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The Power of One

It was both a lesson and a treat when I had the opportunity to hear Ray Anderson of Interface talk about practices designers can employ to better support sustainability.

By H. Don Bowden

Long ago someone shared with me a simple, but powerful concept: the "power of one." It refers to the belief that, regardless of how daunting or hopeless a situation may seem, each one of us has the power to do something that can make a difference.

Recently, I had the good fortune to be schooled in the "power of one" in regard to sustainable design. Architects and interior designers, we like to say, know something about everything when it comes to the built environment. I have to confess that when it comes to sustainable design, I know a little about many things. So it was both a lesson and a treat when I had the opportunity to hear Ray Anderson of Interface talk about practices designers can employ to better support sustainability.

The problems sustainability advocates seek to address and overcome seem insurmountable. The population projections alone are staggering. It took the human species about three million years to reach a world population of 1.6 billion in 1900. At the end of the 20th century that figure had increased to 6.1 billion. In the next 50 years, the population is expected to increase another 50 percent to about nine billion. Such rapid growth places great strains on food, water and energy supplies, as well as contributing to greatly increased pollution, waste and the depletion of natural resources. In the face of global challenges like these, what can our profession, let alone a single individual, do to help?

Anderson had an empowering answer to that question. Because of the many ways that designers and architects are connected to various resources and communities, a single practitioner applying sustainable principles to specification and business practices can have a tremendous impact on controlling growth and protecting the environment. Now picture that "power of one" multiplied by thousands. The impact would be tremendous.

Anderson shared a list of things businesses can do to practice and promote sustainability. To preserve precious resources, we can eliminate waste, de-toxify emissions, reduce the use of non-renewable energy sources, redesign products to use less material and energy, and develop technologies to increase the use of recycled and repurposed materials. As part of our business practices, we can use more efficient cars and trucks, and plan trips and meetings to minimize travel. Anderson pointed out that every day we can make choices that influence others' behavior. We have relationships with suppliers, customers, employees and others through which we can engage and encourage them to be drivers of sustainability. We can insist that all suppliers throughout the supply chain adopt sustainable practices. We can help to create new business practices that are based in service rather than commerce. We can act to promote corporate accountability and tax laws that favor sustainability instead of subsidizing exploitation and waste.

Not everyone may be ready to take up the flag for sustainability, but each of us can begin now to reduce waste and energy use and to preserve resources. Conservation alone, though, is not enough. To ensure that future generations have the resources they need, we have to do more than slow down the rate at which we are destroying the environment and threatening our survival. The goal, said Anderson, is to adopt "restorative" practices that help to replenish resources and create new sources of materials and energy. Working toward this goal is our responsibility and will serve as our legacy to future generations.

I would like to submit a corollary to the "power of one:" Every individual has the ability to learn and to apply that knowledge to better the situation. This, too, is a simple, but powerful and responsible—and rewarding—concept. I for one am ready to exercise a little "power" to ensure a fit world and a healthy environment for all those who come after us. I hope you are, too.

ASID National President H. Don Bowden is founder of his own firm, H. Don Bowden-Architect, in Mobile, AL. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3580; fax (202) 546-3240;