Win-Win Solutions in Sustainability

In the John Ambler excerpt from the “A New Green History of the World” article, Ambler emphasized the importance of finding win-win solutions – ie. solutions that benefitted both the environment and people. This viewpoint resonated with me because so often it seems like one is chosen at the expense of the other, either the environment over people or people with disregard for the environment; however, I think the only real solutions are the ones which benefit both people and the environment. One way Ambler suggested to achieve these win-win solutions was to get the community involved on the local level in the policies and practices being implemented, rather than taking a centralized, top-down approach where the local communities have no say.

In her TEDxTalk, Leyla Acaroglu offered another method to reach a win-win solution, and that was through smarter, systems-based design solutions. Acaroglu noted that often people get hung up on using energy efficient technology or “green” materials, but she argues that the real problem is consumption, illustrating how redesigning everyday objects like refrigerators or tea kettles would be substantially more impactful while still serving the needs of people.

A key thing Leyla says to keep in mind when designing systems-based solutions is to think about the whole life cycle of the product, from extraction to end-of-life. She called this the “life cycle assessment.” This assessment reminds me of what is commonly referred to as “cradle-to-cradle” (C2C) in the construction industry. The idea is to eliminate single-use items or items that once they are used head straight into the landfill (cradle-to-grave). C2C is fascinating to me because I love the idea of reusing a material continually, reinventing its function so that it never dies. The C2C process reminds me of the natural life cycle process of the environment, like when a plant grows, dies, and becomes nutrients to spur new growth. The cycle continues. In a way the C2C process is biophilic in itself because it’s mimicking a process found in nature. Although, there are many other forms of biophilic design as well, including environmental features, natural shapes and forms, natural patterns and processes, light and space, place-based relationships, and evolved human-nature relationships. Out of all of these, it is difficult for me to choose a favorite because they are all so valuable. What I love about biophilic design is that it really is another win-win solution because it is more sustainable and geared towards stewarding the environment well, and it also increases the well-being of people too, as research shows that connection to nature and natural processes is beneficial for human health and satisfaction.

The wicked problem of environmental degradation is one that needs to be solved, and through the takeaways from this week’s content, we have learned several ways to work towards sustainability using “win-win” solutions such as community-involvement in policy making, systems-based problem solving, and sustainable architectural design methods such as C2C and Biophilic design. Working together with the combination of these win-win solutions like these will help us to tackle the issue of environmental degradation and begin to make change.

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