SuNstainable DesignWays

Lab Notes for Environmental Issues Class, Dominican University

 Spring 2002                Instructor Joanne Tippett

γ Joanne Tippett, April 2002, All Rights Reserved

Lab One - Mind Mapping_ 1

Lab Two - Analysis of flows of energy and materials 2

Step One - Introduction 3

Step Two - Analysis of Flow - group exercise 3

Step Three - Analysis by System Condition for the Project 3

Step four - brainstorming ways to reduce system condition violations 3


Step One – finish Analysis of Flow exercise 4

Step Two  - Brainstorming and Envisioning 5

Step Three - Synthesize individual ideas onto EASEL_ 5

Step Four: Context 6

Step Five - Analysis of flow of elements 7

Context, Values and Decision Making_ 7

Step One – Context - 10 minutes 8

Step Two - Limiting Factors- 10 minutes 8

Step Three – System Conditions - 10 minutes 8

Step Four - Creative Ideas - 10 minutes 9

Step Five - Quality of Life Values - 15 minutes 9

Ecological Design Principles – Competition_ 10

Goal of the Competition_ 10

Step One – Preparing Charts 10

Step Two – Using Inputs and Outputs 11

Step Four – Design Strategies 12

Design Principles in Use in this Exercise: 12


Lab One - Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is a technique for thinking and for presenting information.  This is taught at the beginning of the course, as it will be used in many of the lab sessions, providing you with an opportunity to deepen your skills in using this tool for your own thinking as well as in group dialogue. This is a powerful tool, which is used by corporations such as British Petroleum, Hewlett Packard and IBM. Mind Mapping is increasingly being recognized as a useful method for integrating diverse information sources and as a powerful aide for web site design. Mind Maps are similar in structure to the way in which many web sites are organized. Do not be misled by the seemingly simple, even childish, nature of Mind Mapping to think that it is not a relevant tool for teaching and learning. The skills used in creating a Mind Map; clarity, structure, creativity, communication and development of the connections and flow of ideas; are recognized as key skills both in academia and in the work environment.


Key words:


Holistic - This means thinking of the WHOLE, not just parts. Root in Anglo Saxon hale - health. If you affect one thing, you affect the whole. All elements in life work as a system, we do not work in isolation, and everything we do has some effect somewhere. Our brains tend to remember better when we think in terms of associations and context, seeing ideas as part of a larger whole and  looking at how the details are connected to the bigger picture, rather than when we try to remember a series of facts in isolation.

Brainstorm - This is when you say any ideas that come into your head, write them down, and play around with different combinations and possibilities. This can be done as an individual or as group, (where one or more people record the things said by the group, often on small pieces of paper or post-it notes  for building up into a mind-map). The main point of brainstorming is to allow people to think freely, without immediate judgement. Ideas will be discussed and accepted or rejected later. It is often in these creative, brainstorming sessions that new and useful ideas come up. The use of mind-maps encourages a creative thinking process and facilitates making connections and associations between ideas.

Lab Two - Analysis of flows of energy and materials


§         Learn how to analyze a building or project by sustainability principles

§         Learn more about ways in which we are unsustainable in building and running a facility such as Guzman

§         Sharpen skills of observation

§         Review skills of mind mapping

§         Review The Natural Step

Step One - Introduction

§         'Parable of the Chicken' - taught by instructor

Step Two - Analysis of Flow - group exercise

This stage is an analysis of flow of energy and materials through a project, or building. Once we are aware of the inputs and outputs, it is possible to plan how to reduce them (to save money and resources and to reduce waste and pollution). This stage is for an analysis of the situation as it is at the moment, not what we would like to see in the future.

Every person makes decisions about flows every day - if there is more awareness within an organization of ways of reducing inputs and outputs - and thus saving money as well as reducing system condition violations, this can be a powerful tool for change. Many small changes add up to create a larger change in the big picture. It is important to empower people's creative engagement with their environment, so that they feel they can do something at every level of the environments of which they are a part.

Step Three - Analysis by System Condition for the Project

Now, look at the analysis of flow charts you have made as a group - and fill in a greater level of detail, like I did for the chicken's flows. The question to ask is "where is this coming from, and who is involved?" You should also think about what happens to the materials when they leave the building, and what would happen to the materials that were used to make the building after it is torn down. You can add more flows to the charts as you think of them.

Now mark where you can see violations of the system conditions - you can write in abbreviation, e.g. SC1 for System condition one. Write key words that illustrate how this is a violation of system conditions.  Show the relationship with flow of money, where are there wastes of money?

Step four - brainstorming ways to reduce system condition violations

Brainstorm ways that you can reduce these violations of system conditions - here you are looking for the 'low hanging fruits'. What can be done to make these flows more sustainable? Use green post it notes and add these to the Analysis of Flow charts.

Discussion questions: Why analyze the flows of energy and materials through a building?  What else could we analyze? What would you gain from using such analysis of your own home? What have you learned from this exercise?

Use of system conditions as an integrated system for decision-making

In a complex world, the system conditions give simple operating rules which are 'valid' at all levels of scale. The questioning of what is sustainable in the system is based on the assumption that we cannot fully measure effects, thus it is better to work upstream - we cannot predict effects (especially given time delays and different levels of scale), therefore we use a basic idea of what is and isn't sustainable as a basis for decision making.


Lab – March 18, 2002


§         Learn creative thinking skills

§         Strengthen you ability to work as a group on creative thinking

§         Deepen your understanding of sustainability and mental models

§         Develop new ideas for a sustainable landscape plan for campus

Post it note colour coding:

Green – new ideas

Brown – existing resources

Blue – problems and limiting factors

Step One – finish Analysis of Flow exercise

One group per concept:

10 minutes: As a group: complete an analysis of flow (energy, materials, information) chart for:

10 minutes: Swap charts and look at where system conditions are being violated – mark in red. Add any flows you can think of to the chart.

10 minutes: Swap charts and brainstorm ways of reducing the throughput of energy and materials, and reducing violations of system conditions. Write on GREEN post it notes

Step Two  - Brainstorming and Envisioning

5 minutes: Each individual should brainstorm ideas for the whole landscape around the creek by writing on green post it notes – one idea per post it note. There is no need to worry about getting this 'right', just write ideas down as they come to your head. Be as free flowing as you can. These ideas can cover landscape ideas, types of programs, building systems, and ecological design ideas, anything that comes to mind.

Step Three - Synthesize individual ideas onto EASEL

15 minutes: Now you will move around the EASEL, and add your ideas to the EASEL, as a group. You can continue to add new ideas as you go along, writing on green post it notes. There is no need to write the same idea more than once. Just put a tally mark on the post it note for each time the idea was repeated.

The only caution there is to make sure that whatever you write down does accurately reflect what the person who wrote the idea in the first place meant. You do not want to lose ideas in this process. If there are similar ideas, but there is some difference, go ahead and write them down now. It is better to have too many ideas than too little. As you discuss this as a group, you should continue to add new ideas, by writing them on post it notes as they occur to you and adding them to the map.

This is NOT the stage to decide on whether or not you want to include ideas - the process of brainstorming means that you write everything down without judgment, and create an image of all of the ideas which came up in the brainstorming process.

10 minutes: Each group should now take the Analysis of Flow chart that they started with – and add the post it notes for new ideas onto the EASEL. Keep brainstorming new ideas.

Brainstorming before extensive data gathering

The process of creative brainstorming is carried out early in the process for many reasons. If done before gathering data about the existing situation, ideas may be less fettered by perceptions of what already exists. "In their 1982 best seller, "In Search of Excellence," Tom Peters and Robert Waterman described the strategy of successful companies as Ready, Fire, Aim. What [this] means is that you should collect data not first, but later. In the eighties, many strategic planners and problem solvers assumed that you couldn't solve a problem without defining it first. They assumed that you needed to collect data about what exists and analyze it at the beginning of every planning project. .... They did not recognize that basing one's future plans on what exists now simply generates plans for more of the same. The difficulty in planning forward from the present is that it invisibly locks-in the very constraints that produced today's frustrations....James Bandrowski wrote in Planning Review about "Taking Creative Leaps," ..., "The creative leap is achieved by imagining idealistic solutions first, then thinking logically backward to solve the problem in the reverse direction."  It is amazing how today's apparent constraints simply melt away using this planning process. Today it is best known as Breakthrough Thinking......In strategic planning and problem solving, you should always plan backwards from the future. First determine the purpose you want your solution to accomplish and then design an ideal way of making it happen. ... With this ideal target solution specified, only then should you look at what must be done today to move towards your target. Data collection at this point is hugely less expensive and faster than collecting it at the beginning. This is because you only need to collect those few bits of information specifically required by your plan for the future." Scharf, Alan, AUGUST 15,  1998, READY, FIRE, AIM, The BT Facilitator Newsletter #18

Step Four: Context

In order to begin a design, it is important to know what you are starting with. This is the stage at which you make an inventory (or account) of what you have.

15 minutes: Staying in your groups, look at the EASEL, and write down the existing elements and resources. Groups rotate as I ring the bell. This is a survey of existing conditions. Use brown post it notes. Think back to the walk around campus. At any point, you can add new ideas, using green post it notes.

This should be used as a tool to encourage two main objectives - the first is to look around for resources that you are not really aware of, or which have not traditionally been seen as resources. This can be a very empowering process, as I found working with groups in Southern Africa, who were used to seeing themselves as poor and without resources. This exercise helped people to look around at the resources they had. This also corresponds to the permaculture maxim of protracted observation, of looking in new ways at your resource base, and observing the local processes and ecological systems. The second objective is as a baseline against which to compare both the backcasting design and as a ground state for comparison in the feedback loops once implementation has begun. This corresponds to the idea of the indicators for the project being a comparison between where it started, where the group wants to go (values and visions) and what steps have been taken towards embodying those values.

It is important, however, for each member of the group to spend some time thinking about what resources they have and what is important to them. This is a good opportunity to hone skills of observation and of noticing resources, important if local resources are to be maximized.


Step Five - Analysis of flow of elements

10 minutes: Each individual should take at least 2 of the elements that you have come up with in the brainstorming session and complete an analysis of flow chart for this element (such as we did for the chicken and Guzman last week). You should think of the inputs, outputs and behaviors of that element. Each person should work on different elements. You should discuss this assignment with your group. We will use these next week..

Context, Values and Decision Making

Lab – March 25, 2002


§         Develop a comprehensive picture of the resources and limits of this project

§         Strengthen understanding of the system conditions and relationship to project

§         Develop skills of seeing connections, looking for root causes

§         Enhance creative thinking skills – brainstorming, use of mind maps, working in groups, synthesising diverse information

§         Learn tools for working towards collaboration in diverse groups



Step One – Context - 10 minutes. 8

Step Two - Limiting Factors- 10 minutes. 8

Step Three – System Conditions - 10 minutes. 8

Step Four - Creative Ideas - 10 minutes. 9

Step Five - Quality of Life Values - 15 minutes. 9


In this first session, you will work in teams working on the EASEL. (Economics, Activities, Social Capital, Elements, Landscape). Each team will perform part of the exercise on part of the EASEL, then move on to the next part; you will go all the way around and end up back where you started. Remember that everyone has to be able to understand what you write, and that you will be using each other’s resources.

At each stage, you should read what the other group has written and see if you have something to add.

As you are brainstorming ideas for each stage, you should come up with ideas that fit on other parts of the EASEL. Keep these on a piece of paper and take them with you to add to each section of the EASEL as you go around.

Keep green post it notes with you at all times, in case you wish to add new ideas to the EASEL – you can keep adding new ideas at any stage. The point is to unleash as much creativity as possible at this stage, so that you have a lot of options to choose from later.

Step One – Context - 10 minutes

On the EASEL, add existing resources to the limits and problems that we discussed last week. Use brown post it notes so that you can distinguish these from the new ideas. What do we have available for use?

Step Two - Limiting Factors- 10 minutes

Read what the other group wrote down as context. Do you have anything to add?

On blue post it notes, brainstorm as a group what you see as problems and limiting factors for this project. What are the roadblocks and difficulties that would have to be overcome in order to achieve a sustainable science building? 

Add these to the section of the EASEL you are working on, again saving any ideas that go onto other sections to add to other parts of the EASEL when you move around.

Look at the problems that you have written down. Are any of them effects of deeper, underlying problems? What causes these problems? If you want to fix the problems, you will have to fix the underlying problems. Write down as many of the causes of the problems as you can on blue post it notes and add to the mind map.

Step Three – System Conditions - 10 minutes

Read what the other group wrote down as problems. Do you have anything to add?

Use a red pen – mark violations of system conditions on the post it notes of any of the elements and ideas on the EASEL. Use SC 1 for instance. If there is a major violation of system conditions, write BIGGER, so that it is easy to see.

At this stage, you should also be consolidating the previous work and reorganising ideas so that each section of the EASEL is complete and well organised.

Step Four - Creative Ideas - 10 minutes

You should now be back at the section of the EASEL where you started.

As an individual and as a group, brainstorm new ideas for the project. You should use the headings of the EASEL for ideas. Use green post it notes for new ideas. Some of the new ideas should be solutions to the problems that you see on the EASEL, ways of solving obvious violations of the system conditions, and some should make use of the existing resources that we have on campus.

The aim of this stage is to allow all of the group to use the ideas your group thought of, and so that you may learn from how other groups use your ideas.

Step Five - Quality of Life Values - 15 minutes

“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.” Albert Einstein (Out of my Later Years, 1973)

This stage is to decide what values are important to the group, so that planning enhances these values. It provides an opportunity to think about what is really important to you, and what quality of life you wish for. This is an essential part of any group work, as it is important to see what areas are really important to the group, to find areas of common agreement that can be used to guide collaborative effort, and which can be used to help resolve disputes and difference, rather like the system conditions are used – being able to go deeper into the discussion and ask, OK, where do we agree, what do we agree about? How can we move these areas where we don’t agree forward by seeing how we can work on the areas where we do agree?

5 minutes. Begin by working as individuals, writing the important values you would like to see reflected in this project. Write on yellow post it notes.

10 minutes. Collate these ideas into a group mind map. Start with a large sheet of paper, and draw in 5 blank arms of a mind map. Everyone put their values into the middle of the table.

Take turns reading out the values (read someone else’s, this should be anonymous). Start to cluster similar ones together on the mind map. At the moment, the arms of the mind map are blank. You are looking for similarities, and exploring the groups’ values. As clusters begin to develop, you can fill in the arms of the mind map.

Ask group members to discuss what they actually mean by their words and ideas - do people understand the ideas the same way - explore perception and meaning. This is especially important at this stage as we are looking at deeply held values and worldviews, which guide our decision-making. 

Try to develop a mind map that people agree is a reflection of what the group holds as important for this project.

Lab – April 15, 2002

Ecological Design Principles – Competition

Aims of Lab:

§         Learn about ecological design principles

§         Apply what you have learned to your group projects

§         Learn about observing ecological systems and applying what you have learned

§         Develop new ideas for campus landscape plan

§         Apply the knowledge gained from Analysis of Flow exercise to the concept of arrangements of elements in space.

§         Learn about different types of connective strategies and how these can be used to enhance productivity and sustainability in design.

Goal of the Competition

Each group will start with the same resources – the completed EASELS, Analysis of Flow Charts for elements in the design, a map of campus, large sheets of paper, post it notes, crayons, and sheets of trace paper. The aim is to take all of the elements and to create as many connections between them as possible, so that you can supply most of the needs of the system from elements on campus, and so that you can maximize the use of elements, and thus productivity.

Teams will be judged on:

Number of connections, quality of design links, productive use of resources.

You have 40 minutes. Follow the steps below.

Color Codes:

Blue = water

Green = biological nutrients

Brown = Minerals and metals (technical nutrient loop)

Yellow = Energy


Step One – Preparing Charts

In your groups, write each element onto a post it notes. You can add more elements as you go along – keep track of these on the EASEL.

Arrange the elements on a large sheet of paper. Use a new sheet of trace paper for each of the four types of flow: water, energy, biological nutrients and the technical nutrient loop. Label the sheets. You may want another layer for people and information. You will use these charts to keep track of the connections that you make.

Step Two – Using Inputs and Outputs

Working as a team, perform these three actions below simultaneously.

1 Use color codes to show types of flow. Underline the flows on the Analysis of Flow charts.

2 Start marking networks of flows onto the appropriate trace paper sheets (Node and Network Charts). I suggest that you start with water, and see if you can create cycles of water so that you get the maximum use of water and the minimum wastage and pollution of water. Place the water trace sheet on top of the chart of elements. Use the Analysis of Flow charts to see what gives out water, and what needs water. Which of these inputs and outputs can you connect? Draw lines with arrows in blue to show these connections. Use thick lines if there is a large flow. Arrows sow direction of flow.

While you are doing this, you may think of connections for biological nutrients, or for energy. Use the appropriate sheets and colours for these flows. This may require new elements or strategies. Make a note of these on the EASEL and add them into your design.

The use of the separate layers helps you to see the connections in different ways, and helps to keep the information readable. The aim is to make as many connections as possible. You can add notes to the arrows as needed.

3 At the same time as you use the Analysis of Flow charts to make connections; you should be brainstorming Multiple Sources for Each Need, and Multiple Uses for each element (see example). Add these to the Analysis of Flow Charts, and add the appropriate information to your Node and Network Charts.

4 Repeat the above action to make Node and Network Charts for:


The aim is to try and supply all of the necessary inputs and use all of the necessary outputs within the one system, to reduce inputs from external sources.  The aim is to create a productive system, which meets many needs, enhances biological spaces and as much as possible runs off of the sun and local resources. Note that you can look at and use the large charts of inputs and outputs for the Dominican Campus and for the creek to help you in this. The more that you can show that your team is reducing overall violations of system conditions, the better.

Step Four – Design Strategies

Look at the charts. Do you see any clusters of elements that should work together? What do these charts suggest will be important in a sustainable design? Draw simple bubble diagrams of these clusters, with any notes from your discussion onto smaller pieces of trace paper. You will use these in presenting your design to the group.

Design Principles in Use in this Exercise:

Multiple Sources for Each Need

In an industrial economy and urban areas, our normal sources of supply are often very fragile, - e.g. if there was a transport strike we would have a tremendous problem feeding people and providing them with energy and basic necessities. Sustainable design aims to provide each essential needs with more than one source, copying ecological systems, which tend to have many webs of food and nutrients to provide for alternatives and resilience to shocks and inevitable change.

Use of Local and Biological Resources

In a plan we need to try to plan for the future needs of people, plant the plants for raw materials now, preserve genetic diversity, especially medicinal and fiber and dye plants. Oil will probably become more expensive, and we may need to have alternative ways of providing for our material needs. This principle should be planned with the sustainable use of biological resources in mind. If you harvest more than can be replaced - so that an area becomes deforested or a species dies out in an area - that is a degenerative use of resources. If you only harvest some and there is enough left over to keep reproducing, that is generative use of resources. If you actively conserve habitat, create new areas, create banks of plants for propagation and plant areas with these plants, that is regenerative use of resources.

The use of local resources helps to develop the local economy, allows the consumer to know more about the possible health effects of the product and its effect on sustainability. Use of local resources also helps to reduce the use of fossil fuels in transportation and the unproductive space required by road based transport system. 

Multiple Uses for Each Element

This principle is very important in trying to improve the local economy - we can get more from same elements, and increase productivity. This is related to the concept of rethinking waste – there is no waste, only unused outputs. Waste is a sign of a badly designed system.

Relative location and connective strategies

Beneficial relationships and cooperation means that 1 + 1 does not always = 2. Relative Location looks to maximize functional beneficial relationships between elements, which often need to be placed in relationship to each other to achieve synergy. Synergy - the interactions of parts, which work together so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

 "The things we make must not only rise from the ground but return to it, soil to soil, water to water, so everything that is received from the earth can be freely given back without causing harm to any living system. This is ecology. This is good design. (McDonaugh, 1998-1999, article in Earthlight, pg. 8).