Discovery Guides Areas


Hidden Histories:
the Story of Sustainable Design

(Released June 2009)

podcast link 
  by Alison Knight  


Key Citations




Return to Nature


The transition initiative movement.

The transition initiative movement is a massive social experiment in community design. The idea is to design and plan a way of living according to the concept of permaculture, "a design philosophy based on ecological principles and ethics for working with nature in building systems to support human existence."39 Permaculture was conceived by ecologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s in Australia as a method of agriculture and more recently its principles have been adopted to become a model for building, designing and living sustainably within a local community. Essentially the aim of the transition movement is to equip communities with the ability to live independently within their local limits, and in doing so to prepare themselves against the challenges of climate change and also reduce their dependence on oil. The Transition movement started as a vision of a permaculture lecturer, Rob Hopkins, and one of his students. Hopkins realized that communities were becoming concerned about the dangers of climate change and oil dependency, and even more concerned by the lack of action by national and local governments. As a result he has given them a tool to wean themselves off oil. Oil dependency is linked to climate change, as most modern manufacturing processes depend on it either as an ingredient in their materials or as an energy source in their production processes. Cheap oil sources are running out; we are steadily reaching a period termed peak oil. In the future it will take more energy to extract the oil that is left, therefore increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Hopkins' Energy Descent Action Plan gives communities a blueprint in how to survive and thrive in a future with less oil, based on localization, motivation to change and re-skilling.40

greenery and birds
An example of permaculture using animals and gardens

Part of Hopkins's vision became a reality in 2006 when Totnes in Devon, UK became the world's first transition initiative town. The startup was modest with initiatives involving a garden-share scheme, the Totnes Food Guide advertising where to buy local produce, a re-skilling project giving guidance on re-cycling and other issues, and the introduction of a local currency, the Totnes Pound. By introducing their own currency the town ensures that money stays within the community. In the space of two years another 700 towns, cities and villages across the globe from Australia to the USA have taken up this initiative and are working their way towards sustainability. The transition movement is an example of what Boehnert calls design activism: design led by non-designers. She asks designers to take notice.41 The need for sustainable design affects whole communities and emphasizes the requirement for new design thinking. It also highlights the need for collaboration between communities and designers.

One example of such a partnership is that between the UK Design Council and the regional development agency One North East, which came together for a year-long festival called Designs for the Time 2007 (Dott 07). The festival explored the question "Who designs your life?" and encouraged local people and organizations to think about ways they could organize their lives in a more sustainable way. John Thackara was the program director and for him the most interesting collaboration that came out of the festival was that between the design company Live/Work and Scremerston County First School in Northumberland. The designers and pupils jointly explored mobility needs in the area and how they could be better met.42

Another example of how designers can help facilitate change and cooperation between different agencies is in the move from products to services, a process referred to as dematerialization.

Go To Dematerialization

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