Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sustainability by Design

John Ehrenfeld, Executive Director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology, gave us some key points from his new book, Sustainability by Design, published by Yale University Press and led a lively discussion on sustainability from an organizational perspective. John describes himself as a technologist turned sociologist. Until eight years ago, John was the Director of the Technology, Business and Environment Program at MIT. John believe that the concept of sustainability has to go far beyond remedying existing harm. This view lacks a vision of the future. We need a clear vision of a sustainable world; a systems perspective. Unsustainability is an unintended consequence of our modern culture. We've just seen the collapse of an unsustainable system (in the financial markets). John defines sustainability as "the possibility that human and other life will exist on this planet forever." A sense of possibility is missing in much of our activities.
The word "flourishing" come from "flower." A flourishing environment is constantly emerging; not fixed or measurable. It can be attained and sustained but not managed. Complex systems are be
yond comprehension. So, how do we get there? Our current view of reality, based on scientific "enlightenment," is that we are external to our environment; we are outside of and separate from nature. We don't see nature as something that we need to care about. Science and technology are seen as perfecting nature for humans; therefor, we neglect nature. We need to recover responsibility for the world we live in. Technology has the effect of separating us from our environment (example: commodified, packaged, frozen meals separate us from the communal, loving act of cooking). See John's book for more details.

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