Sustainability by Design

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ideas like eco-efficiency and corporate responsibility have been touted as ways to slow global warming. Find out why some of those proposed remedies could do more harm than good….and whether there are other, more effective solutions out there. John Ehrenfeld is a pioneer in the field of industrial ecology and author of Sustainability by Design.


John Ehrenfeld

Comments [17]

Fiona Smith

I´d like to thank John Ehrenfeld for this englightening discussion.

I just posted the link to the Sustainability Pro Bono Exchange ( along with a few other items such as "Sustainable Development for Dummies")


May. 28 2009 04:38 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris, France

re "toilet flush buttons". Goodish point, but don't US fixtures use low-flow technology? And the two buttons are too often interpreted by designers in a confusing way. Instead of having two buttons, one large, one small, we have buttons in buttons, circles overlapping, and other BS that are more confusing than clear.

Sep. 26 2008 06:22 AM
Marc Naimark from Paris, France

re "Principle of Precaution". I may agree with the guest's definition, but it's not the one used here in beautifully European France. Here, the "principle of precaution" means for far too many that if there is any doubt whatsoever, if any pseudoscience or crackpot can come up with some bilge about possible dangers, new technologies must be rejected. Hence, for example, the shutting down of Paris municipal libraries' WiFi connections. Some employees imagine ailments that are more to do with the general unpleasantness of life and aging, and suddenly no-one can use WiFi.

Sep. 26 2008 06:02 AM
Richard Cottrell from New York

The guest suggests that nothing man-made is friendly to ecology, but how is that possible, since ecology is a study and therefore man-made?

Sep. 24 2008 04:00 PM
anonyme from NY NY

Does he know the work of Sandor Ellix Katz ("The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved") - verrrrry interesting.

Sep. 24 2008 12:39 PM
Marco from Manhattan

Overpopulation is the problem. Over the past 50 years the population of the world has doubled. You can't engineer yourself out of that conundrum.

Sep. 24 2008 12:38 PM
eve from newark, nj

So if everything we think of as sustainable is a bandage, then what would be a real solution? What exactly is the point Mr. Ehrenfeld is actually making?

Sep. 24 2008 12:36 PM
Phil Henshaw from NYC

There's a real scientific definition of sustainability.

For physical systems in nature the operational definition of sustainability is that things that grow, then stabilize and remain stable.

Our world is not doing that, nor even planning on or discussing doing that. We’re using cognitive creativity to excuse multiplying our impacts more efficiently instead, making 'sustainability' a euphemism for the opposite.

Sep. 24 2008 12:32 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

"If the economy doesn't grow, it dies"- a paraphrase of what your guest just said. Human beings have been around for, conservatively, 60,000 years. There was no capitalism or communism in all those eons. Obviously the human race did not die. Growth, for the sake of growth, is just stupid. One has to have a goal, a point to reach, a purpose, no matter how contrived, to live up to.

Sep. 24 2008 12:32 PM
norman from nyc

Your guest John Ehrenfeld has just challenged 70 years of engineering design.

John Paul Stapp, the first engineer to design crashworthy cars, propounded "Murphy's Law." That says, "If there is any way for a human being to do something wrong, eventually he will." Therefore, Stapp said, engineers have to design things so that people must do things right without thinking.

That's why they make power cords with a different plug than speaker cords. Otherwise, people would plug speakers into the AC power and fry them.

He better come up with an idiot-proof toilet if he wants it to work.

Sep. 24 2008 12:32 PM
Samantha MacBride from NYC

If adding 2 button toilets will lead to a change in consciousness of our responsiblity for the water we use, isn't it the role of government to put structures in place (ie those toilets in public spaces and subsidized in our homes) to set the groundwork for such consciousness change?

Sep. 24 2008 12:29 PM
Emily Fano from New York City

John Ehrenfeld is brilliant and he is right on! He tells it like it is. Our current "sustainability models" are a band-aid approach to a much greater problem/dilemma: humans are by their very nature destructive animals and we are destroying the planet. Our consumerism is an addictive illness. We are addicted to buying junk and it is what keeps our economy afloat. We need a major shift in our thinking about how we are living and what our economy means with respect to our very survival on this planet. This will require a radical shift in how we live and build societies. John Ehrenfeld is a prophet for our times. He (and Al Gore) should be part of any administration that is serious about solving our current environmental crisis. Thank you Leonard for having him on your show. I hope you invite him back!

Sep. 24 2008 12:28 PM

Will the mechanical engineer be the IT guy for the next decade. The past 20 years has been about how to efficiently handle information. It seems to me the next 20 years will be how to reduce heat from machines and how to make things work with less energy. That is the job of the mechanical engineer.

Sep. 24 2008 12:28 PM
Jim Sparks from Manhattan

Unfortunately, our conversion to a service economy has caused a huge amount of capital investment in the delivery of consumer products that have no residual value. iPods, video games, garages and basements full of junk. We'll need one huge tag sale to get the money we need to invest in education, health care, transportation and the things that make people able to contribute to society.

Sep. 24 2008 12:24 PM
Eric from B'klyn

Can capitalism as currently practised exist w/o endless growth (this is a finite world)?

Sep. 24 2008 12:23 PM
jenl from manhattan

please ask your guest to comment on our national economy's dependence on consumer spending as the engine that moves it along. it seems as if consumers don't buy enough junk each quarter, the economy begins to sputter. how would we address this?

Sep. 24 2008 12:21 PM
mark Brown from AND

hey here are at least 10 small steps we can take for energy efficiency: includes a link to the blog:

from the new wnyc wiki:

Original has link above
jut titles here

Proposal E-0: Intro to WVO

Proposal E-1: Mileage
Proposal E-2: Energy Research
Proposal E-3: Institution
Proposal E-4: Lighting
Proposal E-5: LEDs
Proposal E-6: WasteOil
Proposal E-7: WVO/Diesel availability.
Proposal E-8: MonopolyExclusions

hope this is really on topic

Sep. 24 2008 12:14 PM

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