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January 15, 2009


Wendy Jedlicka

Thanks Dennis, for another great article -- and yeah recycling you rightly call out is one R that is not getting the attention it deserves. But the thing that rather strikes me is that you call out 7Rs for sustainability. I'm assuming you're referring to Walmart's 7, but as long as that list is, that's only part of the story.

Shifting from a world where we try to just do "less bad" to one where we are actually creating MORE GOOD (as William McDonough is often heard to say) -- is the thought process behind a Restorative Economy -- and the real core of sustainability. Walmart's 7 is a great start, and a HUGE win for the planet as any tiny change at Walmart is a HUGE change overall. But for the long-haul, as numerous as they are, the seven really fall short. And they don't address social issues at all, one of the cornerstones of sustainability (Triple Bottom/Top Line).

Before the Walmart 7Rs were even a glimmer in their parent's eyes, designers in the chapter of the o2 International Network for Sustainable Design spearheaded the effort in the global newsgroup to expand ideas on how we could expand the old 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we all know and love. Vetted by designers, engineers, and business people in over 60 countries, we managed to add just a few bits to the old 3Rs, plus tweak one of the original 3, to create an -- importance ranked list -- that will help bring us not only back from the brink of self-destruction, but put us on the path that will take us to the next level.

We asked ourselves these fundamental questions: Where do we want to sustain at? The place were we've already depleted things to their collapse, or a place of abundance and renewal?

o2's 5Rs of Great Design

Use materials (and support firms) that help reverse damage or -- add -- to natural capital. Restorative Economics, the next step in sustainability evolution.

Examine impacts the item will have on stakeholders, as well as eco-systems -- social plus environmental justice.

Reduce material, toxin, and energy use (to zero if possible).

Design for disassembly and reuse. Be careful though, not to just create robust garbage.

Create items that WILL BE fed BACK into the resource loop. "Recycle able" has no meaning unless it's been Recovered. Recover also includes recover nutrients for biodegradability, and energy from materials at total end-of-life.

To read about the o2 5Rs in detail, and how they work with other systems thinking ideas:

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