Science Topics beginning with ‘S’:
[Refer also to Blog Post: What is Total Sustainability?]
“Sustainability is a societal goal that relates to the ability of people to safely co-exist on Earth over a long time. Specific definitions of this term are difficult to agree on and have varied with literature, context, and time. Sustainability is commonly described as having three dimensions (or pillars): environmental, economic, and social. Many publications state that the environmental dimension is the most important. For this reason, in everyday use, sustainability is often focused on countering major environmental problems, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, loss of ecosystem services, land degradation, and air and water pollution. The concept of sustainability can be used to guide decisions at the global, national, and individual levels (e.g. sustainable living).“
No shortage of Articles on the Internet Relating to Sustainability
If you do a search “What is Sustainability?” on the Internet you will find no shortage of articles and links to sites and documents discussing sustainability. You might think that with such a plethora of sustainability articles that the move to greater sustainability is all go. And maybe it is, but the size of the World economy, and more specifically the industrial sector, is very large to say the least. That is to say the challenge to roll out sustainability in all the sectors and in all geographical areas of our finite planet is no small thing. Yes, it must be done, but the job is huge. But like eating elephants (figuratively speaking), the secret is in breaking the problem into small manageable bight sized packets. Also, don’t be blinded or panicked by other people’s problems. Address your particular sustainability issues and focus on finding or designing their solutions. By all means use the Internet. no point in reinventing the wheel. But make targeted inquiries that relate to your sustainability circumstances. Then set to and make some progress.
The following article in the Harvard Business Review is an interesting case of an enterprise developing a sustainability solution for a particular company and application:
Recent Media Posts on ‘Sustainability’:
The Biosphere Rules
“Sustainability—which natural scientists define as the capacity of healthy ecosystems to continue functioning indefinitely—has become a clarion call for business. Consider General Electric’s ambitious Ecomagination project, Coca-Cola’s efforts to protect water quality, Wal-Mart’s attempt to reduce packaging waste, and Nike’s removal of toxic chemicals from its shoes. These and other laudable efforts are steps on a road described by the aluminum giant Alcan in its 2002 corporate sustainability report: “Sustainability is not a destination. It is a continuing journey of learning and change.””
However, Unruh goes on to say: “Unfortunately, Alcan had it wrong. At best, the view of sustainability as an endless journey of incremental steps does a disservice to managers seeking to square economy with ecology sooner rather than later. At worst, it serves as an excuse for inaction when it comes to building a truly sustainable business.”
Unruh goes further: “I believe that sustainability should be not a distant, foggy goal but, rather, a real destination. This view has emerged from a search begun in the 1980s, when I was an environmental consultant hired to help clean up the toxic messes of Fortune 500 companies. That work inspired me to launch a long effort to discover the true basis for sustainability. After conducting hundreds of interviews with managers, scientists, engineers, academics, designers, and architects, I came to the simple conclusion that we already know exactly what sustainability on planet Earth looks like.”
Unruh defines three Biosphere Rules (hence the title of his article):
- Rule #1: Use a Parsimonious Palette
- Rule #2: Cycle Up—Virtuously
- Rule #3: Exploit the Power of Platforms
and then he discusses how these Rule might be applied and gives some examples:
‘The Biosphere Rules in Action’
Unruh asserts that “The biosphere rules demonstrate their real value when they are integrated into an overall strategy to exploit the muscle of sustainable product platforms. If a company extends this strategy across a product line, relative costs decline as the scale of production grows, fostering profitable returns on investments in sustainability. Economic sustainability ensures environmental sustainability.”
He discusses an example from ‘Shaw Industries, a Berkshire Hathaway company’.
‘Phasing In the Biosphere Rules’
Having noted some issues with applying the rules, he then states that: “Those rules can, however, be phased in over time in a way that limits disruption. Again, there is a biospheric analog for this process. In nature, new ecosystems—pine forests, alpine meadows—don’t spring up fully formed. They develop through a gradual process known as succession, in which colonizing species alter the local environment and make it hospitable to a larger, more diverse community of organisms.”
Unruh’s first step is to “think fewer materials”. By simplifying the number and type of materials used in production recycling can be made more cost effective, he says.
His second step is to rethink design: by limiting the materials palette, the choice of design is also reduced. This will aid creating a virtuous recycling process. He says that this kind of thinking for product design means beginning at the end.
His third step is to think scale of economies. Unruh believes that following Steps one and two “can in effect establish sustainable platforms for entire product lines”.
In summary, begin the design process by designing with a specific sustainable end in view. Make sustainability not just a feature of your product or system, but an integral component and functionality of the design and its reality.
To better understand Unruh’s concept for more complete and more successful sustainability design, we need to study his article in detail. This present description does not do justice to his article .