In this regard, the news is guardedly optimistic. The art and science of high-performance building is growing. The result is a new generation of buildings that require a fraction of the energy of conventional buildings, use materials screened for environmental effects, minimize water consumption, and are landscaped to promote biological diversity, moderate microclimates, and grow foods. The best of these are highly efficient, powered substantially by sunlight and feature daylight, water recycling, and interior green spaces. They are a finer calibration between our five senses and the built environment and tend to promote higher user satisfaction and productivity. The costs of building green, as it turns out, are not necessarily higher than conventional buildings while having lower operating costs. The goal is to design buildings as whole systems, not as disjointed components. The green building movement is now a worldwide movement and is transforming the practice of architecture, landscape architecture, and engineering. It could, in time, transform the design of communities and cities as well.
Business, too, is beginning to go green. The best example of a well-run environmentally sensitive business is that of Interface, Inc., a global manufacturer of carpet tiles and raised flooring. In the mid-1990s, company founder and CEO, Ray Anderson, decided to transform the company to eliminate waste and carbon emissions. Interface launched a pioneering effort to develop carpet products that were returned to the company as a ''product of service'' not otherwise discarded in a landfill. Interface now leases carpet to its customers and takes it back to be remade into new products, thereby eliminating much of the petrochemical sources at one end and waste at the other. In the past decade, the company has eliminated 56% of its carbon emissions and is on track to becoming carbon neutral. The model for the company is consciously that of ecology all the way down to carpet products that mimic a forest floor. Interface is not alone. Other companies like Wal-Mart and DuPont are beginning to transform themselves as well. Some day, perhaps, all business will be powered by sunlight with materials cycles that mimic the circular flow of nutrients in ecosystems.
In agriculture, Wes Jackson, co-founder of the Land Institute, is pioneering the development of natural systems agriculture. The goal is to model agriculture on ecological systems such as forests and prairies. If successful, the end product will be agricultural polycultures of high yield perennials, long thought to be a biological impossibility. The early results, however, have confirmed Jackson's hypothesis that the two can be stitched together, thereby eliminating a great deal of fossil energy and soil erosion.
Materials science is a fourth area in which ecology is being taken seriously. Nature, as chemist Terry Collins has noted, uses only a relatively few ingredients while industrial chemistry uses virtually the entire periodic table, creating ecological havoc. The field of biomimicry has grown in response by studying how nature works in fine detail. Natural systems are a carnival of color, for instance, but nature does not use paints. To answer such questions, Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry, is developing a database of the ways nature works to filter, reduce, recycle, color, purify, form, and join - all done without the use of toxics and fossil fuels and all of it biodegradable. The result could be a transformation of materials and industry that dramatically reduce pollution and energy use.
In these examples and elsewhere, the science of applied ecology has begun to seriously influence decisions and behavior and the evolution of architecture, engineering, materials science, agronomy, urban planning, and economics. The driving force is partly economic (to reduce the costs of unnecessary energy, materials and water use) and partly a matter of conviction (that it is wrong to leave a legacy of ruin behind us). While promising, such measures are necessary but insufficient. Ecological thinking, in one way or another, must become a more central part of global society and this is the task of education.
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