Benchmarking Synergy Levels to Encourage International Standards of Sustainability for Metadesign

Lead Research Organisation: Goldsmiths University of London


21st Century society faces many serious threats such as climate change, reductions in biological diversity, and pollution of the natural environment. These have been exacerbated, if not caused, by a gloabl system that is designed to proliferate more and more products into a rapidly expanding market. Most designers have seen little option but to apply their skills in support of market forces. Unwittingly, they have helped to create a society driven by over-consumptoin and waste. Collectively, we have so far failed to make a significant impact on the above problems. Despite the heroic efforts by the pioneers of 'eco-design', design for sustainability etc, global carbon emissions continue to rise, and bio-diversity is reducing. This is because measures undertaken so far have been insufficient to tame an economic system designed for limitless growth. This proposal will develop therefore a more pervasive, comprehensive and consentual mode of co-design (i.e. 'metadesign') by bringing together specialists and experts both within and beyond the orthodox boundaries of design. Notably, our researchers will include economists and managers. Previous research by the applicants has shown that many people see countermeasures such as 'sustainable consumption' (UNEP, 2006) as confusing, inconsequential or counterproductive (Wood, 2002). We found that 'sustainability' arguments are popularly percieved (i.e. in subjective cost-benefit terms) as a 'lose-win' scenario. We have therefore adopted 'synergy' as a goal that has more potential that 'sustainability'. This is mainly because it sounds more positive and optimistic. We have identified our basic building block of synergy as a 'win-win-win-win' offer (Wood, 2006). In our previous (EPSRC/AHRC funded) research we found good psychological, and practical arguments for choosing this figure. We will also use it to establish self-reflexive synergy indicators using additional tools by our colleague Dr. Vladim Kvitash. In order to make these acceptable for industry we will devise benchmarks enabling governmental, commercial and other institutions to audit their performance in an aggregation of levels such as the physical, economic, ethical, ecological and aesthetic. So far, we have defined four preliminary 'orders' of synergy (Wood, 2006) that will help us to find 'synergies' that will orchestrate other synergies. Richard Buckminster Fuller described something similar when he spoke of Nature's 'synergy of synergies'. There is already interest from local authorities (The Creative Lewisham Agency) who have witnessed the application of our 'synergy' tools in a demonstration of problem solving at the Design Council. In this one-day experiment, researchers were marshalled using priciples that evolved from and experience into the managment of synergy. By the end of year 2, we subsequently aim to share with, and/or deliver our findings to, related projects, such as Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Academy of Sustainable Communities, UNEP, etc).


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Jones H (2007) Exploring the creative possibilities of awkward space in the city in Landscape and Urban Planning

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Wood J (2007) Synergy city; planning for a high density, super-symbiotic society in Landscape and Urban Planning