21.12.2005, 18:17

'Mid-course correction' (Duplicate)


Sarah Naarden, senior interior designer for Design Division, reviews an enlightening book on sustainability.

Sarah Naarden, senior interior designer at Design Division, reviews an enlightening book on sustainability.

‘Sustainability’ for many Dubai based architects, interior designers, facilities managers and consultants is another buzzword that pops up on conference billboards and the occasional design magazine and product catalogue. Many of us were exposed to environmental design through tertiary studies but are guilty of never really embracing the principles in everyday practice.

The misconceptions we are led to believe are that sustainability, first, is not economically viable for our clients; second, is considered to be an area of expertise that doesn’t generate substantial fees; and, third, produces ugly buildings with designs based on science and not aesthetics.

Effectively, we became 'green washed' in the 1990s with the terms 'reuse', 'reduce', and recycle.

Effectively, we became ‘green washed’ in the 1990s with the terms ‘reuse’, ‘reduce’, and ‘recycle’. While this was a powerful strategy in kickstarting mainstream environmental awareness, pseudo-green products began to emerge and damage the reputation of other earth-friendly practices. Often more energy would be used to collect, wash, reform and repackage the recycled goods, ultimately producing more carbon omissions, than if the product was produced from scratch.

As leaders in the rapidly developing Middle East region, we must be responsible in applying global environmental concerns in a localised manner.

In the midst of Dubai's frantic construction boom, we find little time to update our product and practice knowledge. As leaders in the rapidly developing Middle East region, we must be responsible in applying global environmental concerns in a localised manner. A good start would be to address the criticism the international community aims at our colossal energy-consuming developments, which have become a trademark of this region. This can be done by raising this question with our clients and developers: why do we need sustainability in a region of abundant oil resources?

“Denial is alluring, even seductive,” says Ray Anderson in his book Mid-Course Correction, Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model. At some stage there needs to be a turning point in each of us to face the responsibilities of our environment, which is in crisis. For Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer, the turning point came like a “spear to his chest”.

Sarah Naarden
Sarah Naarden

With a personal approach, the book accounts the challenges he faced transforming the petroleum dependant company into a model for sustainable enterprise. The philosophy guiding Anderson’s passion for sustainable development is that it is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing too. He begins with defining sustainability and makes reference to principles outlined in Paul Hawkins’ Ecology of Commerce (1993).

Corporations need to be accountable for what we take from the earth, what we make and what we do to the earth, and what we leave behind.

Anderson also calls upon the definitions of sustainability used by The Natural Step, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) in Sweden established in 1989. They encompass the above three principles and add a fourth that addresses worldwide human needs and rights.

Mid-Course Correction is written accessibly with the lay person in mind but skillfully provides information that appeals to business executives concerned with the bottom line. Economic sustainability principles, we learn, can co-exist with new prosperity in business and gain unprecedented financial success. The new Interface model saved $60-70 million in its first few years by applying energy and resource efficiency. At the same time, the company managed to improve the working conditions of 7,000 employees in more than 40 countries.

Essentially, Anderson invites business and industry leaders to take responsibility for change and commit to adopting sustainable practices. He stresses that education is crucial but we cannot wait for the voices of youth to emerge as business leaders. We also cannot wait for governments to make changes as they are typically reactive – taking interest only once mass media attention has been cultivated and political agendas can be fulfilled. However, in a pleasing development in 1997, Anderson was appointed co-chair of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, which advises the White House on environmental policy.

But essentially, the challenge of facing our won mid-course correction lies within one's own power. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi: "If you want change, you must be the change."

Other significant publications that discuss sustainability include Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough (2002) and Biomimicry, by Janine M Benyus (2002).

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