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March 30, 2007

Dott goes to Parliament

[Last week I gave the following presentation on behalf of Designs of the time Dott 07 to the Parliamentary Design Group at the House of Commons in London].

"There are limits to a government’s power to tell people how to behave. Especially, if these edicts boil down to the command: consume less!

Besides: It’s hard to buy green, or be green, if the ways that daily life is organised life force you into un-green behaviour.

Most of the enviromental impact of the products, services and infrastructures that surround us is determined at the design stage.

Not at the point of purchase. And not at the point of use.

In Dott 07 in North East England, we are not telling people to behave sustainably.

We are co-designing, with them, more sustainable ways to organise daily life - ways that bring material benefit in the immediate term.

In Low Carb Lane, for example, our starting point is that many of us would like to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, especially at home.

To save money, if not to save the planet.

But how? We face a cacophony of competing claims.

Passionate advocates of different technologies insist to us that each has the ideal solution: Wind turbines; fuel cells; solar panels; wood-chip boilers; geothermal; Tidal. The list goes on.

Last week I heard about a new one: nanogel insulation

How can each one be the answer???

As many organisations offer advice, as technologies to choose from. In Dott, we've encountered 14 organisations that are trying to help people save energy.

And yes, Dott is number 15!

It’s also hard to pay. Few people can afford to shell out thousands of pounds just to be good - let alone to pay for something abstract and far away, like 'saving the planet'.

Low Carb Lane tackles tackles these challenges head-on, in a real street: Castle Terrace, in Ashington, Northumberland.

Here, we don't talk about saving the planet, we talk about affordable warmth, and how to achieve that.
We have set out to look at ways to make four kinds of change:
• modify everyday patterns of activity;
• choose more efficient appliances;
• add insulation;
• generate power locally.

In October, at the Dott 07 Festival, we'll present the results.

Low Carb Lane is in just one street. But in Dott's Eco Design Challenge, 16,000 school students have measured the ecological footprint of their school, using tools developed by Dott.

Between now, and June, these students will work with professional designers to develop design briefs with a practical aim: to make their school's eco-footprint smaller.

The ambition of these North East schools? To do for energy what the Stephensons did for mobility.
At our Festival, in October, 15 Dott of these schools will be working work on their projects live, helped by professonal designers.

Many other schools will come to see, to learn. We hope they will go away to do it too.

The potential is huge. Every school in the country can take the lead on sustainability in its community.

They are pioneers in what can become our Carbon Corps.

A third Dott 07 project, Move Me, also starts with a globally pressing question.

How do we improve mobility, and access to services - without adding more cars, or building new roads?

Could we do this by combining existing transport services, and vehicle movements, in smarter ways?

Scremerston County First School, in Northumberland, is the focus for this incredibly local project.
The Move Me! team has analysed the school community’s total mobility needs – including un-met ones. They are now exploring how these needs might be met by combining existing services, in smarter ways.

In policy terms, our subjects are: transport intensity; rural access; and resource efficiency.

In Dott terms, we are seeking practical ways to improve daily life for one community, in one place. The idea is that if we can improve things for real people, in one school - the tools, methods and services we develop for Scremerston can be scaled up, and multiplied.

This is why we say that "Dott is in the acorns business".

The final Dott 07 project I will mention is called Urban Farming.

Food is a huge energy challenge. Twenty-five percent of the ecological footprint of Toronto has been traced to its food systems. The same is probably true of most modern cities.

From farm to plate, depending on the degree to which it has been processed, a typical food item may embody input energy of between four and more than a hundred times the energy that enters our bodies.

If you take an iceberg lettuce home from your local supermarket: for every calory that you eat, it takes 120 calories to grow it, pack it, fly it over the Atlantic, and display it under bright flattering lights in an open-fronted refrigerator.

Totally mad.

In Dott, we decided to take practical steps to slash the ratio between production energy and nutritional energy.

Based in Middlesborough, we are working with more than 1,000 citizens - or "New Urban Farmers" .
Everyone - from hoodies to hairdressers - will grow food in small, medium, and large containers. All over town.

These continers range from window boxes, to larger planter boxes, and low-sided skips. Schools, youth groups, even fashion shops, have all joined in.

We've also identified Meal Assembly Centres, across the town, where growers will be helped to prepare a week’s worth of meals.

The project will culminate, in September, in a ‘Meal for Middlesbrough' when the town will feed itself.

The lesson we have learned in Dott is that creativity and innovation are all around us. People are busy - dealing innovatively with daily life - in all manner of creative ways. Everywhere we look.

Our approach in Dott is not to design solutions outside-in, top-down, or from scratch.

We use design, instead, to enhance, connect and accelerate existing grass roots innovation.

An important part of our job is to alert people to solutions that already exist, but in a different cointext, or even a different historical time.

A second lesson we're learning Dott concerns networks, connections, and alliances.

Some of our public commission projects involve ten or fifteen different partners. Public ones and private ones. Big ones and small ones. Academic ones and business ones. In Dott’s public commission projects, we seem to have them all!

It takes time and social energy to build the shared understanding, and trust, without which these new alliances and relationships need, if they are to flourish.

Bringing together new players, in new combinations, is exciting. Importing inspirational examples from other domains is dynamic. Looking “outside the tent” for new ideas has fantastic potential.

Our conclusion: Innovation is as much a time issue as it is a money issue, or a technology one.

The third big lesson we are learning in Dott concerns leadership, and that over-used word, “vision”.

We do not stand over people and demand: “what sacrifices will you make to save the planet?”. We find, in Dott, that posing a question - “how do we want to live?” – motivates people in ways that telling them how to live, does not..

The opportunity

In October, at the Dott Festival, people from all these local, real-life projects I've told you about will come together to tell their stories.

Out of this event can come a shared vision of what life in the North East, as a sustainable region, can be like.

A vision that can inspire people to go forth and re-desgn an aspect of their life.

In these ways, the results of Dott can begin to scale and multiply.Some of the projects, we hope, will continue, and grow.The best ones stand a good chance of growing into enterprises.

People, in particular, will be a valuable legacy of Dott - a network of design-minded network of social innovators.

There’s a tremendous opportunity here.: a reachable vision of sustainability, people with the sklills to lead that journey.


Posted by John Thackara at March 30, 2007 09:42 AM


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