Rise in “Green Buildings” Showcases Sustainable Architecture

renewable energy implemented into urban life is gaining traction

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Dozens of buildings have been designed with the future in mind, CNN reported. From prominent solar paneling to natural ventilation systems, city planning is going “green” all around the world. Permaculture ethics shape this emerging trend.

Rows of solar panels with lush green surroundings
Permaculture ethics in urban planning shows a returned interest to sustainable living, such as the way of life exemplified by the indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by asharkyu / Shutterstock

Sustainable living is taking root globally, according to a CNN article showcasing 18 such examples. “In the era of climate change, more and more emphasis is being placed on a building’s ‘green’ credentials, as environmental impact leads decisions around design, construction, and operations,” the article said. It included profiles of buildings like Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Tomorrow, which uses a water pumping system for natural air conditioning, and Milan’s Bosco Verticale, which was designed to accommodate fully grown trees on its balconies.

The philosophy behind so-called “green buildings” is known as permaculture ethics.

Three Branches of Permaculture Ethics

All design has an element of ethics and sustainable living is no different. The three elements of permaculture ethics look at people in the context of their relationship to Earth and vice-versa.

“The first is care of the people; design should meet the needs of people,” said Professor Lonnie A. Gamble, founding faculty member and co-director of the Sustainable Living program at Maharishi University of Management. “The second ethic is care of the Earth—design should enhance, rather than diminish, the capacity of the Earth’s systems and should consider the needs of all the creatures of the Earth.

“The third ethic is ‘share the surplus.’ Once your systems are set up and meet your needs and you have enough—and these systems are very abundant—share the surplus with others.”

Professor Gamble said this surplus can be time, knowledge, plant material, or any other surplus from your systems. It should be mentioned that with the first ethic, in which design meets the needs of the people, he gave an example that an economic system should put the economics in service of the people, rather than the other way around.

Ancient Wisdom for Today

According to Professor Gamble, one of the best examples of sustainable living comes from the Tlingit and Haida peoples of the Pacific Northwest. He learned about them on a visit to an Alaskan village many years ago, where they had survived for between 5,000 and 10,000 years.

“It’s a richly productive ecological zone, and the Tlingit have a saying—when the tide is out, the table is set,” Professor Gamble said. “There are massive runs of salmon, so thick in the streams that they can be harvested by hand; there are ample whales and seals; there are abundant berries and other plants for wild crafting.”

Professor Gamble said the Tlingit can meet their needs for food, shelter, and clothing with just a few months’ work of the year and spend the rest of the time socializing and developing their culture. However, one of their practices has earned much ire from North American governments.

“The Tlingit have a custom called potlatch, where resources get redistributed on a regular basis,” he said. “It’s a big party where the most respect goes to the people who give away the most stuff. It was outlawed by both the Canadian and the U.S. governments for a number of years—the governments wanted to integrate the tribes into a consumer culture, and the potlach went against it.”

Since potlatch made it difficult for tribe members to accumulate long-term wealth, it took some time for it to make its way back to the happy side of the law. Professor Gamble said that indigenous people of Southeast Alaska now have more autonomy in legal matters and potlatch is now legal and making a comeback.

Sustainable living butts heads with some economic traditions in the Western world, but if green architecture is any indication, there may still be room for it.

Professor Gamble is a founding faculty member and Co-Director of the Sustainable Living program at Maharishi University of Management

Professor Lonnie A. Gamble contributed to this article. Professor Gamble is a founding faculty member and co-director of the Sustainable Living program at Maharishi University of Management, where he has taught since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from North Carolina State University.