Ecological Civilization

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John Thackara:

"Sustainable Development, it turns out, has modified – but not transformed – a global economic system that has to grow in order to survive.

Despite three decades of SD, we are experiencing more extraction today, more destruction of biodiversity, than ever before.

A more transformative vision is needed. The concept of an [Ecological Civilization]] (EC) provides us with such a vision. For the first time, it describes a path that transforms the economy and society for good – rather than just tinker at the edges, with symptoms.

For the world of design, EC is transformative In three profound ways:

  • 1 In an EC, care for place takes priority over ever-growing production and communication;
  • 2 EC defines value creation in terms of healthy soils, and ecological restoration;
  • 3 EC gives priority to social relationships, and institutional innovation.

For design, an EC means that urban and rural are no longer separate domains.

Cities, in fact, have much to gain from village revitalization.

Some critics complain that Ecological Civilisation has produced far more research, than practical action. And it’s true, that the growth of EC research has been impressive!

But in design, the key principles of EC are evident in many thousands of practical grassroots projects around the world – even if the language used to describe them is diverse." (


"Apps that enable urban people be part-time farmers.

Streaming platforms that connect farmers directly to the city

Tools that enable citizen participation in ecological agriculture.

Above all, making things in an EC, and leaving the land healthier, are a single process.

The algae lab that produces 3d cups out of bioplastics is about ecology, not just production.

Or in textiles: EC means the soil- friendliness of regionally-grown fibre is measured, tested and monitored by everyone involved." (


The Role of China

John Thackara:

"Seen through this lens of grassroots activity, China is playing a leading role in Ecological Civilization design.

The revitalization of rural villages, for example, is a policy priority.

And China takes the health of small farms seriously. Designers, using the latest co-operation platforms, can help millions of small farmers can co-exist with the the city on equal terms.

Many designers are ready to reconnect with nature and rural life. But they need new skills. And a respect for rural culture is missing from their education.

Where designers learn, and how, in an EC, matters almost more than what. In an EC, place is their professor.

The good news is that examples of place-based learning for designers are beginning to emerge.

But there is potential is for designers to make a much bigger contribution to the emergence of an EC.

A proposal being developed for an ecological design training platform for designers in China."