Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book Review: The Upcycle, beyond sustainability - designing for abundance

This marvelous book is your inspiration and your guide for changing how you think about environmental sustainability.

Michael Braungart's and William McDonough's follow-on to Cradle to Cradle reflects how two powerful minds have grown in their work and their understanding...and we all benefit.

I am listing here three important take-aways for museums, zoos, gardens, aquariums and sites, but please treat yourself to the full read: smart thinking, positive approaches, and valuable language for describing what we're doing and how to live green and prosper.

  • This work has "no endgame". That means that, instead of finishing your checklist, you continuously improve. I believe that checklists provide a valuable framework for getting started and learning but, after some experience making green choices, you can graduate to project metrics and institutional values that accelerate change and involve everyone around you. "No endgame" also encourages you to focus less on reducing negative impact and more on creating positive solutions for the planet and your life and work - it adds whole dimensions.  
  • "Starting with a metric blinds planners to the larger effect of ones actions". A values-based plan allows for more expansive thinking and options. A simplistic example: focusing only on energy use reduction closes the door to renewables; you will get better results pursuing a value: the most appropriate collections care with the least fossil fuel use possible at this time. Values encourage holistic approaches that might include microclimates, buffering, reorganization, energy efficiency and labor savings, renewable energy and co-generation. Metrics are critical features, but they are only part of the picture. Your goal is to mature in this work until you can start from a bigger place.
  • Strive for "additionality: more of a good thing". With the collections care example, if "the good thing" is quality collections care, let's have more of it. Remember when visible storage became a "thing"? Museums began to use quality storage as a visible display and increased public access. That's additionality. Let's say your city now requires you to manage all your stormwater onsite. You can do that with cisterns for water reuse, and catchment ponds and rain gardens to retain water as it percolates into the soil. The good thing is reducing flow (with dirt, oil, leaves, etc.) into surface water sources or treatment plants, and reducing the chances of treatment plant overflows that send waste and surface water straight to rivers and oceans. The additionality is water available for reuse to flush toilets or to water plantings, and gardens that contribute to the quality of open space for viewing, programs, or events, and to habitat for bees and birds. "Additionality" supports my mantra that good green work always "does more than one thing". Synergy can take you a long way. 

We all need encouragement as we keep on with the good hard work. The Upcycle gives a good dose, and helps shift us all to a positive outlook of abundance, opportunity, hope and success.

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