Posts Tagged ‘development’

Health 2.0 DC/VA/MD Meet-Up & on being a responsible health blogger

Last night I attended the Health 2.0 DC/VA/MD Meet-Up over in Bethesda (at The Barking Dog), which ended up being a really interesting event. I’m basically brand new to the whole adult world of networking events that fall outside of American University, which is now technically my “alma mater,” and I found it to be not at all intimidating and overall very informative. The event was hosted by Aquilent. They picked a pretty perfect venue for an meet-up with six rapid-fire 5-minute presentations from innovators and leaders in the area of health solutions that use Web 2.0 technology. The moderator had a whistle but I think he laid off it when one of the speakers announced he had “mean soccer coach days” issues.

One of my favorite speakers was Nancy Shute, contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report and writer of the OnParenting blog, which for some reason I sometimes read even though I’m not a parent. She talked about the struggles that journalism has faced with regard to a lack of fact-checking and how, when it comes to issues of health and medical care, those sorts of mistakes can be, well, deadly. One thing she pointed out that I found interesting is that for a while it was clear that people wanted to hear from others like themselves when it came to making decisions about their health care, but now the balance between trusting people like you and trusting medical doctors is beginning to level out.

What this presentation really said to me, especially as someone who blogs and potentially puts myself in a place where my advice about health and eating and wellness can be taken seriously, is that, like a journalist, I need to fact-check my sources and trust only reliable sites. I have struggled with this in the past in my personal life when I have turned into what you might call a “cyberchondriac.” (CDC? An acceptable place to find health information; random message boards? Not so much.) While the Web 2.0 age has afforded us the ability to share information and get help quickly and be in touch with sources online that are legitimate, it has also given a voice to a bunch of people that don’t know what the heck they are talking about. And our job, as the writers and re-purposers of that information, is to do so with utmost scrutiny and with an unbiased voice which isn’t swayed by sponsors or advertisers or celebrities (see Jennifer McCarthy and the autism/vaccine connection debate). We, as “citizen journalists” have to be able to discern when information isn’t accurate or useful so that we know not to trust it for ourselves and not to share it with our readers.

Update: See below for the slideshow from Nancy’s presentation. It’s definitely worth a look through.

Anthony LaFauce at Spectrum Science (who took some video at the event and has it posted on his Qik page) posted a great recap of one of the speakers from Infield. They provided interesting information about recent innovations that have allowed doctors to diagnose patients from afar, just based on pictures they take and send with their cell phones in developing nations where doctors are scarce. They’ve also developed ways of reuniting loved ones who are separated during natural disasters. They talked about how the person locator system was set up following the earthquake in Haiti, but that it took three weeks for this first program to start running, and then when the Chile earthquake happened, they were able to get everything set up in just 4 days. So from trial one to trial two, they cut the time it took to get the system up and running by 80 percent. Just think what that could mean for the unfortunate but inevitable next natural disaster.

This segues well into what I really am looking forward to doing with this blog down the line. As you can tell by my last couple posts, I am already moving away from the strictly food topics. But I will wait to get into that in a future post.

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Bill McDonough’s “Cradle to Cradle” redesigns how we think about sustainability

Rewriting our design assignment

“And to use something as elegant as a tree?
Imagine this design assignment:
Design something that
makes oxygen,
sequesters carbon,
fixes nitrogen,
distills water,
makes complex sugars and foods,
changes colors with the seasons,
and self-replicates.
…and then why don’t we knock that down
and write on it?”
~ William McDonough

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Here is what Bill McDonough proposes is our ultimate design assignment.

Circles & triangles

Last night was a bit of a “full circle moment” for me, not only as a student learning about environmental issues and sustainability, but as a citizen of the world. I got to meet a hugely influential person in my life, Bill McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle (co-authored by Michael Braungart). I first read this book when I was 19 years old and staying on Nantucket with a family I nannied for. I went in a bookstore in town with the kids and they were giving away copies of it for free.

Hm. I thought. Well, that’s interesting. And I’m not one to turn down anything that is free. This book was also so smooth, pretty, different from other books (it’s made of polypropylene paper, is 100% recyclable, is more durable, has pages that don’t wrinkle/tear, and iswater-proof). I read it in three trips to the beach and ever since then, I’ve been interested in sustainability. I had never read anything like it before. It taught me the backstory of why we are where we are today (a rudimentary concept—the industrial revolution brought us here—but at the time, I knew next to nothing about this.) But it also made me think. It made me look around and see the way we do things and ask myself, “But wait, why don’t we do it this way, and then we don’t have to this problem or that problem AND we get this benefit and that benefit.”

Basic case in point: You can carry your groceries home in reusable bags, because they reduce unnecessary waste and buildup of plastic in our landfills and ecosystems. But you can also carry your groceries home in reusable bags, because carrying heavy objects over your shoulders makes your life easier and prevents loaded plastic bags from cutting off the circulation in your fingers as you carry them.

Just that story of how I came upon this book sort of mirrors exactly what Bill is all about: for me, a free book changed my life. Cradle-to-cradle design isn’t about making things more expensive or more difficult or less fun or less aesthetically pleasing or less loving. It’s not even about creating equitable and ecologically friendly ways of doing things in ways that fail to promote economic growth. He believes in the importance and power of the economy, equity, ecology as they can co-exist and work together. This is a relatively well-known concept in the field of development and the first thing we talked about in my Environment & Development class this year, but it’s not a balance often achieved in design.

Benefits of a cradle-to-cradle approach within food systems

ECONOMY

  • More local agricultural jobs, less power concentration in hands of CEO’s/more in hands of people => more jobs, more money in the hands of people
  • More vibrant local economies => less hunger, less sickness, less violence
  • More vibrant local economies => more vibrant cultural activity => thriving people

ECOLOGY

  • Less soil nutrient depletion and erosion
  • More places for species to live and thrive, instead of less
  • Less waste, less use of packaging, less transportation/fuel needed, less carbon dioxide emitted => more up-cycling => best use of natural resources => healtheir ecosystems => survival of all species

EQUITY

  • Better food security and food access due to independence from industrial food systems elsewhere & less disparity between the have’s of fresh, local food and the have-not’s with processed, unhealthy foods
  • Better tasting, healthier, less processed, more nutrient rich, less pesticide/harsh chemical-laden food
  • Healthier people => happier people


Drawbacks to a cradle-to-cradle approach within food systems

Yeah. Cost-benefit analyze that one. Which is sort of the whole idea. If there is a drawback, it’s not really cradle-to-cradle design.

“The God is in the details”

The really fabulous thing for me and other American University students, is that Bill is the architect that designed our new School of International Service building. And he did so in a way that combined these three benefits, saying that, “the God is in the details.” Meaning that all of the parts that make up the whole of this transparent, innovative, progressive building, “where people can dream,” are working together in their own way, in a good way, to make things “more good,” instead of “less bad”. From the 100% recyclable carpeting and other building materials to the waste management system, from the rain collectors and solar panels on the roof to the underground parking garage that gives priority parking first to cyclists (and has shower rooms available for them), then motorcyclists, then hybrid vehicles, and last, other vehicles.

I had a few questions I would have loved to ask Bill, but I chose something specific, “Are there any plans in place to evolve other buildings on campus?” The short answer from the dean was basically, “There sure will be. We need funding first.” Which gets back to that triangle corner of economy. If it’s not economically viable, it doesn’t fit the cradle-to-cradle design question:

But the economic viability aspect is also a huge asset to cradle-t0-cradle design, and to agribusiness in general, simply because this is what businesses and corporations are solely interested in. So in order to convince them, all the “cradle-to-cradle minded” designer needs to do is convince them that they will save money, or that they will be able to make more money, and then they are basically obligated to embrace it. It would go against the basic law of capitalism not to.

Cradle-to-cradle is the sort of design model that we need to use for our food production AND our food waste upcycling in our cities, because one cannot exist in a well-designed system without the other. Local food production via green roofs, composting in homes and buildings, using that compost on the green roofs of the homes and buildings–this isn’t rocket science, it’s just, as Bill would say, interesting.

In one of my next entries I will go over some of these “details” in more detail, and talk about how they can work together to encompass sustainably designed and developed food systems within cities and habitats for humans and all other life.

Evolving design

The most important thing to remember is that that doesn’t mean cradle-to-cradle design is ever perfect. In fact, McDonough recognizes it is not ever perfect. Really, design must be constantly evolving as different methods and technologies become more economically viable and approaches are made more equitable while still remaining ecologically beneficial. What works now will have to work better in the future.

Just like all organisms must evolve to survive, so must humans, and so must the systems that we create and rely on.

After all…

“Sustainability takes forever. And that’s the point.” – William McDonough

Making connections: sustainable development panel a success

OK so I have been meaning to post about the health care bill for, well, since it was passed. But a lot has been going on. Some not very fun things have been going on. Everything is a little overwhelming and this blog has been taking the back burner.

Photo Credit: Phillip Ochs

Photo Credit: Phillip Ochs

Photo Credit: Phillip Ochs

However, I have also been busy with things that are great. Over the past week or two, a couple classmates and I planned and executed a fantastic panel discussion with John Wanda, founder of the Arlington Academy of Hope, Nicole Hewitt of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, and Andrea Bachmann, who organized an alt break trip to Colombia. The best part about the event aside from our three amazing speakers, was the connection that one of the students in the audience made with John Wanda about solar ovens. Recently, there was a tragic landslide in Uganda that buried over 400 people. These sorts of landslides are often a result of flooding in areas that have been deforested. The areas have been deforested largely because there is no electricity, and electricity is used to power ovens. One student shared information about solar ovens, which use the power of the sun to heat up an oven to 200-350 degrees, making for a sustainable method for heating food without having to deforest. We are going to see if we can organize something on campus with a solar oven cook-off.

Photo Credit: Phillip Ochs

Very exciting developments. I love passionate people. And I love the power of conversation. It was a really beautiful thing to see those connections happening.

Stay tuned for my HCR post soon 😉