Exploring ecoliteracy and its relevance in realizing far-reaching sustainable innovation

Lead Research Organisation: The Open University
Department Name: Design & Innovation


Design activity is a part of business activity. In responding to unsustainable development what currently exists for business is a series of 'add-ons' (policy; legislation; tools; methods) that encompass environmental issues. These are useful in providing guidance to business to alter activities, to gain resource efficiencies, to reduce waste and to prevent pollution. However, there is a growing consensus that eco-efficient activities are not in themselves sufficient to attain the required level of change toward sustainability. For example one may design and manufacture a wonderfully energy efficient product but if business continues to be successful through selling 'units' of products, and consumers continue to replace for functional or aesthetic reasons, and if the market for such products continues to expand / then the net energy savings per product are discounted by an overall increase in energy use (more products, more people) and increases in linear resource throughput. A more holistic view is required to map out opportunities for greater levels of sustainable resource use / levels that do not extend our ecological capacity. This is necessary in both business operations: for example, at a strategic level a move away from profit per unit sale, - at the level of design, a focus on longevity, value, closed loop resource flow - and in manufacturing, to realise the potential of different resources, component remanufacturing, closed material loops; and in the domain of consumption: for example affecting resource consumption decisions through taxation, incentives, education and training. There is a pressing need for producers and consumers to become more aware of their ecological limits.Ecoliteracy concerns understanding the principles of organisation of ecosystems and their potential application to understanding how to build sustainable human society (Capra, 1997: 89). It combines the sciences of systems and ecology in drawing together elements required to foster learning processes toward a deep appreciation of nature and our role in it. The research explores how design can be viewed through a lens of ecological literacy to challenge linear resource use. This proposal seeks out disciplines where whole thinking is discussed (ecology, complexity, industrial ecology) to explore the opportunities for design beyond that which is currently regarded as ecodesign. Working with, and learning from, experts such as Fritof Capra (complexity, ecoliteracy), David Orr (environmental education, ecological design), John Ehrenfeld (industrial ecology), Stephen Sterling (education for sustainable development) and Ken Eason (cognitive ergonomics and systems thinking) will provide a strong foundation from which to question the limits of current design and the opportunities for different outputs. Linked to this is the opportunity to work with Nissan's Technical Centre, Europe to explore contexts of collaboration for innovation; and to work with the Ecodesign Centre in Wales to address design education and training and whether ecoliteracy can help 'ground' a different view of design education and practice. This proposal compliments my current research portfolio which comprises: EPSRC: GR/s90645/01 (Principal Investigator); and DEFRA WRT129 (consultant). Both of these projects explore dimensions of design for sustainability and its connection to 1. business strategy and practice and 2. achieving greater levels of sustainable resource use / reducing the unsustainable use of resources.


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Dewberry E.L. (2011) Developing an ecology of mind in design in ICED 11 - 18th International Conference on Engineering Design - Impacting Society Through Engineering Design