I gave a plenary talk (by video) to the China Eco-Civilization Research and Promotion Association (CECRPA) Conference, 17 November 2019.
My focus was an ecological design training platform for designers in China.

会议11月17日:约翰·萨卡拉(John Thackara)全体会议 生态创新培训

In the last 100 years, there have been three eras of design.

During the Industrial Era, design was powerful driver in the rise of mass consumer societies. Design made short-life products desirable to millions of people.

This era saw extraordinary economic growth in money terms.

But on the negative side, as we now know to our cost, this energy-intense and extractive economy depleted non-renewable resources. It also caused a catastrophic decline in biodiversity.

In the last 30 years, motivated by a desire to “do less harm”, a growing number of designers have supported the cause of Sustainable Development. The idea of a “circular economy” is a more recent addition to the cause of “do less harm”.

But Sustainable Development, it turns out, has modified – but not transformed – a global economic system that has to grow in order to survive.

Despite three decades of SD, we are experiencing more extraction today, more destruction of biodiversity, than ever before.

A more transformative vision is needed. The concept of an ecological civilization (EC) provides us with such a vision. For the first time, it describes a path that transforms the economy and society for good – rather than just tinker at the edges, with symptoms.

For the world of design, EC is transformative In three profound ways:

1 In an EC, care for place takes priority over ever-growing production and communication;

2 EC defines value creation in terms of healthy soils, and ecological restoration;

3 EC gives priority to social relationships, and institutional innovation.

For design, an EC means that urban and rural are no longer separate domains.

Cities, in fact, have much to gain from village revitalization.

Some critics complain that Ecological Civilisation has produced far more research, than practical action. And it’s true, that the growth of EC research has been impressive!

But in design, the key principles of EC are evident in many thousands of practical grassroots projects around the world – even if the language used to describe them is diverse.

Apps that enable urban people be part-time farmers.

Streaming platforms that connect farmers directly to the city

Tools that enable citizen participation in ecological agriculture.

Above all, making things in an EC, and leaving the land healthier, are a single process.

The algae lab that produces 3d cups out of bioplastics is about ecology, not just production.

Or in textiles: EC means the soil- friendliness of regionally-grown fibre is measured, tested and monitored by everyone involved.

Seen through this lens of grassroots activity, China is playing a leading role in Ecological Civilization design.

The revitalization of rural villages, for example, is a policy priority.

And China takes the health of small farms seriously. Designers, using the latest co-operation platforms, can help millions of small farmers can co-exist with the the city on equal terms.

Many designers are ready to reconnect with nature and rural life. But they need new skills. And a respect for rural culture is missing from their education.

Where designers learn, and how, in an EC, matters almost more than what. In an EC, place is their professor.

The good news is that examples of place-based learning for designers are beginning to emerge.

But there is potential is for designers to make a much bigger contribution to the emergence of an EC.

A proposal being developed for an ecological design training platform for designers in China.

I lend my wholehearted support to this project.

中国生态文明研究与促进会(CECRPA)会议11月17日:约翰·萨卡拉(John Thackara)全体会议 生态创新培训


在工业时代,设计是消费社会兴起的强大推动力。 设计使短寿命产品成为数百万人的理想选择。



在过去的30年中,出于“减少破坏”的愿望,越来越多的设计师支持了可持续发展事业。 “循环经济”的概念是“减少破坏”原因的最新补充。



需要更具变革性的愿景。 生态文明的概念为我们提供了这一愿景。 生态文明也是第一次向我们展示了一条从根本上改变经济和社会向这可持续发展转变的途径,而不只是隔靴搔痒的边缘修补。


1 在生态文明中,对一个地方的关爱比不断增长的生产和流通更重要;这是青山绿水就是金山银山的深刻含义所在;

2 生态文明在健康土壤和生态恢复方面定义了价值创造;

3 生态文明优先考虑社会关系和制度创新。



一些评论家批评说,生态文明开展的研究远大于实际行动。 的确,生态文明研究的发展令人印象深刻










中国重视小农场的健康。 设计师可以使用最新的合作平台,帮助数百万小农户与城市平等地共存。

许多设计师准备与自然和乡村生活重新联系。 但是他们需要新技能。 他们接受的教育缺乏对乡村文化的尊重。

在生态文明中,设计师在哪里学习以及如何学习比学习什么要重要的多。 在生态文明中,所在的地方就是他们的教授。