Posts tagged sustainability

Creative Commons image by Bjoern von Thuelen (CC BY-NC 2.0)

My sister and I would always laugh at my Mom’s stories because they were all told in circles. Characters and locations she’d mention would disappear suddenly, only to re-appear unexpectedly later. There never seemed to be a point or an end to any of her yarns;  they’d always circle back to the beginning, but always from a different perspective. Her circular storytelling drove us crazy.

My dad on the other hand was all about the linear. As a civil engineer, everything began from point “A” and always ended at point “B”; veering off the straight path to him seemed inefficient and unnecessary. My Dad was the dominant personality in the household, so his kids all aligned with his linear perspective. I’ve always wondered how these two very different personalities got married.

It is only now much later in life I’ve come to appreciate my Mom’s stories. I can now relate to her philosophy and connect it to my own. As a sustainability advocate, I recognize the future as circular rather than linear. The linear perspective now seems staid and old-fashioned.

Sustainability is about circles. Take for example recycling: raw materials are taken from the earth, made into objects, gathered after use, then renewed to make the same object again, or an entirely different one. The raw material is only taken once, and then used over, and over again – an efficient and circular process. Unfortunately, most of our world economy does not operate this way. Items are simply discarded after use, only to be buried, discarded into the sea, or burned.

This idea of a linear economy of consumption originated during the Industrial Revolution when products became easily manufactured and more widely available – a consumerist lifestyle further solidified by the introduction of ultra-resilient and disposable materials like plastic. After World War II the United States, and Los Angeles in particular, became enthralled with the notions of the new and disposability. The Depression-era habits of recycling and saving were considered only for poor countries, with the prosperity of the 20th Century equated with the ability to consume only new things and discard them at will. “Efficiency” was only applied in relation to manufacturing as fast as possible. To this day, Americans use “efficient” primarily in reference to linear processes providing short-term gain. For example: it is efficient to channel storm water down the L.A. River, but it is not efficient to slow water flow to recharge the aquifer.

The irony here is linear thinking rarely leads toward ultimate efficiencies. Businesses are only sustainable as long as natural resource are available. Just look back at the once prosperous industries of American Buffalo hunters or leather/fur manufacturers of the 1850s and one can see the peak and collapse reflecting linear consumption. So-called efficient modern thinking was never really concerned with genuine efficiency beyond immediate profibility. However, the connection between our consumptive, linear thinking and prosperity remains. Many Americans still aspire to buy only new items, used until its novelty has worn off, finally to be thrown away and replaced again with something new. This has become the linear timeline of the American way.

This is all a roundabout way of saying: I don’t laugh at my Mother’s stories any longer. I recognize her circular narratives are told with an appreciation of life’s journey from every perspective. Her stories recognize and appreciate various perspectives, both ultimately more interesting to my Mom than the pursuit of any conclusion. Each of her stories are an adventure comprised of meandering paths, dead-ends, new beginnings, and perpetual change – much like nature, sustainability, and life itself.

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The EPA has calculated that the volume of household waste in the United States increases about 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day – that’s 1 million EXTRA tons of garbage in a very short span of time. But by abiding by the three “R’s” of reducing, recycling, and reusing, we can all practice a more sustainable holidays and green the season:

Creative Commons Photo: LloydTheVoid

Creative Commons Photo: LloydTheVoid


1.) Know your where your tree came from and where it’s going to go after the holidays.
A 2010 study commissioned by the American Christmas Tree Association looked at the most common artificial tree in comparison to the most common natural tree in regards to environmental impact, and it reached this surprising conclusion: One fake tree has the same carbon footprint as five real trees of similar size. So next holiday season consider these options:

● Buy a tree that can be replanted later.
● Look for trees grown under the guidelines of the  Socially and Environmentally Responsible Farms program, which works with farms that protect wildlife and waterways, conserve soil and water resources, conduct health and safety training for workers and promote responsible farming practices.
Adopt a christmas tree. Trees can be rented for the holidays with scheduled pickups afterward.
● Look for ways to compost your tree instead of sending it to a landfill.

Photo: Victoria Hoey

Photo: Victoria Hoey

2.) Avoid buying wrapping paper and NEVER use stick­-on bows

Metallic and plastic ribbon is cheap to make and buy, but they are NOT recyclable. 38,000 miles of ribbon alone are thrown out each year, enough to tie a bow around the entire world! Instead try one of these gift wrapping alternatives:

● Try newspaper, old maps or posters, coloring book pages, or fabric, to wrap boxes.
● Spend an afternoon making fun and personalized wrapping paper with your kids by decorating brown paper bags with drawings and stamps.
● Reuse last year’s holiday gift wrap. This season carefully unwrap gifts sent to you, then fold or roll it to store until the 2016 holidays to see another year of gift giving!

The Japanese technique of Furoshiki, gift wrapping using fabric instead of paper, is not only a more sustainable gift wrapping alternative, but also a beautiful way to offer a gift any time of the year.

It is time to start NEW traditions. This year give the gift of A Healthy Beautiful Environment. From all of us at AHBE Lab, we wish you a happy holidays!

El Niño Southern Oscillation - via Wikipedia

El Niño Southern Oscillation – via Wikipedia

Perspective #1 – “Fear”: Climatologists are forecasting a strong El Niño year. It’s everywhere in the news, and whenever there is a climate anomaly these days we all say, “it must be the El Niño” effect. Recently, I’ve been in client meetings when I’ve heard the words, “it’s an El Niño year”. I see concern and fear on everyone’s face. I think this has to do with the cost of construction delays. The washing out of Interstate 5 a month ago only exacerbates this concern. People are wondering, “What am I supposed to do when the storm hits and it washes out my planting beds?” I smile and hold my tongue, all the while thinking to myself, “I guess you’ll need to replant it”.

Perspective #2 – “I am not responsible”: I feel a sense of misguided relief amongst some Angelenos who mistakenly believe the predicted rainfall will solve our statewide drought (or at least will eliminate the possibility of additional draconian water restriction ordered by the governor or local leadership). I also get the sense from talking to everyday people that this rainy year will relieve them of having to continue their water restriction in their homes. I can hear people saying, “Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about having a green lawn or I won’t need to recycle my bath water, or maybe now I can wash my car in the driveway again”.

Perspective #3 – “Lessons of a Sustainable World”: California’s drought is a great lesson on sustainability. Personally, it has forced me to shift my day-to-day lifestyle in ways that I was not accustomed to prior. Initially I complained under my breath, but I realize now it’s been a rewarding and insightful experience. I thought I lived sustainably before the drought (e.g. I tend a drought-tolerant garden, drive a Prius, recycle everything possible, etc.), but this extended dry period has made me reflect on how unsustainable I truly am.

Living in Los Angeles and in our post-industrial infrastructure certainly doesn’t make it any easier. Who likes driving on the freeway or having to drive to a local store in traffic to get eggs? So on a personal level I found the drought a great teacher. As an urban designer the drought has reframed and opened the possibility to rethink how we should be designing of our cities. What were once novel ideas about urban green infrastructure before the drought, I now believe should now be required.

For example, I believe that all of our residential, commercial, and institutional storm water run-off should be required to stored, reuse, and recycled their water. This water can obviously be used for landscapes, but it should be used for other functions such as toilets. Why not? The State Water Board has mandated that we clean our storm water before it leaves a site, but I don’t’ think it goes far enough. I’ve read that 25% of Israel’s water comes from recycled and treated sewer water. That’s not bad as a start. I believe there is plenty of policy room in Los Angeles to be much more sustainable.

So let’s not use the “it’s an El Niño year” as an excuse for falling back onto our old ways. Let’s use El Niño to be the catalyst for a better and more sustainable city and world.

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This is the video record of an art installation.

In 2007, we began to openly question the concept of sustainability. At the same time we recognized we as professionals were accumulating tons of waste paper. As landscape architects the paper trail is tied to our design process: we draw on trace paper, take countless meeting notes, plot construction drawings, etc.

Conceptually So What? was not just a question of whether it is appropriate or possible to operate as a paperless design office – we still struggle with the concept – but also an investigation of where all of our waste paper eventually ends up.

The installation took place in April 2007 at the Museum of Design Art and Architecture in Culver City. The video, produced to communicate our ideas to the general public, received a 2008 Honor Award in Communications from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

by-Linda-Daley_pine-trees_horizIf you are like me, you have responded to the state drought mandates by making changes to your daily habits and declaring a broader intention of living sustainably for the good of the planet. Given my curiosity about the social and natural sciences, I thought I had a basic understanding of the causal relationships between human behavior and the environment and that this knowledge would guide me in making the right choices regarding conservation. I have so much more to learn.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” — William Butler Yeats, poet

Putting earth stewardship into practice is a journey filled with surprises. The decision to limit irrigation use, for example, may be a big deal for one individual and considered a personal accomplishment once the step is taken. Then the law of unintended consequences kicks in. Tree experts are reporting signs of drought stress in urban trees due to lack of water. We have adjusted our irrigation use without consideration of the watering needs of the trees located within gardens or lawn areas. Additionally, water-stressed trees are susceptible to pest infiltration.

by-Linda-Daley_oak-tree_horiz

We need trees and forests. They are essential elements for a healthy planet. They contribute positively to climate, biodiversity, air and water quality, health, social environments, and much more. We have to be smarter about how we care for and protect them.

Every action has consequences. Our challenge is to keep ourselves informed and learn from the unexpected results so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. This is part of our unending education if we are committed to improving the well-being of people and the planet.