Sustainable design

Sustainable design is the art of producing objects using only renewable resources, and which themselves, in operation, deplete only renewable resources.

Such designs are called 'sustainable' because they do not permanently reduce the natural resources available to humanity. Thus, they can be used into the indefinite future.

Examples of sustainable design

Autonomous buildings use available resources such as rainwater, solar power or wind turbines, in order to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and other resources. Often they can be constructed of recycled materials as well, reducing their total energy requirements for construction.

Most official agricultural services claim that existing pesticide protocols and methods of soil conservation adequately protect topsoil and wildlife. Some authorities say that these are not sustainable, and that agrarian reforms would permit efficient agriculture with fewer pesticides and less, or no loss of valuable topsoil or wildlife. ALthough there are strenuous discussions about exact methods, no authority seems to believe that sustainable agriculture is impossible.

Automobiles and appliances can be designed for repair and disassembly (for recycling), and constructed from recyclable materials such as steel, aluminum and glass, and renewable materials, such as wood and plastics from natural feedstocks. Careful selection of materials and manufacturing processes can often create products indistinguishable in price and performance from non-sustainable products. Even mild design efforts can greatly increase the sustainable content of manufactured items.

Detergents, newspapers and other disposable items can be designed to self-destruct, usually simply rot, in the presence of air, water and common soil organisms. The current challenge in this area is to design such items in attractive colors, at costs as low as competing items. Since most such items end up in landfills, protected from air and water, the utility of such self-detruction is debated.

High quality wind turbines can be constructed from recycled aluminum, steel and small amounts of electronics. They produce renewable energy. Properly sited, wind could power our entire industrial society at prices that are now comparable to coal.

The world's oceans contain sufficient uranium to power existing industries, via breeder reactors, until the sun consumes the Earth in four billion years. Japanese scientists claim to have discovered methods of extracting the Uranium from seawater.

See also waste management

copyright 2004