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Designing a ‘Big Wheel’ for Civilization

By Terry Mock and Tony Wernke, SLDI Co-founders
Follow Terry and Tony on Twitter: Terry @SustainLandDev; Tony @Sustainable4U

This article is Part 1 in the Fractal Sustainable Development Trilogy.
Part 2: Like Life Itself, Sustainable Development is Fractal
Part 3: The Universal Principles of Sustainable Development

Everyone who has ridden a tricycle understands the fact that three wheels are more stable than one or two. In fact, a three-legged stool gives greater stability than one with four (or more) legs when the surface on which the stool sits is not perfectly level.

We also have learned that the simple balance of three applies not only to working with the laws of gravity, but to all aspects of life, hence the triple bottom line of sustainable development. What is harder to understand is why humans have so much difficulty applying this basic scientific fact through better balanced public and private policy.

Our current predicament is reminiscent of a comment that world-class architect and sustainability pioneer William McDonough commonly makes in his presentations as he circles the globe with a Cradle to Cradle design message of hope for a future civilization where “waste equals food.” Having witnessed his presentations in person and on video numerous times, we still chuckle with the audience at the irony as McDonough delivers one of his standard lines to illustrate the situation in which we find ourselves. “If we’re so smart,” he snidely remarks, “why did it take us 5,000 years to put wheels on our luggage?”

 Our Past Cycles of History

The truth, as McDonough well knows, is that humans do not have a good record when it comes to building sustainable civilizations. Civilizations throughout time have made the same errors which have caused their downfall. According to research, such as documented in Jared Diamond’s book Collapse:

History warns us that when once-powerful societies collapse, they tend to do so quickly and unexpectedly. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: peak power usually means peak population, peak needs, and hence peak vulnerability.

After telling the stories of particular societies that collapsed, Diamond asks pointedly,

What lessons can we draw from history? The most straightforward: take environmental problems seriously. They destroyed societies in the past, and they are even more likely to do so now.

The second reason for collapse is “failure of group decision-making.” Diamond then offers some examples:

1)    “conflicts of interest, whereby one group within a society can profit by engaging in practices that damage the rest of society”;

2)    “the pursuit of short-term gains at the expense of long-term survival.”

Diamond then proceeds,

History also teaches us two deeper lessons about what separates successful societies from those heading toward failure. A society contains a built-in blueprint for failure if the elite insulates itself from the consequences of its actions. The other deep lesson involves a willingness to re-examine long-held core values, when conditions change and those values no longer make sense.

The good news is that the reality of past civilization failures is now well-documented and a new triple-bottom-line message of sustainability has evolved that is being delivered through global communication technologies that are unprecedented in history.

Introducing a New Cycle?
 

From the beginning, tricycles aided mobility, but had their limitations.

In 1990 William McDonough and his partner Michael Braungart delivered a set of sustainability principles to the city of Hannover, Germany, for use in the development of their 2000 World’s Fair. These Hannover Principles were organized as a list of nine subject areas “to provide a platform upon which designers can consider how to adapt their work to sustainable ends” and “should be seen as a living document committed to the transformation and growth in the understanding of our interdependence with nature, so that they may adapt as our knowledge of the world evolves.”

The concept of "sustainable development" that was universally agreed upon was illustrated by a now-familiar diagram showing three circles representing triple-bottom-line needs intersecting in an area of consensus representing sustainability.

The Hannover Principles were well received worldwide, influencing participants at the 1992 World Summit on Sustainable Development where groundbreaking international resolutions involving future development guidelines were overwhelmingly adopted.

Unfortunately, translating this common vision of sustainability into reality has proven to be problematic in addressing specific issues affected by what Jared Diamond called a “failure of group decision-making.” One result was that the Hannover 2000 World’s Fair was a commonly acknowledged failure and many other attempts around the world to implement similar lists of well-meaning but non-integrated sustainable goals have proved to be impossible without a better defined model which can balance competing perspectives.

The triangular form is embedded in the first powerful tool that people use to maintain balance and move forward – a vitally important skill.

In answer to this dilemma, McDonough and Braungart responded with an improved plan in 2002 with 

Cradle to Cradle Triangle – Provides a visual tool for describing the need for integration between competing human needs.

The Cradle to Cradle Design Framework which introduced the concept of “fractal ecology” symbolized by the fractal equilateral triangle model of sustainability to demonstrate how the three ecology-equity-economy bottom-line needs needed to integrate.

Building on this new model framework for industry and their best selling book, Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart introduced the Cradle to Cradle® certification program to audit products and ingredients to verify a company’s use of healthy materials and use of healthy materials and eco-intelligent design. After proving the worth of the program by enlisting the participation of hundreds of producers, McDonough and Braungart announced earlier this year that they were donating the intellectual property developed through Cradle to Cradle certification  to a non-profit in order to facilitate an open-system where the program can more easily spread without perceived conflicts of interest.

Sustainable Land Development

As the largest human-made physical creations on the planet, land developments form the infrastructure for civilization and represent the macro end of sustainable development thinking. If land developments are not sustainable, it is inconceivable that ultimately anything else developed by humans can be. Given that sustainable land development best practices and standards had never before existed, in 2007 Land Development Today magazine proposed that a system be developed with industry support in an article entitled People, Planet and Profit .

Building on the largest published library of best practices and overwhelming industry support, Sustainable Land Development International (SLDI) was launched in 2008 with a transparent strategic plan adapted from the original Hannover Principles and structured as a People, Planet & Profit fractal decision making model.

The historical evolution of our understanding of sustainability and the problems civilization has encountered achieving sustainable balance were described in the SLDI article – Origin of Sustainability Movement Leads to Current Challenges :

Overall, the effort to define and achieve sustainability [in local government] has involved a significant amount of consciousness-raising about the trade-offs involved in community decision-making. At its best, it is a process for ensuring that otherwise overlooked perspectives and constituencies are not excluded from decisions. But it remains an ill-defined process in which operational results remain elusive. 

In order to build a practical model for society to use for decision making, let’s get back to the essence of sustainability – Balance…

The Big Wheel® was first developed by Louis Marx Toys and presented to the public at the 1969 New York Toy Fair. The Big Wheel® immediately became a national success. The new kind of tricycle owed its novelty and high performance to its design. On old steel tricycles, the rider perched on a seat above the drive wheel—and pitched over on sharp turns. And traditional tricycles did not have much speed. But the Big Wheel rode only a few inches off the pavement, allowing high-speed skid-outs on slanted or uneven surfaces.  An additional boost to the success of the Big Wheel was a report released on toy safety spawned by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The report stated that of many bicycle and tricycle related injuries, the “low slung” Big Wheel® was far and away safer than traditional bicycles.

A ‘Big Wheel’ for Civilization

Based on the proven advantages of a stable equilateral triangle paradigm design, in 2009 SLDI released the world’s first comprehensive sustainable land development best practices system. Unlike other standards and certification programs, the SLDI Best Practices System helps to structure a triple-bottom-line (people, planet and profit) decision model that helps development projects achieve greater success in each area.

This “holy grail” Sustainable Land Development Best Practices System is symbolized as a geometrical algorithm that balances and integrates the triple-bottom-line needs of people, planet and profit into a holistic, fractal model that becomes increasingly detailed, guiding effective decisions throughout the community planning, financing, design, regulating, construction and maintenance processes while always enabling project context to drive specific decisions – The SLDI Code.

In the pass-it-forward spirit, SLDI is now offering this “Big Wheel for Civilization” to all those willing to collaborate for the collective benefit of people, planet and profit – today and in the future. It’s high time for us to remember what we learned in kindergarten.

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Help raise awareness by holding a SLDI Big Wheel race in your community to promote sustainable land development.

 

 


▼▼▼      13 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.blazemasters.com John Graham

    It’s great to see your message in my
    in-box. You guys are doing amazing work. Here in Hawaii, the need for sustainability is huge–we’re 2,500 miles at least from major sources of energy and food. As fire-protection contractors, we’re glad to see that the IRBC is mandating fire-sprinkler systems in single-family dwellings. As one of our owners says, “It’s hard to maintain sustainability in a building that burns to the ground.” All the best!

  • http://twitter.com/SustainLandDev SLDI

    New York Times – October 13, 2012
    The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/opinion/sunday/the-self-destruction-of-the-1-percent.html

    …It is no accident that in America today the gap between the very rich and everyone else is wider than at any time since the Gilded Age. Now, as then, the titans are seeking an even greater political voice to match their economic power. Now, as then, the inevitable danger is that they will confuse their own self-interest with the common good. The irony of the political rise of the plutocrats is that, like Venice’s oligarchs, they threaten the system that created them.

  • http://twitter.com/SustainLandDev SLDI

    New Alternative to GDP: The Social Progress Index (SPI)
    By Raz Godelnik | April 30th, 2013
    http://www.triplepundit.com/2013/04/michael-porter-social-progress-index-spi/

    “The index includes 52 indicators in three dimensions: Basic human needs (looking at nutrition, air, water and sanitation, shelter, personal safety), foundations of well-being (access to basic knowledge, health and wellness, ecosystem sustainability), and opportunity (personal rights, access to higher education, equity and inclusion). Each of thesedimensions is calculated as the sum of its components and is weighted equally in the overall index.”

  • http://twitter.com/SustainLandDev SLDI

    The limits of climate adaptation are social, not physical or economic – j.mp/16t0N1a
    Biologist gives dire prediction for civilization – http://j.mp/16sU9Ig
    Creating a Sustainable Future: Ecosystem Services and Spatial Planning – http://j.mp/10zKFK5
    Happiest People Pursue the Most Difficult Problems – http://j.mp/ZdHBk7

  • SLDI

    Update: Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Issues Its Maiden Certification
    Akhila Vijayaraghavan | Friday March 9th, 2012

    Founders, William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart who co-authored the book Cradle to Cradle,formed the non-profit institute to manage and administer the certification program. They have already certified more than 425 products in various industries worldwide and the institute was founded to make the certification program available to the larger public. The certification program itself was first founded in 2005 by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC).The Institute now acts as the certifying body for the third-party eco-label. Companies who want to certify their products will first have to partner with an official service provider that will collect and evaluate data provided…. http://www.triplepundit.com/2012/03/cradle-cradle-products-innovation-institute-issues-maiden-certification/

  • SLDI

    Green Capitalism: The God That Failed
    Thursday, 09 January 2014
    By Richard Smith, Truthout | News Analysis

    The results are in: No amount of “green capitalism” will be able to ensure the profound changes we must urgently make to prevent the collapse of civilization from the catastrophic impacts of global warming…. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21060-green-capitalism-the-god-that-failed

  • SLDI

    Want everyone else to buy into environmentalism? Never say “Earth”
    By Heather Smith – Grist
    12 Mar 2014

    “People working in the nonprofit world sometimes have trouble adopting a marketing mindset,” Fenton Communications wrote in a 2009 report. “But in the end, the goal is for people to ‘buy’ our ideas — ideas for a better world.”

    Fenton recently talked with me over the phone about why he avoids the words “planet” and “Earth,” why millennials are perfectly justified in abandoning the word “environmentalist,” and more…. http://grist.org/climate-energy/want-everyone-else-to-buy-into-environmentalism-never-say-earth/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Climate%2520March%252013&utm_campaign=climate

  • SLDI

    THE DAILY STAR
    Once an Arab model, Baghdad now world’s worst city
    March 22, 2014

    “It used to be a capital of the world, but today, it has become one of the world’s most miserable cities”… http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2014/Mar-22/251009-once-an-arab-model-baghdad-now-worlds-worst-city.ashx#ixzz2wnwFoniy

  • SLDI

    UTNE

    The utter collapse of human civilization will be ‘difficult to avoid,’ NASA funded study says
    Original story at National Post

    After running the numbers on a set of four equations representing human society, a team of NASA-funded mathematicians has come to the grim conclusion that the utter collapse of human civilization will be “difficult to avoid.”The exact scenario may vary, but in the coming decades humanity is essentially doomed to some variant of “Elites”
    consuming too much, “resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”That is, unless civilization is ready for one of two “major policy changes”: inequality must be “greatly reduced” or population growth must be “strictly controlled.”The apocalyptic pronouncements, set to be published in an upcoming edition of Ecological Economics, come courtesy of a U.S. team led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei and funded in part by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.The otherwise obscure report was first made public in a recent column in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper in which environment writer Nafeez Ahmed warned that it constituted a “highly credible wake-up call” and declared that its menu of suggested policy changes were “required immediately… After running the numbers on a set of four equations representing human
    society, a team of NASA-funded mathematicians has come to the grim
    conclusion that the utter collapse of human civilization will be
    “difficult to avoid.”The exact scenario may vary, but in the coming
    decades humanity is essentially doomed to some variant of “Elites”
    consuming too much, “resulting in a famine among Commoners that
    eventually causes the collapse of society.”That is, unless civilization
    is ready for one of two “major policy changes”: inequality must be
    “greatly reduced” or population growth must be “strictly controlled.”The
    apocalyptic pronouncements, set to be published in an upcoming edition
    of Ecological Economics, come courtesy of a U.S. team led by applied
    mathematician Safa Motesharrei and funded in part by NASA’s Goddard
    Space Flight Center.The otherwise obscure report was first made public
    in a recent column in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper in which
    environment writer Nafeez Ahmed warned that it constituted a “highly
    credible wake-up call” and declared that its menu of suggested policy
    changes were “required immediately.

  • SLDI

    The Guardian – April 13, 2014
    Banks fiddled while Rome burned: how to predict the next global financial crisis

    Amid signs of another asset bubble, and as memories of the last crisis fade, we might be seeing the beginnings of the next crash… http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/apr/13/banks-rome-financial-crisis?CMP=twt_gu

  • SLDI

    Fed Chair Can’t Answer ‘Are We An Oligarchy?’
    Published on May 8, 2014

    The Federal Reserve chair told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that she shared his concerns about wealth inequality and its distorting effects on democracy, but she declined to offer any solutions. Sanders pointed Wednesday during a Joint Economic Committee hearing to a recent study that found corporate interests dominated politics at the expense of ordinary citizens, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen said she agreed… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yf9cuEDHytQ

    Study – http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf

  • SLDI

    Naked Capitalism
    Why the Rich Aren’t Job Creators
    Posted on June 28, 2014 by Yves Smith

    This is a short talk by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, who among other things, was the first non-family investor in Amazon. Hanauer in very simple and effective terms debunks the “rich are job creators” myth… Hanauer’s remarks illustrates the degree to which propaganda has overcome commercial common sense. Any real entrepreneur will tell you that the thing you most need to start a new business is customers… http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/06/rich-arent-job-creators.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NakedCapitalism+%28naked+capitalism%29

  • SLDI

    The Archdruid Report
    September 17, 2014
    Dark Age America: The End of the Old Order
    by John Michael Greer – http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/09/dark-age-america-end-of-old-order.html

    “… Let’s start by reviewing some basics. As I pointed out in a paper published online back in 2005—a PDF is available here—the process that drives the collapse of civilizations has a surprisingly simple basis: the mismatch between the maintenance costs of capital and the resources that are available to meet those costs. Capital here is meant in the broadest sense of the word, and includes everything in which a civilizations invests its wealth: buildings, roads, imperial expansion, urban infrastructure, information resources, trained personnel, or what have you. Capital of every kind has to be maintained, and as a civilization adds to its stock of capital, the costs of maintenance rise steadily, until the burden they place on the civilization’s available resources can’t be supported any longer…”