Sustainability principles at the heart of Hitchcock’s ‘living’ building

The new home of the Hitchcock Center for the Environmen. Construction is nearing completion on the campus of Hampshire College in Amherst. Jessica Schultz

The new home of the Hitchcock Center for the Environmen. Construction is nearing completion on the campus of Hampshire College in Amherst. Jessica Schultz

By Casey Beebe For the Gazette

Friday, July 29, 2016

Imagine what our world would be like if this is what we all believed, if this is how we thought:

1. A healthy and sustainable future is possible.

We can learn how to live well within the means of nature. This viewpoint inspires and motivates people to act.

2. We are all in this together.

We are interdependent on each other and on the natural systems. In this context, self interests are best served through mutually beneficial relationships.

3. Healthy systems have limits.

Rather than exceeding or ignoring the limits, tap the power of limits. Constraints drive creativity.

4. Recognize and protect the commons.

The commons are the creations of nature and society that we inherit jointly and freely, and hold in trust for future generations. We all depend on them and we are all responsible for them. Who is tending them at the moment?

5. Reconcile individual rights with collective responsibilities.

Responsible and ethical participation and leadership are required in order to make the changes we need to make. We must reconcile the conflicts that exist between our individual rights and our responsibilities as citizens.

6. Diversity makes our lives possible.

Diversity is required to support rich complex systems (like us), to build strength and to develop resilience in living systems. Biological diversity, cultural, gender, political and intergenerational diversity all serve this purpose.

7. Create change at the source not the symptom.

Distinguish problems from symptoms and goals from indicators. Identify the most upstream problem you can address within your sphere of influence, and then solve more than one problem at a time while minimizing the creation of new problems.

8.Think 1,000 years.

Envision the kind of future we want and start working toward it. We do not have to sacrifice our children’s future to meet our needs. In fact, that is irresponsible and just plain wrong.

9. Read the feedback.

We need to pay attention to the results of our behavior on the systems upon which we depend. How will we measure success? Sometimes the results of our behavior are inconsistent with our values and our desired outcomes. If we keep our eyes on the feedback, we can adjust our thinking and behavior before we cross detrimental thresholds.

10. It all begins with a change in thinking.

Thinking drives behavior and behavior causes results. As Albert Einstein pointed out, the significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking we used to create them. Think systems, cycles and out of the box.

11. Live by the natural laws.

We must operate within the natural laws and principles rather than attempt to overcome them. They are non-negotiable.

12. We are all responsible.

Everything we do and everything we don’t do makes a difference.

Our colleagues at the New York City-based Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education created these Enduring Understandings to be the framework for their Educating for Sustainability curriculum, which the Hitchcock Center for the Environment is adopting.

What if we all believed in these principles? What if this were the rubric by which the next generation was educated?

In the Hitchcock Center’s new Living Building, constructed to meet the requirements of the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge, this is what we will be teaching. Principles like these are why we have built this building — so that the next generation does believe and think in these terms.

We are hopeful that we are on the cusp of a tipping point and a new paradigm — one in which children are raised and educated to think critically and holistically, so that they grow up to see the world for the integration of systems that it is. We believe that children who learn these principles early will be responsible citizens, workers and leaders. This is why we have taken on the Living Building Challenge, to take thought and action to a deeper level of understanding, to get to the root of our thinking and mind-frames — an essential part of real change.

The building will be a teaching tool, inviting visitors to learn about sustainability and to think about how to live in ways that maintain life on our planet. The practical aspects of the building — from zero net energy and water use, to creative use of composting and daylighting, to reducing or eliminating the use of toxic materials — all lead into deeper and broader concepts of how to be in relation to the world of which we’re a part.

Please join us. We will be migrating to our new home this fall. Come see how we plan to embody and be a model for a new way to live and build on this planet.

Casey Beebe is operations and special projects manager at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst. Learn more about the Hitchcock Center’s living building and site features. Read about the criteria and performance standards of the Living Building Challenge. For more information about the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, visit

Earth Matters, written by staff and associates of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment at 525 South Pleasant St., Amherst, appears every other week in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. For more information, call 413-256-6006, or write to us

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