Our relationship with the natural world should be a two-way endeavor. Understanding how our surroundings impact and restore us can help us to recognize our relationship with our environment as a reciprocal one. How do we expand our sustainability practices beyond eliminating bad behavior to actively creating positive impacts for us and the planet?
We had the pleasure of hosting David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo skateboard company, and Bill Browning, expert in biophilic design and partner and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green, at our Chicago showroom during NeoCon for a panel discussion on the potential of restorative business.
Our panelists discussed the ways in which biophilic design practices and restorative business models take inspiration from Mother Nature to create a happier, healthier environment for earth’s inhabitants, with insights from their own unique experiences and compelling case studies.
Lindsay James, vice-president of restorative enterprise for Interface, moderated the discussion.
Lindsay James (Q): What does restorative mean to you and how have you established restorative practices through your business?
David Stover (A): Restorative for us is taking an eco friendly practice a step further. It’s not just worrying about the ecological footprint of your products. It’s about creating products that have a positive impact on the community as well as the environment. Through our Net Positiva initiative, we’re collecting and recycling fishing nets in Chile, providing local fisherman an environmentally sound way to dispose of nets and creating a source of recyclable materials for manufacturing Bureo skateboards.
Bill Browning (A): Our take on restorative is similar but we may be a step further. Through biomimicry we are looking at ecosystem services. For example, how does the ecosystem in your workplace deal with water? How does it deal with energy? What is its net biological productivity? Basically, developing a set of metrics around the ecology of your workplace, then asking yourself, “Could I design an operative building in a way that performs as well as the original ecosystem that was here?” It is really place-based.
In the conversation about resilience, you get into this question of how to harden technology. People are holding conversations about the next flood but the next natural disaster that could kill more people than another flood will probably be a heat wave. The way you solve a heat wave, besides building stuff, is setting up resilient social systems: resilience for the people themselves, restorative of community and restorative of social relationships.
Lindsay James (Q): I’m glad you brought in the resilience aspect of this as well. In the study of biomimicry, we learn that nature is not sustainable as much as it is restorative and resilient, and it is those two emergent factors that have allowed life to survive. So what would the world look like if every business embraced its restorative potential?
David Stover (A): I think our program and our system in Chile is honestly just a small part. We work in six communities right now. One thing that we have learned is this idea of utilizing a waste material to put into a product. It’s important to think about how you’re making a product from that material and what your end of life solution will be for the product. For us it was making a product that is recyclable – the skateboard decks. When you talk about the world and embracing restorative practices, I think one thing that we see is this idea of waste not necessarily going away immediately, but looking at waste as a different word. The thought of living an almost waste free lifestyle with compost and recycling solutions and the idea of a closed-looped system is something that we are really excited about. For us the biggest concern is the waste and toxins leaking into the water ways. This was our motivation for starting the project. We should be thinking about how a waste free life might impact the health of our society.
Bill Browning (A): I love what you guys are doing with the nets. A fishing net, even after it is discarded, is still catching things; it is still having negative ecological impact. Besides the fact that it is trash and it is material out of place, nets don’t stop catching and killing things. Removing these out of the ecosystem and recycling that fiber is really beneficial for those places.
Lindsay James (Q): Bill, you and I were having a conversation recently on this topic. If every business embraced restorative potential, not just at this macro scale, but also at the individual impact level when talking about biophilic design, do you think that there is some potential to cultivate a shift in awareness for building occupants?
Bill Browning (A): “Connection to Nature” is one of our 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. It’s sometimes the hardest to explain because it’s not like “Prospect.” This is about how we, in our design, do things that make people aware of the processes and things going on around them.
For example our sister firm, CookFox Architects in New York, installed a 4,000 square foot green roof right outside the windows of the studio that can be seen from almost any desk in the work space. It was originally planted with Sedums and now has some native grass. When we put it in, it was beautiful, But it was beautiful in a way that people thought of as decorative. Then we started seeing insects and dragonflies hunting the insects, and birds chasing the insects. A pair of Kestrels (sparrow hawks) took up the roof as part of their hunting territory. One day a Kestrel killed a bird right in front of the windows and ate it. Some people were horrified; some were spellbound. But it got everybody’s attention and it shifted the whole culture of our relationship to that roof. People suddenly realized that this was not just decorative, it was a functioning ecosystem right outside. That led to people becoming much more engaged, so we ended up putting in a big vegetable garden and kept bees out there as well. It went from being a place of simple restorative effect to a place of deep engagement.
The team I work with at Google has said publicly that this “Connection to Nature” pattern might be the most important one of all.
Lindsay James: It reminds me of the Rachel Carson quote, “The more clearly we focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
More Q&A to follow in Part 2.
About the Panelists
David Stover is a global citizen. He is the CEO and co-founder of Bureo, a skateboard company. Bureo recycles used fishing net into high-quality, high-design skateboards. David holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering and has a background in financial analysis. He grew up in a small island community and that is where he attributes his love for the ocean.
Bill Browning is an advocate for sustainable design solutions at all levels of business as well as government and civil society. His organization, Terrapin Bright Green, has brought biophilic design into the spotlight with their research and practice. They are also leaders in bringing biometric solutions to the forefront. Bill has been a long time advisor of Interface, serving on our eco-green team and advising our sustainability journey for nearly two decades.