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Concepts of Sustainability: Towards Designing a World that Works John R. Ehrenfeld Visiting Professor Technical University of Delft.

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Presentation on theme: "Concepts of Sustainability: Towards Designing a World that Works John R. Ehrenfeld Visiting Professor Technical University of Delft."— Presentation transcript:

1 Concepts of Sustainability: Towards Designing a World that Works John R. Ehrenfeld Visiting Professor Technical University of Delft

2 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Why Think About Sustainability Now? A Biological Argument  The primary source is our evolutionary biological survival drive.  Wired into our innate neural circuitry as “instincts” and drives.  Ability to classify experiences as ‘good’ or “bad”  Development over human evolutionary time of social conventions and ethical rules that enhance basic biological survival possibilities.  Historic augmentation of hard-wired circuits - a ‘suprainstinctual repertoire”  Representation of these “learned” rules in language.  Justice, equality, dignity...  Individual acquisition of these rules through education and acculturation.  Social construction of “sustainability” from reflexive fears arising from collective experience. The biological basis of sustainability is based on A. Damasio’s book, Descartes’ Error.

3 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld What IS Sustainability? An Ontological Definition Sustainability is a mere possibility that human and other life will flourish on the Earth forever. Flourishing means not only survival, but also the realization of whatever we humans declare makes life meaningful—individual satisfaction, dignity, freedom, justice… Sustainability is not a thing or state. It is a notion that connects the present to the future in a satisfying way. It captures and moves to quell the temporal dread of anxiety and substitute a satisfying mood.

4 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Creating A Sustainable World By Design  Design is a deliberate intervention into cultural routines in order to solve a persistent problem or to realize a new future opportunity.  Design occurs outside of everyday routine activities.  Design applies to all categories of cultural structures.  Designers who aim to create new structure for sustainability will address today’s problems and tomorrow’s opportunities.  Designers must know why they do what they do.  Designers draw on embedded models of the world.

5 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Design Is not Engineering nor Analysis  Designers bring forth new forms out of possibility.  Innovations are not limited by positive knowledge.  New forms rest on metaphors drawn from the stories that designers and artists tell about life and the world.  Engineers (and analysts) create predictions about the future.  The future is based on and extends the past.  Uncertainty creates [enormous] potential for unintended consequences.

6 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Two Possible Models of Culture and Social Change  Standard Neo-classical Economic Positivist Paradigm  The invisible hand aggregates individual free choice into a social optimum.  Scientific knowledge is the only form of “truth” and is liberating.  Technological change is always progressive.  Sociological Structuration Model  Individual choice is constrained by societal structures.  Knowledge is historical and contingent.  There is no teleology or immanent progression of change.  Change is dialectic in response to reflections of problems and opportunities.

7 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld A Model of Action, Learning and Change* Reflexive Monitoring Tools Commitments Authority Outcomes THE “REAL” World Shared beliefs OUR World Normative Rules Intentions * Based on Giddens’ structuration theory

8 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Domains for Designing Social Change  Shared beliefs  Education (teachers)  Critique (philosophers and social critics)  Normative rules  Legislation and regulatory policy (politicians)  Authority  Institution building (planners and policy analysts)  Organizational design (consultants)  Tools  Technological innovation (industrial designers and engineers)

9 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Foundations of Sustainable Frameworks  Rationalistic concepts (Out of past experience)  Utilitarian, neo-economics  Competitive markets  Technological optimism  Responsibility to nature and others for our actions  Humanistic concepts (What makes us humans)  Collective flourishing - justice, fairness, dignity, equality  Individual flourishing - authentic satisfaction, emancipation  From having to being  Naturalistic concepts (Our place within the ecosystem)  Viewing nature as a sustainable metaphor  Respect for limits/carrying capacity  Concern with evolutionary threats

10 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld [Excess?] Consumption: Symptom of Unsustainability  Consumption has become a metaphor for satisfaction.  Satisfaction of many of the permanent domains of human concerns (needs) has become neglected.  ‘Wants’ have become ‘needs’ or ‘rights’.  Satisfaction is the consequence of coordinated action with other human beings. Modern linguistic construction reifies action and converts it to things.  Market economies promote the acquisition of things.

11 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Product Service Systems (PSS)…  are systems of technological artifacts (products), information, financial arrangements, and other supporting infrastructure that fulfills customers demands over time.  are consistent with notions of an information or functional society.  reflect growing focus on systems in sustainability thinking.

12 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Relation of PSS to Sustainability  Eco-efficient product [service] systems can result in significant dematerialization relative to conventional product systems.  Strategies: dematerialization, product prolongation, EPR, asset management  Potential gains are offset by rebound effects.  Sustainable [product] service systems can impact the humanistic dimension and change patterns of demand permanently.  Strategies: Product semantics and scripts, authentic satisfaction, preference change, cultural change (structuration)  Changes are deep-seated and promote even more sustainable innovation.

13 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Selected Examples: Product/Service Systems  Xerox 265 office copiers  Zero waste to landfill  Asset management  GreenWheels car sharing system  25,000 users in the Netherlands  Interface Carpet  Evergreen lease  Solenium fully recyclable carpeting  MITKA bike vehicle  Human-powered road alternative to autos  DuPont/Ford auto painting arrangement  In-house contract painting service

14 IST Meeting on Design Engineering © John Ehrenfeld Transformative Potential Of Products & Services  bring about a shift in underlying social structures to produce a more explicit sense of responsibility.  produce de-materialization; de-toxification and de- energization (or de-carbonization).  bring about a shift in the mode of social living from having to being in the sense that Fromm uses the terms. The challenge to business (and others) is to design products and services that:


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