for small scale wind generators are available. The issue of energy storage is being constantly addressed; superconductor technology, microhydro potential storage and small area grid systems are closing in on definitive solutions to this problem.
Each and every building should have net energy self sufficiency as a major goal of its design and operation. Retrofitting of energy generation systems to existing buildings should be strongly encouraged. Existing grid connections should be sectored and localised to allow energy exchange between community users and excess generators from industrial, commercial and domestic generators.
So … Rule of Thumb … Treat every available surface as a potential energy generation site. Try to think of different sources of energy for every area. Maximise your potential.
96. Energy Sharing
Industrial and commercial activity and domestic users often have mutually compatible energy requirements. Domestic load is usually at peak while industrial users are quiescent, Industrial and commercial operations peak while domestic use is ebbed.
Energy sharing between these consumers has the capacity to dramatically reduce the peak loading demands and hence overall local energy generation requirements, thus reducing the need for large scale energy generation plants.
Waste energy from industrial processes can be used to heat nearby dwellings or to increase energy potential of stored water gravity systems. MicroHydro systems can be set up to be demand triggered from this stored water potential.
So … Rule of Thumb … Find local industrial, commercial and domestic users and producers of energy with whom to share power loadings. Encourage energy trading between domestic, commercial and industrial consumers.
97. Match Energy Sources to User Needs
While readily available energy is a basic requirement at the foundations of civilisation, the mega-grid, single source, multi-application system has inherent inefficiencies. Energy is lost in each conversion of stored biomass to heat to kinetic steam energy to turbine mechanical energy to electricity through a grid to a transformer to a power point to a kettle to boil water. The overall energy loss in this process is staggeringly wasteful.
Environmental impact minimisation is well-served by ensuring that the energy form required by a user is well matched to the energy generation technique employed.
Passive solar design allows direct heat energy from the sun to warm buildings without conversion. Sailing ships allow the kinetic energy of the wind to be transferred directly to kinetic energy of the boat. Windmills can be used for all sorts of industrial mechanical operations maintaining the nature of the kinetic energy. Water pumps, milling, bulk conveyors and other non-urgent tasks all are well suited to windmills.
Using industrial waste heat to warm local residences gives direct energy transfer without conversion. Heat pumps use heat energy directly from the local atmosphere without the need for conversion through electricity and back again. Heat exchangers on exhaust and inlet vents can be used to dramatically reduced heating and cooling energy requirements.
So … Rule of Thumb … Develop strategies and infrastructure to ensure a matching of energy requirements to generation methods. Train local energy advisors and technicians to understand energy user needs and available non-electric systems.
98. Heat Exchangers
image of a heat pump
A heat exchanger is a passive or active device for transferring heat energy from one source to another. New technologies for heat exchanging have brought these systems to the fore in providing environmentally sound heating and cooling.
Heat pumps can effectively take heat from outside air and transfer it into the inside of the building and vice versa. A simple pump moves the transfer medium, a gas that easily condenses to fluid, as used in refrigerators, through an external exchange element where the liquid is allowed to expand into a gas. It takes heat from its surrounds as it expands. The gas is then pumped into another exchange element inside the building where it is allowed to condense into a liquid giving off its heat energy. The cycle then begins again.
Heat exchangers can be fitted to exhaust air outlets to transfer energy to inlet air, allowing higher air exchange rates, giving better ventilation, lower indoor air pollution levels and energy requirements. Passive systems using heat storage masses can produce similar effects. Cooling fins can assist in improving performance.
Most of the energy consumed by these systems is used to power fans to move large quantities of air over the exchange elements. External heat pump exchange elements should be placed where they get full winter sun and internal elements in air movement zones to optimise efficiency. Summer shading and winter sun access to external elements increases performance. There may be an issue with too much cooling of outdoor air if too many heat exchange systems are allowed in too close proximity.
So … Rule of Thumb … Heat exchangers are effective environmentally lower impact heating and cooling devices. Their positioning is critical to good performance.
99. Sun Powered Living
image of some state of the art solar stuff
Solar electrical generation panels are currently in a rapidly developing technological cycle. We have now widely available, simple technology to gain us free, clean energy from the sun.
New forms of semi-conductor and ceramic-based solar electricity generation panels are constantly emerging from research and development laboratories to the marketplace. Once the big petrochemical companies stop quashing them every time they get ahead or figure out a way of charging us for sunlight, they will be very commonplace.
Most large energy utilities are now obligated to purchase clean surplus energy back from their consumers. Small, robust, solid state techno-rigs in the meter box can deal with all the regulation and voltage and phase issues and meter your input to the system.
Ashfelt inlays of semiconductors and catalytic rods are currently being developed to allow the energy falling on tarmac surfaces to be converted directly to electricity. Roads and carparks constitute 25% of urban area and may become vast sources of solar electric energy.
Roof tiles made of semi-conductors on ceramic bases are available allowing an entire roof surface to become a solar energy generator. This does away with the difficulties of post fitted panels, integrating the energy generators into the form and layout of the building.
So … Rule of Thumb … Chase latest solar energy generation and integration technology and fit some state of the art stuff.
100. Alternative Energies
image of state of the art stuff montage
Wind, wave, tidal, thermals, geothermals, biocells, hydrogen cells, coriolis pendulums, free flow hydro turbines, optic fibre induction, lunar gravitic pulsing, whatever you can imagine; some wild boffin somewhere is trying to develop a way of harnessing it for human use. Clean energy is everywhere around us, tapping it is the task for a sustainable society.
Wind … Dozens of wind generator forms, sizes and styles are available that can be placed on, in and near buildings to generate electricity. New turbine systems employ a natural stack effect inside a sun-heated tube to power turbines to generate electricity. Such tubes are all over buildings as columns and service ducts. With further innovation, a large diameter downpipe could act as a stack turbine in hot days and a hydroelectric turbine in the rain. Energy sharing systems with local industry can allow the safe disposal of waste heat by industry to the benefit of local residents with minimal infrastructure costs.
Mini hydroelectric systems capable of mains power generation in free flowing waterways result in almost no impact. Water can be pumped up from lower dams to higher ones with simple wind pumps or solar powered electric pumps to make use of the environmentally low impact potential for energy storage of water. A current is induced in some optic fibres when illuminated with various frequencies of radiation. The coriolis effect can be used to cause comparative motion through a field generating current flow. Small black boxes are available which can take all sorts of input to give steady, single-phase, mains power output allowing any number of systems to be used concurrently.
So … Rule of Thumb … Check out state of the art energy generation technologies and make some choices as to what is appropriate for the task at hand.
101. Big Scale Stuff
image of another montage of systems
Large buildings consume prodigious quantities of energy. They also have the capacity to generate prodigious quantities of energy. Their scale offers the opportunity for complex integrated energy management systems to become viable.
The temperature differential between the sunny and shaded sides of large buildings can be substantial. Such potential differences can be used to generate electricity. They can also be used to balance the internal environment of the building; pumping heat from the sunlit side to the shaded side makes good sense.
Deep core differential rods can convert the thermal energy potential difference from deep below the surface to high above it into electricity. Thermal chimneys can convert solar heat into a rising column of hot air to power turbines and heat upper floors of very high buildings. Motor vehicle exhaust fumes from enclosed carparking areas, collected for extraction, can be used to power turbines for electricity generation and burners for heating, with appropriate catalytic heat conversion flueing systems. This can reduce pollution and generate free energy.
So … Rule of Thumb … Large scale buildings offer opportunities for large scale environmentally sound energy generation and minimisation systems; explore these.
102. People Powered Buildings
image of an exercise bike with radio generator outback style
A person generates somewhere about 60 watts of heat energy pretty constantly, even just sitting around. This suggests there is quite a bit of energy available in a city of a few million people.
If all this energy is harnessed we might no longer have an energy crisis; even if only in little ways, with small scale systems connected to the tasks at hand. Computers, phones, lights and all the other gadgetry on desks all use small quantities of energy and we sit in front of them generating small quantities of energy with our movements and radiated body heat.
There are systems being developed that use keyboards like this one I am bashing away at, to generate electricity every time you press a key ! Imagine the energy this book could have created … an entire power bill for a year and a half!
There are all sorts of small scale kinetic generators that could be used to power devices when they are needed. Background radiated heat energy could be collected incrementally, used to generate electricity and stored for use when required. Static electricity could be collected as discharged and stored to power devices as required.
So … Rule of thumb … Investigate integrated systems for small scale collection and conversion of human energy to power the devices we use.
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Ideas and concepts for creating a sustainable infrastructure for our villages, towns and cities.
103. The City as a Natural Ecosystem
Cities are natural ecosystems. There is both a profound contradiction and an internal reality in this statement. Cities are entirely the artifice of civilisation; they are composed of human artifacts arranged in a conscious manner. There is nothing ‘natural’ about them, except that they are the ‘nests’ of humanity.
Almost all extant human cultures have formed cities at the apogees of their civilisations. The city is as natural as a bird rookery or a termite mound, and almost as complicated. The city is an essential construct to allow communities to develop sufficient densities to allow refinements like universities, art galleries, museums, hospitals and amphitheatres, all require high density populations to make them viable.
So many of us live and work in cities, over four-fifths of the world’s population are urban dwellers. It is essential that we view the city as one of the natural habitats of humanity and develop and implement strategies to ensure that they function as viable ecosystems. The dispersal of humanity is ecologically undesirable an infeasible in cultural terms.
This pattern does simply mean planting trees and greening the city, it means recognising the interconnectedness of the functions of the city, determining the symbioses involved in the web of life that supports humanity’s life in the city. It requires investigating the relationships between all the life forms and physical structures that make up cities.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to see your city as your natural habitat. Investigate and implement strategies which enhance awareness of the interconnectedness of the component processes of the city and the self-reliance of the city as an ecosystem catchment.
104. Create a Sustainable Infrastructure
Contemporary infrastructure projects are often the result of profit oriented developers attempting to fill a potential market niche. Such projects usually require the inflexible, long term commitment of large quantities of community resources.
The mega-projects of recent decades entail tying up vast capital invested in huge infrastructure projects taking decades to achieve a viable return. This is a ridiculous waste of effort and resource in a rapidly evolving technological and sociological landscape. Many mega-projects are redundant before they are even completed, well before they have reimbursed the community for the massive capital outlays required.
A sustainable physical infrastructure must be capable of constant and rapid change to keep pace with both technological advancement and changing social and environmental needs. Our inflexible land tenure and planning control systems provide a major stumbling block for the development of a malleable city infrastructure. A sustainable city should be able to use its resources and land for community inspired projects.
Diversification and localisation of resource procurement, energy generation and waste recycling and conversion will require community land to be used in different and innovative ways. Community governance will ensure that resource and land allocation decisions are made which represent the needs and desires of the community as a whole.
So … Rule of Thumb … Investigate and develop smaller, more diversified and robust infrastructure projects which can be replaced, renewed and maintained on a continuous basis within the means of the community. New projects should be able to respond rapidly to change and avoid locking the community into long term resource commitment.
105. No More New Subdivisions
The ‘new’ countries of the Western World have the most dispersed urban conglomerations on the planet. This is usually assumed to be a response to the emergence of the automobile, allowing residents to travel large distances with little personal effort and (in the beginning) very little cost.
The other major contributory factor was the emergence of rapid graphic mass communication and its power as a standardising device. The image projected as the norm was the quarter acre block with a substantial free-standing three bedroom dwelling and a place for the car. This pattern was widely touted through the emerging media and eventually became the dominant, acceptable new form by the latter half of the twentieth century.
The combination of the emergence of this predominant dwelling form and the dramatic burgeoning of the population led to the extreme dispersal of our cities, the newer the city the more pronounced the effect. Cities broke through traditional urban boundaries and the Sub-Urb was born. Huge areas of valuable land are under broadacre suburbia, roads and disused open space. A quick comparison of density extremes shows Shanghai, population at least 8 million, area about 108sqkm; versus Sydney, population just under 4 million, area well in excess of 1400sqkm.
The only way to achieve a sustainable city in a sustainable society is to repair the cities we have already. We do not need new cities or suburbs.
So … Rule of Thumb … Build on the smallest possible area of land of the least ecological worth, particularly inner urban, post industrial sites. Campaign against the practice of providing community funded infrastructure for new broad-acre developments. Support inner urban, high density, contemporary, autonomous redevelopment.
106. Spaces at the Centres
The current Central Business District (CBD) pattern of heavy commercial development in urban centres, sets our cities up as profit hunting grounds for developers. This concept has no intrinsic interest in the well being of the community or the social effectiveness of urban infrastructure.
Urban centres must be seen as the ‘heart’ of the local community and the prime inter-actional focus for human beings. These urban centres must also be altered to symbolically represent the evolving convictions of the culture. The provision of large, ecologically viable, public spaces in the perceived centres of urban places symbolically expresses the ecological social and economic priorities of sustainability.
The role of the structures, organisations and institutions which surround a central space become paramount in expressing the structure and priorities of the society. A sustainable society should have the public space adjacent to the main forums of governance, education, public buildings and community service nodes. These spaces have the potential to become an ordering principle of urban development, providing strong landmarks and a unique identity. The open space should be perceived as the heart and centre of the city, not a peripheral feature. It should be seen as land held in trust for the planetary ecosystem and set aside for ecologically sustainable community use.
So … Rule of Thumb … Call for the community to obtain land in the ‘centre’ of the local urban framework proportional to the size and attitudes of the community. Remove any obstructive structures on it to make a symbolic community space, and ensure it remains available to the community at all times. Locate major public buildings, services and governance infrastructure about the central public space.
107. Increase Densities
The commonly held attitude that we can continue to spread out as we like is unsustainable. Increasing population and decreasing density has already seen some of the best agricultural land and finest wilderness throughout the world become subjugated to the bland ecological desert of suburbia.
Size of personal accommodation has been rapidly escalating in the latter half of the twentieth century in this country. Individual dwellings have gotten bigger and occupancy numbers have fallen dramatically. It is essential that both these trends be reversed in order to ensure reductions in land degradation, transport impact and resource consumption.
Reducing dwelling size or increasing occupancy rates does not mean a reduction in living standards. With smaller houses due to their size, higher quality construction techniques, fixtures and fitments can be justified. Spaces can be made more adaptable filling multiple roles.
Increasing densities frees up valuable land for resource procurement and recreational activity for the city. In a sustainable, ecologically balanced economy the denser the human habitation, the greater the land area available for resource generation and improving standards of living.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think carefully about your real spatial needs, try for the highest density, minimum footprint for living. Set aside the maximum land area possible for ecologically viable sustainable use. Call for a re-examining of zoning and plot ratio regulations to increase densities.
108. Variety of People and Buildings
The great opportunity that cities offer, and probably their deepest sustainable role, is providing the opportunity for individualism and broad social inter-relations, stimulated by the intensity of variation and diversity only found in urban areas.
This variety and diversity has been eaten away by the increasing sameness of development and the homogeneity of lifestyles. This is partly a function of improved communication and marketing techniques, but its also a response to the plethora of regulations, which have emerged to control every aspect of development and living. The developer’s answer is to make thousands upon thousands of identical buildings in exactly the same pattern one after the other. Any variation from this norm is too difficult.
A city functions in the most socially sustainable way by acting as a broad, diverse and integrated palette upon which to paint a life. The diversity of physical form and function is a major player in generating diversity of opportunity. It is a fallacy that industry cannot comfortably sit beside residential, commercial, business and rural areas. Clean industry has a lot to offer in terms of co-generation and sharing of energy use. Transport requirements can be minimised by proximate living, working and commercial opportunities, all forms of industry, commerce and dwelling should lie within a fifteen minute walk.
So … Rule of Thumb … Be different, a unique individual. Work from home or close by, start an industry in the backyard. Patronise local shops, business and industry. Call for the local maximisation of diversity and uniqueness necessary for a strong sense of place. Call for the review of development regulations to encourage diversity and variation in all urban areas, discard the zoning concept.
109. Smaller Houses
With the current scenario of increasing environmental and economic strain of resource procurement combined with rapidly changing lifestyles many dwellings have a less than designed for occupancy rate, they are much larger than they need to be.
Later marriages, childless and single offspring families, increasing divorce rates and longer life expectancies have resulted in many single or dual occupant households. With the domestic building stock principally designed for four or more people and little variation from the norm available, this results in a vast waste of resources. For most domestic and even larger scale construction during the latter half of the Twentieth century longevity was not an issue, and so the existing building stock will require massive replacement over the next few decades.
The variety and forms of new dwellings should reflect the changing social patterns and environmental imperatives of our era. Smaller houses of higher quality and broader diversity provide the opportunity to dramatically reduce resource consumption both in capital development and ongoing maintenance. They can also enhance the longevity of built form and improve living standards in real terms. Rooms can be made multi-functional with a bit of forethought and robustness of design. Increased use may be made of outdoor spaces and rooms.
So … Rule of Thumb … Build a smaller house and put the resources into higher quality. Think carefully about the spaces you need and the qualities you wish them to have. Think about multiple function spaces. Call for the removal of regulatory inhibitions to the construction of smaller houses and sites.
110. CoHousing Schemes
The encouragement of well designed communal housing has the potential for raising the living standards and quality of life for large sections of our communities. The principles of good CoHousing are concomitant to those proposed for social sustainability and sustainable governance.
Communal Housing need not be homogenous; the expression of individual preferences and architectural taste should be an intrinsic part of the system. Encouraging CoHousing increases densities, provides social and lifestyle support and fosters a strong sense of community, belonging and trust in its participants. It maximises land use and land value perceptions and encourages the formation of Communal Gardens.
Opportunities to allow CoHousing to happen should be increased and barriers to their creation removed. Localisation of service infrastructure should promote similar community participation to that experienced in CoHousing schemes, in suburbs and villages. A sharing of responsibility for installation, maintenance and operation of communal services, sewage, water and energy dramatically increases their feasibility.
So … Rule of Thumb … Form a group of like minded people to share the experience of building and living in a communal sustainable environment. Call for a re-examination of planning regulations and building codes to remove impediments to the development of CoHousing and similar high density, quality lifestyle schemes.
111. Conduiting of Information Technology
Yesterday it was co-axial cabling, today it’s optic fibre, tomorrow, who knows, somebody probably does somewhere. Regardless of what it is to be, a more robust system of networking is a must for a sustainable infrastructure, we shouldn’t have to go around tearing things up and out every time we need to upgrade the networking system.
Built in conduiting paths specifically for information technology network infrastructure should be an integrated part of urban planning, not just CBD but for the entire continent, city, suburbia, rural areas and all.
Equity of access to I.T. networks and cyberspace terminals must become a major priority in the next decade to ensure it does not become a tool of an elite to the detriment of the masses but becomes a tool of the community for the betterment of quality of life. We have seen opportunities like this come and go a dozen times this century. For communication and information to produce its optimum benefits it must be freely available for all, at the highest levels.
So … Rule of Thumb … Allow for ducting systems for information technology cabling. Call for the development of infrastructure systems which allow for unforeseen or at least for immanent technology, especially robust ducting systems which allow for cable replacement. Ensure information technology infrastructure is extended to all areas of the community and made widely available.
HEAL SICK BUILDINGS
Some strategies for improving the quality of interiors of buildings to avoid and repair the problems that lead to “Sick Building Syndrome”
image of a building on the table, ms doctor with stethescope
The problems that lead to ‘Sick Buildings’ are many and varied and are all inter-related in complex and unpredictable ways. Many otherwise benign effects can compound with others to produce serious problems.
It is vital to be thorough in any assessment of the factors leading to a particular building being seen as unhealthy. Try out this checklist, They are all detailed in the patterns:
- Particulate fall out, Dust
- Dust Mites
- Bacteria build up on interior surfaces
- Bacteria in air circulation systems
- Volatile Organic Compounds
- Offgassing Paints, Resins, Sealers, Polymer surfaces
- Offgassing Carpets
- Offgassing Glue based materials
- Offgassing Glue based installation
- Chemically treated surfaces and materials, CCA Timber, Weedicides, Pesticides, Fire Retardants
- Radon, Ozone CFCs, PCBs, PVCs,
- Radiation Sources, Screens, Microwaves, Radio Transmitters, Transformers and electrical wiring
- Condensation on cold surfaces from warm moist air generating mould growth
- Impermeable surfaces acting as moisture barriers and condensation sites
- Insufficient air exchange capacity
- lack of natural ventilation
- Temperature stratification and controllability
- Humidity variation and controllability
- Lack of openable windows
- Insufficient natural lighting potential
- Artificial lighting type and quality
- Insufficient direct sunlight potential
- Insufficient user control capacity
- Detergents, cleaning agents, solvents, insecticides, pesticides and surfactants
So … Rule of Thumb … A full survey and site testing of off-gassing, microbiota, air exchange, lighting quality and other ‘Sick Building’ contributors should be carried out to ensure an understanding of the particular situation.
113. Change the Air
Most indoor air problems result from lack of decent ventilation. Our own exhalation of carbon dioxide can poison us if it is allowed to build up to high enough levels, let alone methane and all the off-gassing that goes on in contemporary buildings.
Rapid and continual exchange of air can reduce chemical build up inside the building. It must though be considered what then happens to those toxins? Best to avoid them in the first place.
Access to natural ventilation and direct unfiltered sunlight will break down most toxic chemicals and eliminate almost all biological pathogens (little nasties like mites, weevils, coccus bacteria and so on).
Air movement will alleviate temperature stratification, where hot air rises in a room and creates warmer layers of air trapped at head height with cooler layers at body and foot level. Such stratification can lead to severe discomfort for building users. Humidity is can also be optimised by using moving air, particularly by passing it over well watered plants.
So … Rule of Thumb … Set up a naturally ventillated air exchange system allowing for the maximum capacity possible. Use energy exchanges on outgoing air to heat or cool incoming air as required.
114. Avoid Wall to Wall Carpeting
Carpets are the main home for many interior pathogens. Fitted carpets are often made of polymer based compounds and are always glued down with low quality glues. They are a major source of offgassing and indoor air pollution. Their tactility is often woeful, inhibiting floor based living.
By using removable, natural material carpets and floor coverings and taking them out into the sun and the air and giving them a bit of what for, all the pathogens that collect in them can be eliminated. The coverings can be brought back into balance. No vacuum cleaning system can do what a couple of hours in the sun can do. Tests have shown vacuums to be almost ineffective in removing biological pathogens from carpets.
Natural materials like coir, sisal, wool, tatami matting, caneite, bare boards, cottons and silks all can be found in use as removable, high quality floor coverings. With careful thought about movement and layout many rooms can be given more delicate “no shoes” surfaces. Not only are these natural materials lower in EcoCost they are also made from renewable resources. They can bring a profound sense of natural attachment deep with a building, their textures and resilience produce unique tactile sensations and their scents evoke the living things they have been made from.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid artificial materials and fixing down floor coverings. Use natural materials and have them removable with a regular taking outside for a good beating.
115. Avoid Polymer Finishes
Polyesters and polyurethanes in floor sealers, plastic varnishes, tile sealers, glazing films and various paint forms, are all made up by stringing together little active organic compounds into long chains. The joints in these long chains eventually break down freeing up the little active organic compounds.
Many of these are toxic little esters, ethers, vinyls, and are generically known as Volatile Organic Compounds (V.O.C.s). Almost all of them are virulent persistent poisons in the natural environment. Water based paints are as bad for the environment if not worse than oil based, they move freely into natural water based ecologies poisoning them.
When about to apply a finish, consider if a surface needs protection or not, why are you painting that? Ceilings are never going to be touched or rubbed against, why paint them? With kitchen benches, do you know what happens to the sealer that slowly wears away? Where does it go? Into the food you eat! Do you really need to seal it? Are there non-sealed alternatives, stainless steels, stone, alloys? Can you scrub it down regularly instead of sealing?
Seriously question yourself as to why you are applying paint. If it’s simply because you think you should, don’t!
So … Rule of Thumb … Before applying any finish think carefully about whether it is really needed. Try to use materials that don’t need surface treatments, particularly where they will be touched. Find low toxin natural based products for finishing. Avoid all polymer products.
116. Avoid Glues
Laminates of all forms, carpets, many linings and all forms of silicon sealers, all heavily rely on unstable glue systems in their installation. These glues are mostly based on toxic compounds like formaldehydes, phenols, acetones or acetic acids.
All these glues break down over time, how much time is hotly argued but at most it is a few decades and at least, a few months. What happens then? Surfaces come apart, chemicals enter the environment, things leak and break up and have to be rebuilt at further EcoCost. This is a two-sided issue of toxicity and environmental degradation on the one hand, and longevity, integrity and quality of construction on the other.
Watch out for composite boards such as MDF or particle boards and associated glue-based products, even if laminated. They are a major source of indoor air pollution, off-gassing formaldehydes and other volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.s). Most use a formaldehyde or phenol glue matrix with some form of cellulose fibres. The exposed area of glue with such products is very large, not just the end grain as with plywoods. The offgassing and breakdown due to weathering is much greater. They can usually only be used as a background material requiring sealers, paints, laminates or some other form of glued on surface protection, increasing the potential for breakdown and offgassing. They are grainless, featureless, soulless products, extremely widely used in industry. When specifying against such products, it will have to be policed vigorously as they are used for anything and everything.
So Rule of Thumb … Avoid all artificial glue based products and systems. There are quality natural solid materials, mechanical fixings and sealing systems to do all the jobs that glue based products and systems do. Investigate these. They are long lasting, reliable and will not poison the world. If you have to use a glue, make it a natural one.
- 117. Pesticides, Insecticides, Fire Retardants and Herbicides
Many extremely environmentally noxious chemicals are routinely used in and around buildings and on all sorts of materials. All of these have the potential to accumulate and cause serious toxicity problems. They are designed to be highly active in any environment and are deadly to most beneficial species as well the nuisance ones.
Borax, copper and organochlorine based insecticides are routinely used in buildings to deter insect activity beneath and within buildings. There are other non toxic mechanical and structural solutions to insect ingress. Raising buildings above the ground, metal capping on footing stumps, high visibility zones at risk areas, careful material selection to avoid attracting insects and naturally repellant materials are all good strategies.
Many different chemicals are routinely sprayed around to inhibit weed growth. These chemicals are environmental toxins and should be treated as such. The alternatives of manual weeding, using desirable species to cover ground and out-compete weeds, weed inhibiting surfaces and high salinity basecourses should all be investigated.
Fire retardants and ‘stabilisers’ are routinely sprayed on many products. Read the Label, and reject any chemical coated materials.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid using all environmentally toxic chemicals and products coated with toxins. Read the Label. Investigate alternative non-chemical strategies for environmental weed and pest control.
118. Detergents and Cleaning Agents
Most of the products we use to clean our dwellings and buildings contain highly active toxic chemicals. Their function is to break down organic molecules and dissolve them for removal. They can also break down complex organic compounds, in living tissue.
Detergents based on liquid hydrocarbons, chlorine or peroxide bleaches, ammonia compounds, phosphorous compounds and activated carbonates should be avoided. Products which use any industrial based chemical will have a high EcoCost in addition to their toxic problems, so should be avoided on those grounds.
The use of natural materials for contact surfaces that don’t show marks as easily as painted surfaces can reduce the need for high strength toxic cleaning agents. A ‘bit of elbow grease’ is usually as efficient as the most potent cleaning agent.
There are a number of excellent little books on alternative, environmentally sound cleaning agents, many of which can be made up simply, using natural, common raw materials. The Green Cleaner and other traditional domestic cleaning recipe books are readily available.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid all industrial chemical based cleaning products. Read the Label. Try to make up your own cleaners with natural regenerable materials. Buy the “Green Cleaner” book or something similar.
Avoid C.C.A. Treated Timber
Copper, Chrome and Arsenic are all lethal long lasting and active environmental toxins. They are impregnated into timbers to inhibit bacterial activity, for durability.
Avoid Treated Pine, it is deadly. It uses unstable Copper Chrome Arsenate (CCA) treatments. Excess CCA from the timber base is wept off, as a white arsenic salt and is highly toxic. This happens even with pressure treatment, though to a lesser degree than batch soaked material. The CCA is also slowly released as the cellulose breaks down and stays in the food chain compounding over time. Arsenic oxide is also offgassed when subjected to heat and humidity, poisoning anything within cooee.
The base timber used for this process is usually of low quality and is hopeless for good carpentry. The sawdust and offcuts are very toxic and have seriously poisoned people, animals and local ecologies both on site and when disposed of later.
A number of composite materials are now being produced with CCA treated timbers and there is little sign to suggest their toxic constituents.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid all CCA treated timbers, they are highly toxic. Watch out for a slight green tinge in the timber and ask the question, “Has it been treated?” Never burn treated timber. Never use it indoors.
119. Natural Paint and Oil Finishes
image of some logos of biopaints porters etc montaged
A few high quality, high integrity manufacturers are now producing paints and oils based on natural biodegradable carriers and thinners. Milk paints, whitewashes, pine resin bases and natural vegetable based oils are all readily available.
Colours can be a bit limited and expensive with natural pigments so this requires some serious questioning of priorities. Deeper colours can be built up over many washes or coats of lighter tones adding a richness of patina much prized around the world.
Many so called oil finishes are actually polymer sealers with a bit of oil thrown in for advertising reasons. Some ‘green’ paints are just normal paint with a tincture of some supposedly ‘natural’ stuff thrown in. CHECK THE LABEL. Anything with poly or polyseal written on it is a polymer based sealant, not an oil; anything with acrylic or mineral oil or turps written on it is a noxious paint, regardless of what else it may suggest it contains. Chemical companies are obligated to provide a complete ingredients list of all their products if requested. It makes fascinating reading!
Recoating of high wear areas should only require a clean up and re-oil or re-wash with natural paints and oils, rather than the full removal and start over needed with plastic sealers and paints. Protection is built up over time creating a wonderful patina of use and replenishment.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid painting if you can. In areas that need protection use a natural based biodegradable system. Many coats of weather resisting washes built up over time gives better long term protection. Read the Label. Many supposedly ‘green’ products are shams.
120. Porous Wall Surfaces
image of microscopic surface one sealed one natural
Polymer and resin based finishes seal surfaces off from the gentle breathing of moisture and air, giving an artificial plastic surface.
Wall and ceiling surfaces that can breathe reduce the incidence of surface condensation with all its attendant problems. Porous surfaces lessen harsh acoustic ringing and other detrimental sonic effects.
Porous finishes usually feel better, they have a natural tactility. Such finishes can be achieved with non-toxic low EcoCost products. Many of these can be made up from simple base ingredients as required.
Being in physical and visual contact with natural materials lends to a softer more gentle approach to living. The gentle tones associated with traditional protective washes are substantial evidence of the visual benefits of such finishes.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid sealing surfaces wherever possible. Where it must be done use a breathing finish.
121. Real Polish Finishes for Timber
image of a polished floor
Traditional oil, wax and polish systems allow for constant renewal of protection in heavy traffic areas without having to remove existing finishes. Continued application and resealing produces a build-up of protection that eventually becomes much better than any plastic based sealant system.
There is also real contact with real surfaces, not just constantly touching artificial plastic finishes.
Tung oil, Livos oil, Coconut oil, Danish Oil and various stable vegetable oils are successfully used as heavy duty floor sealers, usually in conjunction with a wax surface finish. All these oils acts as natural scleratinising agents, drying and hardening the outer layer of timber
So … Rule of Thumb … Use many coats of natural oils, waxes and polishes to protect timber but only where it is really needed. Allow protection to build up over time.
122. Radon Gas
There are some natural occurring things, nothing to do with the activities of humans that can cause severe problems inside our buildings. Radon Gas is one of these things.
Radon is a chemically inert noble gas with an unstable nucleus and a habit of getting trapped in certain rocks. It is heavier than air and so tends to accumulate under houses or wherever air movement is slow enough to let it settle. It is created as a by-product of the natural nuclear decay of uranium and in itself has a short half-life, leading to radioactive emission from slow natural nuclear decay. As such it emits reasonably strong radiation in the form of alpha particles and forms a large percentage of natural background radiation in many areas.
The gas is present naturally in some areas and in certain rock forms particularly pink granites. It can build up to generate radiation at levels that give health concerns.
So … Rule of Thumb … Check for local knowledge of the existence of Radon. If in doubt have a geiger test or Radon sample test carried out. Highest levels are found in low ventilation areas and wet areas where it enters in water.
Ozone is another naturally occurring substance that can be toxic to humans in concentrations and gives problems in some buildings, particularly in industrial areas.
Ozone is generated by electric sparking activity, including lightning, electric motors and poorly maintained electrical equipment. It is an oxidised compound of oxygen O3 as opposed to normal molecular oxygen O2. High static generators like rubber belt drives and ocean surf can also generate Ozone in small quantities. While this gas is essential in the outer atmosphere to protect the earth from excess UV radiation from the sun, at lower altitudes it can pose a toxic threat.
So … Rule of Thumb …Ensure that all devices and appliances are in proper repair and any systems that generate sparking such as powerful electric motors, in lifts, escalators and fans, are externally ventilated.
ChloroFluoroCarbons (CFCs) have been widely used as propellants in spray cans and as heat transfer gasses in refrigerators and heat pumps. Upon release to the atmosphere they react with natural Ozone in the upper reaches breaking down the defensive Ozone layer and allowing the penetration of harmful levels of UV radiation.
At one stage it looked as if every product on the shelves had some sort of CFC based chemical in it. This is rapidly changing and they have been banned in many countries.
Xylenes, Ketones and Aldehydes are major toxins and are all still prevalent in spray cans. Spray cans are just symptoms of laziness, a simple hand-pump produces a much better spray with no side effects, considerably less packaging and wastage, is reusable and refillable and results in a much reduced environmental impact.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid using products containing CFCs or refrigerant gas of an unspecified type, most likely to be CFC. Manual pumps and pressurisers usually produce better results and less wastage. If having to use spray cans seek out HydroCarbon propellant types.
PolyVinylChlorides (PVCs) rapidly break down, depolymerising into Vinyl Chlorides. Suspects in ozone depletion, these vinyl chlorides have been found in the remotest areas of the world, in polar glaciers and equatorial rainforest swamps.
For once, in this case, longevity is not a good thing. PVC based materials constantly break down as the long chain polymers dissolve due to random bonding breakdown, releasing long lasting toxins into the environment. These toxins are absorbed into biological systems and accumulate up the food chains, eventually causing toxicity symptoms.
Dairy cattle, battery eggs, many meat products and even wildlife from remote areas have been diagnosed with vinyl based toxicity problems.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid PVC and Vinyl based products and materials. They break down to be toxic to almost all life forms and they don’t go away.
126. Dust Build Up
Microscopic dust particles can accumulate all sorts of chemical residues in our polluted urban environments. These can have harmful allergenic effects on many people.
Dust particles are light enough to be carried on air currents and will reach every part of a building and well into your body.
Good ventilation and direct sunlight will remove particles and break down dangerous chemicals in the air. The higher humidity beneath the leaves of large well watered plants helps to trap dust into heavier clusters and cause it to settle out. Plants can be regularly taken outside and washed down, preferably in the rain. Electrostatic dust precipitators can also remove lightweight dust, but may have Ozone generation side effects. A good cleaning regime is essential for any healthy building.
So … Rule of Thumb … Keep things reasonably clean and try to keep dust levels down. Good ventilation, healthy plants and direct sunlight are very good for this.
Tiny dust mites, a form of arachnid, can cause severe dermal irritation to sensitive people. They inhabit any dust laden environment feeding off tiny food particles and dermal sheddings trapped in the dust.
While house dust mites are mostly harmless and can be useful in cleaning up tiny scraps, some people are allergic to their droppings and they can cause severe dermal irritation if the floor is used as a living surface. Mites cannot survive exposure to direct sun or in dustless environments. They are most common in carpets, mattresses and bedding, fur and fabrics; They build up to very high populations in fitted polymer carpets that cannot be removed.
Powerful, beating cleaners are available which will remove some of the problem but the mites hold extremely tightly.
Mites use animals as a movement vector and food source.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid fitted carpets and fixed fabric surfaces. Remove all carpets and fabrics and take them outside for a good beating and a hang in the hot sun. Keep pets clean and give them a good run in the sun and swim in the sea.
128. Minimise E.M.F. Radiation Exposure
image of a high voltage power line trapsing off into the distance.
Radiation caused by the myriad ElectroMagnetic Fields around us everywhere has the potential to act as a serious health risk, particularly near sources of high intensity such as transformers, transmitters and high voltage power lines.
Such radiation will not penetrate through thick walls of rammed earth or ceramics such as non-cementitious masonry (clay bricks).
Another more technical solution involves a cage of conducting metal, known as a Faraday cage. Such cages trap incoming long wavelength radiation, converting it to low ampere current, safely earthed to ground.
There is some cause for concern from the tangle of electrical and communications wires within walls of contemporary buildings. These can emit very low levels of EMF radiation but are very close at hand. Of particular concern would be dense wiring looms near the heads of beds where delicate parts of the body would be exposed for long periods. Heavily insulated or coaxial conduiting can reduce such EMF problems.
So … Rule of Thumb …Investigate potential sources of EMF radiation both from without and within the building. Develop strategies for protecting people from them.
129. Radiation From Microwave Ovens
The wavelength and energy transmitted by domestic microwave ovens is particularly lethal to water based life forms. We bathe food in this radiation.
The particular frequency generated in microwave ovens is designed to stimulate the Oxygen – Hydrogen bond in water molecules, the idea being that all foods contain water and if the water can be excited then that will heat the food. So far, so good but what we are talking about is radiation, the same stuff that nuclear reactors produce and people have them in their kitchens, and they put their food in them! Hopeless! They also trash the food.
Microwaves in high doses are known to cause damage to the nervous system and sterility. There is little research into the long term health effects of food irradiation with microwaves.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to avoid eating anything out of a microwave oven on principle. Insist on checking seals and screening systems if there is one anywhere near you. Don’t stand anywhere near microwaves when they are operating, particularly in front of them. That little perforated screen doesn’t stop all the radiation, just a quantum mechanically determined percentage of it.
130. Radiation From Television
Some people spend up to eight hours in a day in front of the television; the average for most people in western urban cultures is over two and a half hours a day. These devices are sources of radiation which although small, when combined with the exposure time, give levels which constitute a health risk.
TVs emit two forms of radiation. Powerful EMFs are generated by the heavy duty transformers in the rear of the casings; prolonged exposure to EMFs has uncertain health ramifications. The continual flourescing of the screen is the result of a beam of charged quantum particles crashing into a chemical coated sheet of glass in a vacuum. This emits a variety of radiations, the bulk in the visible spectrum but also spread wide on either side of that in miniscule amounts. Minute but varying levels of harmful frequencies of radiation are directed towards anyone in front of the box. Given the thousands of hours a year some people now spend in front of these devices there must be serious concerns over health issues.
The machine is also the principal source of propaganda, both marketing and political. It has been described as the new opiate of our culture, placating intellects to the point of stultification. It is a non-participatory medium requiring no input or action from the watcher. It is, for the most part, boring, repetitious and inane.
So … Rule of Thumb … Consider how much time you spend in front of the idiot box and make a judgement on how close you should be and whether it is really worth the time and potential health risks, physical and psychological. Be aware of the level of accountability and veracity in what you watch.
131. Radiation From Computers
Many of us are now spending a large part of our lives, both working and leisure, in front of Computer screens. These devices have the same problems as televisions with the saving grace that they can be a participatory and creative medium.
The radiation sources for computers are the same as for television. Also though, rapidly fluctuating micro-electronic switching gear generates various frequencies of oscillating EMFs with unknown effects.
The more involved we become in information technologies and Cyberspace, the more of our time will be spent in close proximity to computing machines. There are proposals even for cochlear and jaw implants as computer interfaces. It will become a major health issue. Particularly of concern now, is the tendency to have these devices in darkened, artificially lit and ventilated spaces, isolating the user from the natural world.
Newer machines are becoming very robust and easy to move around. They can allow outdoor use and freedom of movement. Use them with at least some caution though, Laptops are particularly sensitive to radiations, it’s in the genes. Flat LCD screens are much better. Continual proximity to the EMFs generated by even small machines may have unforeseeable health consequences.
So … Rule of Thumb … Be aware of the potential physiological and psychological health risks of computers. Try to make a computing space that allows contact to the natural world. Avoid computer work stations in artificial environments. Seek out new technologies that allow for freedom of movement. Take regular breaks from them.
132. Radio Telephones and Mobile Phones
Both these devices emit high strength radio wavelenth radiation which is usually harmless because of the distance from the transmitter. When the transmitter point is millimetres from human tissue, especially delicate brain tissue there may well be some long term effects.
These are currently unproven, but it seems likely that there would be some minor effects, particularly given the amount of time many people are spending with these things stuck to the side of their heads. Portable house phones also come under this risk, though the signal is weaker again.
The continual proximity to the EMFs generated by these devices even when not transmitting may have unforeseeable health consequences. They are also becoming a social nuisance, allowing for constant interruptions and interfering with physically intimate interactions.
So … Rule of Thumb … If using mobile radio transmitters and mobile phones try to have a remote microphone and earpiece at all times, keep the aerial as far from your body as possible. Get an aerial sheild. Don’t sleep with it.
133. Mobile Phone Transmitter Towers
These eyesores are cropping up everywhere and house a series of powerful radio transmitters as well as heavy duty transformers generating large EMFs.
It is their number, continual, high density usage and proximity that are generating concerns. Also of concern are the urban design issues they are beginning to raise.
These towers are constantly emitting powerful radio signals twenty four hours a day. This radiation becomes a health issue when the source is very close, and the exposure times are long, particularly for the growing tissues of children.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try not to live or work too near to a mobile phone transmitter. Insist on the safest technology in shielding and visual minimisation for any to be installed in your neighbourhood.
134. Fluorescent Light Quality
Fluorescing lights rely on a constant cyclic exitation and fluorescing of a gas-filled tube by high voltage electricity. They flash. Their spectrum gives a hard flat white blue light.
They flash continually at a rate fractionally quicker than the eye consciously registers when they are in good order. They flicker infuriatingly when worn out. Many people experience headaches, eye problems and tiredness if kept in fluorescent lighting for long periods.
Although they have considerable energy saving advantages their quality of light is low, with a harsh and uninviting whiteness. Their dispersion of source along the tube generates poor shadows, giving some people depth perception problems and flattening visual textures.
New advances in fluorescing gas mixes, light spectrum output and miniaturisation have had good results in improving fluorescent light quality. The steadiness and longevity of mini fluoros that can be plugged into existing sockets, make them much more appropriate devices. The illuminaire design, shading systems and reflectors all can be used to alter the tone of light from fluorescents to give much improved quality.
So … Rule of thumb … Try to avoid large area flat lighting with fluorescent tubes. Investigate new mini-fluorescent technologies. Shade the light source to produce better light tones. Design softening sytems for illuminaires.
135. Incandescent Lights
Light emitted from exited tungsten has been one of the great discoveries of humanity. It has created the image of our cities at night, our cliffs of light, it has extended our lives.
It is fascinating to see the original beautiful globe made by Benjamin Franklin still burning today. And to pause and consider why the hell your globes blow every five minutes at home! A classic case of inbuilt obscelescence and low quality production.
Incandescent light sources produce a warm yellow spectrum that most people find gentle and inviting. They are not as energy efficient as fluorescents and some other light systems but their quality of light is high, they are simple to make and can be very robust if well made.
So … Rule of Thumb … Campaign for light manufacturers to make a decent product that will last a lifetime or more, as they know perfectly well they could do. By increasing the thickness of the filament, thickening the globe and purifying the shielding gasses, at almost negligible extra cost per unit, incandescent light bulbs can and should last indefinitely.
THE NON BUILT ENVIRONMENT
A series of strategies for minimising impact on the environments surrounding our buildings, cities and rural areas.
136. A Natural Landscape
The massive replacement of natural environments with human sculpted ones throughout the world has led to the ecological devastation and annihilation of thousands of unique species.
In many cases this alteration of native landscape has been carried out for cultural and aesthetic reasons rather than fundamental need or technical necessity.
The profound and intrinsic symbiosis between animal and plant with our life form insists that for humans to survive in a meaningful way we must surround ourselves with ecologically valid life. Such life supplies us with breathable air, food and aesthetic succour. Such life can also vary from place to place. It can be the life that has adapted to a given place, in valid native ecosystems. Such ecologies, even in miniature, can help to preserve threatened local species.
It is time we symbolically began to remove exotic plantings and gardens, particularly those based on weed species which are causing problems in local ecosystems, and replace them with valid indigenous ecologies.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think about how native landscapes can be used around you as an alternative to existing exotic forms. Design and create native gardens and bush environments using locally procured plants, soils and mulches. Allow for the free movement of native wildlife and the provision of natural food sources for them.
137. Do Nothing Landscaping
image of a bit of lush bush
Overly active intervention in complex ecosystems can be as destructive as unthinking degradation. The patterns of interconnections are often so complex that the effects of actions are often at odds with their intentions.
Simply by leaving things alone, it is possible to create viable endemic ecosystems in the areas around buildings. If something is to be done then it should be the least interventionist path available. By collecting seed stock from the site itself or nearby similar ecosystems and taking care with any existing flora and fauna, wildlife corridors, nesting and burrow sites, it is possible to help regenerate the original gene pool. It is important though, not to introduce other ecotypes and genotypes of the same species as these will interbreed with existing types and dilute the local gene pool, irretrievably altering the evolution stream.
Often, even on small sites, there is a surprisingly broad array of viable native plant and animal species. Such species can be selected and arranged to achieve desired spatial, environmental and aesthetic effects. More to the point though, some of the most profoundly inspirational and moving landscapes have just happened, results of gentle protection and time. The emergence of such serendipity can lead to a potent recognition by the users of the place of the value and aesthetic potential of native life.
Species native to a given area should achieve maximum potential with little or no intervention. Fertilising is usually unnecessary for most native plants and harmful to many, particularly if the natural soil is retained in tact. Irrigation should not be required beyond the initial establishment phase provided groundwater movement is not affected and the rain shadow of the building is responded to.
So … rule of Thumb … Determine a strategy for allowing the site to regenerate a viable native ecology with minimum intervention. Collect seed and plant stock for later replanting. Retain any wildlife and birdlife sites.
138. Mix Natural Ecologies with Urban Patterns
The attitude that viable indigenous ecosystems and urban forms are mutually exclusive is an unsupportable urban designer’s myth.
The need for hard urban spatial forms is valid, especially in the automobile driven context of predominantly loosely defined urban space, but it does not mean that all space has to be devoid of greenery. Hard edged, positive urban spaces can be generated with natural geological and vegetative forms.
Cities that have evolved through the industrial era have deliberately excluded natural processes, to their detriment. Our cities have used mechanical devices and hard urban forms in preference to perfectly functional natural alternatives with the current nightmare consequences. The widespread community desire for planting of vegetation throughout cities should be directed towards the creation of viable ecosystems, particularly endemic and native forms. The avoidance of weed species and endemic environment damaging species should be actively ensured.
Calculations could be made of the quantity of functioning vegetation required to ensure sufficient scrubbing of the air to remove carbon dioxide emission from urban areas. This could then be used as a baseline planting requirement for cities.
So … Rule of Thumb … Use planting regimes of native and endemic species in mixed communities approximating viable ecosystems. Encourage the population of these plantings with viable insect and animal communities. The linking together of small pockets of viable ecosystems to create wildlife corridors, seed dispersal paths and insect activity routes should also be a priority. In the middle of our cities.
139. Habitat Preservation and Recovery
Land areas designated as being important to the maintenance or improvement of threatened ecosystems should be obtained by the community and protected from degrading activities.
Critical wildlife corridors and unusual habitat forms should be preserved under small scale extensions of the national parks and wildlife program. A single hectare preserve can be as ecologically valuable in terms of biodiversity and habitat diversity preservation as much larger areas.
The operational arms of native biota protection authorities should be restructured to facilitate proper protection of a large number of ecologically diverse, smaller areas, as well as the large parks.
Ecological evaluation influenced, lease cost structuring should encourage lessees of community land to act in environmentally benign, and even beneficial, ways when developing leased land. The handing over of ecologically valuable private and community land to wilderness protection authorities should be negotiated. Land tenure systems should allow for land trading to become a common method of improving protection and threatened ecosystems and productivity of industrial and commercial operations.
So … Rule of Thumb … Encourage the setting up of an authority with the responsibility of actively identifying sensitive, threatened or productive small ecosystems. Ensure that identified ecosystems are protected with covenants and through land procurement strategies.
140. Land Tenure
Our thoroughly ingrained land tenure system is inexplicable from a non-anthrocentric viewpoint. What gives us the right to claim the entire surface of the planet, and all the surrounding space within our grasp, as directly belonging to one species of animal which shares it with millions of others?
If we are to seize title to the planet, then surely we must do so as its guardians rather than as its rulers. The land cannot belong to anything, it is there as an absolute, it is used by a myriad of interwoven lifeforms all taking from it and giving to it in a balanced chain of life and living.
The treatment of land as a commodity also detrimentally affects social sustainability. In an urban context, enormous damage is done to inner urban centres by the horse trading of land and buildings. The perception that inner urban centres are communal places where people can gather and interact is lost in such a culture. Equity is threatened by each individual’s capacity to acquire land and trade it as a good without regard to its uses, occupants or ecology. Community access to all land as a limited source of environmentally sustainable resources must be a foundation principle of sustainability.
How to achieve this seemingly impossible goal is another question. A number of conservation minded trusts have been set up to purchase land and hold it in trust for the benefit of the entire planetary ecosystem, with suitable covenants on its use and development. These are currently extremely successful on a small scale. Future expansion and encouragement of, and involvement in, these projects should be a principal strategy of sustainable governance.
So … Rule of Thumb … Get involved in bringing land into environmental trusts. Call for the development of strategies facilitating long term viable use of land held in trust for the planetary ecosystem and managed by the community. This pattern requires a sustainable long term time horizon.
141. User Pays Degradation
Public land throughout the world is treated with callous disregard for its occupants and future. Many of the exploiters of such land just walk away from it, leaving it environmentally devastated, with no further obligation.
A long term lease system should be instigated for all public land. The community could set up a purchasing system to gradually acquire all land, incrementally at a fair price as it comes onto the market, thus spreading the astronomical costs over a long period. Lease income of held land could be used to finance purchasing programs. Existing owners could be bought out on a lease back arrangement, enabling their provenance and enjoyment of the land to continue uninterrupted.
The cost of leases should be structured to reflect the environmental and ecological cost of occupying, developing and degrading the land. Accounting for loss of biomass, biodiversity and habitat should be developed which would encourage ecologically viable land use and engender responsibility for land degradation by the user of the land.
Net environmental improvements to land could be reflected in negative lease costs providing strong incentives for the formation of private ecological regeneration firms. Such operators could make their living leasing degraded land, environmentally improving land for a negative lease cost and then returning them to the community. They could also act on contract to long term leaseholders.
So … Rule of Thumb … Encourage the instigation of environmental impact based lease cost assessment system for community trust held lands. Encourage acquisition of threatened ecosystems and contentious sites. This pattern requires a sustainable long term time horizon.
142. Land Tax as a Transition Mechanism
It is inevitable that there will be a very strong conservative resistance to the elimination of the current land ownership system in many areas.
Awareness programs of the purpose and consequences of the land trust system should be instigated, highlighting the long term leasing systems proposed and the lease breaks for environmental improvement strategies. These programs should also highlight that structures remain the property of the owner, it is the land which is held in trust not generally buildings.
As an interim measure, the land tax system may be adapted to reflect the environmental impact of land occupation. Tax breaks should be instituted for the implementation of land management practices that can be demonstrated to be reducing the environmental impact of occupation. Land Tax rates would increase with increasing environmental. This would have a similar effect to Land Tenure and Lease Cost of Land to Reflect Environmental Cost, without the necessary painful political decisions.
The revenue from the Land Tax should be set aside for the purchase of land supporting important and threatened ecosystems and for environmental preservation and management strategies.
So … Rule of Thumb … Campaign for the alteration of Land Tax systems to reflect the ecological, social and economic impact of land management policies of occupiers, as an interim measure in achieving sustainable land tenure.
143. Sustainability Covenants
Both individual ownership of land and community management of environmental trust held land make the imposition of covenants on land a simple matter of title lodgement. Covenants should be irrevocable and reflect the environmental imperatives associated with ecological, social and economic sustainability.
Proper protection of cultural landmarks, resources and threatened ecosystems can be ensured through enforceable covenants and compulsory lease covenants revoking use rights and inflicting heavy fines for non-compliance. Covenants must have teeth.
This can start on a very personal level, although there may be some minor penalty in terms of selling price or the time taken to sell, it will eventually make the land much more valuable as community values shift.
So … Rule of Thumb … Before selling or leasing out land ensure there are enforceable covenants in place to protect sensitive, threatened or productive ecosystems and areas of cultural significance. Call for the instigation of strong environmental covenants on all community held land.
144. Reuse Redundant Land
The area of land under bitumen and concrete designated as specifically and solely for the use of motor vehicles is staggering. Estimates range from 15 to 25% of the land surface of heavily developed countries is given over to vehicles. The levels for inner urban areas are truly ridiculous, up to 40%!
The full environmental costs involved in maintaining road cover of land and car parking, should be met by the users of the vehicles, ensuring full and proper costs associated with motor vehicle use are recognised and reflected in transport costs.
Large areas of roads, verges and car parks everywhere are effectively under utilised, even unused. Road widths, parking areas and access aprons should all be re-examined within the parameters of environmental costing of such land use. This would lead rapidly to a reordering of the priorities leading to such large scale appropriation of land for vehicles.
In addition to road areas there are large tracts of land simply left over from previous land use strategies that have become redundant. All these areas could be given over to street trees, food gardens, viable ecosystems, public spaces and social equity schemes. All such land should be environmentally protected.
So … Rule of Thumb … Identify local waste land and redundant road and parking areas and call for more socially contributory, ecologically and socially sustainable activities to be given priority of use. Plant a tree in them.
145. Decontamination, Rehabilitation,
image of an old industrial site being re-developed aci glass? docks
Many large, inner urban sites once occupied by industry, rail or maritime transport utilities are being handed over to the public for redevelopment. Most of these sites have severe toxic contamination problems, many of these have been simply covered over and sold off, leaving dangerous subsoil and groundwater conditions. Site contamination identification and rectification is a major field in the post industrial era.
Early techniques relied on draining and flushing such sites but this simply led to contamination of surrounding areas; pipelining the problem somewhere else. Contemporary methods are dealing with the problems on site using natural and psuedo-natural organic systems. Palladium catalyst cooking baths can be used to cleanly break down highly toxic organic compounds such as PCB’s and dioxin.
There are natural and engineered bacteria, nematodes (worm-like little creatures), worms and some molluscs that are being employed to break down everything from activated heavy metals, through domestic garbage to petrochemical contamination. Genetically modified bacteria have been effective in breaking down highly toxic heavy metal compounds, organo-phosphates, petrochemicals, chlorines and flourines, by breaking up the large molecules and trapping the poisonous elements in their structure.
Usually, there are a range of toxic tolerant pioneer native plant species that can be selected to act as a first wave in detoxifying and re-terra-forming contaminated sites. These plants assist in erosion control, build up soil humus and help to reset the nutrient balance of poor sites.
So … Rule of Thumb … If dealing with contaminated sites, determine a strategy for rehabilitating with natural vectors, living machines.
146. Develop Bioshelters for Land Regeneration
There are large empty tracts of degraded urban and open land in every city and countryside that require regeneration. It is essential that this regeneration be directed towards the reinstatement of viable ecosystems, particularly endemic and native ecosystems and threatened local ecosystem forms.
Such ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to urban pollution and human activity. Bioshelters are hermetically sealed off areas where temperature, humidity atmosphere and pest ingress can be carefully monitored and controlled. They can be used in the preservation and regeneration of sensitive local ecosystems, by the local community with professional assistance, by commercial interests or by public authorities.
Bioshelters can be as simple as a well constructed glasshouse or as complex as the totally isolated Biosphere environments created for scientific research.
Bioshelters are especially effective in preserving threatened species and reintroducing locally extinct forms. Use of otherwise socially dubious genetic technology in the field of ecosystem restitution gives a positive purpose to the enormous research investment being made in this field.
So … Rule of Thumb … If dealing with a threatened, degraded or sensitive site, develop bioshelters to protect the re-establishment of species diversity and stock. They should be available to, and run by, the local community. Use bioshelter projects to stress the impact of development and lifestyle patterns on local ecosystems and the opportunities for redressing of localised environmental impacts.
147. Community Gardens
Gardening is one of the great pleasures of life for humans and the instinct is strong. For many, for all sorts of reasons, the creation of a garden is too daunting and long term a project to contemplate starting. By forming local groups to share the work, responsibility and pleasure of creating the garden, the attraction and opportunities are much increased.
The development of valid ecosystems, both endemic and mixed, by local groups would provide a valuable tool in increasing community awareness. These gardens could be set up as viable sustainable resources reservoirs so that they become linked into the city ecosystem and Ecological Balance of Trade, as well as being places for leisure, exercise and aesthetic pleasure.
The wasted urban land associated with large suburban plots can be addressed by allowing greater building density and offsetting this with larger communal garden plots for community access and gardening allottments. More appropriate and sustainable use could be made of available land by those keen on creating gardens and all will benefit.
Using local human and commercial by-products for compost and soil conditioning would also help improve awareness of the urban ecosystem’s cycles. These gardens should be seen as Living Machines.
So … Rule of Thumb … Find some vacant public land nearby and propose that a local group be given long term access to land for development as a community garden. Find some advisors and technicians to give advice to these local groups to raise awareness of the requirements of valid ecosystems and production of viable sustainable resources.
148. Remove Fences
Public fences waste vast areas of land. They inhibit wildlife movement and human interaction, they polarise communities and cause friction, they promote security paranoia and inhibit free movement through community areas.
The old feudal adage ‘good fences make good neighbours’ does not stand up in our modern dense multicultural melange. Fences are a response to our current land tenure system and all the environmental and social problems that has engendered. Fences are symbolic of our assumption of the right to own a place, to carve it off from the natural world, to deny access to that land to all and do with it as we will.
Fences are laid out on an abstracted rectilinear surveyors grid without rhyme or reason and totally without relevance to natural ecosystems. They are a direct assault on the living patterns of many indigenous peoples and endemic ecosystems.
Overall, they are simply unnecessary in most cases.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think carefully about your fences, do they cause environmental problems, are they really necessary, are there other options? Call for guidelines and provisions for those groups who wish to remove fences in their neighbourhoods to ensure necessary protection is provided for privacy, personal space and legal responsibility.
149. De-Pipe Street Stormwater Disposal
The practice of channeling all the good fresh water that falls on hard surfaces into large underground pipes and disposing of as an unwanted by-product is a waste. That water is the most valuable resource available to ecosystems. It is their lifeblood and should be treated as such.
Part of the problem is that the cars we use are such filthy, polluting, oil dripping, rubber shedding disasters and occupy such vast areas of available land. The huge volumes of water collected from roads and car parks are too polluted to use. This water is mixed in with cleaner roof water and ground water severely contaminating them beyond usability.
The cost of that wasted water should be added into an accounting of automobile transport. The cost of kerbing, guttering and underground stormwater reticulation should also be highlighted as a separate issue and not part of community resourced urban infrastructure.
Even with contaminated water there are better ways of dealing with stormwater flow. The provision of soakage swales planted out with viable ecosystems, especially water and pollution tolerant species allows stormwater runoff to be gainfully used. Carparking, paths and roadways with porous paved surfaces allow rainwater to penetrate to the subsoil and enter the grounwater flow. Subsurface filtering through structured gravel and activated charcoal can remove most contaminants.
So … Rule of Thumb … Use porous paved surfaces. Direct your stormwater runoff onto gardens. Campaign for the treatment of all storm water runoff as a valuable resource. Ensure that its use is part of the ecosystem catchment plan for the community. Separate all clean water systems from polluted water. Use living machines to treat, purify and filter polluted water and recycle it back into the ecosystem water catchment.
150. Don’t Interrupt Ground Water Flow.
image of deep footings trenches, filled with water?
The placement of massive buildings directly on and into the existing ground plane causes severe interruptions to ground water flow. This destabilises local ecologies and reduces the potential for areas to regain ecological validity post construction. Too often also, the water interrupted by drainage systems is channeled to sumps or storm water outflows, causing mini-deserts in the water lee of buildings.
Carparks, roadways and footpaths also have the potential to interrupt natural water flow and rain absorption patterns. Pollution from vehicle tyre deposits, oil based leakages and discharges can causes severe problems with surrounding ecosystems, often being carried deeply into them by rapid runoff flows. Water and soil borne pathogens and diseases can be transmitted via both tyres and feet. In delicate areas these can cause severe threats to surrounding areas.
The use of layered porous gravel based surfaces with activated charcoal substrates, subsurface drainage and dispersion control systems for vehicle and pedestrian pathways can achieve effective, robust filtration of pollutants and pathogens. Planting hardy natives in runoff zones helps prevent contaminants passing into delicate ecosystems.
Collection systems interrupting ground water flow on the uphill side of buildings, roadways, paths and parking areas should be channeled through filtration systems and linked to dispersal systems on the downhill side of the interruption.
So … Rule of Thumb … Develop strategies for ensuring that ground water, both surface and sub-surface, flows freely around, through or under any intervention and is effectively dispersed.
151. Weed Out Weeds
Our native ecosystems are being swamped by dozens of vigorous invaders from a worldwide pool of invasive, prolific, animal, insect, bacterial and plant weed species.
These species arrive in the train of colonising humans to a new place without all their natural predators, diseases and other environmental and topographical controls. They come in as pets, livestock, garden plants and food crops, both deliberately and accidentally. Their populations bloom to plague proportions out-competing native niche holders and devastating local ecologies.
Great swathes of pampas grass, gorse, willow, blackberry, dog rose, cotoneasters, prickly pear, himalayan honeysuckle, vinca and other species, hold sway across new world continents. Feral rabbits, rats, foxes, camels, horses, buffalo, goats, cats and dogs run wild, wiping out fragile ecologies in a few short genocidal years. Starlings, indian miners, pidgeons and seagulls plague native ecologies. Pacific starfish, catfish, atlantic salmon and many others have decimated coastal, estuarine and river ecosystems. European wasps, argentinian ants, grain weevils, and the ubiquitous cane toad have had an appalling effect on the ecosystems they have descended upon. Phytophthera, pneumonia, foot and mouth and so many other tiny disease organisms that can’t even be identified, let alone described, have spread with humans to plague the world.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make yourself aware of which are the weeds around you and which are the natives. When you see a weed threatening a local ecosystem, stop, remove it and dispose of it thoughtfully. Remember weeds are plants, animals, fish, insects and other life forms that have invaded from another ecosystem. Campaign for wide area weed eradication programs. Call for tighter customs screening for weed species imports. It is a major environmental issue; the futures of our natural balanced ecologies are at stake.
152. Natural Toxins
Many species of animal, insect and plants generate toxic chemical as a means of defence or getting food. Most of these are well known but a few are not and appear in the most unlikely places.
Many species from the Solenacea family are highly toxic in different parts of the plant. Oleanders and Nightshades are seen everywhere, little known to most that they both house deadly toxins and give off noxious odours, often during the late evening and early morning when insects are about. The potatoes we eat have tomato like fruit that will make you a little ill if you eat them! Tobacco plants when burnt give off toxic fumes that are useful as insecticide but can also be toxic to humans. Pyrethrum daisies are useful deterrents for pests but also give off strong chemicals that can build up in poorly vented areas.
The dreaded Cane toad, along with some obscure reptiles, excretes a toxic slime over its skin to ward off predators, as if it needed it, but it works. Many varieties of domestic pets act as homes to mites, lice, nematodes and bacteria which all excrete chemicals which can be toxic or irritant to humans. Some of these can directly infect humans.
So … Rule of Thumb … If you do not know a species properties, research it before having them around, especially avoid plants that offgass at night in poorly vented areas near sleeping areas and the like. Be aware of the health of your pets, keep them clean and in balanced good health.
ECOLOGICALLY APPROPRIATE SYSTEMS
Alternative environmentally sound, sustainable systems for just about anything technical.
153. Living Machines
The development of artificial, mechanical devices to deal with biological problems has been a feature of the twentieth century. These machines are at best approximations of the optimal natural systems, at worst they simply do not work.
Many biological activities and biochemical reactions have evolved into natural niches, requiring the breaking down and transforming of biological by-products into usable resources. Sewage disposal systems are the obvious first application, but there are numerous other applications. Symbiotic bacteria modify soil conditions and nutrient profiles for their companion plants. Bacteria, nematodes, insects and associated organisms are known which rapidly break down complex organic molecules including petrochemicals, organochlorines, acids and alkalis. Plants can humidify and clean air, and during they change carbon dioxide to breathable oxygen.
These organic activities can be utilised to develop living machines to replace inefficient mechanical techno-devices and provide usable resources as by-products. These processes can also be set up to rely entirely on biological or solar incident energy and so are energy sustainable. Most of these reactions and activities are self-contained, requiring no massive infrastructure to support them and little in the way of capital resource input.
Living machines also have a capacity for a natural physical and formal beauty that is not a facet of techno-mechanical service infrastructure. These properties can encourage public acceptance of living machines in domestic and commercial areas close to raw material sources.
So … Rule of Thumb …Investigate, develop and install biological processes and biomechanical devices capable of performing necessary service and infrastructure tasks. Encourage local communities to use living machines.
154. Sewerage Processing as a Work of Art
Engendering sustainability in our communities will rely on developing understanding of the processes by which we live and their interactive effects on the ecosystems around them, our cultural patterns and our individual behaviour.
A prime target for addressing this requirement is our sewage processing systems. Sewerage can be processed and recycled in a sustainable manner in the area in which it is generated. Current sewerage disposal systems often simply just wash sewerage and other toxic material down a pipe and ‘away’ polluting surrounding ecosystems and detrimentally altering the nutrient balance of nearby marine and river ecologies.
The employment of Living Machines designed to be beautiful aesthetically as well as functional, and functional as well as aurally, tactilely, olfactorally and visually stimulating, constitutes a major educational tool to encourage awareness of sustainability principles. Such systems make it obvious where our food and water comes from, where our biological wastes go to and the cyclic biological nature of the system. By making the apparatus of effluvium management and recycling, objects of public art, their role can be more clearly understood and their necessary existence becomes acceptable. Such works of art would contribute to the development of mature attitudes towards the cyclic nature of our existence on the planet.
An integrated sequence of biosystems from algae tanks, settling pools with nematodes and aquatic worms, fish tanks, lily ponds and reed beds can allow for complete processing of human sewage to clean, potable water in a small integrated installation while supporting an array of life.
So … Rule of Thumb … Design and install works of art, which function as Living Machines, to process sewerage and other forms of waste. Treat these works of art as part of a complete cycling system within the local infrastrucure.
155. Plants as Environmental Controllers
image of inside a glasshouse adelaide ?
All plant species have an effect on the environment around them, modifying humidity, creating shade, converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and acting as a filter for many noxious compounds.
Planting areas can also be used to process effluent systems and purify waterbased effluvium. If given a central, visible location these Living Machines can act as Sewerage Processing as a Work of Art.
In addition to these technical functions they also harbour entire ecosystems of other creatures. The complex interwoven actions and effects of these ecosystems re-attach us to our natural world. The pristine sterilised environment proposed for humans a few decades ago, has proved inhospitable and at odds with our humanity.
The beneficial psychological effects of having living greenery around are clear. Such domesticated plantings can also contribute physically; as fruiting plants, berry bushes, plants for cut flowers, seed generators for revegetation projects and as nurseries for survivors of threatened species.
With good planning, large open internal spaces with good natural light and reticulated irrigation and fertilisation can be set aside for planting within the building envelope, particularly in movement areas and air reticulation zones. Thoughtful use can be made of carefully chosen plant species to replace humidifiers, and to some extent filtration systems.
So … Rule of Thumb … Investigate the potential for using plants to modify and improve indoor environments. Even the smallest and otherwise unused spaces can make beautiful, ecologically viable and productive gardens.
156. Living Machines for Buildings
image of a biosystem flow plan
In achieving sustainability it is vital that waste and pollutants be retained and treated in an environmentally sound way within the confines of those generating it. This is particularly critical in major buildings whose working populations can number in the tens of thousands
Biologically active air filtration using benign biological agents to actively scrub pathogens, chemicals and carbon dioxide from the air as it passes over and through them can be installed in major buildings. These systems actively compete with harmful bacteria, drastically reducing the potential for moulds and lethal bacterial problems such as legionaire’s disease. These systems need much less maintenance and operating energy, often generating heat themselves. Most benign biological agents have an optimum operating temperature of approx sixty degrees Celcius, and generate these temperatures themselves through biological activity. These temperatures will eliminate most pathogens within a matter of hours.
A centrally located sewage processing system as a work of art is a clear statement of intent to visitors and users of the building. A number of effective natural systems utilising microbes, bacteria and worms have been developed and used to process refuse from waste paper and food scraps to high toxicity waste. By installing beds for these systems at the source of the waste it can be dealt with effectively and safely within the building. The humus manufactured by these processes can be returned to the source of raw materials or used in planter beds, closing the circle.
So … Rule of Thumb … Explore ways of using biologically based systems for cleaning environmental pollution within buildings and for treating their output for re-use on site.
157. Water Saving Devices & Systems
image of A dripping Tap
Water is the most precious commodity on the planet, without pure clean water life is impossible. Human beings consume the vast proportion of free fresh water available on the planet.
There are many products and systems available for saving water at little or no penalty of luxury or design image. These are often of considerably higher quality than normal fixtures and systems.
The principles behind water saving devices are to reduce the volume of water flowing while maintaining the effectiveness of the device. This usually involves increasing the pressure of water at the nozzle, aerating the water or increasing the speed or turbulence of the water at the outlet point.
Water saving systems include storm water catchment and multiple use systems for water. Water used for personal ablution or collected from stormwater runoff, can be stored and filtered and re-used for a range of activities such as toilet flushing, clothes washing and irrigation.
So … Rule of Thumb … Use some of the wide array of water saving devices readily available including, taps, spouts, shower roses, dual flush and low volume toilet cisterns and bowls. Think about water saving systems including dry toilets, suds-saver appliances, multiple use of water and sonic washing machines.
158. Use Composting Toilet Systems
Composting toilet systems are readily available in many forms, they use little if any water and produce clean, useable humus and heat as by-products.
Some systems use low level water flushing but many are dry systems. The fluids are diverted to evapotranspirators and reed beds and the sludge is brought down to composters. A chute for adding in the kitchen waste helps keep a good nitrogen-phosphorous balance for optimal bacterial performance.
Most systems incorporate a ventilation system for clearing odours but a well-functioning system should be pretty odour free.
Multi-chamber rota-loos and the like, make for more efficient and rapid turnover for heavy usage situations.
The composting activity produces heat with nominal operating temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius that can be used to heat buildings. Using heat exchangers and locating systems in the lowest area optimises the use of heat as it rises. Composting systems can be placed in solariums in cooler climates gaining extra energy from the sun to help them along and keep these areas warmer at night.
So … Rule of Thumb … Install a composting toilet system and campaign for their use in your community. Put in a chute for the kitchen and have a garden nearby for the compost. Use the system to heat the building.
159. Integrated In House Recycling
image of that chute system for auburn house newyork
Efficient recycling is hampered by the resistence of people to collecting and sorting refuse. Strategies for dealing with recyclables can be developed in the early stages of planning which can encourage participation and economical processing.
Designated chutes to recycling bins, accessed in central areas and points of waste production combined with simple mechanical compression systems can improve recycling participation and efficiency. Such chutes and bins should be seen as a necessary part of the service infrastructure of public spaces and buildings. The sorted materials collected can be fed into the community recycling systems or treated on site as appropriate.
Metals and plastics can be collected and compressed for recycling.
Paper, cardboard and cellulose based packaging can be used as fuel for heating on site, shredded for use as mulch and compressed for recycling. Non-recyclable food scraps and vegetable matter can be processed on site with living machines and used as fertilisers for planted areas. Sewage and sullage processing can supply composted humus and water for plantings with methane extractors for fuel production.
So … Rule of Thumb … Buildings should have integrated strategies for in-house recycling of all consumables and easy sorting of outgoing material.
Thoughts about sustainable design principles in general and the designing of buildings in particular.
160. Develop an EcoCost Budget
image of an EcoCost budget sheet papers and calculator on a table coffee stains and all
A basic question to be considered and answered in detail in the early stages of brief development for a new proposal is; what environmental expenditure should be made on it? We are very well organised where it comes to financial considerations but in the arena of ecological and environmental impact there is little or no consideration of the allowable ‘EcoCost’ of any proposal.
An EcoCost Budget, when properly set up, will allow proponents of any particular proposal to obtain a quantitative appreciation of how much resource expenditure the particular endeavour deserves, in terms of its social, cultural or contextual importance. Designers should be able to budget, in an ecological sense, for the use of highly desirable but perhaps ecologically costly materials or systems in a trade off with using low EcoCost strategies in other areas to keep within an overall ecological expenditure allowance for the project. Within the EcoCost Budget an allowance would be made for the longevity and robustness of the proposal. The EcoCost should be spread over the useful life of the building, allowing a greater EcoCost to be justified by a much increased lifespan. Conversely the EcoCost rises with short-lived schemes.
The nature of the client and the proposal’s significance to society as a whole, in economic, artistic and cultural terms is will effect its budget. Who gets to determine the EcoCost Budget will be the issue of greatest importance to the concept’s long term success. At first such budgets may need to be made subversively by concerned designers but ultimately it must be a community governance role.
So … Rule of Thumb … Even if it has to done in isolation from current authority, develop and instigate the concept of an Ecological Resource Expenditure Budget for all projects based on their perceived worth to the community. Treat it in the same way as an economic budgeting.
‘EcoCost’ is an ecologically-based evaluation system for processes and materials. The system assesses the reduction of biomass and biodiversity and the destruction of natural features, caused by obtaining, manufacturing, distributing and using materials and the processes behind them.
The parameters of the EcoCost system include: pollutant output from industrial processes; land degradation caused by raw material collection; energy consumption and generation; pollution and land degradation due to transport; longevity of materials; resource scarcity, reusability and recyclability. These are assessed according to the damage engendered in creating the material and getting it to the site in question. The system collects data from a wide range of sources to give quantitative, consistent, repeatable scalar impact evaluations to the various parameters. It then sythesises an overall comparative EcoCost with an ecological impact evaluation algorithm.
The EcoCost system allows the current highly refined and effective methods of quantitative analysis, quantity surveying and economic cost benefit analysis to be used, but with more ecologically relevant numbers. The system can be set up on-line to take information from local producers and suppliers to make rapid ballpark analyses of the current ecological impact of available materials. See the Book of EcoCost.
So … Rule of Thumb … Research the EcoCost of all the component parts of any proposal or activity, try to minimise the EcoCost of each part and think holistically to reduce the overall EcoCost. Buy the EcoCost Book when it comes out.
162. Minimise The EcoCost of Buildings
Building is the third most resource consumptive human activity, after the military industrial axis and transport. Buildings are the biggest single things we make, and we make a vast quantity of them. They have an astronomical EcoCost, both individually and collectively.
Buildings have always been the most obvious and long lived statements of a culture’s values. If, in the making of our buildings, ways are found to lessen the consumption of resources, this engenders not only a reduction in the detrimental impact of our culture directly, but also affects the way things are done in other areas. Ecologically sensitive buildings could come to symbolise a more mature environmentally aware culture.
The EcoCost system is a principal foundation to these patterns. The development and application of an EcoCost system for building materials as well as for all consumer products allows a non-anthrocentric evaluation of the ecological cost of getting what you want. It is essential that full, absolute, non-anthrocentric evaluation systems are used in determining minimal environmental impact strategies.
So … Rule of Thumb … Assess the ecological impact of your building and apply minimum impact strategies to it to reduce its EcoCost. Proposals should be smaller, more profoundly integrated and serviced, use less material and less damaging materials. Read the rest of the rules!
163. Make Buildings Better
The following list should be adopted as the backbone of a sustainable built environment specification.
- An EcoCost Budget determining the amount of resource to be expended on a building should be determined and observed.
- Buildings should be self sufficient or net contributors of energy to the community.
- Buildings should be independent in terms of water use.
- Maximum use should be made of recycled materials in building construction, renovation and fitting out.
- Strategies for re-using and retrofitting existing buildings should be pursued wherever feasible, ensuring that this has a net environmental benefit.
- The lowest EcoCost building products available should be specified and sufficient supervision arranged to ensure proper material procurement strategies are followed.
- A full survey to minimise off gassing, particulate emission, air exchange and other ‘Sick Building’ contributors should be carried out.
- All building users should have maximum control of their own personal environment without detrimentally effecting the environment of those around them. Choices of lighting quality, workstation forms and arrangements and personalisation of spaces should be encouraged.
- All building users should have direct access to openable windows
- All areas should be directly lit with natural lighting, and some direct sun.
- Heat exchangers should be fitted to transfer heat from exhaust air to inlet air to allow higher air exchange rates and lower energy requirements.
- Ramps and stairs should be encouraged as the principle method of movement through levels of the building, with mechanical assistance reserved for service and necessity.
- Use should be made of carefully chosen plant species to replace humidifiers, biologically active air filtration systems should be employed for air cleaning.
- User preference controlled, mechanical ventilation, heat exchange and building mass should be used in place of airconditioning systems.
- Buildings should have strategies for in-house recycling of all consumables run in conjunction with the entire ecosystem catchment community where appropriate.
So … Rule of Thumb … Ensure all these things are done as a matter of course with all buildings. Encourage authorities to give tax breaks and lease incentives to promote and encourage developers to adopt sustainable design guidelines.
164. Re-Use Existing Building Stock
image of a building going down and a re-cycled customs house or warehouse
So many times new buildings are erected in areas with a ridiculous surplus of extant building stock. This is an unreasonable waste, particularly when functional buildings are demolished to make way for new ones, often of no better quality.
Buildings that have survived the test of time and are still in good structural shape will often last very much longer with just a little repair and renovation. The reduction in EcoCost of re-using even the structural core of the building is very large.
Too often planning considerations and architectonic image concerns are allowed to over-ride the sensible conservation and adaptation of extant building stock. In a sustainable society this is an unacceptable position. We must start to make buildings that will last for very long periods of time; as such they will need to be able to serve the needs of a broad array of people over their lives. Constantly changing cultural and technological patterns insist that buildings will need to be adapted, made to serve the needs of the different users over and over again. We need effective, sound practices to ensure this happens with good architectural results.
So … Rule of Thumb … Strategies for re-using and retro-fitting existing buildings should be pursued wherever feasible, ensuring that this has a net environmental benefit. Don’t knock it down, re-use it intelligently, playfully or even cynically if necessary. Ensure that someone else can re-use it again after you are done with it.
165. Minimum Accepted Specifications….
image of an office worker stingy little office or open window sunlight relaxed
Governments are the largest procurers of buildings in our society and they demand a set of specifications for buildings to suit their requirements. These minimum acceptable specifications lay down a de-facto industry standard but they currently almost completely ignore the issues of sustainability.
Government building, requirement specification departments and public service unions must accept a large part of the blame for the current problems with mainstream office building. The inflexible requirements of these bureaucracies together with the non-specific nature of much large scale development, has led to the employment of numerous environmentally disastrous practices.
The infamous “Sick Building Syndrome” is a result of the symptoms of indoor air pollution and the psychological disturbance of uncontrollable enclosure of space. The widespread use of air conditioning, sealed windows, composite sheet materials, fluorescent lighting systems and installed carpeting all stem from governmental specifications. All of these factors contribute to ‘sick building syndrome’.
It is likely that the use of these materials and systems may eventually lead to legally instigated compensation for users of poorly designed buildings.
So …. Rule of Thumb … Ensure sustainable design principles are presented to corporate and governmental clients as not only desirable, but essential. Highlight the ‘duty of care’ incumbent on such organisations for their staff’s well-being.
166. Watch for Natures Little Signals
image montage, little skink sunning itself, mossy log, heath flowers, frogs
For the careful, patient and thoughtful observer, nature gives a myriad subtle hints to the underlying conditions of any place.
Careful non-intrusive observation can determine such esoteric factors as altitude, aspect, slope, rainfall, latitude, prevailing winds, geological zone, and soil type simply by analysing the botanical health and diversity of a site. Most soil types are associated with particular ecosystems and plant species, allowing assessment of underground conditions.
The passive observation of the site prior to the design process can also reveal patterns of use by native wildlife and the interactions and balances between flora and fauna of the site. Careful examination can also reveal the environmental properties of the site, good sunning spots (watch for lizards and other reptiles) shady zones (shade tolerant plant species and insect larvae), very shaded areas (lichens, mosses, some ferns), ground water patterns (damp areas marked by marsh plant species, dry zones by heaths). Birdlife of various species can often show signs of particularly sheltered and fertile areas. High bird numbers are symptomatic of insect life and flower diversity, accurate indicators of ecological health.
The various species of frogs in a given area are an extremely accurate indicator of ecological health and even the presence of particular pollutants. Insects being the most numerous and diverse of all creatures are so sensitive to niche conditions that the presence or absence of genera and even families can give detailed insight into site conditions.
So … Rule of Thumb … Sit quietly, wait and watch. Before beginning intrusion onto the site, assess the patterns of the native ecosystems, thinking carefully about the meanings behind each aspect and how intrusions may affect things.
167. Look to the Indigenous and the Vernacular
image of an aboriginal shelter and farm hay shed
Building forms and techniques that have evolved over centuries in response to their environments hold many clues for effective environmentally sound contemporary design.
By looking to the methods of shelter developed by indigenous peoples many understandings of the natural patterns of the place come to light. People who live in traditional hunter gatherer and agricultural cultures need to have a finely tuned understanding of the subtle changes of their environments; the seasons, the sun, the prevailing directions of warm and cold winds. The structures they make for shelter respond intimately to these understandings.
Those who live as farmers also develop a deep sense of the patterns of a place, they have to, to make the necessary decisions about planting, harvesting and dealing with the myriad factors of growing living things, all highly responsive to changes in their environment. The exigencies of their life lead them to do little that is unnecessary. Their shelters for humans, stock and produce are stripped back responses to their surroundings. This vernacular building also embraces a sense of cultural ancestry, a crystallization of generations of layers of doing, thinking and adapting. A base architectural foundation, upon which a contemporary layer can be placed, expressing and defining current cultural paradigms.
So … Rule of Thumb … Research the subtleties of the creation of shelter developed by local indigenous peoples and long-term inhabitants. Combine these understandings with current technologies, social ideas and ecologically sound building design to create original, contextual architecture.
168. Touch the Earth Lightly
image of murcutt’s bell house
Traditional massive buildings cause all sorts of damage and ongoing impact to ecosystems. Their EcoCost is innately much higher than necessary both in materials and site impact.
Buildings that sit above the landscape, touching the ground in a minimum number of places, tend to have a much less impact on surrounding ecosystems allowing free flow of both surface and in ground water along natural topographic lines. They also allow a viable series of ecosystems and wildlife to flow through underneath them.
The fewer footings a building has the less chance there is of damaging the place. Each footing is an incision into the earth and has the associated risks of that metaphor. The lighter, more rigid or flexible and stronger a building is, the less the requirement for foundation support. ‘bend like a reed or stand like a gum’
There is an essential beauty and appropriateness in floating light, ephemeral, transitory buildings over a natural landscape, an architectural reflection of the philosophical and moral stance of ecological sustainability. We are just fleeting zephyrs of the moment in this place, what trace of ourselves do we wish to leave behind?
So … Rule of Thumb … “Touch the Earth Lightly”. Design buildings that cause the least impact to the site, the locality, the catchment, the continent and the planet.
169. Building for Now
image of contrast of contemporary architectural piece and brick and tile
The current growing interference of government bureaucracies into the design and construction of buildings is having a disastrous demeaning effect. Too often the considerations of such bodies are locked in shallow interpretations of heritage and the insistence on neo-stylistic mockeries of existing forms.
The imperatives of achieving a sustainable environment insist that our building forms change to respond to such indelible features of place as sun, wind, weathering, light and prospect, for functional, ascetic and cultural reasons. By taking the understandings of indigenous and vernacular building and reinterpreting them for contemporary cultural requirements, a valid and responsible contribution to the heritage of a place is inevitable.
These considerations, the understanding of them and the expression of this emerging cultural paradigm in built form, must be seen to outweigh the shallow pretense of historicism being touted by many local authority planning bureacracies.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make appropriate decisions about environmentally responsive building regardless of bureaucratic ordinance. Stick to your guns and attempt to persuade local authorities of the validity of your thoughts. Remember your building will last much longer and has a deeper responsibility, than the current planning fad. There is always a higher authority, usually with a much broader and more profound view of the nature of building.
170. Communal Places and Spaces at the Centre
image of a green big skylit foyer, rainforest centre Forestry dept, hobart
As with Spaces at the Centres for urban environments, there should be places and spaces at the centre of buildings to give a clear message of underlying community values. A space at the centre, gives space the value, the worth of leaving things alone.
The abiding principle of the One Straw Revolution “do nothing agriculture” applies equally well to the management of ecologies. They do perfectly well without our guiding hand. All the myriad links in the web of life are only disturbed by intervention, even well intentioned intervention. Often the inter-connections and inter-dependencies only become obvious once they are disturbed.
Creating room for a space at the centre of a building allows a different way of organising enclosure. The central space can be made a viable ecological microsystem while being used for all the servicing requirements by using Sewage Processing as a Work of Art and other such patterns. This space becomes the movement and air circulation zone allowing for natural oxygenating, filtering and humidifying of air. It can facillitate natural light and direct sunlight access into the inner areas of the building.
By passing through such a space constantly, the natural functioning of the building and the occupants participation in those processes is continually reinforced and celebrated.
So … Rule of Thumb … Place a space at the centre of the building and make it into an ecologically viable functioning green space, movement and meeting place and service core.
171. Closing the System
image of the infinity symbol or snakes swallowing each other?
In achieving sustainability one of the main requirements is to create systems that can continue indefinitely. To do this a system must not rely on depleting or degrading an external environment for input or output. It must be self-contained.
It is possible to make even the smallest building and site to some extent autonomous. Generating its own power, using its own roof water, processing its own sewage and sullage, using methane digesters to process sewage and produce methane fuel for heating and cooking. Using composting systems to give fertilised humus from waste, using humus on garden beds to grow food, maybe even using solar generated power to charge up electric vehicles!
The issues raised in No Supply Lines In or Pipelines Out apply just as fully to dwellings and other larger buildings as to entire communities. Even if only partially followed through these strategies will greatly reduce the load on surrounding environmental systems from each new building. Landscaped areas of a site can act as part of the environmental support system for the building and vice versa. Using grey water and filtered sewage run off for irrigation. Composted sewage solids and garbage can be used as humus conditioner for deteriorated soils.
Solar efficient buildings unfortunately modify the site around them. They can lead to cool areas in their shade; these areas can be used positively to support cool climate, shade loving species, like cool temperate rainforest plants. Sheltered areas in the sunny side of buildings can facilitate the growth of delicate species and systems.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to see everything as part of a cycle and a continuum. Figure ways of closing that cycle within the building and its environs.
172. Building a Place to Be
image of figure ground sketchy style building in space vs space in building or collection of buildings creating spaces
Too often people see their buildings as object in space, possessions, abstractions in isolation from the world around them. They are things to own rather than places to be.
Often stylistic considerations and façade imagery are allowed to severely compromise the livability and environmental responsiveness of buildings, particularly with contemporary planning lunacies.
In many of our environments the requirements for shelter are minimal. Even in those climates where heavy environmental protection is required there are times when there is nothing more glorious than allowing life to drift into the surrounding landscapes. Buildings have the potential to gently modify and shape space and light, or to obliterate them. As a culture we are beginning to become more comfortable with minimalism in our possessions, this should be responded to in built form.
A building, or better still a group of small buildings, has the potential to create a flowing series of environmentally different spaces to live in, within, beside and between the buildings.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to think of buildings as modifiers of space rather than as objects in space. Think carefully about the nature of shelter. See buildings as devices to allow a meaningful tactile connection to the surrounding environment and ecologies, as places to be.
173. Design to Fit
image of someone weird in a purpose made building – human in envelope
A building will reach optimum environmental performance only if it is tailor made to its purpose, creating a minimum envelope.
Planning layouts and comfort regimes should be determined to optimise benefits for the proposed users and minimise associated environmental impact. Matching building performance and specifications to particular end users allows wastage to be minimised and optimisation of layouts.
Buildings should be designed specifically for the person(s) or organaisation that will be using it, but at the same time being thoughtful of future adaptions and re-use. This will allow optimum long-term benefit for the users at the lowest environmental cost. Planning and servicing systems can be developed to maximise comfort and utility of a proposed building only if the end user is specifically identified, consulted and responded to.
A building which is designed as a ‘multi-purpose’ development, is more likely to be a succession of compromises leading to sub-optimal performance in most, if not all regards. Such speculative explorations of the lowest common denominator inevitably end up low in quality and redundant in the shortest time.
So … Rule of Thumb … Take the time to understand the full requirements and idiosyncracies of the building’s end user. Ensure that buildings are made as architecture for them.
174. Building for Long Life
image of the parthenon or similar
Buildings should be thought of as near eternal things, lasting long after their current user has shuffled off this mortal coil.
What then becomes of the building? Robust buildings gain a new life, old warehouses, factories and other buildings made well, solid and structurally robust, can be rejuvenated, redesigned, and reapplied to new uses and lives. Zoning, planning and socio-economic usage patterns are highly fluid over time, they are not fixed immutables but are subject to the same impermanence as all else in this world.
The vast EcoCost of a new building can be ameliorated over its life. The longer its life, the more viable is the expenditure of EcoCost on it, the higher its EcoCost Budget can be, or the lower its overall EcoCost of usage becomes. A building that lasts a thousand years deserves more expenditure than one that lasts ten. It will not need to be constantly rebuilt with the attendant environmental impact of that work.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think of buildings as eternal structural and service frames within which to hang the life and work of the current user. This will give it many lives. “loose fit, long life”
175. Natural Environments Inside Buildings
image of a person in an hermatic box perhaps biosphere or toxic waste impound
The numerous artificially based environment modification systems we currently employ divorce us from our natural world. Airconditioning, harsh artificial surfaces, plastics and polymers, artificial lighting, central heating, all contribute to isolating us from our environment. Urban dwellers can go for days at a time without making contact with a natural tactile environment.
Look around you now, the floor … carpeted? or boards polyurethaned? the walls … painted? the ceiling … painted? seating … polymer surfaces? All gently offgassing, slowly poisoning you and yours. Can you see a tree or open space? … if so, lucky you! Through glass though? Can you open that window? Can you reach out into the open and feel the breeze on your skin? the rain? the sun? Try to imagine being in the place you are designing or building, imagine sitting as you are now and detail ways of being in touch with natural materials and surfaces and living, breathing things, think small.
User controlled, natural ventilation, living systems and planting zones, heat exchange systems and passive thermal controls like shading, solar ingress and building thermal mass should be used in place of airconditioning systems. Airconditioners are one of the principle causes of dissatisfaction with the built environment our society, not to mention their effects as vectors in the transmission of disease and respiratory illness.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to think of natural alternatives to the usual artificial environmental control systems. Windows, stack vents, tall spaces, green spaces, composting heaters and lots of other things.
176. Controllable Personal Space
image of someone opening amato or a window
One of the principal causes of dissatisfaction of users with their built environment is a sense of powerlessness caused by the inability to modify their surrounding environment.
This psychological sense of disempowerment is similar to claustrophobia for susceptible building users and causes deep distress to many. It is simple to address. Wide opening windows allow users the choice of access to airflow, and direct sunlight unfiltered through glazing, dramatically reducing build up of pathogens, toxins and adverse hormone chemicals.
The spatial sensation of opening a window allows a pervasive sense of freedom, a euphoric moment of gentle reverie. A break in the continuum of a day’s work, a break that can lead to a heightened awareness of the world around. A small spiritual re-attachment to our extant environment, helping with attaining satisfaction with one’s lot and ability to achieve.
Each and every one of us has a different optimum ambient personal temperature and humidity gradient, varying on a different amplitude and frequency during the day/night cycle. Having to exist with a lowest common denominator of such cycles creates high levels of both physical and emotional stress.
Modern technology makes individual control of personal space feasible without affecting others. Freedom of choice of lighting quality, internal layouts, working arrangements and personalisation of spaces are also healthy and desirable strategies.
So … Rule of Thumb … All building users should have direct access to openable windows, personalised thermal and humidity controls, direct sunlight and the ability to easily manipulate the shape, form and imagery of their space.
177. User Altered Buildings
image sketch that house with the fold up and down door/walls adelaide beaches
There is something essentially empowering about being able to modify your own building in response to the weather or your own thermal comfort zone. To take positive action in the face of a mounting storm or other threat, to “batten the hatches”, or just to be able to lock it up good and tight when leaving for a while.
The layered, defense in depth developed by some cultures creates a flexible and varied array of enclosure environments which can change in response to the seasons, weather and time of day. The Japanese and Korean’s multi-layered systems are prime examples, with their shoji about the central room, then (solid shoji)… around the outer layer of rooms, then verandah movement space, and then the amato, big solid storm doors slid into position and locked together when things threaten. Other courtyard forms use layered entry sequences to shelter ‘internal’ spaces from external conditions without the use of barriers such as doors.
There is an essential beauty in closing up a house in the face of a mounting storm and opening it again to the fresh cleaned world once it has passed. Dwellings with this sort of protection can be much more delicately constructed, use less damaging materials, sealers and paints, and be allowed to open up to the world much more widely. An assessment can be made of how much protection, and from what, is really needed. Often only some shade and rain protection is all that is really needed. Lock up and harsh weather protection can be isolated from privacy and enclosure issues. Acoustic privacy is always of concern in our world and can again be addressed separately with sound screens.
So … Rule of Thumb … Allow the building to be modified, modulated and manipulated by its users according to whim to vary enclosure and thermal control in each area. Treat visual, acoustic, ventilation and thermal control systems as separate but integrated requirements.
178. Lightweight Building
image of octopod and tent structure, one of mr pooles or teahouse footing
Almost all of ecological damage caused by building can be rated in terms of the masses involved. So many PicoGaia of EcoCost per tonne. Generally, the lighter the structure decided on, the less its mass and, the lower its environmental impact.
Most materials can be rated in terms of their environmental impact by their weight. It is a fundamental measure of the amount of material involved and hence the impact associated with that amount of material. This is compounded by the weight penalties involved in transport to a site. Be aware that some lightweight materials have very high impacts and others are much more acceptable. Watch out for foamed plastics and polymers, they are usually unstable and involve glue matrix processes.
Aluminium makes a good example. Though the environmental impact per tonne is slightly higher than, say, steel, the material is three to ten times as strong per tonne depending on alloying and processing and weighs half of much. It can be formed into slender profiled beams and large thin sheets that can be corrugated for strength. The environmental cost effectiveness of aluminium alloy is thus at least twice as good as steel and very much higher than say, fibre-cement sheet.
Structural systems such as space frames and trusses are capable of carrying large loads with minimal material. Buckminster Fuller’s, geodesic domes and even his Tensegrity concepts produce impressive unencumbered enclosure with relatively thin elements. Balloon frame studwork walls allow minimal material use in traditional building forms. Shell structures in many materials are designed to produce enclosure forms with maximum internal volumes and minimal wall thicknesses. Tensile fabric and cable structures use extremely thin membranes to give vast enclosure with negligible materials.
So … Rule of Thumb … Design lighter buildings. Generally, the lighter a building, the lower its EcoCost.
179. Minimal Enclosure
image of an opened wall , outdoor room or tent
Enclosure requires structure, materials and effort. Is it really necessary? In many areas of the world the climate is so benign that enclosure is really a matter of privacy and cultural choice.
International cultural homogeneity has led to the dreaded brick and tile with its solid roof and floor and its fenestrated facades being the dominant building form around the world. In many climactic zones this is an entirely inappropriate form of enclosure that requires all sorts of mechanical support to achieve reasonable comfort levels.
High levels of enclosure tend to isolate us from the world around us, alienating us from the natural cycles of nature. In many of the planet’s more amenable climates there are only a few days of the year where any serious enclosure is required. By having a core to retreat to in these moments a sense of responding to the natural patterns of the place is strongly engendered. The rest of the year the weather can flow freely around, we can liberate ourselves from the burrows of contemporary building, linking intimately with the place in which we choose to live.
Having a single sheltering wall to the prevailing weather in inclement months can often provide sufficient refuge, allowing the other walls to be openable even in disagreeable times.
So … Rule of Thumb … Think carefully about the level of enclosure you really need and want. Separate privacy from environmental comfort as issues and treat them differently.
180. Open Up to the Sun
image of a solar sheltered plan, parabola wall ?
For all sorts of reasons it makes good sense to have a building that creates a sheltered ‘lee’ on the sunny side of the building and opens up to that side.
Effective passive solar design requires maximising the elevation to the sun and reducing heat loss from the other faces of the building. By turning as hard shell to the prevailing winds and opening up to the sun an environmentally appropriate and meaningful variation of form and facade detailing can be developed.
It is sort of like living on the sunny side of a hill or like making a hill to be on the sunny side of ! Earth berming and sheltering are effective ways of achieving this form but it can be equally attained with heavily insulated lightweight but robust materials such as corrugated steel sheet.
Heat loss from openings and glazing on the sunny side can be set off against heat gains during the sunlight hours, particularly if double glazing and heat storage masses are employed. Manipulatable enclosure systems such as shutters and louvres can dramatically reduce heat loss and excess heat gain, as well as offering substantial privacy control.
Gentle, tactile materials such as timber, fabrics and glazing can be used on the sheltered face of the building, with more robust weather resistant materials like ceramics and metal sheeting to the exposed faces. This overt and obvious form of response to environmental conditions makes a clear architectural statement about cultural priorities.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make a sheltered enclosure on the sunny side of the building. Open up to it with softer
architecture and more tactile materials. Differentiate facades of buildings according to their aspect to respond to environmental factors. Use sheltered areas on the sunny side as places to grow delicate things in need of protection.
181. Natural Lighting
image of a little ray of sunshine
The effects of natural lighting and its absence on the ambience of a space and the psychology of its occupants are remarkable.
The beneficial psychological effect of natural light is well documented, as is its deprivation. The setting of our biological clocks is achieved by the diurnal patterns of sunlight and dark. These cycles, and thus exposure to daylight, are vital to a healthy biological function.
The nature of each day is different; these subtle differences are expressed in minutae by the light of each day. Awareness of these nuances attunes us to the world in a profound and effective way. Each day becomes its own, different from all the others, lifting the repetition of our lives.
Natural light is the light our eyes have evolved to respond to best. It causes us the least stress to work with this light. It also saves on the use of energy that would be required for artificial lighting.
So … Rule of Thumb … Ensure that the most possible access of natural light is allowed for in buildings. Effective strategies include long thin buildings oriented to gain maximum solar exposure and central lightwells in wider buildings. Three metres to the nearest opening is as much as anyone should have to bear.
182. Direct Sunlight
Even though natural light is of great benefit, passing sunlight through glass causes it to loses some of its most valuable properties. The potent UV radiation in sunlight acts as a natural pasteurising process, eliminating pathogens while retaining beneficial organisms intact.
The direct light of the sun also breaks down the naturally produced hormones that result from stress build up. Evolved as a way of transmitting fear symbols, these chemicals in our world become stress transmitters and amplifiers. At the same time direct sun is required in a number of processes within the human body particularly the synthesis of vitamins and some hormones involved in body function timing and sleep patterns. Artificial light and even natural light through glass doesn’t penetrate the skin, only direct unfiltered sunlight has the ability.
Direct sunlight unfiltered through glazing has the power to eliminate bacteria and mites and other tiny pathogens found on most surfaces in modern buildings. The rays of the sun rapidly destroy such creatures.
The ultraviolet part of the spectra of direct sunlight can also break up harmful gasses in the atmosphere, particularly those V.O.C.’s produced by offgassing from composite materials and painted surfaces.
So … Rule of Thumb … Set up controllable openings that allow the passage of direct untrammeled sun, not through glass, into all spaces. Set up control or maintenance systems to allow this access for as long as possible each day.
183. Natural Ventilation
image of a stack vent diagram sketch
Vast quantities of energy and environmental capital are expended in maintaining breathable air in buildings, often with dismal results. Air will move all by itself following simple obvious rules. Hot Air Rises, Cool Air Falls.
A simple, well thought through air movement strategy can allow for natural patterns of air movement to provide all necessary ventilation to a building. Moving air can be used to cool humans if it is dryer than the surroundings. It can carry heat from a lower level heat source to higher areas. Moving air also disperses uncomfortable temperature stratifications and chemical build up.
A stack vent system allows the fundamental property of hot air rising to create a draught. A vertical air movement space is the principal requirement. This can be a tower, a stairwell and even a foyer or multilevel volume in a building. Some form of heat source can be applied to this space, solar, biological, human or machinery. The heated air rises and is vented through a high level opening, preferably with a heat-exchanging device on it. This draws cooler air in from the lower area of the space. If air movement zones are set up through the entire building to open onto this stack zone, the venturi effect will generate a breeze through these movement zones. With the use of air movement controls such as shutters, vents and even doors, an atmospheric control system can be established.
So … Rule of Thumb … Use the natural properties of air to create efficient ventilation to all parts of the building. The principles of natural ventilation are simple, hot air rises, and nature abhors a vacuum.
184. Catch the Breezes
image of a sail full
Winds, breezes, thermals and inversion effects can all be used in helping buildings to perform well thermally.
Moving air has the capacity to absorb moisture from surfaces it is passing, absorbing heat as the moisture vapourises, thus cooling the surfaces over which it passes. It also takes with it any airborne odours, chemicals and carbon dioxide. There is nothing like fresh air. Passing moving air through plantings can modify the humidity of the air.
Turning your back to the prevailing cold winds and opening up to the gentle cooling summer breezes are essential strategies. These air movements often occur from opposite directions following the local topography. Positioning a waterbody upwind of the building in the direction of cooling summer breezes can further cool incoming air and lift its humidity in dry zones. A shallow waterbody on a roof exposed to passing breezes can act as an evaporator, and be used to cool a building in hot arid areas.
Breezeways can be set up with judicious placement of buildings and openings to catch cooling summer breezes and bring them right through the building. Natural stack vent systems near the core of the building can be used to channel heated air up and out, drawing cooling air in at the base from the breezeways. A high sail structure can allow the air directly under the skin to be heated and move upward, drawing cool air in from below at the edges while also trapping cool air in the central space through inversion.
So … Rule of Thumb … Explore the potentialities of using the movement of air to modify the internal environment of buildings. Heating, cooling, humidifying, calming, breathing.
185. Mass at the Core
image of a central stone wall fireplace?
Insulation on its own is not enough to keep a building comfortable. A heavily insulated, lightweight building can undergo rapid temperature fluctuations, particularly stratification effects where the air at head level becomes considerably hotter than that at body level (hot air rises), causing discomfort and drowsiness.
A massive central element of a suitable heat absorbing material, will allow the temperature to rise gently and then hold it at a reasonable level with much reduced energy input. When placed within the insulated building envelope, it will act to even out temperature fluctuations, keeping it cool in the heat and warm in the cold. This is the “Hot Water Bottle Effect” or “Thermos Flask Principle”.
A heat mass can also be arranged as wall, ceiling or floor elements throughout the building to catch incident heat energy and re-emit it evenly. Such masses can be set up to catch incident sun and act as effective passive solar energy storage devices. Sedimentary stones, various ceramics and rammed earth are particularly effective in this role.
The larger the surface area of mass available to catch energy, the more effective it will be at gathering heat but the less effective at holding it due to re-radiation. Blades with their broad side to the sun and the other to an air circulation path will give optimum passive thermal results. Optimal thickness varies, for rammed earth about 300mm thick, fire bricks 250mm, sandstone 150mm. Space wastage can be offset by combining structural and acoustic separation functions in addition to heat mass roles.
So … Rule of Thumb … Place a heat absorption mass in the heart of the building, close to heat sources and air circulation systems and aligned to catch solar energy.
186. Massing Around Heat Sources
image of a plan of central mass element with stove fridge, fireplace etc.
A large amount of energy is lost from the major heat sources in a dwelling and other larger scale buildings. By placing heat sources adjacent to heat absorbing masses, excess heat will be taken out of the room and stored for slow release later.
This is particularly effective if all the heat sources, heater, fireplace, stove, fridge, freezer are gathered together around a central heat sink core within the building envelope. A reverse cycle heat exchanger on any external venting ducts such as fan hoods and the like can also feed energy into the mass or disperse it to the outdoors.
Such massing keeps the surrounds cooler and traps the heat for later release, evening out the temperature variations. Building in slow ovens in the mass can make use of the available heat for cooking, heating and drying. An adjustable natural ventilation cooling system to vent excess heat stored in the mass to the outside of the building is required in the warmer months.
So … Rule of Thumb … Gather all potential heat sources around the heat absorbing mass at the core of the building. Use this mass to heat the building, and vent it to cool.
187. Masses of Stone and Space Reduce Stress
Small, low ceiling spaces can cause severe distress for many people, particularly in stressful activities, such as interviews, meetings and hearings.
Large volumes give an enhanced sense of personal space, reducing stresses caused by conflict and tension. Condensation from warm moist air onto massive cool surfaces can precipitate out the fine traces of numerous adverse chemicals from the environment within a building.
Certain types of stone are particularly effective in removing the chemical types called pheremones. These trace elements of hormone-like chemicals carry biological messages (fear, threat, panic, availability) through the air to others of the species. Traditional cathedrals and courthouses unconsciously understood these effects, creating places of calm. Marble is one of the most effective pheremone precipitators. Its semi-permeable surface creates a large surface area available for trapping and dispersing airborne chemicals. These chemicals rapidly break down on the stone surface and evaporate off as simple water and carboxides.
Removing stress based pheremones from the air can boost a sense of calm in troubled situations. Board rooms, court rooms, interview rooms and theatres can all benefit from this.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make ceilings as high as feasible. In rooms used for stressful activities use lots of exposed stone, allow for good natural ventilation and direct sun.
188. Keep Roof Water for Drinking
Many gigalitres of potable free water, one of the most valuable commodities on the planet, are daily channeled into overloaded sewer and stormwater systems, adding to runoff pollution and waterway contamination.
Roof water collection technology is tried and true, especially in rural areas where it is the only supply for most dwellings. It is a simple and time proven matter to collect roof water, filter it and store it for domestic use. Simple systems to divert the first flush of rainwater containing almost all the impurities from pollution and roof borne fallout are widely available. Trained local water technicians and advisors can assist in installing and maintaining both catchment and holding systems as well as pressurisation, filtration and chemical additive or purification devices. Aeration of large reservoirs can be an issue as the water remains stored for long periods before use. It is better to have a number of smaller tanks.
The current popularity of bottled ‘pure’ or distilled waters and water distilling devices demonstrates the market for certifiably clean water. The evapo-transpiration cycle of our planet is the biggest and most effective water distillery that we could envisage. Its end product drops from the sky, in most cases purer than that bought over a counter.
Many people also resist the paternalistic, dictatorial concept of compulsory consumption of fluoride and other chemicals in our water, with proven benefits but unknown and unproven consequences. Collection of roof water allows individuals control over what they drink.
So … Rule of Thumb … Design for the collection of roof stormwater at the highest points possible to give a good service head. Allow for diversion of impure early stormwater runoff to be collected for alternative non-potation uses. Get some local advice on water quality issues including purity, aeration, microbiota and filtration issues.
189. Wide Eaves
image of wide eaves
The combined actions of the sun and rain are the main reasons for decay in buildings. Eaveless buildings are fully exposed to the harsh combination of these actions and lead to many problems with waterproofing and longevity. Eaves also are useful in controlling solar ingress to a building
It makes a great deal of sense to put deep eaves over buildings. Eaves protect them from the dual actions of sun and rain which rapidly break down most surfaces and finishes. Wide eaves and good roofs can allow delicate buildings to last indefinitely. Untreated timber buildings many centuries old exist around the world, they all have deep protective eaves.
There are considerations of form, style and imagery as always with architecture and the roof is one of the principle visual elements of any building, so these are critical. It boils down to the ancient debate of form versus function. If an eaveless form is sought, an alternative strategy for protecting surfaces from weathering must be developed. Any reliance on short-lived, noxious chemical based sealers and paints must be addressed in environmental and ecological terms. The use of naturally weathering resistant materials must be considered for exposed areas.
Eaves can also be used to control solar ingress to give the necessary shade in summer and allow maximum sunlight penetration in winter. The sun moves in a complex way across the sky, it is a parabola starting from ground level somewhere in the east reaching a zenith to the north or south, the direction and angle of which is determined by time of year and latitude, and then settling into the west. This can allow for deep sun penetration from the east or west past very wide sheltering eaves.
So … Rule of Thumb … Employ the widest eaves you can manage, lessen the eaves on the sunny side of the building, broadening to the direction of the prevailing weather.
190. Insulate Yourself from it all
image of some batts going in, maybe off a battpack
Many buildings are still uninsulated. They lose heat at absurd rates, are too cold in winter and too hot in summer, they waste energy prolifically. They are environmentally unacceptable.
Insulation of new buildings is usually required by most councils, it make good energy conservation and thermal comfort sense. For good insulation, a strategy has to be developed for all areas of heat loss, under, around and over. Good gap sealing and avoiding cold bridging are musts. Heat losses through thin, single pane glazing can be very high, double and triple glazing systems are readily available.
Such high levels of insulation and sealing need to be weighed off against potential for natural sun and fresh air access. Provision has to be made for rapid and continual air changing to avoid indoor air quality problems occurring. Insulated louvre and shutter systems can protect lightly constructed areas from heat loss when required, maintaining personal controllability and flexibility of space.
So … Rule of Thumb … Insulate heavily everywhere with natural products, watch for cold bridging and gaps but provide for good natural ventilation and heat storage mass. Consider shutter and louvre options to maintain flexibility.
Strategies for actually putting up buildings with minimum environmental cost.
191. Spare the Soil
image of a handful of good wormy humus rich top soil
Too often the valuable uppermost layer of soil is trashed on commencing siteworks. The top few centimetres are the most valuable part of the soil profile. They contain almost all the living fraction of the humus and the bulk of the nutrients and micronutrients in forms available to plants.
Removing and stockpiling all existing topsoil before works commence is a vital and simple strategy. Problems can occur with composting and anaerobic decomposition, particular in soils with a high organic matter fraction. This can be averted by maintaining piles of not much more that a cubic metre in volume, which allows sufficient oxygenation to promote beneficial bacteria species at the expense of pathogens. Regular turning of the topsoil piles is also beneficial.
In addition to this, keeping construction activity within the building footprint greatly assists in reducing the overall EcoCost of the project and facilitates rapid and viable regeneration of native conditions. This strategy allows everything outside the footprint to be carefully nurtured and monitored during the construction process, minimising the EcoCost of the project by containing impact within the building envelope and re-instating the surrounds to as near as possible its original ecological state. In cases of badly degraded and polluted sites a net increase in ecological worth may even be achieved.
So … Rule of Thumb … Keep all activity within the footprint of the building. Carefully set aside and properly store all topsoil from the building footprint for later re-use.
192. Employ Local Tradespeople
image of a plumber on a pushbike or perhaps drew with a six be two on the bike
An effective way to cut down on transport is to employ local tradespeople who are not travelling large distances in vehicles to be on site each day.
Avoid someone who turns up in a great empty V8 truck! Ask for builders who ride pushbikes to work, some actually do! Get them leave the truck at the site. If you’re building yourself – ride a bike or walk to the hardware, you may get a laugh walking down the main street with a 6m. plank over your shoulder but hey, that’s living, and you meet some very interesting types like that. Follow it through, even if you get a few weird looks. It makes a large difference to the final EcoCost and you may meet some friendly neighbouring people who are more in tune with what you are trying to achieve.
When organising suppliers to make bulk deliveries, getting everything that will be required in a single vehicle rather than numerous small loads will reduce the EcoCost. Talk to your tradespeople and let them in on what you are trying to achieve. The better their understanding, the more likely they will be to see strategies that will benefit the project.
So … Rule of Thumb … All else being equal, employ the closest based tradeperson for the job, try to find one who rides a bike.
193. Something Close By
image passing bricks over the back fence from factory to site ?
Using local material sources is one of the best ways to reduce the environmental impact of the materials chosen. Transportation is by far the biggest polluter, consumer of resources and debaser of land in our culture.
Particularly heavier materials should be sourced locally. Impact on the environment in terms of transportation is rated per tonne, per km, so the less weight and the less distance, the less impact.
The use of local materials often leads to the emergence of a unique endemic building style or image, with all the attendant artistic, architectural and cultural benefits of that individuality.
If there is something that has to come from afar, try to get it shipped by sea or train. Trucks are highly impacting on our environment and cars are off the scale per tonne km.
So … Rule of thumb … Find a nearby producer for each material needed, consider how the closest suppliers can be used as widely as possible. Read the Label for ‘Made in …?’
194. Minimise Site Wastage
image of a well kept offcuts rack
As a general principle and policy, a site should not export any waste. Most offcuts and bits and pieces can be used somehow. If you throw them out you’ll find you need them straight away.
With timber, anything longer than 300m should be kept for later use. They always come in handy, noggins, battens and packers especially. Making a proper rack or on site bins for offcuts and bits and pieces makes it much easier and more effective to keep and re-use them.
Any sort of masonry is useful for commons work, drains or detailing.
Any sort of steel can be kept for making up stuff.
A cut and fill strategy should be developed to ensure any material removed has somewhere to go, on site.
On larger sites portable hammer mills can be employed to create useful aggregate out of site excavated rock, waste concrete and other masonry.
So … Rule of Thumb … Don’t throw anything out, try to think of something to do with every little offcut or wastage.
195. Supervise Minimal Materials EcoCost
image of an overseer
Often even the best of intentions can get lost in the heat of the moment on a building site. To ensure the best environmental result is achieved, good forward planning and thorough follow-through is essential.
Ordering materials well in advance and ensuring they are on site when needed, along with all the peripheral requirements, can make an order of magnitude difference in the final EcoCost of a Building. Emergency runs to material suppliers and hardware stores are critically expensive in EcoCost terms and always result in a compromise.
To attain high levels of control in terms of material quality and sourcing, processes and end product quality, pre-assembly of building elements and even the entire structure, in workshop conditions is advantageous. Such off-site strategies allows for much more careful control of site intrusion and damage, wastage and material re-use and recycling.
So … Rule of Thumb … The lowest EcoCost building products available should be specified and supervision ensured to make sure proper material procurement strategies are followed. Consider workshop prefabrication.
196. A Good Joint
Many contemporary methods of fixing things together have serious environmentally detrimental aspects. Most have high EcoCosts due to their toxicity in the case of glue based systems, or their manufacturing processes, or their short lives.
A good joint should be reversible for recycling, should create minimum damage to materials, should last at least as long as the materials or the structure and should not involve any toxic materials or ecologically damaging production processes. The fixing methods and devices used in a good joint should be matched to materials for thermal movement and moisture movement, diurnally and seasonally.
A structure will develop optimum robustness if its form can be adjusted easily by removing redundant sections. De-constructable joints that leave the structural elements intact for re-use facilitate this.
When things are put together with care and accuracy they imbue a sense of quality and this is reflected in their longevity. There is something deeply spiritually rewarding in putting things together well.
So … Rule of Thumb … Strive for high quality, spiritually uplifting, long lasting, appropriate and re-usable joints.
197. Natural Insulation
image of some sheep’s wool
Many commercial insulation products are of extremely dubious environmental impact. They have high EcoCosts, involve highly polluting industrial processes for manufacture or are toxic.
Sprayfoams are based on some of the most toxic compounds around. Highly unstable polystyrenes, ethers and ester are produced and begin rapidly breaking down. Polystyrene foam boards are only slightly less dangerous but are very effective for underground insulation where softer materials don’t work. Fibreglass batts give severe skin and throat irritation problems.
Sheep’s wool of lower grades from the excess stockpile has been made into batts. Settling problems, insecticides and fire retardants need to be watched out for. Sheep’s wool has also been combined with highly stable polyester fibres called PolyWool. It has a long life expectancy, low toxicity and low dermal irritation due to the large diameter of the fibres involved. There are a number of insulation products using shredded paper in various forms. The recycled newspaper varieties have low EcoCosts, though most have fire retardants and pesticides added which makes them more dubious. Strawbales are emerging as a viable building material. They can be simply stacked like bricks for walls or under floors as insulation. Well laid they can achieve insulation in the order of the R 40′s. They are cheap, natural, renewable, usually locally available and chemical free. Pumice, vermiculite and perlite are all expanded stone based, heavy duty insulators. Fly ash and furnace clinker also work well, are very stable and can carry structural loads for underfloor work.
So … Rule of Thumb … Investigate the local availability of natural insulation products.
Some in depth discussions and information about the procurement of materials.
198. Re-Use Materials
image of a building materials recycler
Any material used that has been re-used from a previous role has a much lower environmental impact. In common parlance now, though not pedantically correct, this is called recycling. If high impact materials are sought after, then procuring them in a pre-used form can dramatically lower their impact.
Many materials, such as glass, some ceramics, bricks, many timbers (cedars, cypresses, some pines, ironbarks, jarrah, tallowwood,) and some metals (aluminium, zinc, copper, brass and bronze) are very suited to re-use. These materials with long lifespans are hardly affected by the passage of time of a single usage and can be recycled at low environmental impact.
Many quality fixtures and fittings dramatically outlast the buildings in which they are installed. Procuring these devices from recycling sources, as with materials can reduce their EcoCost substantially. Stylistic and imagery considerations may see this as a constraint, but it also presents an opportunity for innovative reinterpretation, adaptive design and novel installation. Many ‘recyclers’ also have access to major building demolitions and a considerable quantity of state of the art fixtures and fittings come their way.
Many substantial commercial operations now deal with the recovery, sorting, cleaning and retail of a huge array of pre-used materials and items. Many items no longer currently available including large section quality timbers, labour intensive craftworks and finely wrought traditional fixtures and fittings are available only from these sort of sources.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try the local building recycling stores, for everything.
199. Use Re-Usable Materials Re-usably
image of some joint going together and coming apart again.
One of the biggest despairs of building materials recyclers is the damage they have to do to things to get them out of their current usage. Fixing systems and finishes are the principal problems.
When installing any quality material, fitting or fixture, as with all things that have a long lifespan, they should be installed in a way that facilitates their eventual removal and recycling. Any applied finishes should be able to be removed leaving the material in its original state. Fixing systems should allow for ease of dismantling as well as construction.
In timber, screwed and bolted connections allow much simpler disassembly than nails or glues. Bolted connections allow for easier dismantling of metalwork than welding. Linseed putty and beading of glazing allows glass to be safely removed and re-used, glues and some silicons can make it impossible. Lime mortars allow masonry to be dismantled with little damage to units and also reduces the use of cement.
Sewerage pipes and conduiting with mechanical connecting systems or using electrical fusion systems to bind and seal joints have the advantage of effective deconstruction and re-use and are widely available.
So … Rule of Thumb … Even when designing a new building from scratch, throw your thoughts forward to when it will be deconstructed. Ensure all the good bits can be removed and re-used with minimal waste and damage.
image of an old roman column forum style
Short lived materials need to be constantly renewed, repaired and replaced, dramatically increasing the environmental impact associated with their use. A material, item or element that lasts a long time allows its ecological cost to be spread over a much greater period of use.
Many materials require extensive protection from decay, corrosion and other forms of corruption. The environmental impact of these repeated applications of protection systems over the entire life of the material, must be added to the overall environmental cost of the use of the material. Natural material based applied preservative washes, stains and oils can give durable long term protection at low environmental impacts. Materials which resist decay require little extra protection and have long lives. They can also be readily re-used after the life of their current use.
Stone, bricks and various ceramic elem ents have been used and re-used for thousands of years in some of the worlds older cities. Modern ceramics promise even greater durability and strength. Many modern alloys of steel and aluminium have very long life expectancies which reduces their EcoCost considerably. Similarly timbers with long lives due to their innate toughness (mahogany, oaks and ironbarks) or the presence of natural decay inhibitors, (dacrydiums, teak or cedars) can have their much higher initial EcoCost ameliorated over considerably greater lifespans.
Biologically based system tend to be self renewing giving them very long lifespans. Simple over-engineered mechanical systems (gears, winches, pulleys) and solid state devices are less liable to breakdown and damage than systems with rapidly moving or oscillating parts or contact breakers.
So … Rule of Thumb … Make use of the longest lasting materials and techniques that are available.
201. Minimal Processing.
image of some minimal process material bark shelter or rammed earth.
All industrial processes have some impact on our environment. Generally, the greater the number of processes a given item requires in manufacture, the greater its environmental impact.
Almost all man made composite materials, finishes and sealers have a high innate EcoCost, they are the result of advanced industrialisation and are compounded from some of the nastiest chemicals we know. There are some exceptions, carbon fibres, buckminsterfullerene, dacron and the like are very stable, extremely strong materials which can be made to do an enormous amount of work with very little material. Chipboard, PVC, PETs, Polystyrenes and all the petrochemical polymer family are low quality environmentally noxious products, which should be avoided.
Particularly environmentally damaging processes include: glueing or glue based manufacture; ‘clearfell’ bulk timber harvesting; open cut mining; large scale mono-cultural agriculture; ‘refinement’ of metals, industrialised manufacture of chemicals and oil based products; coal and oil fired electricity generation; road transportation.
There are many different methods of processing and manufacture for any given product. Many companies are now attempting to improve the environmental performance of their operations. Rating systems are now available for many items in terms of the environmental impact of their sourcing and manufacture. EcoCost, Green Seal, Scientific Certification Systems and a number of others. For an identical product the range in environmental impact can be enormous. Try to research this thoroughly.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to use the least processed materials that will achieve the desired task or effect appropriate to the level of quality sought. Look for an environmental certification.
202. Toxic Materials
image of Protest banner outside skull and crossbones
Many materials in very common usage produce toxic vapours and chemicals throughout their life. Others contain chemical compounds that are released on the destruction of the material. These build up in surrounding environments causing serious ecological and health problems.
Try to avoid the following chemicals, Check the Label carefully, the ingredients list may contain one or more of these without any reference in the spiel.
- Creosote based preservatives
- Mineral oil based applied finishes
- Water based polymer paints and oils
- PolyVinylChlorides PVCs
- CopperChromeArsenic CCA treatments
- Formaldehyde Glue Bases
- Borax Insecticides
- Pesticides OrganoChlorines, PCBs
- Weedicides, glyphosphates, 2,4,D,
- IS 210s – Benzoic acid preservatives
- IS 220s – Sulphur dioxide preservatives
- Phosphate based detergents
- IS 925,926 chlorine bleaches, disinfectants
- IS 507-510 chloride based acids and salts
- IS 621 MonoSodiumGlutamate MSG
So … Rule of Thumb … Read the Label on anything and
everything you are going to buy, use or throw away. If it contains any of the above toxins or has any numbers on it, Don’t. Do something sensible with it to dispose of it.
SPECIFIC MATERIALS DETAILS
Details on the impacts and environmental effects of specific materials used in building today.
Known as the “Stone of the Twentieth Century” this material is our most widely used building material. There are problems with raw material mining, Carbon dioxide emissions and transportation EcoCosts.
The manufacture of cement is the second most prolific source of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, cars being the largest. This is a major contributor to the current greenhouse gas problem in our environment.
Although being considered a low energy durable, long lived material, the environmental costs associated with the mining and transportation of the raw materials (for both cement and aggregates) and the transport EcoCosts of the finished product (at two and a half times the density of water) make concrete a moderately high impact material. Also adding in the steel reinforcing, additives and underlays begins to place it in the prohibitive category, particularly in mass applications.
Although concrete has a high density and therefore mass for a given volume, its use as a heat storage mass is problematic. Cementitious materials have a low capacity for thermal transmission. This means that only a fraction of the heat energy striking a concrete surface is absorbed, thereby limiting the capacity of the material to hold and release heat.
There are numerous alternatives to the norm of massed concrete.
Look at lightweight concrete products, fly ash aggregates, AutoClaved Aerated Concrete blocks and other products. Pre-cast concrete beams and panels can be made to much higher tolerances and greater strengths with less material, giving a higher level of quality and finish at a lower EcoCost.
Advanced detailing such as pre-stressing, post-tensioning, glass reinforcing and surface polishing treatments all add strength and longevity and reduce material consumption. Careful analysis of the EcoCost of such systems and composites is required to determine optimum strategies in each case.
Lumped mass footings and mass footing piers can use vast quantities of concrete with high EcoCosts. The use of reinforced spun concrete pipe for footing piers can reduce EcoCosts substantially.
Footings do not have to be concrete. Even today buildings are still being made without concrete footings or slabs. This can even give advantages in areas where movement is expected, buildings can be designed to articulate and move with the natural forces incident upon them, rather than sit as a monolith trying to resist them. Explore stone footings and paving slabs, gravel footings, post and beam frames (steel, timber and ceramics) and ground sills as potential alternatives. Mechanical connections to bedding rock can eliminate the requirement for mass concrete footings.
So … Rule of thumb … Concrete is problematical. Try to minimise the use of concrete and cement. Use lightweight and recycled aggregates. Use locally produced cements to minimise transport. Push the material, it has enormous strength if detailed properly. Thin down slabs and footings. Avoid mass footings. Try to use precast elements which may be re-used again or recycled at some later era.
Masonry, constituting bricks and blocks of all forms, has been a major building material of many of the world’s cultures. Sun dried mud brick structures built thousands of years ago are still standing today. Although brick manufacture requires quarrying and the removal of sub-soils only small sites are usually involved, producing large quantities of product. The energy required in firing together with transportation of the end product can lead to considerable EcoCosts for bricks.
Many different clays can be used to make bricks. The durability and strength of the brick will depend on the appropriateness of the clay blend used and the effectiveness of the surface treatment. Most clay bricks are fired in kilns, this process converts the raw clay into a rigid, strong ceramic material. The hotter and longer the surface firing or baking of the brick, the longer lasting and more durable will be the end product, though the EcoCost can also rise, depending on the kiln’s energy source. The use of solar powered kilns for manufacturing ceramics is being pioneered and will lead to dramatic reductions in the EcoCost of bricks.
Given the mass of bricks, transportation becomes a major issue. Locally produced bricks will express the colours and textures of the local soils as well as keeping transportation EcoCosts to a minimum.
Mud bricks hand made on site and baked in the sun can reach surprising strengths and durability. The consistency and quality of the end product is a function of the diligence and experience of the manufacturer.
Fired clay bricks are extremely durable and have excellent thermal properties for use as heat storage masses in passive solar construction. Specially produced fire bricks from highly heat resistant clays are designed specifically for use in the construction of fireplaces and kilns. They also have excellent thermal properties for heat storage.
Re-Used bricks have significant EcoCost savings, though the transportation issue rapidly becomes critical in ensuring minimal environmental impact.
Modern concrete block and brick products suffer from the high environmental costs associated with cement production and transportation issues. They also tend to be aesthetically dull with artificial colours and textures predominating. Their strength and resilience are also questionable.
Bricklaying is a straightforward if tedious and tiring task. Good bricklaying takes experience and skill. Highly complex forms and structures can be and have been made from bricks. Their segmental nature can lead to very disciplined rectilinear forms or to much more organic curvaceous compositions. The nature of the mortars used to lay the bricks can have strong effects on the EcoCost of the end product. Lime mortars while weaker allow for easier dismantling and re-use of bricks when the building has lived its life. They also reduce the impacts associated with cement use.
Autoclaved aerated masonry products are becoming available with fully glazed exteriors that possess reasonably high durability but with dramatically reduced mass and impressive insulation properties. They can usually be cut with simple hand tools. Construction systems using dry laid autoclaved blocks with high strength renders while initially seeming attractive are relying on cement, glue, fibre and resin based surface binders, with attendant environmental, longevity and quality problems.
So … Rule of Thumb … Fired clay masonry while having a high initial environmental impact, ameliorates that impact over very long life. They are a very flexible and hard wearing media not requiring applied finishes or sealers. Local clays, clean energy kilns and minimal transport produce the lowest EcoCosts.
“Stone is the stone of the last ten millenia” and will most likely last for the next ten.
There are dozens of different types and forms of stone that have been used architecturally through the millenia. Many of these have imparted a lasting and profound aesthetic to the architecture of the area of their origin. Stone is the most long lasting of all materials available for construction. The statements made with stone can be guaranteed to have a lasting effect down through the ages. Its longevity and continual re-usability, allows its high initial EcoCost to be ameliorated over extraordinarily long periods giving it a low overall impact.
The mass of stone makes it environmentally prohibitive to transport it any long distances. Most areas posses a range of geological forms allowing a considerable spread of stone types, textures, colours and quality. The use of local stones therefore not only represents the unique physical qualities of the place but also a commitment to minimising environmental impact. On the other hand the importation of foreign travertines and the like is symbolic of uncaring and profligate waste and an unthinking attitude to environmental degradation.
Some more porous stones such as limestones, sandstones and siltstones are more subject to weathering and erosion but are considerable easier to cut, shape and handle, giving lower EcoCost. All sedimentary stones tend to have a grain, emphasising the patterns in which the deposits that have formed the stone have been laid down. The detailing of such stone to prevent moisture rising through the grain from the ground or penetrating from the exterior is critical in ensuring longevity. Some form of surface sealing of porous stones can be advantageous in high pollution environments. Coconut oil and shellac are environmentally safe sealants. Natural resin based terracotta tile sealants are also effective.
Denser, harder stones, whilst more laborious in the shaping and construction phases, are virtually immune to the passage of time, require no applied finishes or sealers or even any serious maintenance for centuries. Marble, dolerite, granite and travertine have been used and re-used on buildings that have lasted millenia and the stones themselves are often in pristine condition.
Most stones are chemically inert and the compounds constituting them are safely bound in dense, stable crystalline structures. There may be reactions between some types of stones, particularly sedimentary stones, and various refined metals. Limestone and iron are a poor combination, resulting in rust, staining and erosion of the stone.
Some stones harbour questionable minerals and should be carefully analysed. Uranium salts can generate high background radioactivity levels, Actinium, Thorium, Radium and Polonium are all found in various minerals and emit high levels of radioactivity. Red granites in particular may be sources of Radon gas. If in any doubt a geiger test can determine the radioactive emission rate of any substance.
Stone is a vast but limited resource. Quarrying for quality stone can cause severe environmental degradation, though often the area of effect is small and quarries are productive for very long periods. The nature of stone requires no processing, all that is required is forming to desired shapes. The less forming required, the lower will be the EcoCost. Forming with softer stones can be done by hand with simple tools. For harder stone types diamond tipped saws are most commonly used. Technologically advanced methods becoming available include ultrasound ‘lasers’, microwave lasers and fault-line super-cooling with liquid nitrogen streams. The energy sources for all these techniques are of vital importance in determining final EcoCosts.
Many types of stone have high thermal transmission rates, appropriate buffering capacity and high specific heat capacities, allowing them to rapidly take up incident heat energy and store it for later release at a steady, even pace. This makes them highly effective for heat storage masses.
So … Rule of Thumb … Local Stone preferably from the site or nearby is an initially fairly impacting material but its durability, imperviousness and longevity ameliorate its EcoCost to give an environmentally sound material.
206. Corrugated Metal Sheet
Corro is amongst the lowest EcoCost cladding systems available. Corrugation gives an optimum structural profile for resistance to incident loads. Thin, strong metal sheets in corrrugated form reach their maximum capacity for coverage with minimum material.
Standard sheets of steel based, zinc/alloy-coated, corrugated sheet readily available, can span long distances and require minimum structural support. It can be sprung, or precurved for added rigidity, form and resistance to lateral loads and torque. It has good longevity and high resistance to wear and tear. A range of profile depths is available. Generally the deeper the corrugations, the greater the strength and spanning capacity for given loads, but the less the coverage per sheet. Traditional galvanised steel sheeting can be identified by the large visible, crystaline patternations on the surface of the sheets. They tend to have considerably longer lifespans than contemporary zincalume alloy sheets, though they are of much heavier guage material. Zinc is a high EcoCost product resulting in considerable environmental degradation in its mining and particularly its manufacture.
Corrugated copper sheeting is also available which has an amazing longevity and wonderful patina. Aluminium alloy sheeting is available with greater spanning capacity for lighter weight sheets. Stainless sheeting is rare and has to be specially ordered. All of these have about the same or less EcoCost as standard steel/zinc/aluminium sheet.
The lightness in both imagery and physical weight given by corrugated sheeting has allowed it to develop as the symbolic material of a new idiosyncratic environmentally sensitive architectural form. It is coming to express architecturally such qualities as minimalisim, simplicity of form and structure, sensitivity to place and brevity of occupation of place.
So … Rule of Thumb … Corro is alright, giving maximum coverage for minimum support structure and material.
Glass is one of the most used materials in contemporary building. Its wonderful property of allowing the passage of light while providing reasonably strong enclosure sets it apart from all other materials.
Glass at its most basic is simply fused silica and, although requiring reasonably large energy inputs, it is a clean process. Large quantities of heat are applied to a basic unprocessed raw material, silica, which is readily available at low impacts. Glass in itself is a very durable, hardwearing material, though when cast as large unreinforced sheets it is subject to breakage due to its brittleness. Hardened, drawn sheets are capable of resisting much higher levels of impact giving longer half lives.
Glass can be cast in very thin, reasonably strong sheets covering large areas with little material. Manufacturing and detail technologies are capable of creating an enormous array of forms and fixings for glazing, allowing great design freedom. Glass has a very long life. Concerns as to its plastic superfluidity have proved unfounded. Evidence suggests the flow will not be a problem in normal temperatures/pressures for centuries.
A number of additives should be watched out for though. Lead, boron, manganese, arsenic and atimony are added to give various properties to the glass for ease of manufacture or performance. Many of these additives have high EcoCosts. Similarly for post fitted films for performance alterations, E-Glasses and the like, most are polymers subject to rapid breakdown and environmental pollution problems, though usually only very small quantities of material are involved.
Glass can be re-used many times if well detailed and handled carefully. Glass is highly recyclable and extensively recycled within current industrial processes. Recycling is simply a matter of re-applying heat, burning off almost all impurities in the recasting process. Collected used glass is crushed to form cullett, sifted for rubbish, and fed back into the manufacturing process.
Some producers are using low impact energy for their fusing processes, using waste heat from other industry and developing solar furnaces. Such glass has a very low EcoCost.
In thicker sheets glass is surprisingly robust and has very high thermal and electrical resistance. Some case hardened varieties are even bulletproof and truckproof, though they may shatter with badly applied shear loads. New structural glass elements are now being produced capable of carrying large compressive loads and with reinforcing reasonable tensile loadings. Complex fixing systems are allowing for large loads to be safely transmitted to glass sheets.
Aerated autoclaved glasses are also being produced that although translucent have high insulation levels and are very light. They can also be cut with saws at room temperature and pressure.
Double and triple glazing panels with pressurised inert gas infils, which are dust and moisture free and factory sealed, are now available on order to specified sizes. These can have high insulation levels both thermally and acoustically, but at a much higher EcoCost.
Laminated glass is readily available with intermedial films of many types adding strength, safety or environmental performance. Most ‘thicker’ sheets of glazing tend to be made of multiple laminates of three, four or six millimeter glass. There is an EcoCost penalty with such laminated material due to extra materials and procesing required and the loss of longevity due to reliance on film adhesion. Performance can be enhanced considerably though.
Thicker sheets of pure non-laminated glass tend to have good thermal and acoustic insulation properties and take only fractionally more energy in production than thinner ones. They don’t require all the extra processes and chemicals and materials of lamination or multiple glazing. They also tend to be surprisingly resilient and long lasting.
So … Rule of Thumb …. Glass is good environmentally, re-used glass is better than new. If using new glass, find a recycled product. Use the thickest simple sheets available. Avoid additives and films unless carefully researched. Find producers using alternative energy for fusing.
If concrete was “Twentieth Century Stone” then ceramics are set to become “Twenty First Century Stone”. Some truly amazing ceramic materials and applications are becoming widespread.
Ceramics are extremely stable and long lived, as witnessed by the oldest relics of human civilisation. The procurement of the raw materials and the high energy processing have a moderate EcoCost, but the extreme longevity of the end product offsets that considerably.
Ceramics are essentially oven-fired clay based materials. Clay bricks, terracottas, non-cementitious tiles, china and porcelain all fit into this category. Modern technology has produced ceramics from extremely fine clays and additives both natural and artificial, and a huge variety of processes which modify their performance beyond recognition.
The adhesives used to secure the newer ceramics must be carefully selected. A number of new adhesive types use complex polymers of unknown longevity, toxicity or stability. Traditional cementitious adhesives are proven effective, non-toxic and durable.
‘Elastic’ ceramics are being produced now, that have enormous resilience and resistance to breakage. Some of these are being made from recycled vehicle tyre rubber. The rubber is snap frozen in liquid nitrogen, shattered by physical impact, ground to superfine dust, then cast into tiles and baked, to produce an extremely strong, resilient flooring tile.
There are super strength ceramics that are being used for armour plating on military vehicles. These engineering ceramics are based on high alumina or silicon nitride clays with high tech additives and advanced casting and firing technology. These materials have enormous potential in the building arena for both cladding and structural members when they are eventually taken up. Their strength and resistance to impact and wear suggest enormous longevity.
Highly heat resistant ceramics and ceramic-metal alloys called Cermets have been developed for use on heat shields of the space shuttle’s re-entry panels. This technology has also led to heat absorbing ceramics, which will have great potential for thermal storage in thin layers of materials.
Silicon based ceramics are being used for electrical componentry and new technology is creating solar cells based on strong hard semi-conducting ceramic tiles which may be used for roofing and cladding. Some Copper oxide based ceramics can behave as superconductors at much higher temperatures than other materials and may be useful for energy storage.
Aerated autoclaved (steam cured) ceramics are available, giving lightweight, high insulation materials, with good strength and longevity. These are made in the same way as AAC products.
There are ceramics that are being used as osmotic filters, allowing only very specific things to pass through them according to matrix format and blocking all others. These are used in water filtration, mineral extraction, and even commercial mining. Huge ceramic osmotic filters have been set up to filter sea salt and minerals from the ocean and produce clean drinking water in huge quantities cheaply. Solar power is used to pump the water through the filters. The extracted salt and minerals including large quantities of precious metals help pay for the system.
All sorts of surface finishes are now readily available. Surfaces for acoustic control or enhancement, visual and tactile textures, weather resistance or any number of other specific uses.
So … Rule of Thumb … Ceramics have huge potential and lowish EcoCost, explore the possibilities, cladding, structure, thermal control and safety wise. Detail to make use of the extraordinary weather resistance, strength and longevity of emerging ceramics. Watch the additives and adhesives. Look for ceramics produced using alternative energy.
Timber is probably the lowest impact, most versatile building material around, depending on how it is produced. It is the mainstay of the renewable resources available for building.
Appropriate sourcing of timbers from recycling centres, old buildings, and selective environmentally sound timber harvesters, all produce low EcoCost material. Local, plantation grown, new timber is of lower EcoCost than clearfelled, old growth forest sourced timber, though it has problems.
Smaller size timbers can be milled from normally waste logs. Billets less than 300mm at the smallest end are often discarded for firewood rather than milled, though a fair sized post or a few joists can be milled from this size of log. Good millers will respond to the instruction to use small billets if offered a moderate handling premium. This can also give access to high quality timbers that would otherwise be wasted.
Be aware that mainstream timber production processes, even plantation grown producers are much more environmentally impacting than those produced by a local miller selectively logging for quality, small scale milling and air drying the timber.
Clearfell, cable and plantation logging devastates natural areas, removing topsoil, disturbing natural contours and interrupting groundwater flow. It takes many years for the bush to recover from such activity the first time and decades the second time around.
Plantation timbers are essentially large scale monocultures of exotic species, ecological deserts. Most of the species used are chosen for their rapid rate of growth and ease of farming rather than the quality or beauty of their timber. These species often act as weeds when they begin to spread from the plantations into surrounding ecosystems by natural seed reproduction and other vectors. In the situations where modified native trees are being used, these have tended to interbreed with the existing native stock, polluting the local gene pools.
In these plantation monocultures the densely planted trees tend to completely obliterate all native life, laying down a mulch of needles, leaves or bark that inhibit any other plant species. This mulch tends to toxify the soil for other species, even after the plantation has been logged. Native animals find no food in these dark and forbidding places.
If plantations can be set up as ecologically valid mixed species forests, then they can be selectively harvested continually to dramatically reduce the EcoCosts of their end products.
Be particularly wary of imported timbers, the transport sends the ecoCost soaring and there are a lot of dubious logging practices around the world with little accountability possible. Local timbers are also sometimes more suited to the climatic variations, having less shrinkage and warping than imported varieties, though this varies a lot according to species.
Access to local timber producers also allows greater control over the quality and appropriateness of the end product. Actual sizes needed can be specified. Also, if the orientation of the tree trunk while growing is noted and each plank or beam marked in its position in the tree, then the timber can be installed in the building in appropriate locations and orientations. Timber from the sunny side of the tree is very resistant to incident sun effects and will not warp and bend so much from the heat and dryness. Timber from the shady side is more resistant to wet, shade effects, mould build-up and rot attack. It is also aescetically satisfying to relocate timbers in such a way.
The more processed the timber the higher its impact will be. So rough sawn, air dried boards and beams are considerably lower impact than profiled, dressed, kiln dried material. New techniques involving electronically controlled, microwave laser cutters promise a new era in quiet, efficient, low wastage, accurate timber production and woodworking.
So … Rule of Thumb … Most natural timbers are good but watch sources, processes and finishes. Try to find small scale local millers working sustainably off their own land. Treat fine material with the care, integrity and respect it deserves, make beautiful things with it.
210. Composite Timber Products
Many supposedly environmentally sound composite timber products, rely heavily on dubious adhesive bases.
All glue based composite products must be treated with suspicion and a detailed analysis of the glue’s stability, toxicity and basic EcoCost must be followed through. Often this information is not available, so avoid those products. A range of composite timber products is available utilising low impact, long life, benign glues. Enquire from a knowledgeable local supplier of alternative products.
Some of the worst products for indoor air pollution are the MDFs, chipboards and particle boards commonly used in industry. These boards use timber chips, particles and pulp in a formaldehyde based glue matrix. They have little resistance to weathering, moisture or wear and tear. They are short lived, subject to decay and glue breakdown. They are the end product of a long line of environmentally damaging processes, including clearfelling of timber, long distance transport of logs, chipping and pulping, glue manufacture and finally industrial manufacture of the boads. Their wide use make them one of the most severely damaging environmental products. The waste levels generated in each of these processes and in installation are high.
Planks made of recycled cardboard, shredded timber fibres, reprocessed fibres from palms, timber pulp and other materials with a resin glue base are being produced by a number of manufacturers. These can have low EcoCosts but longevity is a problem, again watch the glue base.
Some products ,such as masonite, are constructed from waste pulp and pressure formed without glues to make a low impact, non-toxic board.
So … Rule of Thumb … Avoid glue based composite product like MDF’s, cheap Ply and Chipboards especially. Masonite depending on source is reasonably good.
Straw is becoming more used in domestic building lately and has some major environmental advantages, low impact production and processing, low transportation costs, lighweight and is usually available locally. Straw can be used for thatch roofs, straw bale walls and underfloor insulation, tatami floor matting and matted thatch walling.
Straw bale construction gives superb insulation and acoustic shelter together with extremely thick walls which can allow spatial, light, planning and aesthetic plays. The straw bales can be used structurally or more usually as an infill wall panel material. The bales are stacked like bricks and have steel reinforcing rods driven through them. Half and shaped bales can be made with special large needles and bale twine.
Walls are usually wrapped in some form of rendering wire and rendered with earth, ‘stabilised’ earth or cement based finishes. In some case the bales are left exposed. Even if rendering fully, a truth window is a fine idea, even if only to show unbelievers. Cement based renders can have a high EcoCost, so it is important to use lime and earth based renders and sheltering roofs where possible. The rendering process is very labour intensive and hard physical work so be prepared.
Wide eaves are very important in protecting this sort of building, particularly if carefully chosen, natural render tones and textures are used and no painting is intended. Consult a local alternative designer/builder and the definitive Straw Bale Book. Care must be taken with detailing to avoid cold bridging, vermin infestation, settlement based movement cracks in finishes and water penetration. Organically grown straw will have less possibility of containing any unwanted chemicals.
Compacted straw boards are becoming available, giving high insulation and acoustic shelter. Although somewhat heavy, they are easier to deal with than bales in traditional construction situations. They are made of highly compressed straw sandwiched between paper skins similar to plasterboard.
They have been successfully used in remote areas for the construction of emergency dwellings. Buildings can be put up like a house of cards, walls and roof, and simply pinned together with pre-made brackets and screws. Doors and windows can be cut in after with large hand saws. The entire structure can then be waterproofed externally with renders or sealing compounds such as tar or gum. A building can be erected in a few hours with simple tools this way.
So … Rule of Thumb … Straw bale construction has good potential for low EcoCost, high environmental performance building. Source it locally, experiment with native grasses. Ensure the bales are packed evenly and hard. Read the Straw Bale Book.
212. Rammed Earth
While not in essence a renewable resource, earth from the site used simply without additives or cements as Pise Terre is pretty well indestructible. When the building finally disappears, the material falls back to its place and can be used again ad infinitum. It is ultimately recyclable, so renewable in a sense.
Do not underestimate the potential of this material for longevity or technical performance. Properly rammed earth walls baked in the sun and well protected from storm damage, can and do last for millenia. Earth is one of the most effective materials for passive thermal performance. Its buffering capacity, thermal transmission rates and specific heat capacity (its ability to take up, absorb transmit and re-radiate incident heat) are ideally suited to the take up and slow release of solar energy and other gradual heat sources. The quantity of material available for building at low impact also make it the best choice where mass is required for thermal, acoustic or structural performance.
Earth walls have permeable outer surfaces giving them large active surface areas resulting in a high capacity for pheremone precipitation and humidity modulation. They are acoustically benevolent, absorbing both high and low pitch sounds effectively.
There are a number of good texts and guides on the building of rammed earth structures and some competent contractors can always be located nowadays. Research for specific areas is required as each soil type is different, with different properties and requirements. For good EcoCost it is a must to avoid transporting earth to the site from any distance away. Its mass makes it prohibitive to transport. Also the sourcing of the earth should be sensitively done to avoid disturbing existing ecosystems as far as feasible. The best place to get soil is from under the footprint of the building. Excavation can be done to gain basement, cellar or service space as well as sourcing building material.
Blades of about 300mm thickness are optimal for thermal performance but a bit on the thin side for structural walls. While the technical requirements for earths that are to be used structurally are quite stringent, the clay content should be in the range of 15 – 18% and the range of particle sizes and strengths appropriate. Compression and technical testing is important. Most soils will do for simple mass walls though the weaker the soil the thicker the walls have to be for stability.
Avoid top soils, with too much organic matter. Best to dig it straight from the ground, or more conveniently a large pile, into the ramming forms for optimal moisture content. Try to use only earth from the building excavations, or perhaps dig a pool. Make a good strong form, not too high and use a powerful thumper. It is very hard physical work.
Let the walls bake in the hot sun for a while, long as possible but make sure they are sheltered from rain, particularly driven rain. The walls may shrink remarkably over the first few weeks depending on the make up of the clay fraction, so be prepared for that.
Think carefully about finishes. If a smooth oiled form and a mechanical rammer are used and the earth is optimal, then the finish can be made smooth and hard so no sealer will be needed. Painting with plastic sealers and polymer paints can prevent the earth from performing at its optimum. Natural oils, lime washes and paints can be used to allow for a breathing surface.
So … Rule of Thumb … Rammed earth is a long lived recyclable material with low EcoCost and good thermal performance. Avoid using cement stabilisers. Get the raw material from the site, within the building footprint.
Plywood can be a very effective environmentally sound material if carefully selected and detailed well. It has a high EcoCost per tonne but can cover large areas with little material. The base material, timber, is renewable and it has good potential for re-use if well detailed. The glues used are the problem.
Plywoods come in a bewildering array of types, finishes and qualities, of varying EcoCosts depending on type and source of timber, glues used and the manufacturing process.
The type of timber used to make the veneers for the ply, its source and method of supply are rarely described and require some research to ascertain. After seeing a few sheets, the main types become recognisable but even then it is easy to become confused with the various species of timbers, particularly inner plys, only the end grains of which are visible.
Plantation pine plys are readily available but are often of low quality veneers with knots and cracks leaving exposed glue faces and easy access for weather. Many cheaper plys are made from low quality tropical rainforest timbers, in very dubious harvesting and manufacturing processes. Often these are three ply with low quality filler material as the cross ply. Look for the thicker middle ply and thin outer veneers. They have a very high EcoCost. Hardwood faced plys are usually of high quality and resist weathering well. Thicker plywood sheets tend to be better made and stronger, weight for weight, than the thin three plys.
Some things to watch for …
No cheap Ply. Lower quality plys use inferior glue forms which break down and enter the environment as V.O.C.s, principally formaldehydes. Avoid any ply using a formaldehyde glue system. Low quality plywoods rapidly deteriorate under natural conditions of rain and sun, giving questionable longevity. They have to be coated with even more toxic compounds like paints and polyurethanes to stabilise them.
The finish grade on the ply has a marked effect on its ability to resist weathering.
Side grain of ply is particularly susceptible to weathering and breakdown, making effective weatherproof and wear resistant detail essential.
Top grade marine ply has much better veneers and glues. It is of generally higher quality with a better finish veneer and stronger plys.
Thicker plywoods have a much greater resistance to wear and tear and weathering, giving them considerable longevity advantages. They are exponentially more rigid and require much less substructure. Thinner plywoods tend to warp and buckle with changes in temperature and humidity.
Designing systems which use full sheet dimensions can dramatically reduce wastage and cutting problems as well as minimising the need for junctioning details.
So … Rule of Thumb … Ply can be a good environmentally sound material. Use only high quality, non formaldehyde glue based plywoods.
214. Fibre Cement Sheet
Fibro is Fibre Cement sheet, a sheet made by casting fibres for tensile strength in a cement matrix. The cement has a high EcoCost as do a lot of the fibre types used, which are often hard to identify.
The sheets have the advantage of being thin, covering large areas with small amounts of material and are to some extent weather resistant, depending on thickness and quality.
Thicker sheets have much greater resilience and resistance to damage giving exponentially longer life, greater rigidity and less need for sub structures. There are also advantages with removable fixing systems. Thinner sheets are not very resilient or robust and often need to be destroyed to dismantle an installation and so cannot be reused easily.
A thorough investigation into the types of fibre used in local products is essential. Asbestos fibres are still a serious problem in some areas. Some types of glass and polymer fibres are fine enough to give respiratory and dermal irritation problems. The alkaline dust from the cement matrix can give irritant problems.
Sheets with both faces hard finished are less likely to create dust and fibre problems. Cutting by scratch and score techniques creates much less dust, fibre and noise problems but is less accurate than machine cutting.
Designing systems which use full sheet dimensions can dramatically reduce wastage and cutting problems as well as minimising the need for junctioning details.
So … Rule of Thumb … Fibro is questionable. Use thicker sheets and use non intrusive, non adhesive fixing systems. Watch fibre types and avoid machine cutting if possible.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Advice for bringing these ideas into being and a general passionate rounding off.
215. Making it Happen
Each and every thing we do has within it the capacity both to achieve a sustainable way and to demonstrate the reality and possibility of such achievements.
These Patterns give some possibilities and potentialities to avoid the current thoughtless unsustainable paradigms, there are many more. A thoughtful project can be a model of sensitive, restraint, a symbol of the emergence of a cultural maturity that expresses our emerging perception of our place within the planetary ecosystem.
Use the research and experience of those who have been investigating sustainability for decades now. The scientific and sociological understanding and the technological knowhow is there, waiting to be tapped. The Green Movement, GreenPeace, the Wilderness Society, the Ecoforestry Institute, Amnesty International, Appropriate Technology Institutes, Masonobu Fukuoka of The One Straw Revolution, David Suzuki, David Pearson and his excellent Natural House book, Amory Lovins and the Gaia foundations everywhere, the Rocky Mountains Institute, the Rainbow Power Company, and numerous other subversive organisations. They have a range of profound solutions to the problems faced in the implementation of sustainable development practices.
The world needs more land subversed to human ends like it needs a hole in its metaphorical head. The world’s problem is not about how to develop new sites, we do not need new cities, suburbs and mega-developments, new farms, forests and plantations. We need to fix up and make better use of the ones we have, to create quality.
So … Rule of Thumb … Let your living and doing become a site for research into the potential of your society, your place, for supporting humanity in a sustainable way. Use your life, work and home for succouring and investigating strategies to make a viable contribution to sustainability.
216. Selling Sustainability
To use the basest yardstick, the market for sustainability throughout the world context is vast, vaster than any primary resource based markets. Everybody and everywhere will need the tools and understandings to allow them to achieve sustainable living.
The plethora of arguments espoused concerning international competitiveness and the need for continued growth are in direct conflict with achieving sustainability. Our culture needs to take a good hard look at itself, where it wants to go and how it wants to get there, and then go ahead and do it. If each of us join those developing sustainable practices then every little piece has the opportunity of assisting the dissemination of experience and techniques.
Implementing sustainability is about examining the basic principles upon which our society is founded. It is the opportunity to avoid the fundamental mistakes of our recent past. We must not allow a repetition of these mistakes to be hidden by laying a pastiche cloak of green over the proceedings. If we do not make the fundamental changes so clearly required by the findings of the professional scientific and environmental communities, then we openly declare that we accept the inevitable decimating ecological, social and economic consequences.
The pessimism of ‘it’ll never work’ or the stupidity of ‘it’s too different’ or ‘it’s too difficult’ or ‘it cannot be done’ must be not be allowed to overcome the desperate need for things to be done better. It can be done, the knowledge and technology are here, the will evident. It requires now the foresight and inspiration of decision makers to vault this society into in a new way which we can be at least partly confident is sustainable.
So … Rule of Thumb … Try to be at the forefront of sustainable practice and encourage your community to be there. Sell sustainability, if you have to, as a great marketing opportunity, a wide open niche with a world wide market that we cannot afford to miss.
217. Making it Possible
The only barriers to implementation of any or all of these patterns are apathy and cynicism. None of these patterns describes anything that is physically impossible. In fact most have been successfully instigated in existing practical projects. The logic of the arguments for adopting these patterns is very powerful and widely agreed on. There is a widespread desire to live in a more sustainable way. Why then aren’t these suggestions embraced by decision makers and resource allocation authorities? The only obvious answer is the skepticism of the uninformed and unconcerned, self oriented power brokers of this world.
This skepticism is the result of successful campaigns by organisations who, by their nature, cannot meet sustainability requirements and those who refuse to alter the existing wealth and power bases, to discredit the clear and obvious imperatives of sustainability. They have expended considerable energy and resources to ensure the concept of sustainability is perceived as a result of flimsy passing fad or fashion and in no way related to their ‘real world’ of capitalist rationalist economics.
The notion of a ‘real world’ belonging to the mainstream conservative bureaucratic structures, built up since the beginning of the industrial revolution and based on the concepts of androcentrism, is a political manoeuvre and should be seen as nothing more. The ‘real world’ is anything that can happen, practical means possible, economic limitations are glass walls, political barriers are a travesty against the intellect and moral will of humanity.
Many detail problems associated with a paradigm shift to sustainability will take decades to identify, research and resolve. What is urgent is that while the will is strong, the framework to bring economic and social structures in tune with the scientifically identified imperatives of environmental sustainability are developed and implemented.
Awareness and education are the only answers to such cynicism, but the whole balance could be tipped by the simple, low cost solution. The notion of recognition of culturally admired behaviour runs deep through all the cultures of humanity. The social constructs in the human mind lead us to seek the approval and acceptance of our peers and wider troupe. The obvious rewarding of those who make the effort to overcome the hurdles and develop successful ecologically sustainable practical projects can have a profound effect. It will directly encourage risk taking in the field of sustainabilty practice. It would make achieving sustainable practice acceptable and even admirable by peers, greatly increasing the human drive to find solutions.
If practical successes are publicised and the failures critically analysed then it can be shown not just that sustainable practice can happen, but also the myriad of ways in which it can be brought into reality. We need to ensure that everyone understands that the ‘real world’ of our culture is but a small layer of habit over the reality of the planetary ecosystem, and we can make our ‘real world’ whatever we want it to be.
So … Rule of Thumb … Do Something About It. It is up to each and every one of us to make our world a better, more aware and sensitive place. We are the problem and that means we have the capacity within ourselves to not be the problem. Every little bit does count, it does make a difference. Don’t preach but try, by example, to get others to look at they way they live, to see how sustainable each of us are and what we can practically do about it. Give someone a copy of this book, and the EcoCost text.