Category: Sustainability

New TNSI Global Strategic Sustainability Initiative

The Natural Step International (TNSI), after several years of strategic planning, has formulated a powerful, new, 5-year strategic direction 2012-2017.

The new direction addresses the cumulative insufficiency of global efforts to date, the increasing urgency and magnitude of the challenge, and the shrinking window of opportunity.

The new approach builds on 22 years of success working with individual organizations and communities but shifts to enabling the broad based movement needed for collaborative change, transformation, and ultimate success.

TNSI’s new strategic direction is an opportunity for firms, communities, and sustainability champions to reassess their effectiveness, review TNSI’s new program and open-source Framework for Sustainable Development (FSSD), and leverage TNSI’s new approach and FSSD to their own advantage.

After all, the point is not being the most sustainable firm or city IN the world, but the most sustainable firm or city FOR the world.

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The Natural Step is a global network of non-profit organizations, strategic partners, and individuals who share the same brand, identity and purpose. Its vision is a world in which individuals, communities, and businesses, thrive within nature’s limits. Its mission is to accelerate change towards sustainability. TNSI is the international secretariat that facilitates and coordinates the wide-ranging activities of TNS offices and the global network of practitioners and researchers.

Three New PhDs – Sustainability Policy Institute

of the University of Curtin, Sustainability Policy Institute, Australia, will be granted for research projects that highlight the need for smart, sustainable urban planning.

The students, Joe Kott from San Francisco, Annie Matan from Fremantle and Roman Trubka from Vancouver, have completed studies that focus on public transport, pedestrian access in cities and the importance of city centres. Curtin University Sustainability Policy (CUSP) Institute Director, Professor Peter Newman, said that all three projects demonstrate CUSP’s commitment to becoming a leader in sustainable change through collaboration with government, industry and community. Joe is now teaching at San Jose State University and Stanford University while Annie and Roman are now employed at CUSP, doing new research on the sustainability of cities.

Green Guru Gone Wrong or is there a Bigger Story?

In 2008, FastCompany published this article on William McDonough that is well rounded and a great example of good reporting. It exposed some gaps between the talk and the walk. However, is the issue really McDonough’s personal-professional challenges or society having the capacity to recognize the larger value he produced and runnng with it, with or without him?

Here was my post after finishing the article: Bill’s personal failings, challenges, call them what you may, his only too-human foibles, are unfortunate (but we all have some variety of them do we not?). They do interfere with his potential to be the personal champion for the next industrial revolution. However, it is important to separate the person, even project performance, from his ideas.

The awesome potential of William McDonough as a force for the sustainable/regenerative economic transformation we so urgently need does not lie in his person, but in his ideas. His ideas are conceputally accessible to anyone with logical capacity and ecological education. He has conceputally illuminated the DNA of an economy that not only would have restorative environmental impacts, but which could be a wildly more productive economy to boot, thereby laying the material foundation for a sustainable global society in the biosphere. Given the impoverishment of two-fifths or more of the 7 billion of us on the planet now, and the 2-4 billion more that are arriving daily between now and 2050, a radical increase in economic productivity is absolutely necessary but insufficent for success. Doing it in a way that is net-positive, that is environmentally restorative and enhancing of the biosphere’s regnerative capacity is the essential quality, the necessary and sufficient condition for humanity’s regenerative success in the universe.

However, getting there will take more than the persuasive power of one charismatic designer, with or without foibles! We must embrace his concepts, develop the implications in all areas from design to science to economics to policy, and collaboratively execute at lightening speed and globally. Designing the vehicle for that insitutional collaboration should be the next challenge we address. As is true of most human challenges, they illuminate issues that need to be understood differently, executed differently, if we are to be successful. We all have our own agendas for personal/professional development, but let’s certainly not wait for Mr. McDonough to work out his. There’s a much larger drama in play and it needs our attention now.

Peak Oil Returning with Vengence?

Although forecasting the timing of peak oil has been less predictable than the phenomenon itself, allowing business as usual in the energy sector may undermine any capacity for a rational and successful transition to a low/no carbon, renewable-energy-based economy. If so, the sectoral market dysfunction (the scarcity-investment-production dynamic to wring out the last drop of oil from the earth’s crust while not orchestrating a workable investment path to renewable energy) could take down the economy with even graver consequences and lower recovery possibility than the Great “shell-game” Recession of 2008-9.  See the World Watch Institute Climate/Energy Blog for the full story behind this excerpt.

Granted, peak oil has been somewhat delayed by a handy twist in “proved reserves” accounting (now understood as the volume of total extractable resources, and no longer the sole reserves in production), and a scarcity-investment-production dynamic, but most experts (among them many retired industry executives) still believe the peak of conventional and unconventional production alike will happen, at the latest, by the end of this decade. If anything, the current boom on unconventional fuels, and in particular the frenetic push for new exploitation, can be interpreted as a way to make up for the intrinsically low returns on investment. In the end, striving to keep up with the investors’ expectations might just accelerate the ultimate decline in production.

Even from an environmental perspective, however, this is not necessarily good news. Sudden and unforeseen “peak oil” would probably mean a coal and natural gas rush, not to mention a prolonged economic collapse that would likely dry up investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts. Short-sightedness could end up doing even more harm to the world’s climate than greed. Not so long ago, a handful of financial institutions led the global economy into near-collapse by failing to address obvious flaws in their “unconventional” activities, and thus setting the stage for a devastating bubble. I have very few reasons to believe that mankind is currently acting more wisely with its fossil fuels reserves . . .

Plan-it Sustainably – August 2012

Cross-post, APA CA Chapter-Northern (Northern News, August 2012)

Living Future’s Living Cities – Explorations of a Positive End Game, Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, Katja Irvin, AICP, co-directors, Sustainability Committee

The International Living Future Institute (ILFI: recently won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2012 ( for its innovative framework known as the Living Building Challenge (LBC) 2.0 (—“a visionary path to a regenerative future.” LBC 2.0 guides the planning and design of regenerative places, from the site/building to the city/region scales. It takes LEED to the next level–to ultimate sustainability success–where impacts are reduced to net zero, e.g. eliminated, if not transformed to positive, e.g. become restorative of the regenerative life support cycles of the biosphere and local bioregion. As such, it is a planning innovation worth following if not testing!

Motivated by the idea that the future we imagine shapes human behavior and the prevalence of dystopian images of our urban future (think Blade Runner), the ILFI launched the Living City Design Competition in 2010 ( The competition engaged top international design and planning talent in applying LBC2.0 to the city scale. Their results ( showcase a positive urban future adapted to local conditions. This visioning is a first step in making the big, bold, transformative moves required for practical, next-generation urban sustainable development that planners can use now to begin creating the regenerative cities we need. One local application, Berkeley+Bay (, sketches the implications for the City of Berkeley and points towards a challenging larger regional application in the future.

One of LBC 2.0’s distinguishing features is the set of 20 performance parameters of “net-zero” principles that are now feasible using existing science, technology, and practices, along with a small dose of on-going innovation to further improve practicality. Raising the bar to net-zero is the key strategic move that transforms sustainability from an added cost to an innovation platform and profit path to the ecological-economy that underpins a sustainable society. Sustainable development is no longer pie-in-the-sky utopianism. We live in a new age of enviro-capitalism ( where solutions have become smart business and smart planning.

LBC 2.0 redefines the concept of green building by setting extremely ambitious goals that raise the bar by spurring the innovation needed to plan and develop regenerative buildings and places. Those goals include ultra-efficient, nontoxic buildings and places that generate all of their own energy onsite using renewable sources; capture and treat all of their own water; are constructed of nontoxic, sustainably sourced materials; use only previously developed sites; and are beautiful and inspiring to their inhabitants.

Although LBC 2.0 is not a recipe for a fully sustainable global society, it portends a huge step forward for a large component of a sustainable society—the built environment. LBC 2.0 is the 21st century realization of the 20th century vision for regenerative planning and design with roots in the pioneering work of Buckminster Fuller, Ian McHarg, John Todd, and many others. When combined with a strategic approach, as the ILFI anticipates with its recent merger ( of LBC 2.0 with the Cascadia Green Building Council, The Natural Step, and Ecotone Publishing, LBC 2.0 is poised to become a major driver of sustainability throughout the built environment, economy, and society. As such, planning can leverage and extend LBC 2.0 through collaboration and innovative sustainability planning.



Need More Ideas for Measuring Sustainability?

  • Newly crafted City of Dubuque Indicators    and sustainability principles ().   
  • The Rockford, Illinois region is developing an ambitious sustainability plan (see and The Indicators section).

Sustainability Committee Web Site

  • Explore more resources for innovative sustainability planning  ().
  • Read the Committee’s inaugural E-Update ().
  • Subscribe to the Committee’s e-mail list ().
  • Collaborate in ways that fit your time and interests   ().