Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rights of Nature

William McDonough (author of "Cradle to Cradle") on green supply chains and living buildings, a radical shift from the aesthetic of buildings as "machines for living". This 20-minute video is dated Oct. 16, 2007. Two and a half years later, it's still prescient. He offers a strategy of hope, but a review of the direction that we're going with our industries and processes shows that we have to make some serious changes. He proposes an open metabolism that mimics nature's design principles. He asks, "What is our intention as a species?" as we look out into the future.

A well-known example of the cycle of the ecology of commerce in product production and reuse is Interface Carpet. This is a response to the kind of re-visioning of the manufacturing process that focuses on conservation of resources and pollution reduction.

McDonough is now consulting via MBDC to offer systems and ways to restructure the chemical processes and content of materials supply in the built environment. MBDC has amassed a huge database of chemicals and products, and offers a certification for a complete recycling process for the products they review.

That's truly the road less traveled, for most architects, a group not known for humility. Maybe that's about to change.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Vegetable Patch

The idea of merging nonprofit community service with providing local food supplies has a long history in cities. Even as cities urbanized, some programs have taken advantage of "discarded space" to grow fresh vegetables as well as manage a distribution network of food banks from local businesses. The well-known Urban Ecology organization started out as a vegetable patch, incorporating local food, changes in lifestyle to reduce dependence on the automobile, all the way to their "Blueprint for a Sustainable Bay Area" in 1996.

Many cities have established community gardens for this purpose, mainly to create neighborhoods in urban areas that are cared for by residents. Seattle has its P-Patch program and Vancouver has recently started up a Green City program that provides fresh foods from local farmers and provides them to low-income residents.

These kinds of programs are the classic people-planet-profit strategies of microfinance that create productive enterprises and provide food security that are familiar the world over. It's the antithesis of corporate farming that produces food with tremendous amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, and ships this food over long distances which creates a pollution source, all of these being oil-based practices. Acting locally with the help of nonprofits and with the assistance of local city programs is a very efficient methodology that reduces food waste, preserves open space and reinforces community. This social web is a surprising answer to the often overwhelming difficulties of living in dense urban areas, especially as the economic safety net deteriorates.

When you have people sharing their recipes as well as their stories and their food, living in the city suddenly turns out to be a great place to be.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Urban Agriculture

The City of Detroit, once the center of technology and steel production, is now famously part of the "rust belt" of dying industries and decimated landscape that was formerly a farming region. It is facing this issue with a program of implementing a regenerative strategy through urban agriculture. The concept has been roughly presented as urban villages with connections across large areas of agriculture.

Several organizations and businesses have made a commitment to this new "local foods" movement, including Hantz Farms, which operates on the for-profit model. John Hantz has a vision of restoring Detroit with a pledge of $30 million to kick off the transformation of Detroit from a degenerated Motor City into a region of agriculture that can supply fresh food and revitalized infrastructure to the Detroit area.

A more comprehensive dialogue of how this may be implemented is occurring, through partnership with non-profits, showing how the worker-owned cooperative system could work - based upon Spain's Mondragon Corporacion Cooperativa. This initiative to regenerate Detroit with urban agriculture has become the focus of a collaborative garden resource program, with many nonprofits gearing up to educate individuals and get programs started across the region.

Specifically, the nonprofit SHAR is instituting a plan called Recovery Park, using resources provided by the Design Center of the University of Detroit Mercy. Research and development is being spearheaded by Charles Cross with a Recovery Grant.

A more detailed, and skeptical, discussion of the Recovery Park model is on this blogsite. To quote:

To be fair, I have heard about some urban farming models that seem to make more sense. They are not top-down, corporate models, but community empowerment models. Like the proposed Recovery Park, a public-private-nonprofit, 2,000-acre development headed by the Shar Foundation. A 30-acre pilot farm will be only one component of the development that will also include housing, commercial development, educational programs and green spaces.

At $220 million, the project promises 4,000 permanent jobs over the next 10 years. That number of jobs is high but hopeful, since the project isn't only about farming but also about housing demolition, soil preparation, food processing, hydroponics, indoor fish farms, an equestrian boarding operation. It will even include a for-profit clothing business, according to Crain's Detroit Business.

Friday, June 25, 2010

By the Numbers

Once again Western policies in third world countries backfire, resulting in deforestation in Africa rather than the preservation of ecologies that balance our planet's ecosystem. Like the World Bank funding of large, destructive dams, the policies foster ecological destruction in the name of finance and "progress".

The problem is, deforestation is one of the major, if hidden, causes of global warming. It goes beyond the destruction of plant absorption, soil and nutrients that creates flooding in deforested areas when the rains hit. Forests are the lungs of the planet. But our Western fiscal structures for integrating better living conditions in these areas are actually contributing to their demise.

Truthdig's article on the deforestation of Africa points out that the financial structure of supposedly using forests to offset carbon credits actually results in their destruction. It has taken local, rural people stepping up to object to these practices to stop the destruction of their resources, an issue raised at the Copenhagen summit only to be rebuffed. As the article goes on to state:

Yet that is the deal that must be done someday soon to avoid climate disaster. For a fraction of the world’s military spending, it could be a Green New Deal that creates new industries, advances new technologies and revives our economy—much like the spending on World War II boosted America into prosperity. It is a proposition that we can no longer afford to refuse.

It's increasingly apparent that the integration of Natural Capital into the balance sheets is necessary to preserve global ecology; the old policies were based upon destructive practices and industries that can no longer be used, as well as failing to account for fully half of the resource consumption cycle. As Thomas Friedman has pointed out numerous times, the financial profits have to be created out of new kinds of practices that are not destructive of the very resources that give them value.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Net Zero - the Final Frontier

NASA is now experimenting with human habitation on earth. A small project at Moffet Field called "Sustainability Base" will attempt to demonstrate that zero energy consumption is possible at the scale of a commercial facility. It's actually a prototype for a lunar habitat, which is an indication of the direction that the space program is taking. It's a part of a bigger, on-orbit infrastructure and lunar development to prepare for further human exploration. Their website states that they are joining leaders in Silicon Valley and around the globe to put NASA’s data and assets to work mitigating climate change through innovative partnering and intensive collaboration. This structure is a collaboration with the design architect, William McDonough, of "Cradle to Cradle" fame, and AECOM as the project architect.

NASA is promoting their green technologies to the industry and the public. That page is here.

The effort to reduce the impact of structures on the environment has a wide-ranging array of solutions, but to date there has not been the opportunity to benchmark their performance. This structure will measure all means of energy expenditure with sensors throughout, and eventually provide a dataset that will tell which of NASA's proprietary technologies produces real results. This is a common issue for buildings that are setting energy targets via programs such as LEED; the performance doesn't always measure up to the goals without some tweaking over time.

The expected completion date is in early 2011.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Breathing Earth

Found a wonderful simulation of the CO2 emissions in real time, it's quite unsettling. It displays the CO2 emissions of every country in the world, as well as their birth and death rates, and is called Breathing Earth.

Take a look, and experience it for awhile...maybe it's time to start doing something about our lifestyle, which is the biggest contributor to CO2 emissions on the planet along with China and Europe.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Trees on the Hill

The Panch Rathas at Mamallapuram in the state of Tamil Nadu are monolithic cut-rock shrines from the 7th century. These incredible stones were carved on site to resemble wooden temples and structures that later became influential in South Indian style temple design. The name is from the sanskrit epic Mahabharata, naming the five Pandava brothers and their queen Draupadi.

This epic, supposedly recorded by Ganesha - a deity resembling an elephant, known as a "Remover of Obstacles" - is a rich tapestry of stories and legend that informs Hindu culture. It is also one of the great philosophical tracts of all time, with part of its material comprising the Bhagavad Gita, its verses encompassing Hindu theology. The great value of Hindu philosophy is that life is manifest as a web of energies that interact on material and spiritual levels. This is distinctly different from the western view of things as isolated entities that have only material properties.

This world view is one that has enabled the spiritual leader Sadhguru, acting through his Isha Foundation, to counteract the desertification of Tamil Nadu by claiming land decimated by illegal forest logging and then planting trees. Millions of trees. By the inhabitants of Tamil Nadu that barely touch the land in the way they live. They regenerated their land by returning trees to the hill.

Tree planting and urban forestry are becoming the way to bring nature back, in the face of climate change. It is a regenerative strategy that requires people to make individual efforts to plant trees and conserve water that have a huge aggregate effect on the local climate. So it takes people working with the planet. Many organizations across the globe are putting this strategy into place as the simplest and most effective way for local action to restore bioclimatic cycles and structures. Tree planting and watershed restoration efforts are going on all over the world as alternatives to resource depletion, human habitat expansion and the ecological damage wrought by large dams. It's a strategy that mimics the action of natural processes and networks by linking actions as a "hub" system. The very small seed that becomes exponential growth; once again the metaphor of the mustard seed, exponential growth of all life processes, the mathematics of fractals and the geometries of the spiral.

So this view that life is a web, and that it is possible to repair it exponentially with efforts from all people, is an idea whose time has come. It's not the brute force of machines and the concrete and the industry and the oil and the coal that deplete resources and ultimately come to a dead end. It's a transformative view that can inform the way humans inhabit the earth and enhance its resources.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Video here: Democracy Now hosts a discussion on how the Obama administration has handled this catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and explore concrete ways that this country might finally move away from a fossil-fuel economy with three guests: New Orleans attorney Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights; Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune; and Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, widely recognized as one of the world’s most influential energy thinkers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Movement Grows

Our leadership has not yet stepped up to the plate with respect to the changing climate and the necessary broad actions that have to take place quickly in order to drastically cut carbon output and reverse the effects of pollution and energy consumption. Our global carbon benchmark is 350 ppm, and we're at 392. This is based upon extensive research and observation, and has become the critical issue for our time. Oil and coal have proven to be disastrous, poisonous energy sources, and the change needs to be swift. Instead, industries in California have come up with so-called "green" regulations like SB 375 that create immense new loads of carbon by requiring unprecedented growth in housing and new buildings. The very things that created this horrific climate situation to begin with.

A policy report issued by the Lincoln Institute outlines the need for an immediate, large-scale movement to change the use of fossil fuels for clean technologies and low-impact lifestyles. Climate change in the West, especially, is anticipated to be severe, to the point where it threatens livability, water availability and will result in major habitat destruction.

The report asks planners and public policy bodies to change rapidly:

* Mobilize the political will.
* Recognize local action and citizen participation.
* Identify resources and a variety of options.
* Adapt climate science to local planning needs.

The more radical and viral parts of the environmental reform movement have been vociferous for a decade now, leading up to a viral campaign last September that recalls the start of other historic movements. The activism and public outcry right now over the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is clearly creating an urgency that fuels this reaction and calls for rapid public implementation of carbon-mitigation measures.

This will affect our economic, social and global resource systems in a drastic way. But that's far better than leaving a smoldering ruin for the next generation by hanging on to old destructive industries.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Fix

Los Angeles has long been ensnarled in huge traffic jams thanks to the lack of a real transit system, and there have always been numerous plans and strategies developed to deal with it at some point. Initially it started with the Red Line from Union Station over to the west side of downtown, then the Blue Line was finished going down to Long Beach. Later, the Green Line not-quite-reaching-LAX and the Gold Line to Pasadena were completed with the artwork incorporated at each station. Given this, it seems that fixing LA's transit issues has become a real possibility, particularly with the political approval of the Gold Line extension out to Azusa and ultimately Pomona. The system evolved over the old access lines from earlier rail and transitway developments in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles' Mayor Villaraigosa has recently taken the transit issue to a new level by proposing a financing scheme that will allow immediate starts for a light rail transit network in the City of Los Angeles that extends the existing hub of the system out to the various distant regions within 10 years instead of 30. This is done by borrowing from the Federal Government and repaying the monies from the existing Measure R income, which would pay for the construction of the system as is laid out above. The feasibility of this approach is under debate, but the necessity for it is not; it was unanimously approved by the US Conference of Mayors in mid-May in Oklahoma City.

What this will mean for the form of Los Angeles, as the infill grows around the transit lines, is a far more dense urban system with development pressures coming to bear on the old neighborhoods fronting the original traffic ways that formed the backbone for the new and expanded system. With any luck, the City will have guidelines, ordinances and review bodies in place to make sure that the resulting development is done sustainably and preserves the character of old Los Angeles while conserving resources. It will be interesting to see how much influence the neighborhood councils will have on proposals put forward by developers in the future, especially given the new State Green Codes as well as the Low Impact Development ordinance currently being developed by the City.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Future Strikes

Our Federal Government has established a Global Change Research Program that seeks to integrate research and solutions to climate change in this country. It looks at different sectors and examines the issues that require farsighted solutions. It's a science-based approach that identifies impacts of climate change and seeks solutions based upon sustainable approaches. No hysteria or things-to-do. But definitely strikes the mark with respect to stating the critical, immediate problem of things that will happen, and are happening, that have to be dealt with.

The assessments are based upon reports from the IPCC, a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). IPCC assesses the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change. Because of its intergovernmental nature, the IPCC is able to provide scientific technical and socio-economic information in a policy-relevant but policy neutral way to decision makers. When governments accept the IPCC reports and approve their Summary for Policymakers, they acknowledge the legitimacy of their scientific content.

Our southwest region is examined, with key issues being water shortage, increasing temperatures, wildfires and invasive species due to the rapid warming trends that we're seeing. The brief but succinct summary is as follows:

With more intense, longer-lasting heat waves projected to occur over this century, demands for air conditioning are expected to deplete electricity supplies, increasing risks of brownouts and blackouts. Much of the region’s agriculture will experience detrimental impacts in a warmer future, particularly specialty crops in California such as apricots, almonds, artichokes, figs, kiwis, olives, and walnuts. These and other such crops require a minimum number of hours below a chilling temperature threshold in the winter to set fruit for the following year.

What's important is that these scenarios and very predictable trends are being publicly disseminated as a basis for our local public policies, which now must shift to adapt to the much warmer and drier environment we will live in very shortly. The reality is that we truly can't pollute and build any more, we've gone beyond the former environmental norms and must change how we live.

To that end, a National Climate Adaptation Summit was held in Washington, D.C. at the end of May. A report will be issued at a later date.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Building Solutions

RMI is presenting a series on High Performance Buildings, mostly the retrofit of the 90% of potential building environment that exists today. The process is called "integrative design" which uses the engineering to respond to program and site, creating a form response that is highly organic and tied to the site. This also means that we are largely built out in this country, and most work will be retrofit and rebuild, as has been acknowledged by the American Institute of Architects in its future policy discussions.

Since buildings are the largest contributor to GHG's and impact global warming the most of any activity, it is necessary to reinvent the process to bring this carbon load way down. There's lots of case study information on this site.

To quote the RMI site:

“Our whole company is focused on the fact that no longer can the environment and economic growth be at odds. The only way to have economic growth is sustainable economic growth and that business needs to take the lead.” — Jesse Fink, Managing Director,Mission Point Capital Partners

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Anger Rises

One thing I can say for this BP oil spill is that it is finally creating the very urgent, critical national conversation about what our oil addiction really means to us and the world we live in. It's not just the anger, wrathfully portrayed in Stephen Colbert's skit, but the utter destruction and terrible risks to people, their livelihood and the environment that oil drilling and coal mining create. The difference here is that it's not off happening in some jungle in Ecuador, it's right here in our own front yard with the whole world as witness. Kind of an I-told-you-so moment for the environmental groups.

The excellent dialogue this has engendered about how we live and how we build sustainable habitations are taking place among the conservation orgs and the planning and design professions. What kinds of cities should we build? How do we manage traffic and people and the connections from place to place so that we cut way back on our energy demands? The form of the city, and its interconnectedness, is key to solving this problem. And interestingly, it looks like the old township grids that were laid out over 100 years ago at walkable scale, before the automobile forced a dystopian network of highways. These small-scaled blocks and alleys allow even dense city centers to be delightfully habitable. Venice, Italy is always a talked-about example because everyone walks when they're not using the water taxis down the river.

Research with traditional density diagrams shows how the scale of connections is critical for making a place walkable and accessible.

Right now many of our suburban edges and cities sprawling out into the inland empire are nothing but tract homes packed along highways, with no local stores or places to interact, they simply connect to malls with arterials. As this article shows, the scale is far too large for people to walk or even commute with bicycles; they're effectively trapped on huge, isolated expanses of asphalt that absorb and re-radiate heat. This is an utter failure of planning and a lack of understanding of what creates habitable places. There's ways to deal with this that are an intervention of scale and design on these degraded landscapes: break down the scale, unpave the asphalt, integrate the small projects that serve local populations. I remember walking in Venice, to go back to that example, it's a rabbit warren with incredibly interesting architecture and plazas and, of course, the bridges. Up and down, around corners and zigging along the canal pathways. Paris has much the same feel in places, all the small shops and short blocks with trees and landscaping all over the city. Some of our older suburbs here in Los Angeles have the small township style layouts, and they're delightful neighborhoods once you get out of the sea of flat, featureless asphalt. The smaller scale and interesting, sustainable landscapes are the way out of this energy nightmare.

The impact of oil and coal is not only environmental, of course. There's a long-term destructive impact on the economy because of the way that the resulting costs and risks are allocated into financial instruments that poison the markets with toxic assets decades into the future. And this one is Exxon-Valdez on steroids.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What is India?

The above photo of the Taj Mahal in Agra, by a friend of mine, reminds me of a lesson I learned while traveling in India last year. A corporation called Tata owns everything, from cars to tea plantations to resorts. I've never seen anything like this kind of corporate ownership inside of one country. The Taj Mahal is a major tourist destination, so of course it's part of Tata. Prices in India are sky-high for anything involved with Tata. India is really not cheap any more, that's so last century!

In any case, here's the list of companies owned by Tata, along with its subsidiaries. The sustainability banner, typical of ecoresorts in India, is here. Greenwash? To a large extent, yes.

India is a very different place. Right now there's much political tumultuousness in Delhi over the Maoist positions on socialistic government, it includes disputes between Tibet and China, as well as the northern India provinces. The Dalai Lama is in northern India, challenging the Chinese domination of Tibet. Add to this the Maoist strikes that affect the adjacent country of Nepal and its city of Kathmandu, and you have a true recipe for volatility. It remains to be seen how the Indian government will resolve all of this.

Add to that a different philosophy of business and a completely alternative view of life's issues. Our Western approaches to these tensions are not really relevant in the face of a complex and multivalent culture and government. The confrontation between China and India over the problem of Tibet will play out in an unpredictable fashion, and hopefully our government will stay out of it, except via its UN participation.

Monday, June 7, 2010

All Things FLLW

Well, it's the old boy's birthday, and so here's a small tribute to his tumultuous life and prolific output. If he had lived today, he wouldn't be able to practice his big architecture - being unregistered - he'd be on meds and living in West Hollywood licensing furniture designs. A (quasi) fictional account of his life is portrayed in the book "The Women" by T.C. Boyle, which captures the flavor of his life and his UU philosophical origins (Walden, Thoreau) that played out in his architectural projects using "organic architecture". A background article about Tom Boyle and his exploration of the essentially narcissistic character of FLLW is here.

I got to know his work at Taliesin West during my workshop in Arcosanti in 1978, as well as during a tour of the Arizona Biltmore. Built as one of Phoenix’s first resorts in 1929, the Arizona Biltmore was constructed in grand form by brothers Albert, Charles and Warren McArthur. Frank Lloyd Wright served as the consulting architect, and the Arizona Biltmore remains one of the only existing hotels in the world to benefit from his influence. That includes his Sprites in the garden. A real brief history on his career is here.

The AIA has produced a nice series on the development of his Fallingwater project in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, which is undergoing continual structural preservation. As always, it concerns water penetration issues, something that never seemed to concern him when designing and constructing his structures. All of his work is truly experimental, and he apparently primed his clients to accept that fact and support his artistic efforts.

A retrospective of his career is presented by the architect and historian Alan Hess for the Bowers Museum lecture. He reviews what are essentially the three careers of FLLW. A dozen of the famed architect's buildings are now offering digital tours of both the interior and exteriors of the spaces, also known as the #WrightVirtualVisits initiative. Much of his work has been archived at MOMA in New York, which has mounted a retrospective of his work. The archives are held at Columbia University.

Many restoration efforts are being undertaken on his Prairie House structures across the country, his Usonian houses, and also in Los Angeles for his "mayan architecture" block designs. The Crystal Bridges Museum has relocated the Bachman-Wilson house to its campus. A gem of an interior commercial design is reconstructed out of the country in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, for the same client who commissioned him to design his masterpiece, Fallingwater.

And of course there's Art Garfunkel's tribute to FLLW, as a former architecture student, a form of indentured servitude all architects know well:

I remember Frank Lloyd Wright,
All of the nights we harmonized 'til dawn
I never laughed so long...

Friday, June 4, 2010


A local wildlife refuge and natural wilderness area is once again threatened with development and the destruction of habitat. This has caused a great hue and cry by a community that values its parks and wilderness, and now everyone also knows how to spell Hahamongna, even if the City map does not. Every remnant of natural terrain seems to be under threat of development, it's a fight over and over and over again, spanning years. It's time for people to push back before we lose it all.

Previous posts have covered the issues of the entire natural system that drains water through the arroyo as a watershed to the Los Angeles River. I've talked about the proposed roads and development before, as they were presented in public hearing, which I participated in.These hearings ultimately took those issues off the table. Now it's proposed soccer fields and high auto traffic usage in an area that's relatively remote and currently inundated with periodic water flows and is used as as a spreading basin for aquifer replenishment. It's becoming very curious that constant encroachment and development is proposed again and again by City staff for no apparent reason, in the face of public outrage over this. These issues come up repeatedly even as the Recreation and Parks Commission recommendations are against further development. Good subject for investigation, start with the City Manager and the Head of Public Works, which seems bent on wasting time and public money on these repeated attempts at development.

Having worked on the original Hahamongna Master Plan with Adolfo Miralles for Bob Takata, I did extensive photo surveys and studies of the necessary improvements to existing recreation facilities. We found that further development was not workable due to the natural conditions on the site. Public comment at that time was also overwhelmingly against further development in this area, and it has only intensified at this point. It's gotten so intense that the Friends of Hahamongna was awarded the Thorny Rose at this years' Doo-Dah Parade!

Essentially, it makes no sense to destroy what little natural habitat remains in our area. In fact, I would UNpave a lot more of it. More folks chime in; a report from the Altadena Headlines Examiner, the Arroyo Seco Foundation, the SFV Audubon Society, and finally, Save Hahamongna!

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Over at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Amory Lovins has taken the bull by the horns and restructured the Institute to forge ahead with tackling the fundamental problem with economic growth - energy production. Taking the Natural Capital concept further into nearly zero consumption of coal and oil by 2050, the RMI has established a vision for reinventing energy, and a re-engagement in changing the market economy so that it works with natural processes rather than destroying them. They've called this vision "Reinventing Fire".

Why push a rock uphill all day, requiring tremendous work and wasted energy, only to have the stone fall back, when it's so easy to flow downhill? This is a concept fundamental to the zen philosophy, and is also expressed in traditional Japanese construction principles. We need to use brains, not brawn.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Natural Capitalism: A System

Businesses and corporations are slowly moving towards sustainable strategies that provide a return on investment, and also creates a system of returning capital to natural processes, the very things that create the world we live in. A discussion about creating the Next Industrial Revolution reflects the current thinking on this concept.

It comes from the original Road Map for Natural Capitalism (Harvard Business Review) by Amory B. Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, Paul Hawken. This article was originally published in May-June 1999 and was republished in July-August 2007 as an HBR Classic. The article includes a one-page preview that quickly summarizes the key ideas and provides an overview of how the concepts work in practice along with suggestions for further reading.

To quote the article:

No one would run a business without accounting for its capital outlays. Yet in 1999, when this article was originally published, most companies overlooked one major capital component--the value of the earth's ecosystem services. It was a staggering omission: Calculations at that time placed the value of those services--water storage, atmosphere regulation, climate control, and others--at $33 trillion per year. Not accounting for that cost has led to waste on a grand scale, the authors maintain. This article shows how a few farsighted companies, like DuPont and Xerox, were able to find powerful business opportunities in conserving resources on a similarly grand scale. Their early embrace of natural capitalism is even more important to emulate today. Natural capitalism comprises four major shifts in business practices. The first involves dramatically increasing the productivity of natural resources--by as much as 100-fold. In the second stage, companies adopt closed-loop production systems that yield no waste or toxicity. The third stage requires a fundamental change of business model--from selling products to delivering services. For example, instead of selling light bulbs, a manufacturer sells lighting services, with both the seller and the customer benefiting from the development of extremely efficient, durable bulbs. The last stage involves reinvesting in natural capital to restore, sustain, and expand the planet's ecosystem. Because natural capitalism is both necessary and profitable, it will subsume traditional industrialism, the authors argue, just as industrialism subsumed agrarianism. And the companies that are furthest down the road will have the competitive edge.

Patagonia's founder Yvon Chouinard is extremely pessimistic about the outlook for true sustainability:

I believe the accepted model of capitalism that demands endless growth deserves the blame for the destruction of nature, and it should be displaced. Failing that, I try to work with those companies and help them change the way they think about our resources.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Biosphere Economy

CSR Wire, the corporate social responsibility and sustainability resource, is highlighting a way of implementing an accounting of natural capital and its related forms of value in the overall equation of "people, planet, profit." A new analysis, called the TEEB study, will be issued this year, and is covered in Volans:

What's wrong with economists? Ever since the Industrial Revolution, Nature has been in retreat, equally undervalued by economists, accountants, engineers and politicians. Now, however, a new revolution is building. Later in 2010, Pavan Sukhdev, a former Deutsche Bank managing director, will launch the findings of the TEEB study—the acronym standing for "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity".

This is developed using ecosystems science to understand processes that create the biological and physical resources that support the existence of humanity. It's being dubbed "The Biosphere Economy". It's slowly moving into corporate accountability as global resource destruction becomes painfully obvious economic destruction.

The way that economics has traditionally viewed resource extraction is covered very clearly by Celsias, and it underscores the destructiveness of the old-economy assumptions supporting capitalist growth. These assumptions leave out the fundamental impact of extraction and pollution on the global biosphere, and like many accounting sleight-of-hand leverages seen in the imploding banking sector, it leverages debt right up to systems collapse. Depletion of resources is a debt, as are toxic pollutants and carbon dumping (heat).

The awakening of the corporate community to these critical issues long embedded in the discourse among ethicists and environmentalists is long overdue. A dramatic change in the way value is calculated, and how industries profit, is necessary to end the destructive pollution and carbon dump that has resulted from the activities of manufacturing, trade, construction and food harvesting industries.