Early in my career I was inspired by an essay written by William McDonough. The essay is full of insight and analogies that have stuck with me all these years. For example, following Peter Senge, McDonough asks “Who’s role is the leader on a ship crossing the ocean?” It’s not the captain, navigator or the helmsman. No, the leader of that ship is the designer of that ship, because you can be the best captain in the world, but if your ship is not designed to be seaworthy, you’re going down.
McDonough explores the human process of design in his essay and argues one should take a systemic and multi-generational approach. We should put filters on our thinking instead of industrial outlet pipes and smokestacks. He suggests we ask, “How do we love all the children?”.
More specific guidance comes from The Natural Step. The Natural Step is based on agreement about basic science:
- 1. Matter and energy can not be created or destroyed. (According to the first law of thermodynamics and the principle of matter conservation.)
- 2. Matter and energy tend to disperse. (According to the second law of thermodynamics)
- 3. Material quality can be characterized by the concentration and the structure of matter. (We never consume matter, only its energy, purity and structure)
- 4. Net increase in material quality on earth is produced by sun-driven processes. (According to the second law of thermodynamics)
The Natural Step started in 1988 in Sweden by Karl-Henrik Robert, the underlying principles and ideas come from the consensus of around 100 scientists, developed in 21 iterations (drafts). The Natural Step principles simplify, without reducing to triviality, the fundamental underpinnings for sustainable life on the earth.
It’s been twenty years since I read that essay and learned about The Natural Step. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far as a designer and there is still more to do.
Photos from Channel Rock