Net-zero and Learning the ABCDs of Sustainability

Arcosanti A Great Meeting Space for Net-Zero Minds? – SF Bay Area sustainability innovator Laurie Schoeman unintentionally reminded me about how much I have fallen out of touch with latest developments of the ecological design/green movement by suggesting that Arcosanti would be a nice place for the meeting of “net-zero minds”.

A  search on Net-zero exposed it as a term some use in ecological design to refer to serious approaches to reducing emissions and overall ecological impact. There was a nice article in the Vancouver Business Journal about Net-Zero titled “The Power to Net-Zero“.

Over the years there have been many of these (meetings of net-zero minds at Arco) including:

Three Paradox Conferences (97,99,01) which I talked about in a previous post just a few weeks ago.

The launch of Ecosa Institute’s 4 month seminar on Ecological Design in 2000 which was promoted as a total immersion approach to ecological design in 2000. Because there was deemed some conflict with the existing workshop here at Arcosanti it was not continued.

Both considered a more comprehensive approach to planning and design that involves many different considerations.

The Role of Asset Based Community Development in Building Arcology Themed Habitats/Developments – Today Skype UK Social Entreprenuer William Wardlaw Rogers and I talked about the potential role of a project like Arcosanti in terms of developing more outreach with other orgs esp locally as a way to demonstrate a process towards less top down and more grass roots local actions.

The term used in development and NGO planning is Assets Based Community Development. ABCD is a process for constant engagement with all stakeholders. Some might see it as a form of “closet Marxism” in that it is stressing the need to hold those with the power accountable to the people involved in the NGO at all levels in the process. However these approaches are not about mandating or forcing but rather about holding people accountable to each other within networks and possibly eventually in the larger society as well.

One of the challenges when considering Arcosanti and its impact on the world is that we currently have no way to measure its impact both in terms of sustainable measures of progress as well as community engagement both at the local and global/networking levels.

Because if you want to create an real alternative to existing capitalist models you have to consider the Human Scale and in that vein develop a process for bringing people together in a cohesive way to make decisions.

So William suggested some who is involved at the state level in Tuscon area in such efforts. Hildy Gottlieb is working on the Community driven institute and her approach he says is Asset driven community development. He is looking at something in the UK to compliment this. This includes the development of what William terms “information products to facilitate community development – these are asset focused and start by analysis of what is within the community rather than seeking for external solutions.”

The G20 (Group of 20 leading industrialized nations) is being hosted here at the end of March. As a counterpoint to this extremely elite and top down event is an event called We20 – a real world set of round tables enriched by technology links.


The We20 team are sending out packs to guide national discussions of 20 people (to mimic the G20) on what the issues of the day are.

They will be fed back to a central point and then fed to some interface of the G20 as representative of the We20 community views (on what issues are vital – I’m not certain if they more to a solutions stage).

So then the idea is why NGOs like the Cosanti Foundation (which runs Arcosanti) need to consider this kind of thing? Why?

William responds:

We20 is the beggining of a concept being batted around on the back of digital infrastructure progressing – Digital government. This seems to be the start of a national attempt to get decision making at a local level being centralised and fed to those with the hand on the resource tap.

I’m interested in the process – how inclusive/exclusive it is… and…if it can be emulated for development agencies/community development aggregates in requesting resources.

My thought is that lots of money is assigned for development/regeneration of local areas and the implementation is based upon top down consultation. This digital method of illiciting what is valued locally and what the needs are may be an alternative.

An analog gathering (non-ICT based face to face round tables) enriched by a set of tech channels. The fact that it is digitally enriched means a variety of social media tools can converge to capture the results – and they can be updated relative to the regularity of the discussions.

This I believe forms some way for others to engage in the legacy of these small 20 person events and also any larger meetings that will no doubt occur. It also allows remote engagement, but it does not entirely rely upon technology for smaller meetings to occur – information to be exchanged – and decisions to be made. There is obvious fallibility as to whether resources will return relative to the requests of the round tables but at the very least there will be public record of the requests (occuring regularly) – so that top down consultancy can be slowly phased away as this process becomes more reliable.

These We20 groups are small round tables…In effect it is a tribal system enriched by technology. I believe that these tribal decisions (round tables) can be seen as a way to make community decisions around development.

And then the discussion feeds into how does something like Arcosanti establish its values and make relevant choices around the resources it has access to both interdependently and independently and what role does technology play in that.

In closing he came up with some heading to summarize the approach:

  1. Be interesting to understand: The decision making process around resource use –
  2. How an inclusive vision is established –
  3. How the existing culture facilitates/inhibits that –
  4. How decisions develop the culture and move the community towards the vision…

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