How Did You Learn Ecological Systems Design?


Subject: How did you learn ecological systems design?How can I learn it in Europe? Do you offer internships?

Date: Wed, 27 Feb 2002 08:58:33 -0800

> Hi,

> I am fascinated with your work and would like some more details if you've got time.
> Basically, where did you learn to do all the stuff you're doing? Can it be learnt in Europe?
> Would you consider interns/volunteers? Can you give me the name of some other people
> doing the same work than you (in Europe if you can, but in the US also)?
> I know your are extremely busy, but hope you'll find some time to answer.
> Best regards
> Ludovic Pommier

How did I learn this stuff?

I started with an unusual nature: I am equally comfortable as a wild man, technologist, and businessman.

This led to some internal conflict, as you might imagine. After several years I figured out that none of these aspects was going to "win," and the thing was to integrate them. Obvious...with hindsight.
I started making custom transport bikes for people without cars when I was sixteen. I also moved out of my parents' house and "camped" in their backyard. This led me to learn just how little you really need to live comfortably (I ended up staying there twenty years).

This gave me a good start on the single most important skill for an ecological designer: the ability to live very well on almost nothing.
This is really good practice for training your design mind. Also, if you can't do this you'll end up selling out early as it takes a long time to be able to make a lot of money in this line of work without selling out.

At eighteen I became crazy curious about the larger world--the context my designs would be fitting into. I left and traveled by bicycle for a few years around the world, consciously studying everything I encountered. I traded room and board for work at about a hundred communities, mostly in Europe and the Pacific Rim. Christiania, Svanholm (Denmark), and Pian Barruciolli (Italy) were especially formative for me. All three of them still exist, and would probably still be formative places to visit in Europe.

By this point I'm twenty. I have lots of good ideas, but they are not grounded in scientific reality. I decided to go back to collage for another four years (making eight years total...I left high school and went to college when I was sixteen).

This time around I studied calculus, chemistry, physics, molecular cell biology, structural analysis...earlier I'd studied metalworking, etc.
Research I did on the effect of cleaners on plants and soil led me to develop the first laundry soap especially designed to be biocompatible with plants and soil. I started manufacturing and marketing it before I graduated, which made things a little hectic.

Several years ago I realized that after two decades of living well on nearly nothing, saving the rest all the time, my family is truly rich. Though we make less than almost any families around us, we have more freedom, more economic security, and less need to work. My wife and I work however much we want, and only on projects we believe in.

At times I'm amazed we've achieved this without selling our souls. That's a consequence of the other most important skill for an ecological designer:

Stay focused on what you believe in. Refuse to give in to the temptations of consumer society or well-paying but soulless work any more than absolutely necessary. Make only the most strategic of compromises. The only sure way to fail to achieve your dream is to give up.

I don't know any ecological designers in Europe, but I'm sure they exist.

I do occasionally have openings for volunteers, internships or employment. Fill out an Employment application if you like, and I'll take a look at it next time I need help.

I hope this helps, and good luck to you!