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A Sustainable Design Blog

Sourcing Design Locally

The locavore movement is pretty big among foodies who look to get the freshest food possible as well as reduce the carbon miles put out by transporting food long distances. But this principle of local being better for the environment can extend far beyond food. When design is locally sourced, just like food, it helps the environment, the economy, and the surrounding community.

Perhaps you remember my previous post on the leaf ticket my friend was given for her ferry boat ride in New Zealand. The owners of the business were probably just being pragmatic with this ticket, saving some money on paper while giving a little unique experience to patrons. But it was such a small, perfect example of what it is to design for and with the surrounding environment.

The writers of Cradle to Cradle noted that, for a building to be truly 'green built' it must work in harmony with the nature that surrounds it. It should not upset surrounding ecosystems and it shouldn't require trucking in materials for zillions of miles away in order to build the structure. Using local materials is a smarter idea because they are often more suited to the environment due to millennia of conditioning. A perfect example is the construction of the Druk White Lotus School in Tibet, built in an underdeveloped area prone to extreme weather, droughts, and earthquakes, the western architects at Arup chose to use local materials and ancient building techniques to create a sustainable school capable of heating and cooling itself with little to no energy, and maintaining sanitation with little to no water. The designers had to abandon their usual methods of steel and concrete construction commonly used in the west because fortunately/unfortunately those methods had been tried in the mountains of Tibet before with devastating effects to both community health and the environment.

To see great mini documentary about the Druk White Lotus School, click here (25 minutes).

This same philosophy was used in the recently constructed Tropenhaus Frutigen in Switzerland. While building an underground rail tunnel, workers came upon a natural hot spring that, had it's warm waters been released above ground without being cooled first, would have devastated the cool water fish in the region. Rather than build an expensive system for cooling the water, one engineer suggested creating green houses that would use the hot waters to grow tropical plants. While it seems crazy, today you can go to the Tropenhaus in the Swiss Alps and dine on local bananas, mangos, and papayas at the green house restaurants or hotels. The warm waters also house sturgeon whose roe will be used for fine caviar. The hot waters become cool as they flow through this area and this cool water is then able to be released downstream without harming the environment. It's not only a great example of designing with the local environment, but an excellent example of how environmentally sound design can lead to economic and social benefits.

A great video clip about the Tropenhause Fruitgen can be found here (4.5 minutes).

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.- Mark Twain