SciTech

Author speaks about 'ecodesign'

Fritjof Capra, best-selling author of numerous works of scientific literature, visited the Carnegie Mellon campus on April 4 to share his views on the importance of ecological sustainability in design. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Fritjof Capra, best-selling author of numerous works of scientific literature, visited the Carnegie Mellon campus on April 4 to share his views on the importance of ecological sustainability in design. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, April 4, Fritjof Capra, author of best-selling The Tao of Physics and The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture, shared his views with the Carnegie Mellon community on a better future. Capra is an internationally acclaimed physicist and leader in systems thinking.

Capra gave a stimulating talk on his vision of a future which is based on his interdisciplinary ideas and choices. He said that the greatest challenge in our lives is currently to build and nurture “sustainable communities.” This might be achieved by using ecological sustainability, which, he explained, consists of “social, cultural, and physical environments in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations.”

According to Capra, one of the major ways we can achieve ecological sustainability is by being “systems thinkers.” He defines systems thinking as “thinking in terms of relationships, patterns, and context.” It is a different way of looking at things with the key being that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Instead of quantity, one looks at quality, mapping instead of measuring, relationships instead of objects, and so on. This approach ensures that we look at the universe as a large concept map, lines connecting anything and everything. It makes sure we look at great theories such as evolution as a cooperative entity in which we are all connected in a network.

Capra argued the importance of ecosystems — how they play a major role in sustaining life and how human civilizations have ignored them since the Industrial Revolution. We need to understand the systematic connections that form ecosystems to follow the task of designing sustainable entities in the future, he explained.

One of the major terms that Capra urged for all to understand and prepare with is ecological literacy, or ‘ecoliteracy.’ He explained that ecoliteracy is “the outstanding characteristic of our biosphere that has sustained it for billions of years.” This ecoliteracy is to be applied to ecological design or ‘ecodesign.’

In an interview with Ecotecture magazine, Capra explained that “design defined in an ecological perspective is the shaping of flows and energy of matter for human purposes.” There have already been many programs that have been implemented in Africa and South America that fall into the category of ecological design. One example is organic farming, because farmers use technology based on ecological principles and genetic engineering to promote healing and benefit the environment. Capra also advocates shifting from a product-based view to a more service-based or “flow” view.

This is also seen in green agriculture, which some members of the Carnegie Mellon community play a major role in. Green agriculture is seen in buildings designed to produce more energy than they use. Hybrid cars, hydrogen fuel cells, and anything that “serves” more than it “uses” can be labeled as ecodesign.

Capra advocates strongly that we need to shift to a more ecological-based society as we progress in the future. For example, he urges us to change from our chemical, large-scale agriculture to organic, small scale, community-based farming. Capra argues that this will solve one of our biggest problems: reducing our energy dependence. Second, organically grown food will improve our health, and third, organic farming will impact our ecosystems for the better.

Using a blend of systems thinking and ecological design, Capra recommends we take this into consideration in each of our quests to create a sustainable future. Whether it be through science or design, we need to implement a systemic view of ecological systems in order to improve a new era that is just beginning.