Guiding Principles for River Restoration and Sustainable Product Design

Dr Margaret Palmer and her associates suggest a list of five relevant features which should be considered during river restoration: a guiding image; improving ecosystems; increasing resilience; doing no lasting harm; and completing an ecological assessment. These points are raised in the Journal of Applied Ecology in an effort to bring order to the chaos that is river restoration. While these points were meant for river restoration I think they have a broader application in sustainable product design, let me expound.A guiding image has always been important for organization, whether in business or personal life, having a picture can say a thousand words, and organize a million ideas. By creating a picture of your idea or product you gain insight into where you want to be, and what the end result should look like.

Improving ecosystems adds value and increased service to the local area. It is like getting an upgrade on your water filter, air purifier, and general health. By aiming for all activity to add functionality to the ecosystem you increase the possible beneficial feedback that environment can supply. While this is particularly important in river restoration, product design should take into account the opportunities that exist in manufacturing and use to add functionality to any aspect of our ecosystem.

Increasing resilience is something every product development team should worry about. By creating a resilient product, it can bounce back from damage, laugh in the face of danger, and out perform all competitors. In the sense of river restoration, some rivers are naturally more resilient then others, and there is no black and white determination of a ‘good’ river or a ‘bad’ river. Some products will always be sensitive, but the more robust a system the better chance it has of surviving the test of time.

Do no lasting harm is sage advice, and an interesting philosophy for product development. River restoration should not incur damage on the surrounding countryside, and product development and production should take into account what the results of its success will be for the next 5-75 years or more. Simply by thinking about harmful effects as well as market projections products will enjoy the benefits of sustainability in the long run.

Completing an ecological assessment puts a bureaucratic ring on the finger of green design. By creating a system that challenges people to quantify their own environmental impact, they in turn can demonstrate to their customer what an environmentally friendly product they have, and learn how to develop better products in the future. For river restoration it does the same thing, provides a paper trail with clearly defined results and benefits.::River Restoration::BES [T. McGee]