One of the things that the children wanted in their school, which a lot of kids would want if they had the opportunity, is a river flowing through their classroom. Kids like that kind of thing, and engineers immediately have a kind of tick that develops. [laughter] No, you can't have a river. But in this case, what the team decided, well, this is a living building, perhaps we should listen to the students. - Jason McLennan
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Bioneers Series XIII - Program 03-13
”Disruptive Design: What Good Looks Like”
00:00 Welcome (00:04)
00:04 McLennan Teaser (00:22)
One of the things that the children wanted in their school, which a lot of kids would want if they had the opportunity, is a river flowing through their classroom. Kids like that kind of thing, and engineers immediately have a kind of tick that develops. [laughter] No, you can't have a river. But in this case, what the team decided, well, this is a living building, perhaps we should listen to the students.
00:26 Macy (00:09)
It’s all alive, it’s all connected, it’s all intelligent, it’s all relatives…
00:35 Bioneers Teaser (00:28)
We stand at the threshold of a historic opportunity in the human experiment: to re-imagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations. It's a revolution from the heart of nature - and the human heart.
In this series - The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature - we celebrate social and scientific innovators with breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet - creating a future environment of hope.
01:03 Theme music fade out (00:05)
01:08 Opening underwriting narration (00:10)
Support for The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature is provided in part by Organic Valley Family of Farms and Mary’s Gone Crackers.
01:20 NARRATION 1 (01:17)
“How would nature do it?”
That seemingly simple question is revolutionizing the field of design science. It’s innovation inspired by nature’s designs, processes and recipes.
Yet currently there’s only a 12 percent similarity between how biology and people do design.
Nature designs for the whole living system – we don’t. To follow nature’s lead, as the iconic visionary designer R. Buckminster Fuller put it, “Start with the Universe.”
Fuller described himself as a “comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist.”
Today the Buckminster Fuller Institute is reinventing and spreading his legacy with an annual global design competition to find and celebrate breakthrough systemic solutions that address humanity’s most pressing problems. In this half hour, we explore two such breakthroughs in aligning human design with nature’s design principles.
This is “Disruptive Design: What Good Looks Like" with journalist and social entrepreneur Cheryl Dahle and visionary architect Jason F. McLennan.
I’m Neil Harvey. I'll be your host. Welcome to The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature.
02:40 Music fade (00:14)
02:54 NARRATION 2 (00:11)
You call this a system? That’s what Cheryl Dahle asked when she looked at the future of fish and the parallel crashes of ocean biodiversity and the fishing industry.
03:05 Dahle 1A (00:16)
So, the story begins on an island off the coast of mainland China. And I'm touring a giant processing facility in Hainan and it's literally football field lengths of rows of people hand-cutting fish.
03:21 NARRATION 3 (00:32)
Cheryl Dahle was the 2012 Buckminster Fuller Challenge runner-up for her work applying systems thinking to the complex crisis of overfishing.
By all measures, the business model of the fishing industry is sinking -- because it’s sinking the health of our oceans and marine wildlife. Dahle says that understanding the disconnect between the fishing industry and the natural resource base on which it depends is the first step to saving both - by aligning business with biology.
03:53 Dahle 1B (02:04)
So it seems like a strange place to begin a journey to try to understand how to save the world's fish by touring a place where they are killed on an industrial level everyday, but it actually required this level of understanding the experience of the supply chain quite literally walking in the shoes of a fish distributor to be able to understand what needs to shift to make these outcomes look more like what we want them to look like.
85 per cent of the world's fisheries are either fished at maximum capacity or overfished. A third of them are in what we call collapse, which means that we are losing biomass at a rate that cannot be replaced. We, on an annual basis, harvest about 82 million metric tons of seafood, wild seafood from the ocean, and we basically get a third, again, as much of that, 27 million metric tons, in by-catch. So that's other kinds of fish, but it's also seabirds, it's mammals. If you are partial to tasty shrimp, your typical by-catch rate is for every pound of shrimp, it's nine pounds of by-catch. If you get your shrimp from off the coast of Indonesia, it's 67 pounds of by-catch to every one pound of shrimp.
And we are losing biodiversity, so tuna, particularly, and sharks, large predators in the food chain are starting to become scarce.
But there's also a business dimension to this problem. In the supply chain, between 20 and 55 per cent of all fish is lost once it's in the supply chain before it gets to a consumer. So there's huge amounts of waste that could be because of bad cold[?] chain[?] practices or just because the supply didn't actually meet the demand.
We have about twice as many boats as we need to fish sustainably—200 per cent capacity. And then finally, illegal fish is a huge problem. Seafood globally is about $102 billion industry. There's an additional $30 billion worth of illegal fish caught every year. So that means over and above the legal quotas that have been set by international bodies trying to govern what we reasonably scientifically should be able to take out of the water, and/or it's poaching on the rights of certain countries that have designated rights in an area to fish.
05:57 NARRATION 4 (00:14)
Cheryl Dahle first went fishing for solutions while working as director at the Ashoka Innovators for the Public. Focusing her research on the fishing industry’s supply chain, Dahle made startling discoveries.
06:11 Dahle 2 (01:42)
We started to discover some interesting patterns, and one of the biggest ones was that solutions in the space of sustainable fish focused at two ends of the supply chain. Organizations were either trying to get Wal-Mart to buy fish that was on the approval list, or they were working with fishers and farmers to get them to change practices. No one was talking to this middle of the supply chain of processors and distributors. It was a giant black hole. We thought that's pretty interesting. So we decided to explore. And we paired that with a design thinking process.
We sent anthropologists into the field into eight different locations in four different countries, including China, and what we were looking for were where could we observe activities and understand the motivations behind them.
And so, in looking at this we realized that the seafood industry's time horizon is one day. They are incredibly focused on moving that day's fish, and they come in and do the same thing the next day, which has huge implications if you think about innovation, because the timeframe necessary to innovate requires much more lead-in, right? So, you're asking questions like how I am I going to be more profitable six months from now? How am I going to plan for the fact that in five years the species that I'm reliant on as a business may become extinct? How am I going to think about that natural resource that is the core of my business and where it's gonna be in 10 years? If you are thinking day to day, that isn't a conversation or a framework or way of thinking that surfaces.
And what we started to see was this interesting shell game of how the manager was making the customers feel like they were being served but actually not giving them what they asked for. And so, you have this whole section of the supply chain whose value proposition is based on disguising scarcity.
07:53 NARRATION 5 (00:30)
Short-term thinking. Huge amounts of waste. Broken links in the supply chain where distributors both oversell and undersell fish. Mislabeled fish to cover it all up. And a radically declining resource base. You call this a system?
Cheryl Dahle found many people trying to do the right thing, and even some companies with good solutions. But they were up against markets designed with a lack of incentives for doing the right thing, and perverse incentives for doing the wrong thing.
08:23 Dahle 3A (01:39)
So, for example, when we looked at the supply chain, we saw that there were market failures in between the transactions between fishers and the middle of the chain, and the middle of the chain and merchants. And what those looked like was for fishers there was pressure for them to change gear, to change behavior, to act more sustainably, which almost always meant greater cost for them. And what was happening was that they said, Hey, I'm not getting paid more money for sustainable fish, even if I do what you tell me to do, I'm not making that money back. So that's a market failure in terms of us not supplying the incentive necessary to make that behavior change.
On the other end of the chain, you have all of these retailers who are being told only carry green listed fish or MSC certified fish. And basically they're saying, Hey, we don't even have enough verifiable information about the fish we get to know whether it's sustainable or not; there's not enough data for us to actually know that we're fulfilling that request or not. All of these retailers who've made commitments can't figure out whether they can actually fulfill those commitments.
The common theme among both of those problems or market failures is this issue of traceability. The standard in the industry is mystery fish.
So, one of the projects that we are supporting is a company that has developed technology that looks at tracing fish through the middle of the chain, and looks at how you watch it move through a processing facility. And what they've been able to do with this technology is to have productivity gains and recapture costs based on data-driven management. So their overtime costs have gone down by 80 per cent. They've decreased their cost of goods by 2 percent. And those types of savings start to add up to be more than what a distributor would make by mislabeling fish.
10:02 NARRATION 6 (00:32)
Cheryl Dahle went on to launch “the Future of Fish.” It’s a global effort to support and catalyze "disruptive" ideas: businesses and initiatives whose innovations change the business model – the paradigm - and influence other businesses to change course.
To fund these kinds of disruptive companies, a new form of social finance called “impact investing” has been developing. Investors see these companies as the levers to shift the entire system.
10:34 Dahle 3B (00:28)
Now we're in the phase of launching and incubating new companies. And what we put together is an opportunity for an impact investor to say, I care about fish, but I'm not going to just invest in one company that I happen to discover—that happens to be focused on sustainable fish. We can provide them with a blueprint for change that says these are the levers you need to strike, and here are the companies that actually strike them. And so you, as an impact investor, could say, I have a portfolio-based approach to impact as opposed to just financial return.
11:02 NARRATION 7 (00:23)
Cheryl Dahle designed the model developed by “Future of Fish” so that it can be applied to similar problems with many types of systems. She helped design a project called FLIP Labs to scale up and replicate this innovation model using applied systems thinking – and then to foster the skills needed to apply its lessons to other industries.
11:25 Dahle 4 (00:40)
FLIP labs stands for the Fellowship for Leaders and Innovation Practice. And the goal of this project is to say this process of discovery, incubation and investing can repeatedly create these ecosystems of companies that launch out into the world and continue the work of change.
So you build a group of practitioners who repeat this process of navigating systems change and build some deep capacity in the world for looking at this scale of problem and bringing the interdisciplinary and cross-cultural skills together to make it happen, because this isn't just about the future of fish, this is about the future full stop.
12:05 NARRATION 8 (00:17)
Cheryl Dahle, the runner-up to the 2012 Buckminster Fuller Institute Challenge Award for designing a global template to align business with biology.
Central to all these Challenge Award projects is Buckminster Fuller’s idea of the “trim tab.”
12:22 McLennan int 1A (00:13)
A trim tab is the small rudder on a large rudder that helps a large sea going vessel turn. So without that lever acting on a lever, you can't make the change at the scale that you want.
12:35 NARRATION 9 (00:27)
Jason McLennan sees his Living Building Challenge as a trim tab to turn the whole building industry. He won the 2012 Buckminster Fuller Award. McLennan is founder and director of The International Living Future Institute, and he’s one of the most influential figures in the green building movement. He’s an architect and author whose literally wrote the book on green building.
You call this a system? McLennan set out to disrupt it.
13:02 McLennan int 1B (00:43)
So, the Living Future Institute, our tagline is we're trying to create a world that is socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative. And really, that's getting at the fact that this isn't just about some sort of abstract notion of the environment out there, that, of course, we are part of the environment and we have to create places that are healthy for people and all species. And also socially and culturally sort of rich and fair, so it's a very holistic mission, clearly.
But we don't try to focus on all the world's problems. What we're looking at is how can we be a trimtab. And the Living Building Challenge is just one of the ways, actually, that we do that.
13:45 NARRATION 10 Lead to Mid-Break (00:27)
McLennan started the Living Building Challenge in 2006. His goal was nothing less than regenerating entire communities in concert with nature. When we return, Jason McLennan shows what good looks like.
This is “Disruptive Design: What Good Looks Like."
I'm Neil Harvey. You are listening to The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature.
14:12 MID BREAK (00:26)
14:38 NARRATION 11 (00:38)
To explore all available Bioneers radio shows and video programming, please visit media.bioneers.org
Jason McLennan’s Living Building Challenge is the world’s most stringent green building program. The bar is set so high that it requires disruptive innovation to even begin to meet its aspirational standards.
Because it’s holistic by nature, it leapfrogs far beyond standards for just building materials and energy use.
It invites designers to design beyond the boundaries and physical aspect of the building itself.
15:16 McLennan wkshp 1 (01:41)
This is not a program that is similar to LEED or in Australia Green Star or BREEAM in the U.S. Instead of looking at how do we incrementally improve the current paradigm, this is how do we actually rethink it? How do we move from a paradigm of being less bad to trying to understand what good should look like in terms of the way we build our communities; how do we reach a place of restoration?
The seed dispersal mechanism, if you will, is working, and we have projects emerging in a lot of different places, all different shapes and sizes in terms of the types of buildings they are. We have homes, offices, schools, laboratories, museums. We have visitors' centers, almost everything that you can think of as new examples of how to do what we do.
We've certified the world's first living buildings, and poetically, I think, the first building or one of the first three to be certified was a sewage treatment plant. And this is a building that treats the waste from about 80 other buildings around it. It does it without using any fossil fuels. All the pumps, fans and aerators are powered by photovoltaics on the site. It uses no chemicals to treat the waste. It uses natural systems where the microorganisms see our waste as food and it ends up delivering back to the ecosystem water that's cleaner than when it entered the site to begin with. And the punch line I always use is they do yoga in the sewage treatment plant and convince you that you should breathe in deeply. [Laughter] And if you can do this on the most lowly of building types, then perhaps we should be able to do this on the places where we live and where we teach our children.
16:57 NARRATION 13 (00:29)
A trimtab that moves the paradigm - from being less bad - to what good looks like.
The Living Building Challenge is spawning school buildings that also provide teachable moments – at the system level.
From daycare centers, to elementary schools to community colleges and universities, the Challenge encourages design teams to engage students in imagining and developing their own learning places. Seattle’s Bertschi School embraced that challenge too.
17:26 McLennan wkshp 2A (00:54)
In this particular school, the design team wholeheartedly embraced the ideas of the student population. And one of the things that the children wanted in their school, which a lot of kids would want if they had the opportunity, is a river flowing through their classroom. Kids like that kind of thing, and engineers immediately have a kind of tick that develops. [Laughter] No, you can't have a river. But in this case, what the team decided, well, this is a living building, perhaps we should listen to the students. And as they explored the ideas further, they realized that this was a new integral part of the curriculum and they were trying to teach the children in this classroom about the connection of storm water to the health of Puget Sound, to the health of salmon, and that what better way to do that then to celebrate the fact in Seattle that it actually rains a lot, and instead of getting depressed that it's once again raining, the children would be excited that the river is flowing again within their classroom.
18:21 NARRATION 14 (00:15)
The school’s design catches rainwater from the roof and pipes it through a rock-lined channel under the classroom floor. The floor is transparent above this little creek, offering students a natural living lab in their classroom.
18:36 McLennan wkshp 2B (00:31)
The story doesn't end there, because as the water flows through the runnel, it goes into the testing lab, and the children are able to test the quality of the water coming off the green roof of the building, this water then goes into the system that provides irrigation to the living wall, and they can see how that is performing, and they can also look at the water quality before it goes out into the landscape, into the edible landscape outside that the children helped plant. Now that is a system. [Applause]
19:07 NARRATION 15 (00:17)
Yes, you call this a system. And the kids then teach their parents and want to know why we’re not doing this at home. Jason McLennan also points to Seattle’s Bullitt Center, said to be the greenest building in the world.
19:24 McLennan int 2 (02:03)
It's a six-story commercial office building, ground floor retail type space with five floors of offices above it. And it's a building that in the least sunny city in the United States will generate all of its energy from photovoltaics on the roof, has no need for a sewer connection, has composting toilets on all floors, and it has to get normal commercial rental rates. So it has to appeal to the typical sort of office renter, if you will. That's pretty remarkable when you consider the kind of building that it is and how it's going to operate.
To get to net zero with a building of that size, with class-A office space, which is desks with computers and printers and all the things you think about in an office, modern office building, they've had to take real radical steps for energy efficiency, and Seattle is not the greatest place, as I mentioned, to generate energy from the sun, and they have to get 100 percent of it on a net annual basis from the sun. So they've had to have a very different set of rules for tenants they have. They're gonna have feedback mechanisms so that when you walk into your office, you're gonna understand how much energy your floor is using compared to the floor above you, and there's gonna be this element of feedback and peer pressure, if you will, and, oh, we're using more energy than we did last week, why is that? So the building is going to be helping to educate people.
And it's kind of like when the first electric cars came out and they had these instantaneous feedback of how your driving style was impacting your range, right? And we don't have that in our cities, in our buildings, where we have this sort of instant feedback, where we're able to understand how our behavior is impacting our performance. And I think that's, again, a very important thing because behavior is a big part of building performance. We're not rational creatures, and you throw a bunch of people in a building and we behave in interesting ways that engineers have a hard time predicting.
21:27 NARRATION 16 (00:33)
Google adopted the Living Building Challenge’s disruptive high standards for toxic materials – called the Red List. The large influential company now requires its manufacturers and suppliers to disclose what’s in their products.
The Red List is part of the Institute’s program called DECLARE. It’s like a nutrition label for building materials. It’s another trim tab starting to shift the entire industry.
McLennan seeks nothing less than to transform the building industry so that the design, construction and operation of the built environment become socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative.
22:10 McLennan int 3 (02:23)
Obviously you can't solve all of societies ills with a building. [Laughs] If we could, that would be a neat trick. But there are certainly in terms of how we design the infrastructure of our communities, we tend to create places that are not necessarily the best for all members of society. And that manifests itself in different ways. And a lot of people are not aware that even just a few years ago, before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, the way we designed buildings really excluded in terms of the full participation of those with mobility challenges, that we excluded that population from a dignified access to our buildings, and that's actually an issue of equity, and that's something we've begun now with the ADA and which passed, I believe, in 1995, right? So that gives you a sense of how issues with equity start to enter into architecture.
And as we take the Living Building Challenge around the world where we have countries that don't have accessibility laws, we actually require a minimum of the U.S. standard for accessibility. But that's just the thinnest stretch of this.
We also tackle issues that our industry, in particular the design-building industry, hasn't really tackled in a meaningful way. Like equity, like gender equity as well. Last year our conference was on the role of women in advancing sustainability ideas. How do we then introduce those topics to a demographic that tends to be white male dominated engineers and architects tend to be.
There's also access to nature—I was talking about physical access, but in terms of access to sun, solar rights is another one that we get concerned about. To give you a sense about that, imagine if you built your home and you invested a lot of money making your house net zero, and your neighbor then, two years later, put up a five-story structure and destroyed your investment and took away your energy independence. That's actually an issue of equity. Who owns the sky? Who owns the sun? Who owns fresh air? And so we begin to look at those in terms of project teams having to analyze and understand the downstream implications of their project. So even if you're building a living building project, are you diminishing the quality of life that your neighbors around you in terms of access to solar and access to fresh air and those various things?
24:33 NARRATION 17 (00:27)
The Challenge works with local governments because it literally has to “legalize sustainability” by changing building codes and water regulations, such as grey water use or rainwater collection. And the Living Building Challenge is rapidly spreading globally.
Just as Cheryl Dahle says the Future of Fish is really about the Future of the Future, Jason McLennan says the future is a Living Future.
25:00 McLennan int 4 (00:51)
Every time we do one of these projects, it creates a ripple effect of change, and more and more people get motivated and excited. And it demystifies that this is some sort of crazy thing that -- is it really practical, can I afford to do it? Then they see it and they go, I can do that; this is real. So, it is having that impact, but it's hard to know whether we will get ahead of the curve, if you will, before we're gonna be forced to only build this way, the proactive versus the reactive reality.
And if that's the case, at least we will have proven models in place of how we can live differently that we've tested and kicked the tires on in different climate zones, different building types, different cities. And so whether there's plan A or plan B, this is, I believe, an important strategy.
25:51 NARRATION 18 (00:13)
Jason McLennan – and Cheryl Dahle, applying systems thinking for a living future. "Disruptive Design: What Good Looks Like."
26:04 Bioneers BXIII - Program Close/Credits (01:44)
You can explore more Bioneers radio shows and also video programming online at media.bioneers.org. For information on attending the National Bioneers Conference and Bioneers events in your area, please visit bioneers.org or call 1-877-BIONEER.
The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature is a production of Bioneers and Collective Heritage Institute.
Executive Producer: Kenny Ausubel
Written by Catherine Stifter and Kenny Ausubel
Senior Producer: Neil Harvey
Managing Producer: Stephanie Welch
Production Management and Station Relations: Kate Hunter
Distribution is by WFMT Radio Network
Interview recording engineer: Jeff Wessman
Our theme music is taken from the album "Journey Between" by Baka Beyond and used by permission of Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label. Additional music was made available by Sounds True at SoundsTrue.com. For more music information, please visit Bioneers.org.
The opinions expressed in The Bioneers Revolution from the Heart of Nature radio series are those of the presenters and are not necessarily those of Collective Heritage Institute, the underwriters, or this radio station.
My name is Neil Harvey. Thank you for listening. I invite you to join the Bioneers in inspiring a shift to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
This is program number 03-13.
27:49 Closing underwriting narration (00:41)
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