In a previous post, I wrote about Value or Values? in the context of deciding what you might do about sustainability issues, including getting an MA in Sustainable Design. In this post, I want to write about Value or Values again, but this time in a bigger context.
Designers are imaginative, creative, and pragmatic. Sustainable designers are those things AND they take a systems view, leverage nature’s design principles, and analyze complex data. They are well equipped to address the world’s sustainability problems; however, they face another challenge: Most of us, perhaps unwittingly, favor value over values.
There’s an adage that says, “Be careful what you measure because what gets measured gets managed.” Many people have written pieces on the wisdom — or lack thereof — of this adage. A related adage says, “Be careful to measure what you value, because we value what we measure.”
The second adage is scarier to me because we also tend to measure what is easy to measure. Worse yet, most of us don’t even bother to choose what we might want to measure; we just accept what others measure — and broadcast, relentlessly.
Think about the measurements, the metrics, that you’ve heard/read/seen/checked the last 24 hours, perhaps many times, perhaps unintentionally. Time has to be tops on the list, and probably temperature. And then there’s money.
If you go to the New York Times website, for example, you’ll find — above the headlines — today’s date, today’s weather, and today’s change in the S&P 500, Dow, and NASDAQ. These metrics have permanent spots, on top of everything else, so they must be quite valuable.
On NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, they sneak it in as a quick one-liner, between news stories, after the weather, before the break. “Stock prices are up today. This is NPR news.” On Planet Money, they play a little sad tune when stock prices are down.
It’s clear that knowing the weather and its pending fluctuations might have immediate value to you at any given moment. But the NASDAQ? How is knowing this metric and its current fluctuations so immediately important to you? How grateful are you that these numbers are so frequently shared, so easily accessed? Do you personally value being oft-updated on this metric?
Given that this metric, and it’s many brethren, are reported so often across so many outlets, do you sort of feel like you should value it? Like maybe you’re missing out on something important, something valuable, if you don’t? Clearly that’s what all of these outlets believe.
If economic metrics are so valuable, wouldn’t you want to be able to track a broader range of them? Isn’t it important to see data that tell a more complete story, provide you with more context, and reflect what aligns with your values?
For example, while the leading economic indicators suggest the economy is booming,
Economic inequality is out of control. In 2019, the world’s billionaires — only 2,153 people — had more wealth than 4,600,000,000 people.
Every second a person dies of hunger.
Over a million children are sold as slaves every year. Many work in dangerous conditions and more than 20,000 children are killed every year while working.
Global carbon emissions increased 1.7 percent in 2017 and a further 2.7 percent in 2018; it has been estimated that the rate of increase in 2019 will be among the highest on record.
10 million tons (over 21 billion pounds) of toxic chemicals are released into our environment by industries each year.
One garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans every single minute.
Our food systems depend on bees, but bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate.
Sperm counts have gone down 50% during the last 50 years.
What do these metrics tell you? Is the economy really booming or is it exploitation that’s booming?
What metrics might be valuable to you, that reflect your values, that you’re not even aware of because they are not commonly reported? What else do you need to know if you strive to align value and values?
Luckily for all of us, sustainable designers take a systems view and dig into and analyze a comprehensive range of data and information. They strive to design products, processes, and policies that allow all of us to align value with values.
“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”~ Robert Kennedy, University of Kansas, March 18, 1968