A ‘Wild Mirror’ For Desk-Bound Workers

A new scheme in England connects office workers with living systems by means of a ‘wild mirror’: each workspace is twinned with an equivalent area of ecosystem regeneration. 

The restoration of degraded ecosystems — or creating new ones — is gathering pace in different parts of the world.  According to Richard Coniff, China is planting 90 million acres of forest in a swath across its northern provinces. In North America, too: restoration projects costing $70 billion are under way to restore or re-create more than seven million acres of marsh, peatland, floodplain, mangrove, and other wetlands.

These large-scale, government-led efforts are conceived as green infrastructure by governments in response to such practical issues as flood control. This ecosystem regeneration is Read More »

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Change Labs: What Works?

On Friday 14 March I’m doing a talk and discussion in Dublin.


(Image: Richard Giblett)

To effect system-level change – in health, energy, food, or mobility – a first step is often to reframe the question. In health, for example, ninety-five percent of person-to-person care happens outside the bio-medical system – so how do you innovate there? Read More »

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Energy: Thriving On Five Percent?

In Sharing Energy In The City, EDF and the the French National Research Agency (ANR) have challenged designers to rethink the production, harvesting, distribution, use, exchange and consumption of energy in our everyday life. They asked me to submit this text as fuel for the discussion.

3D Electric powerlines over sunrise

The modern city has been shaped by the availability of cheap oil and resources, and plentiful credit. Massive resource and energy flows have been used to build skyscrapers, heat and cool buildings, move and treat water, feed people, and move them and their goods around.

This expansion of cities involved the stupendous use of energy. Tom Murphy, a physics professor, calculates that  U.S. energy use since 1650, including wood, biomass, fossil fuels, hydro, nuclear, etc, has grown at a steady 2.9 percent. Those 360 years of more-or-less steady growth help explain Read More »

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Caloryville: The Two-Wheeled City

In China, ‘battery-bikes’ are outselling cars by four-to-one. Pedelec sales are soaring in Europe, too.  Is this the start of system-wide phase-shift in transportation?

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At a workshop in Delhi last year, during the UnBox Festival, I posed the following question to a group of 20  design, transport, and city development professionals: What new products, services or ingredients are needed to help a cycle commerce ecosystem flourish in India’s cities, towns and villages?

The answer was: a lot – and it’s not just about the bikes. We discussed the need for an online catalogue of products and business models to aid decision-support. We learned that micro-finance for independent vendors should be a priority. Traffic architectures, hygiene regulations, and disinterest of municipal authorities, were an obstacle. Opposition from place-based retailers was an issue. Topography, and climate, could not be ignored. As the to-do list grew, the scale of the challenge seemed ever more daunting.

But a strange this has happened. The obstacles we identified in Delhi seem less daunting today than a year ago. Something big is afoot. E-bikes in China are outselling cars four to one. Their sudden popularity has confounded planners who thought China was set to become the next automobile powerhouse.  In Europe, too, e-bike sales are escalating. Sales have been growing by 50% a year since 2008 with forecasts of at least three million sales in 2015.

I have the strong impression that a cloud of discrete but related developments is converging. Read More »

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Conflict and Design

An exhibition in Belgium poses a timely challenge: When confronted by such complex issues as an ageing population, resource depletion, migration, or growing impoverishment, how are we to balance the desire to do something positive, with the need to understand the back story before we intervene?

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The installation (shown above) consists of open books, in different languages, nailed to a wall. For the architect-artist Ola-Dele Kuku, the words displayed are a reminder that gaps and contradictions in our knowledge as designers can lead not just to imperfect work – they can make things worse. Read More »

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Shoe City vs Sole Rebels

Two radically opposed models of development are being born in Ethiopia at the same time. One is small, local, socially fair, and ecologically respectful. The other takes the globalisation of fashion to a new and more destructive level.


No sooner had I posted a long piece on Politics And The Fashion System than two stories  reached me from Ethiopia that embody the profound rift between old and new models of development. Read More »

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A Whole New Cloth: Politics and the Fashion System

In fashion, despite more than 400 eco labels, an incremental ‘do less harm’ approach has addressed the symptoms, but not the principal cause, of our difficulties: an economy based on perpetual growth in a finite world. A new and global ‘leave things better’ politics affirms our co-dependency with living systems and the biosphere. The Commons, and the sharing or Peer-to-Peer economy, give shared meaning to this new politics. It is beginning to take practical form in the creation of foodsheds and fibersheds at the scale of the bioregion.


[The text below was commissioned by Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham for their forthcoming anthology, Routledge Handbook on Fashion and Sustainabilitywhich will be published in September. It’s 4,800 words long].

You probably need to be naked to read this paragraph with a clear conscience. Its author, for one, felt like stripping off as his exploration of the fashion system progressed. It took 700 gallons of fresh water to make my cotton t-shirt, I learned. It’s partly down to me that 85 per cent  of the Aral Sea In Uzbekistan has disappeared because its water is used to grow cotton in the desert. A quarter of all the insecticides in the world are used on cotton crops. Nearly all the Read More »

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The Dementia Care Economy

Yesterday’s G8 Dementia Summit made much of the fact that millions will now be spent in a race to identify a cure or a ‘disease-modifying therapy’ for dementia.  The likely outcome will be the creation of a Dementia Industrial Complex – and the mass production of un-met expectations.A better way for nation states to spend money on dementia is in the ratio: 95 per cent for Care, five percent for Big Research.


(Above: the demential care ecology of Newcastle, in North East England. Illustration by Barbara Douglas)

When War was declared on Terror, a Security Industrial Complex (SIC) boomed.  For the purveyors of full-body scanners, high-end police trucks, and Total Information Domination software, Terror has been good business. But is the world is a safer place? The SIC and this writer are aligned on the question: No, it is not. Read More »

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Ecuador, Open Knowledge, and ‘Buen Vivir’: Interview With Michel Bauwens

“The global economy treats nature and material resources as if they were infinite, and knowledge as if it was scarce. We have to swap those two around”. (Michel Bauwens). Audio interview below the fold. 

Having enshrined the rights of nature in its constitution (*) Ecuador is now exploring how this principle, and the principle of open knowledge, might  reshape its economic development. The contribution of Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation, is to lead a strategic policy project for Ecuador’s government called Free/Libre Open Knowledge (FLOK), also known as the social knowledge economy project. Read More »

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