A Living Systems Approach to Design - Sustainability and Beyond

If you're interested in transcending every assumption you have about the now banal concept of sustainability, look no further. I was lucky enough to debate with and learn from Bill during a regenerative design course he taught and it proved to generate some of the most rewarding and enlightening discussion I've ever had. The guy is a walking encyclopedia of life-changing stuff.

- Timothy Terway -

Always thinking ahead of the pack.

- Mary V, Sustainable Industries: The business source for leaders of the New Economy -

To sustain life it is necessary to understand life. The interrelationships between water, soil, sun, and shelter – the basic systems that support us and all species – need to be addressed as a whole system of life giving processes. Life is a process that is continually making itself and evolving and we are an integral part of this process. If this is not understood we will fail in our effort to achieve a sustainable condition.

The complex interactions of life and the process necessary to understand the unique nature of the ‘whole system’ in each place we build require a different design process - a process that identifies the key species, systems, and interrelationships that are unique to the place we are building. This takes an iterative process of looking through different lenses at the very beginning of the design – even before site selection if possible. Some of these lenses are energy, CO 2 burden, life cycle assessment, life cycle cost, ever-evolving LEED standards, habitat health, soil health, hydrology, human and ecosystem symbioses, and so on. Then this critical conceptual step needs to be expanded farther. All of these issues call out to be held and embraced as if they are one entity. The pieces need to be understood as aspects that are in integral relationship with each other – because they are.

This may seem like a lot to grasp but once engaged at a whole systems level one wonders how we, as a culture, hopefully striving for unity, could ever have designed without an understanding of the relationship between these vital sub-systems. This takes a bit of extra time in the beginning of the project for people new to this way of working and thinking. Understanding and engaging in this process might be likened to a blind man attempting to understand an elephant. It will take a few circles around the animal in order to understand it with any thoroughness. Viewing sustainability through the multiple lenses of technological efficiency and living system health requires us to weave together the unique patterns of life in each place we build.