It has been 48 years since 20 million+ people demonstrated across the United States of America in an unmistakable call for environmental reform and to mark the first ever Earth Day. The collective push of those 20 million+ individuals helped spur significant change in environmental policy and practice, including the extension and passage of both the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts along with the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The progress launched that day in 1970 has never really ceased. Earth Day is now celebrated in over 193 countries and is said to be the most widely-observed secular holiday in the world. The annual event is broad recognition that the way we treat our planet impacts all of us, and transcends nationality, race, religion, and socio-economic strata.
Earth, our small but verdant rock, is an extremely rare thing in our universe; a lifeboat in a vast sea of lifelessness. This ‘Spaceship Earth’ that we inhabit grows closer to capacity each passing year, but like other closed-systems, can provide regenerative abundance if the right conditions are created or otherwise met.
Our home planet is remarkably resilient. It is already over 4.5 billion years old while human-recorded history only goes back a mere five-thousand years – we’re essentially a small blip on the geological timeline of our planet. And yet, we humans have been so impactful in that short amount of time, the last 150 years in particular.
The growth of our human population and our capacity to innovate are closely connected to the relative climatic/ecological stability of the last ten thousand years. These innovations have clearly made net positive improvements for human life, however, they have also had a net-negative impact on the rest of life on the planet. In particular, the fossil fuels and plastics that empower rapid human advancement are choking our oceans, poisoning the air and water, and changing our climate. We have reached a point where our innovations can no longer be one-sided – we must now make changes that are positive for both people and planet.
Our Earth has endured some tough times – multiple mass extinctions have set evolution back millions of years throughout its history. Nevertheless, life bounces back and Mother Earth persists. So, we need to ask ourselves, is the world really in danger of demise or are we? Whose existence is really threatened when we ignore the breadth of our own ecological footprints? When we allow the interests of a few to degrade the protections for the land, air and water of all? When we hope that someone else will step up and do the right thing while we go about business as usual?
No, the Earth does not the need the power of human ingenuity and consciousness to intervene on its part – we need to use that to save ourselves. As designers of the built environment we have that power. We also know how to wield that power successfully. So as we move forward beyond Earth Day 2018, sure, ‘do it for the Earth’ but in the back of your mind know what you really should be doing it for yourself and every generation that will follow.
Learn more about Earth Day >
On Monday October 16, CannonDesign will kick off Environmental Awareness Week (EAW), an annual celebration of smart ideas, innovative technologies and iconoclastic thinkers that help guide our progress toward becoming a regenerative practice.
From its initial inception in our Chicago office in 2001, EAW has grown into a firm-wide event that provides the impetus for our staff, clients and other industry partners to pause and consider the environmental impact of our work and our individual lives.
In 2017, this act of reflection is more important than ever. Each year, we select a theme for the week and this year is simple: Act Now.
The unfortunate reality – in the U.S. in particular – is that much of the collective progress we have made on environmental issues is in jeopardy. It now appears that hard-fought protections for environmental and human health will at best be slowed and at worst be rolled back by our own federal government. So what can we do?
Many of us who care about this progress have come to realize that we have placed too much faith in broad solutions from above – the “someone should do something” syndrome. We need to re-awaken in ourselves and each other the notion that each one of us is “someone” and furthermore, “we are the ones that we have been waiting for.”
The EAW activities occurring around the firm this year aim to reinforce that message. This year, we will be hosting three excellent keynote speakers each with a story of action at many levels from individual design professionals to collective efforts by cities and states.
Henrietta Davis, former mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts will present the effort that continues to propel her city’s Net Zero plan toward realization by 2040.
Alex Steffen, a prolific writer and public thinker, will lay out a vision for a sustainable future using examples large and small as supporting evidence.
Bob Berkebile, principal emeritus at BNIM will share his observations on the evolution of high performance integrated design and his recent work in regenerative urban design and development.
We believe these three speakers represent the path forward for the next few years: using people power to bulwark sustainability efforts at the local, municipal, and state levels.
The backdrop for these discussions will be three activities occurring across multiple offices.
The first is an ongoing intra-office competition that is engaging nearly half of the firm as 8-person teams, challenging our staff to take personal actions toward environmentally sustainable lifestyles. Teams earn points when their members take actions from a list of choices including public transit or biking to work, taking shorter showers, turning off electronics, buying local or not buying at all.
A second competition is directly related to our work in designing built environments and challenges integrated teams of architects and engineers to envision a net zero water, waste and energy campus of the future.
Finally, most of our offices will be hosting one or more mini-trade shows and local events where we will collaborate with product representatives and industry partners to showcase the latest in environmentally-friendly building design and construction materials and methods.
Our hope is that this year’s EAW will provide inspiration for ourselves and our industry to push forward harder than ever toward a just and healthy future for all and to Act Now.
Does this year feel any different, perhaps more urgent, than those of the past? It certainly does for me.
If you’ve been following the news from Washington D.C. over the last four months you know there are some starkly different visions for the future of our health, our economy and our planet that are playing out in the halls of power.
One vision for the future is one in which we protect each other from air and water pollution. Where we limit the use of toxins in our food production and manufacturing. Where our energy needs are met by clean, renewable sources. And where we accept the science that has been telling us for decades that human activity is changing our climate and that we need to come together to not only mitigate it but also to address the changes that are already occurring. This future will improve the health of people, plants and animals, and will combat the global warming that is the result of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. Such a transformation has and will require a lot of work and a vast and highly skilled workforce.
Another vision for the future is one where we allow the interests of fossil fuel, chemical and other large industrial corporations to wipe away the protections for human health and the natural environment that have taken decades to develop. In this vision we will continue to watch as glaciers melt and permafrost thaws. We will see more pipelines forced upon communities that don’t want or need them. We will see our cities, buildings and bodies polluted by unregulated substances. We will see more destruction of our forests and more extinction of animal species. And we will continue to see human lives lost to more powerful storms coupled with rising tides and expanding droughts.
Yes, this Earth Day is different.
This Earth Day is the year when we really need to decide if we believe the future is worth fighting for. Do we look the other way and hope that someone else will do something? Or do we stop, think and choose to do something ourselves?
I could say something fairly innocuous here, like, turn off your lights for an hour or finally set up that rain barrel that you got a couple of years ago or even calculate your carbon footprint. Those are all good and necessary activities. But for this year and every year that follows for the foreseeable future — that simply will not be enough.
So do something more this year.
Take a look at the list below, pick something and do it. When you do, congratulations, you have just taken a stand in the defense of a livable future for us all. And when we come back to the office on Monday, we can think about how the work in front of us affects our health, our economy, our planet and how we might be able to use the power of design to propel those forward.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Attend your local (or national!) March for Science on Saturday, April 22.
Make a plan to attend your local (or national!) Peoples Climate March on Saturday, April 29.
Check out one or more of these groups listed below.
These are nationally recognized non-profit groups who are now busier than ever making sure we do not slip backwards on the progress we have made in creating a healthier planet. Making a donation to one or more is an obvious course of action. But many of these also have local chapters – see what they are up to in your area and get involved.
http://earthjustice.org/ – EarthJustice is the largest nonprofit environmental law organization in the country, working to protect wildlife, for healthy communities, and for cleaner energy options. The organization represents its clients free of charge.
http://www.sierraclub.org/ – The Sierra Club is the largest grassroots environmental organization in the county, and works to protect millions of acres of wilderness and pass legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
https://www.nrdc.org/ – The National Resources Defense Council works to safeguard the earth – it people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.
https://www.edf.org/ – The Environmental Defense Fund forges solutions that let people and nature prosper.
https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/ – Our Children’s Trust elevates the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere for the benefit of all present and future generations.
https://citizensclimatelobby.org/ – Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change
https://350.org/ – 350.org is building a global grassroots climate movement that can hold our leaders accountable to the realities of science and the principles of justice.
http://www.earthday.org/ – Earth Day Network ‘s mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide.
Learn about our commitment to Sustainability >