If I didn't work for an architectural firm, I would be 1) working for a think tank or 2) an etymologist. In case you are wondering, etymology is the study of the history of words — when they entered a language, from what source, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. Words are an extremely powerful way of expressing culture and context. I think I truly appreciated the power of words when I lived in London for a year. The people around me were speaking English, but there were so many sayings and phrases I didn't know ... I regularly needed a translator for the first three months I was there.
Fast forward six years. I had a great conversation yesterday with Valerie Casey from Ideo and the Designers Accord (brilliant woman who is transforming the design industry). We started talking about the new lexicon of the current green movement. Words like green washing, offsets, slow food, zero waste, Cradle to Cradle, etc. There has been an explosion of terms like this that define a new way of perceiving the world we live in. I think it's worth a little research to understand these words and how they are influencing our thinking. So I'll be posting some of these from time to time.
The green word of the day: Ecological Economics
This word is particularly relevant for me now because several of us blogging for The Green Workplace are working on a paper for the General Services Administration on this very topic. From Wikipedia (sorry academics out there, but I love this source):
Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field of academic research that aims to address the interdependence between human economies and natural ecosystems. It is distinguished from environmental economics by its connection to outside disciplines within the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities and its focus on the "scale" conundrum, or how to operate an economywithin the ecological constraints of earth's natural resources. According to ecological economist Malte Faber, ecological economics is defined by its focus on nature, justice, and time.To simplify (a lot), our current economic tools typically evaluate everything based on monetary value. If the marketplace hasn't yet put a pricetag on something, it doesn't typically figure into our decision making. And when you have an economy that evaluates everything based on monetary value, you run into problems putting a pricetag on things like "access to clean air or water." Ecological economics proposes a new set of environmentally-based measurements (along with economic ones) and a new way of changing market behavior. It's still up for debate how to model this new way of thinking, but there are a number of really smart people focused on it today.
Issues of inter-generational equity, irreversibility of environmental change, uncertainty of long-term outcomes, and sustainable development guide ecological economic analysis and valuation. The identity of ecological economics as a field has been described as fragile, with no generally accepted theoretical framework and a knowledge structure which is not clearly defined.
Ecological economists have questioned fundamental mainstream economic approaches such as cost-benefit analysis, and the separability of economic values from scientific research, contending that economics is unavoidably normative rather than positive (empirical). Positional analysis, which attempts to incorporate time and justice issues, is proposed as an alternative.
Ecological economics includes the study of the metabolism of society, that is, the study of the flows of energy and materials that enter and exit the economic system. This subfield is also called biophysical economics, sometimes referred to also as bioeconomics. It is based on a conceptual model of the economy connected to, and sustained by, a flow of energy, materials, and ecosystem services. Analysts from a variety of disciplines have conducted research on the economy-environment relationship, with concern for energy and material flows and sustainability, environmental quality, and economic development.
Stay tuned for many more words in posts to come.