The Solutions Are Closer Than You Think

Are we doing enough, as architects, builders, home and business owners, to help the environment? Many people, myself included, would say no. While we have programs such as LEED and ENERGY Star that help persuade architects to build more sustainable buildings and clients to want these buildings, they aren’t doing enough to change the status quo. I also do not think that our government policies and building codes are doing enough to make sure that our environmental standards are not high enough to make a true difference. Leigh Fletcher also had qualms about these policies and systems in her article. She believes that we are not doing enough to regulate our carbon emissions on a policy level and does not think our environmental rating systems are in-depth enough. A big problem with these green building initiatives is that they can add an additional initial cost, the money it takes to design and construct a building, to a project that a client may not be able to see past. One rather effective way I can think of to entice new construction to become more green would be through higher government regulations; whether it be from a federal level or city level. One of my favorite quotes on this subject was when I had the chance to ask world renowned architect Antoine Predock about his views on the LEED program and programs that follow such guidelines. He said that he believed said programs were stupid. Not because of what they stood for, but because he believed we, as architects, should design to be more environmental not because it is the hot thing to do, or to get a certified building, but because it is the right thing to do. That sentiment has stuck with me.

Doing things because they are the right thing to sounds like an easy thing to do on paper, but when you seek out real world applications, it can become difficult. We as a society have a bad “me first” mentality when it comes to our wealth and happiness. There are a few, however, that take their fortunes and help those in need and help ease the ramifications of wicked problems. There are high profile companies such as TOMS that, as many of you may know, has a one for one policy on their shoes. For every one pair of shoes purchased through them, one pair will be given to a child in need. According to their website, in the last 13 years, they have given away over 60 million pairs of shoes to children in over 70 countries. This is a perfect example of a company seeing a problem going on in society and using their platform to do something about it. They also launched an eyewear initiative in 2011 that has since helped over 400,000 people restore their site. This company has truly gone past their initial goal of helping those in need of shoes in impoverished countries and found ways in helping hundreds of thousands of people with their basic necessities that many of us take for granted. They even have a clean water initiative, launched in 2014 that has, according to their numbers, provided over 335,000 weeks of safe water in 6 countries worldwide. They are the embodiment of the term social entrepreneurship. If more companies took stock in others instead of their bottom dollar, and took notes from other philanthropic companies such as TOMS, the world would truly be a better place.

Another interesting thinking that pertains to the wicked problems we see happening is through Transformation Sustainability Research, or TSR. This is the approach of defining the systems where a problem lies, classifying direct and indirect drivers of said problem, conduction of casual chain analysis, assessing the impacts, extent, and trends of said drivers, narrowing down on the factors that influence human activities, and identify the indicators of these problems. While it sounds like a mouthful, I believe that it is an important thing to do if we are to try and tackle these hard to define problems with difficult and hard to define solutions. We can talk all we want about wanting to make a difference with these problems, but if we do not have a clear view as to what these problems are and how we may or may not be causing them, we will not have a starting point to try and rid ourselves of these issues. When we look at pollution in our rivers, oceans, forests and other natural locations, we always agree that it is an issue but never seem to have answers to it. My solution is to become more environmentally conscious when I buy products. To find products that can either be recycled well, or that are biodegradable. And to abstain from products that are single use and non-recyclable. It’s our earth and while some solutions to the big problems can be daunting, some can really be as simple as making daily choices to be a good person.

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