Harnessing the necessary old to develop the necessary, sustainable, new

This piece relates to a story I saw on Interesting Engineering — go here to read the whole piece.

Sustainable solutions for manufacturing start with design. To build a truly sustainable thing, the design of the thing must have sustainability at its heart. Yes, you can retrofit some sustainability to an existing ‘abundance-mindset’ design — and if this this your gig, kudos to you and keep up the good work — but if you’re blessed with a clean sheet of paper, pay heed to the past.

In days of yore sustainability wasn’t the existential challenge it is today, it was simply a byproduct of the high cost of acquiring new materials and energy. For most of human history, energy was what you saw in front of you; a tree you could burn or maybe some running water you could harness (fancy!). If you wanted to keep something cool you had to either move it to somewhere cooler, or later make something that stayed cooler without consuming controlled energy. Like a big hole.

The Nottingham Trent students highlighted in the IE piece have harnessed this ‘old’ way of thinking to develop a new, modern and sustainable solution. While I’m not expecting to invest in a terracotta fridge anytime soon, it does make me question whether my current set up (a hot-box new build house with an energy intensive fridge) is that clever. I may be able to tweak things to be more efficient, but I’d rather have a blank sheet and the learnings of the past.