Dimensions & definitions
Problems & development / Change & principles
overwhelming weight of informed scientific opinion now says there is
very strong evidence that the amount of fossil fuels we burn is the
biggest factor in the increase in greenhouse gases and the major
cause of climate change. So, if we do things to ‘benefit the environment’
but do not do anything to reduce our use of fossil fuels, then we are merely
tinkering around at the edges. If we are to deal with
sustainable development we must consider the
impact of our lifestyles (primarily our energy use and our purchases) on people
and places elsewhere on the planet.
is the big urgent threat. However, climate change not only affects the
environment but also has global social and economic repercussions relating to poverty and
change will affect all of us (and may be doing so already) but it is the poor
who suffer worst and first. It is the poor who are affected most by flooding,
major storms, desertification and droughts.
change produces a rise in sea level which makes life impossible in Holland and
Bangladesh, what will happen? The population of Holland will not die, they will
move. Accommodating these people will create problems for Europe but it will
of Bangladesh will have to try to move but it will create enormous problems for the neighbouring countries and it
is impossible to imagine it happening without millions of people dying.
It has been
calculated that each person in Europe consumes three times their share of the
world’s resources. Each person in Bangladesh consumes a third of their share of
the world’s resources.
• We need
to think about social, environmental and economic issues, both as consumers and
• We need to
think through the implications of our personal decisions
• We can make
a difference, by adding serious thinking about sustainability issues to the rest
of our thinking as Design and Technology students
Principles of sustainability
'The total beauty of sustainable products'
This is the name of a book by philosopher and design guru Edwin Datschefski. In
it he describes five simple tests for sustainability - cyclic, solar, safe,
1. Is it cyclic?
Is the product made from compostable, organic materials, or from minerals that
can be continuously recycled in a 'closed loop'?
The idea here is that there should be no such thing as waste. All by-products
should be the 'food' for something else, just like photosynthesis. Metals can be recycled again and again.
Something that really has to be thrown away might be burned to release the
energy 'locked up' in it. Biodegradable materials can be composted to provide nutrients
for the soil. In this way carbon and nitrogen can re recycled.
"We've often heard that we're running out of resources. But there
are still the same number of atoms around on the earth's surface
- we have simply converted atoms into molecules that are of no use
to us. With continuous recycling of both organic and inorganic
materials, we will never run out of the resources we need."
2. Is it solar?
Do the products in manufacture and use consume only renewable energy that is
cyclic and safe?
The sun can give us energy directly through photovoltaic cells, and through
using other types of solar panels. But wave and wind power are also the product
of the sun's energy. Hydro-electricity is made possible by rain falling: again
this is powered by the sun. Biomass can be converted into energy. The sun makes
plants grow, and we eat the plants (or animals that have eaten the plants). Thus,
our energy comes indirectly from the sun. Also we can burn biomass to generate
"Each day more solar energy falls to the earth than the total amount
of energy the planet's 6 billion inhabitants would consume in 25
years. We've hardly begun to tap the potential of solar energy"
US Department of Energy - quoted by Edwin Datschefski
3. Is it safe?
Are all releases to air, water, land or space the 'food' for other systems?
A safe product or process is one that does not harm other people or life,
physically or chemically. You need to consider the whole life cycle of the
product - the raw materials, extraction and manufacturing processes, the
transport involved, the impact of distribution, sale, use (and misuse!) and
ultimate 'disposal' of the product. A totally safe product generates nothing
harmful, nor any waste, at any stage. We need also to think of the social impact
of the product or process - see point 5 below.
4. Is it efficient?
Every product requires energy, materials and water for its production and use.
Can an equivalent or better product be produced with less?
We need to reduce our use of energy, materials and water by up to 90%. In the
long term, is the product economic to make? Or does it create problems that
someone else will have to pay for in the future?
5. Is it social?
Does the product manufacture and use support basic human rights and natural
Are the working conditions safe and compatible with human dignity? Are people
paid properly at all stages of the supply chain? Does the product reinforce
equality of opportunity? Does it enhance cultural diversity? Does it encourage
participation in society?