Blog 3 – Reducing My Footprint

This week we spoke a lot about how to design for the future. Michael Pawlyn’s TEDTalk was all about using nature’s genius in architecture. He began with an example of the spinneret glands on the bottom of a spider that produce six different types of silk – all of these are then spun together to create a fiber stronger than humans have ever made. He explained that the closest we have ever gotten to producing a fiber this strong was done under extreme temperature and pressure, and tons of pollution. Yet somehow, the spider creates this fiber at an average temperature and pressure with raw materials of dead flies and water. Pawlyn’s point was that we clearly have a lot to learn in terms of designing for the future of our planet. But thankfully, we have nature all around us to learn from.

Another thing that really interested me this week was the concept of closing the loop in commerce. Pawlyn touched on this subject with the Cardboard to Caviar project by Graham Wiles. The idea came from concern with the large amounts of food, cardboard, and plastic waste produced by all the restaurants and shops in their area. He explained that they were paid to collect the waste from the restaurants which was then shredded and sold as horse bedding. Once the bedding was soiled they would collect it and put it into compost that produced worms which were then fed to fish that eventually produced caviar. This caviar was then sold back to the restaurants that they had collected the waste from. My first thought after hearing Pawlyn talk about this example was how in the world could someone come up with turning waste into caviar? But this idea of a closed loop in commerce, or cradle-to-cradle, is the way we all need to be thinking about commerce and design.

The article “Industrial Ecology Defined” by Graedel & Allenby was also very eye opening in terms of sustainable design. The most interesting part of the article was they way they displayed the problem with the way we are currently designing. They created a table showing how our previous solutions we designed to solve a problem have now created an environmental problem. For example, we needed nontoxic, non-flammable refrigerants so we created chlorofluorocarbons – which has now caused there to be a hole in the ozone. Industrial ecology seeks to encourage the designer to view the entire economy as an interconnected system. What stood out to me in this article was that the number one factor of industrial ecology is the elimination of waste. The way that society views waste is a problem in and of itself because waste isn’t actually useless. If someone can take cardboard waste and eventually turn it into caviar, I can only imagine what else we can transform the economic loop.

We were instructed to take a quiz that would calculate our carbon footprint and I was extremely surprised by the difference between the average American’s footprint versus the world’s average. The average American’s carbon footprint is 27 tons of CO2 per year, while the world’s average footprint per person is 5.5 tons per year. My results were a total of 23 tons of CO2 per year, with over half of that being the use of home energy. I am currently living in a very old house in Stillwater that doesn’t exactly have the most sustainable appliances. My goal for this semester is to reduce my carbon footprint by at least 5 points. I will focus on reducing the energy I use throughout the day by turning off the lights when I leave a room, utilizing the natural light from windows during the day, and walking to class rather than driving.

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