Cowboy Economy - Chasing the Dollar

Embracing Collaborative Sustainable Design

See the high school version of this article

A Path to Circular Economy for Students and Community Members

During my time as a graduate student in landscape architecture and design, our school aimed to merge with the school of ecology. However, the collaboration faced challenges between creative designers and data-driven ecologists. This disconnect highlighted the need for a transformative approach to design. The schools decided not to merge. It was an unfortunate setback for both departments. But for our future to be sustainable, these disciplines and others need to find ways to collaborate.

What is a Circular Economy?

The circular economy challenges traditional design thinking by emphasizing longevity, reparability, and rethinking design. Using Zero Waste concepts and drawing from disciplines such as Environmental Science, Industrial Design, Sustainable Engineering, and Business Sustainability, this approach reimagines products and systems. The idea of a circular economy traces back to Kenneth Boulding’s 1966 paper, “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth,(1) advocating for sustainable practices in a closed system with finite resources. Boulding compares the old “Cowboy Economy,” which freely used resources and disposed of waste, with the new “Spaceship Earth Economy” that recognizes the need to be more careful with resources.

Interdisciplinary Design Principles

In the past, education followed separate tracks for fields like architecture, engineering, and biology. Since then, interdisciplinary studies have been embraced as a crucial part of the process. By blending knowledge from diverse fields, students learn to create sustainable products and processes. Circular economy design thrives on collaboration, teamwork, and communication skills. An open-minded rejection of proprietary methods fosters creativity and collaborative efforts and reduces the likelihood of the wasted resources of siloed duplicated efforts.

Benefits of Interdisciplinary Collaboration

  1. Ethical considerations: Integrating environmental studies with business and technology promotes ethical design choices.
  2. Circular economy management: Interdisciplinary knowledge helps navigate waste reduction and responsible material management.
  3. Innovation at intersections: Leaders in sustainable design emerge by synthesizing insights from diverse fields, driving innovation beyond conventional boundaries.

The role of interdisciplinary studies, collaboration, and a rejection of proprietary methods are crucial for future leaders in sustainable design. By fostering a culture of open collaboration and embracing diverse perspectives, students can drive innovation that shapes a sustainable and regenerative future for design and the global economy.

For students and community members, it’s essential to recognize that when ethics align with business practices, sustainability takes precedence. Prioritizing the well-being of the environment and society is paramount, even if it means diverting windfall profit from a covetous few. Sustainable practices contribute to a long-term return on investment that benefits not only individuals but the broader community and the planet. Let’s empower future leaders to advocate for practices that harmonize ethical considerations with lasting environmental and social impact.

I’m just a College Student or Community Member. What Can I Do?

More than you know. If you’re here, you’re already thinking about it, so this give you the long-term planning advantage. Find courses in your field that align with zero waste principles, environmental ethics, and sustainability and learn how to put these into practice. Collaborate across fields! The more perspectives you can bring to your work, the better equipped you’ll be to create innovative and eco-friendly solutions. A cross-disciplinary education with a focus on sustainability will empower you to become a leader advocating for positive change. The future needs forward-thinking individuals who can work collaboratively to make business and design choices that benefit people, communities, and the planet.

(1) Source: The Economics of Spaceship Earth – Kenneth E. Boulding

Featured image is “Cowboy Economists Chasing the Dollar”, a tribute to Kenneth Boulding’s 1966 paper and presentation.

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