Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Burning Wood: Not So Carbon Neutral?

Posted in Models, Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on March 1st, 2011

Source: The Ecologist

Image: Shandchem via flickr CC

From Turning our Victorian Terrace into an Eco-Home part seven – Heating by Sue Wheat:

Sue Wheat thought a wood-burning stove was the greenest way to heat her house until a chat with authors, Nick Grant and Alan Clarke, made her think again. The biggest crisis of her eco-refurb so far? You bet it was!

With the cold weather closing in, it was time to think about green ways to heat our home.  We chose a Stovax multi-fuel stove, which we were lucky enough to get from friends.


In a city where every other house seems to be having its kitchen or bathroom ripped out, there is vast amounts of burnable scrap wood lying around waiting to go to the dump, which could instead be heating your house. Paying for wood to burn seems positively stupid when you can pick up a week’s supply from neighbours, most of whom are all too willing to let you have it. I can’t see the logic in buying wood that’s been transported hundreds of miles either, so I’ve become something of an eagle-eyed wood-spotting obsessive. We look for wood that’s unvarnished, unpainted and untreated, and either carry it home, or rope in friends with cars or vans to pick it up for us. I’ve also got a few friendly builders who drop off scrap wood to us (thus saving them dumping fees), and a supply of off-cuts from a furniture repair workshop. To build up next year’s wood store, which we made from scrap wooden pallets covered with tarpaulin, we’re planning to buy some logs from a local tree surgeon and season them for a year, by which time the excitement of dragging wood out of skips and yards may well have worn off.


As I basked rather smugly in the warm glow of our pretty, near zero-carbon heating system, for a good few weeks I was unaware that things were about to get tricky. Then with one click on the mouse, I stumbled across a website which catapulted me into my biggest eco-refurbishment crisis yet. It seems, according to some of the eminent researchers at the Association of Environmentally Conscious Builders [AECB] that burning wood is not carbon neutral after all. I was gutted, to say the least. I emailed the AECB in a panic, who put me onto the authors of Biomass: A Burning Issue, Nick Grant and Alan Clarke. Their paper concludes that while it’s true that trees do absorb carbon dioxide when they grow, it doesn’t mean that the best use for the wood biomass is burning it. Burning, say Grant and Clarke, produces more carbon emissions than burning gas. Disaster.

Instead, they argue that timber should be left unburnt, thus imprisoning the carbon, and put to other uses; for example, as structural timber, insulation material or furniture. As owners of low-energy houses fuelled by wood burning stoves, they are both gutted too. ‘We don’t want people to hate us,’ Nick told me. ‘Please don’t shoot the messenger.’ The unfortunate result of assuming that wood-burning is carbon neutral is that it has been promoted by just about everyone, which has meant, as they point out, that wood is now being burnt faster than it’s grown, leading to rising prices and unsustainable burning practices to start.

Read the full article by Sue Wheat, and check out the comments section which has some useful links posted by the author.


Tracking the Impact of Films: “The End of the Line”

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on February 28th, 2011

Source: The Ecologist

From “The End of the Line: how a film changed the way we eat fish” by Tom Levitt and Ali Thomas:

A new report highlights the lasting impact of The End of the Line in raising awareness of unsustainable fishing practices – and illustrates how radical new film funding models can work.

More than one million people have now watched The End of the Line, a groundbreaking expose of the consequences of overfishing, according to an evaluation of the film’s impact. The film was the first major documentary to look at the impact of overfishing on the world’s oceans with a quarter of the world’s fish stocks being exploited to extinction and a further half at, or close to, their maximum capacity. It highlighted how many of well-known species, including bluefin tuna and cod, are likely to be extinct by 2048.

Although initially watched by less than 10,000 people in the cinema, the film managed to reach a much wider audience of 4.7 million in the UK through a combination of media coverage, strong campaigning – and later – TV screenings. It also inspired a wave of coverage of unsustainable fishing practices, including the recent TV series ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight’.

A new report by the Britdoc Foundation said post-film campaign work around the documentary meant that for each film watcher, a further 510 people had heard about it. A quarter of a million people alone watched the film’s trailer on YouTube.

The team behind the film set up consumer focused websites ‘Seafood Watch Widget’ and ‘Fish to Fork’ to allow people to check on the sustainability of popular supermarket fish species. It also advised on restaurants selling fish species listed as endangered by the Marine Stewardship council (MSC).


Read the full article (there’s lots more great detail) by Tom Levitt and Ali Thomas

Sustainability: Longevity V. Maintenance

Posted in Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on February 24th, 2011

Source: Wide Urban World

Photo of Teotihuacan © K Archdeacon

From “Were ancient cities sustainable?” by Michael E. Smith:

As an archaeologist, I have a very different view of sustainability than most scholars who study the contemporary world. For sustainability today, one of the standard definitions is that of Gro Harlem Bruntland: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” There is much debate and discussion about this definition and its usefulness, but the dual components of current practices and potential future outcomes are fundamental for most writers.

Archaeology deals with human society over long time spans—centuries and even millennia. For me, a sustainable society is one that lasts for a long time. In central Mexico, Teotihuacan society flourished for five centuries or more, while many of the societies that came later were only around for a couple of centuries before collapsing. Teotihuacan was far more sustainable. People sometimes wonder why Classic Maya civilization collapsed, assuming that their society and practices must have been defective. But the Maya cities lasted even longer than Teotihuacan. My own society in the USA has lasted less than half as long as the Classic Maya, so perhaps the Maya had a more sustainable society than we have today.


Read the rest of this article by Michael E. Smith.

World’s first post-growth economy?

Posted in Opinion, Research by Rob Eales on February 9th, 2011

Source: Make Wealth History

Image by Matthew David Powell via Flickr under this Creative Commons licence

One of the problems with moving towards a more sustainable model for the world seems to be the current economic system which champions, and is based on, growth.  It is hard to image how the world could be like once this model has been superseded:  what will it look like?  How will I fit in to it?

Perhaps however a post-growth world is already starting to appear or in some cases is already here,

From: Japan: the world’s first post-growth economy by Jeremy

Or do we? Perhaps the world already has a post-growth society, albeit an unintentional one. […]

As far as economists are concerned, this is a tragedy and a disaster. How the mighty have fallen. Japan’s GDP is essentially unchanged since the early nineties, its share of global GDP falling from 17 to just 4%. China overtook it last year to become the world’s second largest economy, and now it limps along as a economic failed state, a cautionary tale for students of capitalism.

And yet, the lights are still on, everything still works. Literacy is high, and crime is low. Life expectancy is better than almost anywhere on earth – 82 years to the US’ 78.

(Not sure what a post-growth ecomony is?  I wasn’t… A Post-Growth Economy FAQ helps.  On the same site.)

Dispersed Cities Vs MegaCities

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on February 7th, 2011

Via Trendwatching

Image of Mumbai by Abhisek Sarda via flickr CC

As unfashionable as it might sound, what if we thought less about the benefits of urban density and more about the many possibilities for proliferating more human-scaled urban centers; what if healthy growth turns out to be best achieved through dispersion, not concentration?

Foreign Policy article Urban Legends: Why suburbs, not cities, are the answer by Joel Kotkin:

The human world is fast becoming an urban world — and according to many, the faster that happens and the bigger the cities get, the better off we all will be. The old suburban model, with families enjoying their own space in detached houses, is increasingly behind us; we’re heading toward heavier reliance on public transit, greater density, and far less personal space. Global cities, even colossal ones like Mumbai and Mexico City, represent our cosmopolitan future, we’re now told; they will be nerve centers of international commerce and technological innovation just like the great metropolises of the past — only with the Internet and smart phones.

It’s far less clear whether the extreme centralization and concentration advocated by these new urban utopians is inevitable — and it’s not at all clear that it’s desirable.

Not all Global Cities are created equal. We can hope the developing-world metropolises of the future will look a lot like the developed-world cities of today, just much, much larger — but that’s not likely to be the case. Today’s Third World megacities face basic challenges in feeding their people, getting them to and from work, and maintaining a minimum level of health. In some, like Mumbai, life expectancy is now at least seven years less than the country as a whole. And many of the world’s largest advanced cities are nestled in relatively declining economies — London, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo. All suffer growing income inequality and outward migration of middle-class families. Even in the best of circumstances, the new age of the megacity might well be an era of unparalleled human congestion and gross inequality.

Perhaps we need to consider another approach. As unfashionable as it might sound, what if we thought less about the benefits of urban density and more about the many possibilities for proliferating more human-scaled urban centers; what if healthy growth turns out to be best achieved through dispersion, not concentration? Instead of overcrowded cities rimmed by hellish new slums, imagine a world filled with vibrant smaller cities, suburbs, and towns: Which do you think is likelier to produce a higher quality of life, a cleaner environment, and a lifestyle conducive to creative thinking?

So how do we get there? First, we need to dismantle some common urban legends.


Read the rest of this article by Joel Kotkin on the Foreign Policy site for some interesting points about future suburbs (clusters of services in the places people live) and some eye-candy (if you like cities, which I do).

Sustainable Refrainables: Poster Design Competition

Posted in seeking by Kate Archdeacon on December 27th, 2010

Source: Core 77

Sustainable Refrainables” is a poster design competition celebrating words of persuasion. Designers tell stories. We use those stories to convey complex ideas in an engaging and meaningful way. One of those most complex ideas we deal with is about sustainable design—how to do it creatively, and how to garner support from our clients to do it effectively. Frameworks can get dry very quickly. Case studies can only take you so far. Often times, what we really need is a powerful opening salvo to jumpstart the dialogue.

The Compostmodern Core77 Design Competition invites designers to share those mantric phrases they find most powerful in communicating positive action. Maybe the phrase is something as simple as “I never use the word ‘sustainability.'” or “The first rule is listen. The second rule is to ignore what you heard and do it better.” or “There is no silver bullet, just silver buckshot.” Whatever your magic phrase, design it up in poster form, upload it to the competition site, and comment on your favorites. We’re looking for your most graphic, persuasive quotables!

Deadline for submissions January 02, 2011
Website for more details:

Future biodiversity – The role of cities and local authorities

Posted in Models, Research, Sustainable Cities by Kate Archdeacon on November 10th, 2010

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

Image: AcidFlask via flickr.  CC license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Image: AcidFlask via flickr CC license

Slowly out of the shadows by Sturle Hauge Simonsen

Cities demand a stronger voice in curbing global biodiversity loss.
It has yet to receive the same acknowledgment as climate change, but putting the breaks on biodiversity loss is becoming increasingly important on the political agenda.

Reports state that continuing biodiversity loss is predicted, but could be slowed (pending required policy choices) and a Stern review-like report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) has given natural assessments a significant boost.

Better frameworks, please
As countries strived to carve out the careful wordings for a ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity at the COP10 in Nagoya, cities and local authorities used the momentum to boost their own role in managing biodiversity.

Their message is clear: Give us a better policy framework and we will unfold the local potential to protect global biodiversity.

As the world turns increasingly urban, with more than five billion people projected to live in cities by 2030, it is becoming increasingly recognised that cities are important role players in halting global biodiversity loss.

Read the rest

Building as Teaching Tool for Sustainability

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on October 18th, 2010

Image: Ross Barney Architects

From an article on World Architects about the James | Swenson Civil Engineering Building by John Hill:

As sustainability continues to take hold in the architectural profession, the most desirable projects enable designers to express green features, making them educational devices to the clients and users. Chicago firm Ross Barney Architects has done such a thing to great effect at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. The architects answered some questions about their design of the James | Swenson Civil Engineering Building.



Designed to display the building systems as a pedagogical tool, the building showcases the structural, and mechanical systems as well as stormwater management techniques. The building acts as a working classroom for the students using the space. Structurally, the building utilizes precast concrete walls, precast hollowcore floor slabs, and steel. The puzzle piece precast walls of the structural lab educate that precast can be formed into any shape, while still forming together in a unique pattern offering slot windows throughout the finished concrete box. The south wall of the space retains the exterior tilt-up braces and kickers that are used as temporary supports during the construction process to feature the process of this construction.



The oversized scuppers serve a functional role in preventing rainwater from overflowing the storm sewer system and causing environmental damage to the local stream beds. Water is directed from the rooftop, down the scuppers, and into a trio of above ground Corten cylinders, which distribute the water into an underground French drain. This reused greywater fills the flume in the Hydraulics Laboratory for student experiments, or gradually filters back into the hydrological system of the site. In addition to the French drain, a number of other stormwater retention strategies were employed, including; an intensive green roof over 30% of the total roof area, rain gardens with non-irrigated native plantings, and permeable pavers. Through the combination of greywater reuse and the implementation of low-flow restroom fixtures, a 56% reduction in water usage was achieved.

Read the full article by John Hill.

Integrating Sustainability Into Design Education

Posted in Models, Research by Rob Eales on September 9th, 2010

Source: Core 77

From “The designers’ accord educational toolkit: what does it really take to encourage sustainable practice?” by Valerie Casey:

How can we start thinking about sustainability as intrinsic part of good design, instead of an addendum? How can we embrace the potential impact of our craft to design new services, shape organizational behavior, and enable policy change, not just churn out artifacts? How can we assume accountability for what our designs influence, and not just the design itself?

These are the questions many of us have been asking constantly—and answering with only with limited success—for years. I am reminded of the confusion designers have around this topic each time I publicly speak about sustainability—the first comment from the audience during Q+A is always the same: “Tell us what to do!” We are a profession who spends our entire lives generating new ideas, challenging the status quo, and building glorious concepts from nothing, yet remarkably we are paralysed when confronted with the issue of how to meaningfully engage in the most important issue of our time.

One of the best ways we can advance our mission to practice sustainable design is to make sure the next generation of designers will graduate with a value system that reflects the new realities of our profession.

This is the challenge the Designers Accord sought to address when it started 3 years ago. The concept was simple: if designers, educators, and business leaders could openly share knowledge and experience about sustainability, we would collectively (and more quickly) build our intelligence around these issues, and then generate more innovative and world-changing ideas.

We all know that a single solution, technology, or person will not solve the humanitarian and climate change challenges we face. There is no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot. One of the best ways we can advance our mission to practice sustainable design is to make sure the next generation of designers will graduate with a value system that reflects the new realities of our profession. With this in mind, two weeks ago the Designers Accord launched another means of sharing knowledge with the Toolkit to integrate sustainability into design education.

Read the full article by Valerie Casey on Core 77.

Grow Different, Not Bigger: Animation

Posted in Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on August 12th, 2010

From the Drucker Institute:

Wegmans, a regional (US) grocery chain with just 75 stores in five states, earlier this year beat out its much bigger rivals—Kroger, Publix and Safeway—to be named tops in its industry in a major consumer survey. The recognition caused one marketing expert to note that “you don’t have to be the biggest to be the best.”

In a world in which high-growth companies such as Google tend to grab the headlines, it’s an easy lesson to forget. But it’s one that Peter Drucker promoted. In a 1979 essay, Drucker advised that “nothing can grow forever” and that “today every business needs . . . ways to distinguish healthy growth from fat and cancer.”

British author and social philosopher Charles Handy also echoed these ideas in a 2009 Drucker Centennial lecture. In this short cartoon (under 3 mins), the Drucker Institute has brought Handy’s words to life, illustrating the distinction between healthy growth and unchecked “growth for growth’s sake.”