Lance Hosey is President and CEO of GreenBlue and author of The Shape of Green. Island Press: You write that conventional views of sustainability are short-sighted. How so? Lance Hosey: Popular understandings of sustainability define both the questions and the answers narrowly—the problem is global warming, the cause is emissions from outmoded energy mechanisms, and the solution is smarter mechanisms. Technology has hijacked sustainability. Imagine a day when we’ve perfectly solved the challenges of energy, resources, and emissions, and everything we make is clean, harmless, and infinitely renewable. Is that enough? Life is more than its “resources,” and sustainability must mean more than just the efficient use of those resources. IP: How is your view of sustainability different? LH: It’s the difference between surviving and thriving. Sustaining life means not just maintaining a pulse but also embracing all the things that make life worth living. The so-called “triple bottom line” expands the traditional notion of value to include not just economic but also social and environmental measures, and I can think of nothing at all, certainly nothing of value, that doesn't fall within one or more of these categories. Even the most intangible human and natural treasures are social or environmental in origin, so the triple bottom line must include even the emotional and the spiritual—love, family, faith, and, yes, beauty. IP: How has “technology hijacked sustainability,” as you say? LH: Many designers seem to believe that sustainability belongs in a technical manual, not on a napkin sketch. If I ask you to name a “green” car, you’d probably mention one of the hybrids. Yet, the 2010 Honda Civic Hybrid is indistinguishable from the conventional Honda Civic. What makes it green is invisible, hidden under the hood. But designers can embrace sustainability by focusing first on what they've always cared about most—the basic shape of things. For example, I drive a first generation Smart Car, which has a regular gas engine and gets better mileage than most American hybrids, just because it’s small, round, and light. (Plus, everywhere I drive, people smile as I pass, so I like to think I’m spreading joy through the land.) The intelligence is in the shape, this book timely? LH: Designers and consumers have become very familiar with conventional sustainability and the need for more environmentally responsible design. Now that the ethical value of green is becoming more accepted and understood, its aesthetic value demands greater attention. I think people are hungry for a subtler debate about sustainability, what it is, and how it brings meaning into our lives. IP: What are some examples, in different areas, of green design that is good design? LH: I already mentioned the Smart Car, the Tata Pixel, and the Daimler "Bionic" car. Other examples:
- The Mission One electric motorcycle capitalizes on the lack of a gas engine by indenting the sides so the rider can pull her legs out of the slipstream, creating a much more aerodynamic form. With the change in technology came a change in shape—and in the results.
- PAX Scientific’s Lily Impeller rotor mimics the logarithmic spiral of seashells and other natural forms to reduce energy needs by 85 percent.
- The nose of the Shinkansen bullet train emulates the kingfisher’s beak, which can penetrate water with surprisingly little splash. The sleeker, quieter train moves 10 percent faster with 15 percent less energy and avoids a sonic boom.
- The London City Hall's sculpted form leans into the sun to shade itself, using only 25% of the energy of a typical office building.
- At a much larger scale, the Shanghai Tower is twisted 120 degrees in order to cut wind loads, and therefore the amount of steel, by 25 percent, saving $60 million.