Resiliency: So Close You Can Taste It

Sustainability has become a prevailing buzzword in popular culture. Businesses and products toss the word “sustainable” into descriptions (sometimes without merit) to convey environmentally-friendly practices and promises. But if the words”sustainable”  and “sustainability” were replaced by “resilient”  and “resiliency”, would people have any idea what that means?

Resiliency (as we are using it to describe an environment) speaks to an area’s ability to resiliencybounce back in the instance of an extreme event. To illustrate resiliency, I like to imagine a bioregion being like a human body. A body that is already healthy and well cared-for will have an easier time recovering from an illness or minor injury, just like an environment that is well cared-for is more likely to come back from a storm or seasonal changes. It is in our best interest to keep our bodies and bioregions healthy not only to prevent minor setbacks, but to better recover in instances of more severe damage.

farmThough often overlooked, resiliency is an essential part of a successful bioregion. An important way that we can improve resiliency and sustainability is through our food systems and agricultural practices. A region that relies heavily on imported food and goods rather than their own production is less resilient than those who are able to produce the majority of what they need. In our increasingly globalized society, we can now access goods and crops that would never have been available before (think yummy avocados- once only available in tropical/subtropical climates, they are now a favorite in many regions that rely on them to be imported). Unlike our ancestors, we no longer have to wait for a food to be in season to eat it. While it is exciting to be able to consume and use these previously unavailable foods, this makes regions like New England less resilient and more reliant on surrounding regions.

“A system that is biologically varied is endowed with the antibodies to counter dangerous organisms and restore its own equilibrium. A system based on a limited number of varieties, on the other hand, is very fragile.” -Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity

The U.S. is seeing a rise in demand for locally-grown foods. We wrote earlier about Wilson Farm of Lexington, Massachusetts and their efforts to bring fresh seasonal produce to the IMG_1719community. While it is encouraging to see farms like Wilson’s continuing to be successful, they are certainly not the norm anymore. New England as a region only produces around 10% of its own food, meaning that 90% of what we are consuming comes from outside sources. Additionally, home-grown foods tend to be more expensive than those coming from imports or industrial mega-farms, making locally grown nutrition widely inaccessible for low income families. Why purchase fresh vegetables when, for the same price, a family can buy an entire meal from a fast food restaurant? This blog seeks to explore the benefits of a more agriculturally resilient bioregion as well as highlight some Boston/New England-based organizations who are combating the growing reliance on imports and cheap foods with little nutritional value.

Earthos has been reading A New England Food Vision from Food Solutions New England. The report comments on the current state of agricultural and consumption trends in the region, and proceeds to envision a more resilient future in which New England can provide  inhabitants with nearly two-thirds of their food needs. And not just baseline needs- the report imagines having abundant resources so that everyone gets what they need and then some. Currently, 10-15% of New England’s population of 14.5 million are living without adequate nutrition due to rapidly increasing wealth inequality and poverty throughout the region. Malnutrition, lack of dietary diversity and nutrient deficiencies all lead to serious public health concerns caused by a diet that relies heavily on fats and sugars rather than  fruits and vegetables. Environmental health is at risk due to unsafe practices from industrial farming that poison our waterways and pollute the air we breathe. While it is unrealistic to expect all of our food to be grown at home, a push to increase sustainable, ethical production from local farms and make fresh produce more accessible can help us improve the resiliency of our planet and all of its inhabitants. Even so, we cannot simply clear out our forests and plant crops instead; creativity and intelligent design hold the key to developing more resilient cities and communities through agriculture.

As it turns out, Food Solutions New England is not the only one thinking that home-grown food can change human and environmental health for the better. Creative initiatives throughout the bioregion are popping up to address food security, poverty, and revisionenvironmental issues through agriculture. Take a look at the ReVision Urban Farm in Dorchester, Massachusetts. This unique business model is an urban farm, homeless shelter and job training center all in one. Their mission is to alleviate poverty in the Boston area while also equipping workers with the tools to farm and produce their own fresh, low-cost and diverse food options.

Similarly, Green City Growers sees urban farming as an opportunity to retro-fit urban centers with farms that can operate almost anywhere. Their mission is to transform unused spaces such as alleyways, vacant lots and rooftops into sustainable farming options for those communities. These gardens and small farms serve as both a practical and visual representation of how agriculture can change a city landscape and bring food production to unexpected places.

While not an urban farm, the Brookwood Community Farm in Canton and Milton, brrokwood.jpgMassachusetts is a modern take on a traditional farm. They aim to restore underutilized farmland in order to address area food insecurity while emphasizing diversity (people and crops) and education. They have a subsidized CSA for those who could not normally afford one, farm education programs, and a partnership with the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition.

These examples barely scratch the surface of the wealth of local organizations working to make a difference in how we produce and consume food in the bioregion. This summer, I’ve been reading a book called Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawkin. Hawkin describes the broader environmentalist movement as one made up by thousands of smaller movements coming together to make an impact overtime. Perhaps a similar movement is in the works with our food systems- thousands of small farms and individual initiatives coming together to make food accessible, nutritious, and affordable for all. Collective belief in a future with a diminished wage gap, increased agricultural production and healthier population is what will push us to invest in a more resilient food system, and therefor more resilient region as a whole.

Change does not happen overnight. I am not so bold as to say each region should rely exclusively on resources produced locally. A more resilient bioregion would greatly benefit the health of our population and environment through increased self-reliance and responsible practices. A quick look  around the bioregion reveals countless individuals and groups working to make this resiliency a reality. We as citizens, by participating in this movement, will get a taste of a more sustainable future (and some really good food!)

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Turning The Economy Around: How Circular Economies Can Strengthen Bioregions

How many miles did your shoes travel before they ended up on your feet? How about your shirt? Your cell phone? There is a good chance that many of you aren’t sure. Even as I type this out I don’t know where the plastic in my keyboard was sourced from, or even where my chair was manufactured. Every day we come in contact with a lot of products that have been sourced from all over the globe. This is part of how we’re able to live with some of the conveniences and luxuries that we do. I can eat an orange from Florida while living in Massachusetts, or use a table made of wood sourced from who knows where. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if buying affordable things you knew were produced locally and produced in a sustainable way was an option would you take it? This choice is one that can become easier to make as more and more businesses move toward adoption circular models.

The idea of a circular economy is pretty simple to understand. It’s an economy that works in a loop, for the benefit of everyone in the community. Certain trades can be taught to community members which leads to the production of certain goods and products which helps to stimulate the local economy. This cycle of education and production can ultimately lead to a healthy and self sufficient community. Here at Earthos this is incredibly relevant, as it has to do with functioning on the bioregional level in a just and sustainable way. A circular economy is also a lot more than an idealistic dream for the future, it’s something that is happening now!

Something important to understand is that circular economies can take shape at different scales. A whole area can have a circular economy, or a certain part of a business can operate in a circular way, there are many different options. To better understand what a circular economy is, seeing it in action helps. An example of a closed loop operation can be found  at Dell. When a Dell computer is made some of the manufacturing process makes use of plastic from older computers. Their site explains that “Using plastics recovered from technology collected through our recycling efforts to make new plastic parts gives these plastics an extended life, has a smaller carbon footprint and reduces costs.” They also use a graphic to illustrate the closed loop recycling process. [1]

DellGraphicDell illustrates how their closed-loop recycling system turns uses materials from old computers to create new ones.

In addition to Dell other companies have similar commitments in closed loop economies. A very recent example of a circular economy on a more community level is something like the organization Carbon Tanzania that we wrote about in a previous blog post, if you missed it you can check it out here! One particularly interesting example is a company named Circle Economy who’s focus is to move the world toward closed loop economic systems. Their website explains the importance of their project:

Circularity has a key part to play not only in dramatically reducing our footprint but also in shaping a visionary and practical future for our planet. It is about becoming inspired by the biological processes of nature while  retaining value at the heart of every design, manufacturing, and consumer decision – from renewable energy and remanufacturing of used parts to the ability for reuse designed into everything we consume.[2]

Started by Andy Riley (the mind behind Earth hour), his commitment to circular economic systems shows a deep understanding of what it takes to shift mindsets in the consumer world. His faith in circular economies comes from his idea that the right sorts of people can latch onto these ideals. He also believes that circular economies are not asking too much of people, just the willingness to adopt a change. Riley explains “A longstanding problem for the sustainability movement is that it’s tended to demand we stop this or that rather than offer attractive alternatives. The circular economy, however, isn’t saying we should stop consuming, it’s saying we should start consuming differently.”[3] This request for change isn’t that far fetched. Think about all of the environmentally conscious changes that have taken place in society recently, from energy efficient light bulbs, to composting becoming mainstream or something as new as fully electric cars. All of these actions help to walk people toward more environmentally conscious lifestyles.

Another interesting component of Riley’s philosophy is that ad agencies can be a positive driving force behind the adoption of circular economies. He claims that getting on board with the circular economy “isn’t just another ‘green’ thing” it’s something that has incentives for business as well. According to McKinsey circular economies could add up to $1 trillion to the global economy by 2025. They could also help to create new jobs, up to 100,000 in as little as five years. Moving toward a circular economy helps people, the planet and the economy.[4] This monetary incentive strikes a balance between adoption circular economic models for the sake of ecology and for the sake of profit. This helps it appeal to a wider audience.

The framework of bioregional urbanism is inherently addressed in these economy types as well. Growing produce within one’s bioregion to feed its people is an example of a circular system at play in the bioregion. Even something like biodiversity acts as a demonstration of how different species’ relations can be part of a healthy and productive ecosystem. Closed loop economic systems do a good job of illustrating the parallels between economics and ecology, and the ubiquitous nature of bioregional urbanism.

-Omari Spears

Referenced Articles:

http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/corp-comm/circular-economy?c=us&l=en&s=corp
http://www.circle-economy.com/about/
https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jun/28/advertising-industry-waste-free-living-circular-economy?CMP=share_btn_tw
https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/10-things-need-to-know-circular-economy

Concerned About Carbon: an Intern Reflection

We aren’t the only ones.

In our first week  of the summer, the Earthos intern team was introduced to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled “Making it our Business to Conserve Ecosystems (Not Just Elephants)” written by Marc Baker, Jo Anderson and Joris de Vries. The article discusses Carbon Tanzania, an organization that has used carbon credits to better serve indigenous communities in Tanzania. As we learn more about the practical application of bioregional urbanism in  the real world, this article helps us understand what groups around the world are doing to more efficiently utilize the resources in their bioregion to the benefit of their ecosystems. In this post, we unpack their methodology and why we at Earthos believe that it is in line with our mission for just and sustainable bioregional development.

Carbon Credits Explained 

A carbon credit (often called a carbon offset) is a financial instrument that represents a tonne of CO2 (carbon dioxide) or CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent gases) removed or reduced from the atmosphere from an emission reduction project, which can be used, by governments, industry or private individuals to offset damaging carbon emissions that they are generating.” (For more definitions and information, visit http://www.carbonplanet.com/introduction_to_carbon_credits).

In simple terms, a carbon credit is an opportunity for an organization, company, or even a country to offset their carbon emissions by implementing additional carbon reduction efforts (for example, planting forests or creating carbon sinks.) While there are numerous arguments both for and against implementing carbon credit systems (see: “Carbon Credits Undercut Climate Change Actions, Says Report” (BBC, 2015) bbc.com/news/science-environment-34042115), we are shining our spotlight on an organization that has harnessed carbon credits as a way of benefiting indigenous communities and ecosystems in Tanzania.

Carbon Tanzania: Who are they?

For those unfamiliar with this organization, here is a blurb from their website:

Carbon Tanzania, with deforestation and social justice in mind, has “built a social enterprise focused on the rights and needs of local people whose livelihoods depend on forests. We have aligned the financial and practical incentives of people who until now have not been able to rely on basic goods and services being available to them – education for their children, basic medical care and year round food security. Unlike more traditional approaches to “development”, we offer a way for companies and individuals to contribute positively to social change, to the conservation of biodiversity and natural habitats, and to quantifiable and genuinely sustainable development.(http://www.carbontanzania.com/about/)

By selling carbon credits internationally and utilizing revenue to increase opportunity and wealth within the community that they serve, Carbon Tanzania has created a sustainable cycle that not only benefits human populations, but the ecosystem as a whole. This widens the typical conservation lens from focusing on one individual species (human and nonhuman) to envisioning an ecosystem in which all living beings are interdependent on one another.

This comprehensive approach encourages conservation efforts to not just look at the “elephants” (as the article title suggests) but to understand life systems as a whole. Carbon Tanzania employs the bioregional lens that we have been diving into here at Earthos. By investing the money generated from selling carbon credits back into the Hadzabe community in the Yaeda Valley of Tanzania, the indigenous people are able to fund education, healthcare, and further conservation efforts. The humans within the ecosystem benefit from improved services, and the nonhuman actors benefit from a healthier natural environment!

How is this Relevant to Us?

As new interns at Earthos, we are discovering how to create healthy bioregions starting from the communities within. We are in the process of learning that true sustainability relies upon the collaboration between science, design, community and policy. Like Carbon Tanzania, Earthos believes in tailoring our initiatives to the specific communities we are working with. We also know that solutions to environmental issues are not “one size fits all”, and that unique, collaborative action is needed to create just and sustainable life systems. Each of our current initiatives is a response to a stated community need, and our mission is to bring together all of the actors necessary for meeting that need. By involving prominent community members alongside developers, architects, environmentalists, etc, we create a holistic approach to the desired outcome. Carbon Tanzania has found a creative, market-based solution for contributing to the health and wellbeing of both the Hadzabe people and the ecosystem to which they belong, bridging the gap between social and environmental sustainability. Bioregional urbanism at its finest!
Check out the article here: ssir.org/articles/entry/making_it_our_business_to_conserve_ecosystems_not_just_elephants

Authors: Earthos Interns Omari Spears, Ellie Rochman and Lauren Jackson