Salutogenic Design for Human, Ecosystem & Biosphere Health

“A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one.” — Heraclitus, 500 A.D.

One year of global vegetation cycle show of seasonal variation in different parts of the world. Credit: NASA Goddard´s Scientific Visualization Studio (source)

Could it be that the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus was referring to the hidden pattern of interconnection that links human health to the health of communities and a healthy environment? Health is fundamentally scale-linking and holistic. David J. Brunckhorst of the UNESCO Institute for Bioregional Resource Management also emphasizes the importance of a scale linking and salutogenic approach to human, ecosystem and biospheric health:

David Brunckhorst works at the Centre for Bioregional Resource Management which plays a key role in contributing the applied research and application development requirements for the sustainable future of rural communities, land-uses and ecosystem function to maintain productive resource bases, and biodiversity.

“Our future, along with the rest of life on earth, depends on landscapes that can support ecological functional processes. To survive beyond the next millennium, human culture depends on the services provided by fully functional ecological systems. The challenge into and beyond the next millennium is to halt the biosphere degrading effects of human society across several scales of space and time for a more enduring and harmonious relationship with natural process.”— David Brunckhorst (2002, p.2)

Bioregional Planning: Resource Management Beyond the New Millennium, by David J. Brunckhorst.

In the context of this course in Design for Sustainability the health supporting relationships at the level of individuals, communities, ecosystem and the planet are what we are trying to sustain. Design for sustainability in a general sense is design for human and planetary health (see Wahl, 2006).

Salutogenesis aims to facilitate the emergence of health at and across all scales of the whole — in this case the living biosphere we participate in. Salutogenic design, or health-generating design, recognizes the inextricable link between human and planetary health.

Salutogenic design aims to create resilient regenerative cultures expressing themselves through thriving communities within thriving and highly bio-productive ecosystems. Rather than primarily focussing on the relief of symptoms of disease or ill-health, salutogenic design tries to promote positive health and a flourishing of the whole by altering underlying relationships and interactions in such a way that health can emerge as a property of the whole across all scales.

In other words, the aim of salutogenic design is to support healthy individuals in the co-creation of healthy communities that, in turn, act as responsible participants in healthy ecosystems, bioregions, and ultimately a healthy biosphere.

“We rely on healthy functioning landscape ecosystems for our own health, longevity, security and well-being. No species, no matter how dominant, is independent of all the others. The existence of each depends to some extent on the existence of all. Humanity needs to learn to live within ecological laws that govern the capacity of the biosphere. Ecological law embodies the rules and conditions for nature’s services, ecosystem processes and biosphere function across all scales in order to maintain a healthy productive environment. To secure our own future, one of the fundamental goals of society and economics should be to ensure the survival of all forms of life processes within the biosphere.

Preserving the roles of assemblages of species in ecosystems and their ability to continue to adapt and change (i.e. evolve) through time is vital to sustaining biodiversity and ecosystems processes. The diversity of the biosphere has provided the fundamental building blocks for tens of thousands of years of human food, shelter and culture. Now, as ever, it underpins ecologically sustainable development for current and future generations. Those aware of the complexity of biodiversity understand that global interdependence is a necessary part of ecological security.”— David Brunckhorst (2002, p.5)

Sustainability and the future of humanity and life on Earth depends on safeguarding biodiversity along with the biophysical processes that regulate climate, the water cycle, and the carbon cycle, along with a number of other subsystems of the planetary life-support system. We will look into these in some more detail in the section of health and resilience.

[This article is an excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education´s online programme in Design for Sustainability. The course is based on four dimensions plus a design studio. I wrote this course for Gaia Education in 2012 and revised and updated this dimension in 2016.]

The thing to remember is that human, ecosystems and biospheric health are interdependent and interconnected. In trying to understand and support health and resilience at these scales we are also learning to understand what we might mean by sustainability and how we might create it.

We are learning the central lesson of biomimicry: Life creates conditions conducive to life. Health, resilience, life and sustainability are closely related concepts, and the more we begin to understand the relationships between these concepts the more we will be successful in our aim to design for sustainability, health, and resilience thereby supporting all of life.

“Health and the phenomenon of healing have meant different things in different ages. The concept of health, like the concept of life, cannot be defined precisely, and in fact, the two are closely related. What is meant by health depends on one’s view of the living organism and its relation to its environment. As this view changes from one culture to another, and from one era to another, the notion of health also changes. The broad concept of health that will be needed for cultural transformation — a concept that includes individual, social and ecological dimensions — will require a systemic view of living organisms and, correspondingly, a systemic view of health.” — Fritjof Capra

[This article is an excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education´s online programme in Design for Sustainability. The course is based on four dimensions plus a design studio. I wrote the Worldview dimension for Gaia Education in 2012 and revised and updated this dimension in 2016. … Much of this section is based on work I did for my PhD in Design for Human and Planetary Health at the University of Dundee’s ‘Centre for the Study of Natural Design’ (2006). … You might also enjoy my book Designing Regenerative Cultures published by Triarchy Press in 2016. ]