Tamsin Smith
Oct 8 · 7 min read

Earth-Centered Design Manifesto (beta)

Welcome

Being designers, we have a genuine and innate desire to do things better.

We are a global group of designers calling any and all other designers to join us to be more earth-centered in our approach. This means shifting our view from ‘human in the center’ to ‘earth in the center’ with Earth being a self-regulating complex ecosystem perpetuating the conditions for life. Humans and other species are an instrumental part of Earth but we have to become good at designing as nature.

The 7.7 billion humans are not separate from Earth and our work should reflect the delicate interconnections and interrelations between people and planet. We need to be accountable for our actions and envision a just and regenerative future. The Earth-Centered Design manifesto flows through the phases of shedding, seeding then budding to create a new path for designing.

For the last 50 years, there have been legendary ecological designers considering how to design in a more ecological way. Let us follow in the footsteps of Donnella Meadows, Sim Van der Ryn, Joanna Macy and Buckminster Fuller. For now, we are at a great turning point in the evolution of consciousness and mass technology; we have scientific evidence at our fingertips like never before. The land, ocean and skies cry for regeneration. We are part of a huge shift that can create a more resilient earth ecosystem. Every design we create is connected to a bigger picture, and we must expose this to find an equilibrium within our beautiful shared home.

These are 20 values we uphold as Earth-Centered Design practitioners:

Shed the layers of societal conditioning that we are separate from nature’s ecologies:

  1. What kind of relationship do we need to have with nature? Consider our own conditioning in relationship to the environment. What may we need to unlearn? Designers are not alone. Modern society has been convinced that infinite growth can come from a finite planet. There are layers of myths to shed and a new regenerative story to create together. Part of our work is shifting from a reductionist worldview that sees nature as a deterministic machine to an enlivened worldview that sees the Earth as a living, intelligent organism.
  2. How earth-centered are you? As Joseph Campbell writes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, we must go through departure, initiation and return. The post-modern hero’s journey is the battle with oneself. Be open to self and group development as we go through the process of becoming more earth-centered in design.
  3. Do we need to change? An integrated approach is one way to consider personal, societal and cultural shifts to be an inspiration for others. For example, Nelson Mandela had to change himself before changing the system. How do you cultivate wholeness in your life?
  4. Become more ecologically literate. Be aware of and help others understand the huge pressure we humans in ‘the anthropocene’ have put on the earth’s ecosystems. One way of looking at this is the 3 out of 9 planetary boundaries we have overshot: climate change, the rate of biodiversity loss and the amount of nitrogen removed from the atmosphere for human use. And the great acceleration. How are you using data to frame the story?
  5. The journey vs. the destination. No one is specifically to blame for climate change. It’s also not necessary to carry the weight or guilt on your shoulders. As Donnella Meadow puts, it’s the system at fault. We can help by connecting deeply with nature ourselves and commit with compassion and joy to helping in some form. Don’t be fixated by the outcome, and enjoy the small steps of engagement in front of you. Maybe you’ll write, sing, dance, march, plant or design or become part of a collective movement?
  6. Break free from conventional wisdom. Shed systems of oppression that serve to extract and divide us further from earth. Consider creating non-hierarchical ways of being. Can you learn from and lead with indigenous wisdom and guidance? Council circle or talking circles are a great way to invite deeper conversations. Designers need to create a space for grief, a very valid and necessary emotion, perhaps even unavoidable for those in the global south and places experiencing effects just now.
  7. How far are you willing to go? What are our individual standpoints, ethically and morally? Where are our boundaries of who we will and will not work with? Consider their motifs and morals e.g. are they extracting excessive fossil fuels or hurting people? Are they trying to shift their ways and could we be a part of that? Are we ready or able to collaborate radically?

Seed the elements of earth-centered design that transform our current systems:

  1. How can nature influence our work? We may work on projects that don’t seem too obvious in how they could affect ecological change. Feel empowered to make that connection and challenge the status quo. A UX designer in our group leads his clients to green hosting and convinced a banking client CEO to phase out a ‘post me a letter’ option.
  2. Is it all part of something bigger? Consider how our design may be interlinked to a bigger system. Even if it seems small. Some toolkits to help map this out include the systems change toolkit or the iceberg model.
  3. Riff on old models, experimenting with new ones. Create new models, As Kate Raworth mentions in Doughnut Economics, the need for new models. Be inspired by new illustrations like the circular economy, transition design, being messy and iterative.
  4. Look for patterns. Be inspired by, learn from and work within nature. For example, the ecology of bees has a lot to tell us about self-organising and collective consciousness. Complexity Theory and the Fibonacci spiral reveal awe-inspiring maths that are seen in beautiful shells and ferns.
  5. Go right to the heart of the problem. Connection at the local level, in our bioregions is vital for our sense of belonging. To get closer to the source, we may consider shifting directly into designing for natural solutions: ecological systems e.g. agriculture, jungles, peat bogs, forests, marshes, sea beds, swamps, coral reefs, mangroves and aquatic.
  6. How will we measure success? A focus in business is often on ‘carbon footprint’ as it is more easily quantifiable. It is great to have numbers and work towards reduction. It is even better when coupled with a diverse strategy to shift minds and culture for the longer-term. Other forms of wealth which are invisible should be recognised, such as from community, connection and biodiversity.
  7. Seek inspiration from others. A delicate web of practical solutions must emerge within a colourful backdrop of cultural metamorphosis. Many individual solutions are already known such as Drawdown — 100 Solutions to Reverse Global Warming and 52 Climate Actions. We can have a role in building awareness and mobilising a bio-diverse approach to change.

Nurture the budding developments of social, cultural and economic change:

  1. Look for emerging ideas. Recent changes in legislation and societies shifting mindsets, have removed some obstacles such as the phasing out of disposable coffee cups, offering more sustainable design opportunities. For example, vessel is disrupting the disposables industry. Take small ideas and run with that enthusiasm to have these wider discussions.
  2. Nature can often provide the solution. Climate change discussions can get quite intellectual or ‘heady’. Encourage peers, colleagues, clients and partners to sense, feel and use their intuition too. Invite people into this “way of seeing, knowing and working”. For example, encourage connection with the natural world and sharing personal experience, such as we all feel the same sun on our skin and stare at the same moon each evening. This sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves can cultivate a new respect for our earthly home. As Jung said, our primary essence is our individual connection to nature.
  3. Be receptive. A shift in ways of seeing can feel new, encourage ways of reflection. Embodiment is an example, one of the designers in our group is leading a mindful movement event to help people gain a sense of what they feel around climate change and transform those feelings into empowered action and commitments. Deep ecology speaks to a cycle of deep experience to deep questioning to deep commitment.
  4. Be enveloped by mystery. This work is deeply challenging. And no wonder, since at its core it requires a shift in world views. As David Abrams reflects: ‘In high school biology class, the primary lesson I learned was that earthly nature is an objective, determinate phenomenon that can best be studied from outside, not an enveloping mystery in which I am wholly participant.’
  5. Consider the seven generational impact. Grow at an intentional pace. ‘Life creates conditions conducive to life,’ explains Janine Benyus, and ‘Life is fundamentally a regenerative community, let’s pass on a healthy compost,’ Daniel Whal describes. How can we evolve together as part of this community?
  6. You’re not alone. Join a local working group or our Earth Centered Design group. Together we give each other permission and confidence to experiment with how to be more earth centered.

Co-created and signed by:

Tamsin Smith, UK and Canada
Eliane Cohen, Peru
Evelyn Wong, Canada
Laura Wesley, Canada
Aran Baker, United States
Kamal Patel, United States
Emily Wright, United States
Neve Rabardel, Netherlands and France
Andrew Sedlak, Australia, UK, United States
Bavo Lodewyckx, Belgium
Robin Hancock, UK
Hilary Little, Canada
Idun Aune, Norway
Ahmed Buasallay, Bahrain

We welcome you to sign in the response below or leave us a comment.

Tamsin Smith

Written by

Earth Centered Design global community http://tinyurl.com/y6loh2xj . Harmonesse Service Design Founder.

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