Inventing in the Environmental Age


A friend of mine and I wanted to sit down and figure out what age we are in. Has the “Information Age” passed? Has the “Space Age” been put on hold?

So just today, it came to me – this is or should be the Environmental Age. I was all excited and asked a few friends and they had not specifically heard the phrase. I came home and found about 11,000 entries in Google with the quotes on (how I determine originality).

  • Information Age: 9 million Google results
  • Space Age: 3 million
  • Atomic Age: 360,000 (Surprisingly small)
  • Environmental Age: 11,000

This also finds the words with punctuation between which is not usually the same. But the phrase Environmental Age has definitely been used for instance in the 1989 book, “The New Environmental Age”. This also implies that there was an old environmental age – the Hippie movement probably. So while I did independently come up with this illuminating proposal, I guess I did not invent it.

Having said that, I do not get the sense that people in general have realized that this is or should be the Environmental Age. This post is to encourage and recommend that we officially all agree that this is the Environmental Age.

We have a better chance of there being an Environmental Age if we are to declare an Environmental Age. Much like it helps to call yourself an Inventor if you wish to invent. This is one of the first tips of inventing. Introduce yourself as an inventor and you become an inventor. Let us label this the Environmental Age and it will come to be the Environmental Age. A combination of positive thinking and a goal or mission statement – a focus!

Please pass this along. We are in the ENVIRONMENTAL AGE


I was just at a Design Open House and was happy to see many design incorporating environmental consideration. Indeed, designers will have a major role if not the biggest role in turning our products, services, luxuries, necessities, etc. sustainable or even beneficial to the Earth. Architects, Designers, Engineers, anybody who decides how things are made will have a big impact. Governments setting regulations will rely on these bodies for initial guidelines.

Aside from how things are made (design) influence on our environment will come from what is being made. Here is where inventors step in and come up with new ideas. This splitting of design and invention is not quite fair on designers – as much of what they do is inventive. Given a necessity, they invent solutions and design them. But often, what to make – the invention proper, is already established and designers work on aesthetics, materials and ergonomics and there is room for invention in the choices and the decisions certainly affect the environment.

Digression – read at own risk:

Is invention independent of design? Looking at the single hierarchy of Nodism, design is generally the working out of an embodiment. Traversing down a branch from a parent node. The parent node being the invention. But the parent node is itself going to be a child node of another parent. So in a sense, becomes the design of its parent. Invention happened to provide context. Design concerns the forging of the content. This is circular in that when you forge content, it creates context – hence you would also be inventing. So… perhaps the answer is not in the structure of nodism but in the actual semantic value of the nodes themselves. ie. if it is a value relating to aesthetics then it is design but if it is a value relating to its utility then it falls under invention. Anyway… somewhat of a digression. Digression is good when thinking and inventing but it is polite though to return to the point…

This can be exemplified by taking modes of travel for instance. We can redesign current modes (cars for instance) or come up with new ones (teleportation). coming up with a unique mode is hard – and even then, I did not invent teleportation – as a matter of fact, until there is a useful working model, nobody has invented it. In trying to think of unique modes of transportation I have arrived at things like a gondola, jet pack, auger, conveyor, segway, catapult – all these are existing potential embodiments. But luckily, invention can can be found in improvements. For instance:

  • A pogo stick with compressed gas boost triggered at the handle (compression builds up as you land).
  • A portable gondola the size and weight of an umbrella with bumpers (maybe only works downhill).
  • Moving sidewalks that are powered by the riders like a skateboard.

Some say that improvements are all we have left. There is the fabled “basic patent”. An inventor’s equivalent to a paradigm shift.

Improvements can come by completely phasing something out. One might wish to phase out cars all together and rely solely on public transport. But we as a culture, at times need freedom – not at the expense of the environment – but still it would be better if we could redesign the car (as we already have for years…)

Shifting to electric allows us to separate the energy source from the vehicle. There are many ways to create electricity – it is a carrier not a source. So we can use solar, wind, wave, thermal, nuclear, even gas (but we should not). The size of the car too needs to be revisited certainly in America. There is an issue of safety during impact and in visibility. It is a bit of a catch 22 there where if cars were small we could see better but until they are small we can’t. There is also the fact that trucks are around. This might require separate roads for trucks perhaps. We see futuristic cars like shells made of fiberglass – which should be made from some sort of semi-cured sap and recycled fibers.

How we use cars should change too. For instance, we should not drive cars where we live but rather plan living areas of about 100 houses with pathways and gardens and leave our cars in garages surrounding our living areas. We could have carts for taking larger items between our cars and houses. Or perhaps provide some sort of conveyor system. Imagine your existing survey where the roads are gardens and paths and imagine the community and feeling of safety for children. Please see the Sage Project for an artistic rendering 😉

One problem is that once we get somewhere – say going from Hamilton to Toronto… we want to then go all over the place and who knows where in Toronto and do not feel that public transit will get us there. So we drive from Hamilton to Toronto when we would have liked to take the train. Well, a solution would be to park a car in Toronto and one in Hamilton. Then commute between cars. This sounds a bit crazy due to parking prices in Toronto for one reason. Having two cars for another…

But what if we do like Holland does with bikes. If we had light weight communal cars maybe a cheap rental or honor program would work – or maybe government subsidized free parking of a certain environmentally friendly cheap vehicle would allow for two cars – one at each destination. Drive your little cheap electric Zenn car to the terminal and plug it in. Take a train to Toronto, get in your second little cheap electric Zenn car that is at a terminal there or a rental and take it from there. Ideally you would not have to take this commute at all and instead would live where you work.

Use ingenuity and inventiveness to aid in all areas of environmental design. For instance, if it nags you to drain your bathtub or shower to have all that water go unused back down to the sea then think about a solution. Hmmm… I then am going to go outside and use a hose to water my garden… hmmm. Do you see the answer. See if you can build it – make an alternative drain that drains into your garden. If you can’t build it then post the idea so that others might try.


The whole concept of consumerism needs to be redesigned.

We should try and be consumers of ideas rather than products.

Then we can make things from the ideas using local resources and recycled resources even recycled within our own dwellings. As in… start repairing again! Start sewing and crafting again. I can’t tell you how many toys I have made from cardboard tubes and boxes and some tape. These outlast store bought toys by years. There is meaning in them, ownership, pride, history, love. The same goes for art, furnishings and clothes, meals, etc.

Sharing could work for us. We do not all need a lawn mower. As a matter of fact, in general we should just outlaw grass cutting and introduce mosses, etc. But for now… sharing is good. We can share ladders, tools, etc. and curb our purchasing of seldom used items.

Buying local produce and bringing reusable containers. Companies need to reduce shipping and packaging. Go to perhaps online marketing rather than relying on cardboard for display. Maybe OLED displays in stores rather than on packaging. Start making and selling things that are helpful to nature. Make games out of tree planting, put solar panels on everything. Make battery chargers to go on exercise machines and bicycles. And of course, make as many things as possible recyclable and from recycled products. Give to second hand stores and go to second hand stores.

Government programs might be put in place to help start alternative second hand stores. Ones that are creating new fashions from previously worn clothes or creating art and accessories out of scrap, etc.

So… just some current thoughts on inventing in the Environmental Age. If you have read this far, please it would be encouraging to let me know that you have and perhaps leave a comment with some ideas of your own or feedback on some of these ideas. Do not be shy! Thanks.



  1. well done, Zoon DAN ZEN !

    more comments

    For the record, the words “environment” and “pollution” were hardly used when I took dozens of geology and oceanography courses between
    1957 and 1963.

    Although I hardly invented the word “environment,” I am proud to have founded ESRA (Environmental Science Research Associated), a non-profit corporation, as early as 1967, one year before EPA was foisted on US by Pres.Nixon (who did a better job visiting China on us)

    As to the Internet, I gladly yield to Al Gore, but personally consider IT one of the major inventions of ALL Ages.

    Keep on your good work spreading the word “environment” even though
    it has incurred some unpleasant connotations as the alleged opposite of development….which is not necessarily the case.

    Warm regards to you, family, friends and associates!

  2. I like the idea of calling this the Environmental Age. I think it solidifies the focus that is needed for us to take these issues seriously!

    Cool concept!


  3. The environmental age is definitely upon us. I know someone who runs an organic farm out in Freelton (near Hamilton) and they have seen a huge upswing in business in the last few years. I also know people who are building environmentally sustainable housing and making an effort to use public transit more. It will be interesting to see what happens with the current economic climate – will it make people more interested in recycling and using less? However, is it possible to create a sustainable society that is based on environmental concerns rather than capitalistic goals? How will our economy survive if there is less spending? I don’t know, I’m just asking.

  4. Infrastructure is definitely a huge concern at the moment. How do you built a better city when the city is already established and populated? We keep pushing the boundaries of Toronto further out only to take up prime farmland for immense townhouses in the suburbs. There’s a push to succeed and success tends to be embodied by the material goods you own that others can easily see and judge your worth by. What pressure would it take for everyone to abdicate from consumerism goals and instead focus on building a cohesive society?

  5. I feel worried that this ‘Environmental Age’ is being treated too much like a fad in our greater society and wasting might turn around become some sort of status symbol. I think Salpy is right in saying that it’s harder to change an already established system, especially when you ask people to make an effort and give up luxuries that they feel they’re entitled to.

  6. Hi Dan,

    Found your post while researching ‘environmental age’ for our mission statement: “RegenArch creates aesthetically stunning design for the environmental era. We strive to restore the balance between human society and nature. RegenArch creates spatially rich architecture that promotes well-being for its inhabitants, and we are dedicated to the restoration of human societies in balance with nature through daring, indelible design. Our mission is to create enlightened design by transforming light and space into built form, using materials wisely, and designing living systems modeled after natural ones. We choose to implement strategies of regenerative design to create architecture that serve both people and planet. RegenArch is the first architecture firm of its kind, a progressive studio where high-art meets high-consciousness.”

    Judging from your post, I highly recommend you read “Cradle to Cradle” by McDonough & Braungart, “Biomimicry” by Benyus, and “Suburban Nation” by Duany & Plater-Zyberk.

    Ditto to comment by Salpy re: infrastructure. We are taking that on as well.

    Enjoy, Richard

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