Monday, March 30, 2015

Zero Waste or the Six R’s

By: Allison Smith
Sustainable Associate

In primary school I was introduced to the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. At school and at home, we sorted cans, glass, and cardboard for recycling. All the messages focused on recycling with a secondary emphasis on reusing, and little to no focus on reducing our waste. Zero Waste is a whole systems approach to waste reduction.

Today, advocates have expanded on the three R’s and frequently include a variant of the following: redesign, refuse, and rot. 

Redesign: goods should be designed to minimize their resource use, including packaging. A smart manufacturer should understand that waste is wasted profit. Though this is corporate responsibility, as consumers we can ‘vote with our dollars’ and buy long lasting, durable goods.
Refuse: As consumers we should refuse freebies (pens!), refuse printed receipts (opt for an emailed receipt), and refuse purchasing products with excessive packaging.
Rot: In lieu of throwing out compostable items, compost organics and encourage your community to establish curbside compost and/or biodigesters

Your compostable waste is packed so tightly at landfills that it will not decompose. As I continue to learn more about sustainability and regeneration, I’ve learned it’s not about the last two R’s I learned about as a kid, but really about the first neglected one: reduce. We need to focus on REDUCE-ing our resource use to create a truly sustainable society.  

Zero Waste, as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance, is a means of “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity or waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.” The process is similar to that found in nature, wherein resources aren’t disposed of to never be used again but are truly reused and recycled into new life.

Last year, following the lead of other worldwide communities, the city of Fort Collins adopted a Zero Waste plan. The plan focuses on four priorities:
Culture Change: raise awareness!
Reduce and Reuse: those other two R’s we learned in primary school!
Compostable Organics Out of Landfills: Rot!
Construction, Deconstruction and Demolition: divert debris from construction related activities!
The expansion of the city recycling requirement for construction projects and the development of a waste management plan is a move in the right direction. This is addressing the third-R and for those of us working with the built environment we should look for ways to promote zero waste throughout the design, construction, operations, and deconstruction of projects.

As we move forward we need to adopt zero-waste sensibilities at home, at work, and in the community. If you follow design blogs and periodicals trend pieces, you are aware that minimalism and tiny house living are gaining traction and are closely aligned with zero-waste principles. Many of us are unlikely to achieve the levels of BeaJohnson and her family’s trash reduction to less than a quart a year or of Beth Terry’s eschewing of plastic from her life, but each decision in reduction is a move towards a community I want to belong to. Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi said it best, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Additional Resources:
Connett, P. (2013). The zero waste solution: untrashing the planet one community at a time. Chelsea Green Publishing.
Humes, E. (2012). Garbology: Our dirty love affair with trash. Penguin.
McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2010). Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things. MacMillan.
Royte, E. (2007). Garbage land: On the secret trail of trash. Back Bay Books.

Blogs and websites:
Plastic Free Life by Beth Terry
Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson
Zero Waste Fort Collins

Trashed (2012) documentary with Jeremy Irons

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

UPCOMING EVENTS: Designing for Hope Lectures

We are entering a time when many tipping points will be passed, resulting in unexpected consequences. Yet, a growing group sees opportunity and the potential of thriving cities and environments. Based on the book, Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability, Dominique and Joel will convey a beneficial way of re-imagining design and development. Designing for Hope contends that we can actively create a positive and abundant future through a living systems-based worldview. The presentation will pose questions such as: 'How can projects focus on creating a positive eco-footprint and contribute to community?', 'How does design focus hope and create a positive legacy?', and ‘If nature is the master designer, what are the lessons we can gain from looking at her patterns and processes?’ Dominique and Joel’s work are recognized by leaders in the movements of Regenerative Development, Sustainable Cities, Biophilic Design, Biomimicry, Permaculture, and Positive Development.

Designing for Hope Lecture in Denver

Lecture featuring Dr. Dominique Hes
Wednesday, March 25th
5:30pm-7:30pmThe Alliance Center
1536 Wynkoop St, Denver, CO 80202

While the lecture is free, registration is required. Space is limited.
>>Register Here<<

Patterns for a Hopeful Future Lecture in Fort Collins

Lecture featuring Dr. Dominique Hes and Joel Glanzberg
Thursday, March 26th
New Belgium Brewing Company, Tasting Room500 Linden St., Fort Collins, CO 80524

While the lecture is free, registration is required. Space is limited.
>>Register Here<<

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Biophilia and Placemaking: Influencing Design Decisions

Sustainable Building Associate

What role does nature and our inherent need for natural connections or biophilia play in placemaking?  To understand the relationship between placemaking and sense of place and biophilia, we must first understand biophilia, biophilic design, and placemaking.
According to E. O. Wilson (1984), biophilia is defined as “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life; the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.  Wilson and Kellert (1993) take this definition one step further, and define it as “the inherent human inclination to affiliate with natural systems and processes, especially life and life-like features of the non-human environment”.   So if biophilia is the connections we seek with the rest of life, it would make sense that biophilic design would be the “deliberate attempt to translate an understanding of the inherent human affinity to affiliate with natural systems and processes (known as biophilia) into the design of the built environment” (Kellert, 2008).
Placemaking or sense of place as it is sometimes called is thought to be “an overarching idea and a hands-on tool for improving a neighborhood, city or region” (What is Placemaking, 2015) that is “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces” that “capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, ultimately creating good public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and wellbeing” (Placemaking, 2015).
How might we use biophilic design to promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being?  According to the text Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life (Kellert, 2008), there is an element of biophilic design that specifically addresses place and place-based relationships.  This element and the corresponding attributes can be used to connect the built environment to the area in which it is located.  Kellert (2008) defines place-based relationships as “the successful marriage of culture with ecology in a geographical context”.  Through biophilic design you can create place-based relationships through a historical, cultural, geographical, and/or ecological connection to place.  You can also use the landscape and materials of the location to create place through the use of indigenous materials, use of the landscape in defining the building form, and creating wildlife corridors and promoting biodiversity.

While the Biophilic Design text gives wonderful descriptions of these elements and attributes of biophilic design, it was still somewhat theoretical and conceptual to me as a designer and educator, so I sought out images of that I thought exemplified some of these attributes.

Cultural and Historic Connection to Place:

Mesa Verde Visitors Center, Mesa Verde National Park, CO   Design by: Landmark Design and ajc architects

 Indigenous Materials:

Myrick Hixon EcoPark, La Crosse, WI  Design and Photo by: Whole Trees Architecture & Structures

Ecological Connection to Place:

Nest Home, Onomichi, Japan  Design by: UID Architects   Photo by: Hiroshi Ueda

Kellert, Stephen R., and Edward O. Wilson. The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, D.C.: Island, 1993.
Kellert, Stephen R., Judith Heerwagen, and Martin Mador. Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008.
Placemaking. (n.d.). In  Wikipedia. Retrieved February 27, 2015, from
What Is Placemaking? (n.d.). In Project for Public Spaces. Retrieved February 27, 2015, from
Wilson, Edward O. Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984.