Redesigning industry

The first industrial revolution was based on brute force, cheap energy, wanton exploitation of resources, endless consumption, and careless waste. That age is over.

The great challenge in the next century will be to harmonize human activity with the earth's fragile biosphere. Companies, cities and metropolitan regions must redesign themselves. We will all have to create new lives based on ecological principles.

It's hard to imagine what all this might mean. But consider the following "design assignment" posed by William McDonough, one of the world's leading ecological designers. He asks us to imagine designing a system which:

  • Puts billions of pounds of highly toxic material into the air, water and soil every year.
  • Measures prosperity by the depletion of natural capital, resource materials and energy.
  • Measures progress in the number of smokestacks.
  • Measures productivity by how few people are working.
  • Requires thousands of complex regulations to keep people and natural systems from being poisoned too quickly.
  • Produces materials so dangerous they will require thousands of future generations to maintain constant vigilance.

McDonough says that these are the retroactive design assignments of the First Industrial Revolution. It's a frightening design problem, he adds, because these assignments and values appear unethical.

But now imagine being asked to design a system which:

  • Releases no highly toxic material into the air, water or soil.
  • Measures prosperity by how little capital is depleted and how much current income is accrued.
  • Measures progress by the number of workplaces emitting no harmful substances.
  • Measures productivity by how many people are working.
  • Requires no regulation or intergenerational vigilance because there is nothing there to destroy anyone or any living system.

These are the design assignments and values of the Second Industrial Revolution, McDonough says. They represent opportunities for creative people and institutions to create a better world.

People in Greater Cleveland are already tackling this new design assignment. It's a fascinating, interdisciplinary discussion that goes far beyond the usual environmental activists to include architects, engineers, builders, businesses, planners, and university researchers. They are creating new organizations and projects to push us to think in new terms.



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EcoCity Cleveland
3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
Copyright 2002-2003



Redesigning industry topics

Eco-entrepreneurs in Cleveland
CERES Principles
Dow Jones Green Index
World Business Council
Labor-enviro (blue-green) alliances
Life-cycle responsibility
Sustainable infrastructure
Clean air challenges in Ohio

Companies going "green"
Great Lakes Brewing Company

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