Hannover principles and culture

Emma Wilcox sent me a link to the Hannover Principles on Design for Sustainability. I’d seen them before but forgotten about them. They are 11 years old now and have been very influential on architecture and design, with certain points such as ‘create safe objects of long-term value’ and ‘eliminate the concept of waste’ having great impact on design thinking. I was wondering whether the same spirit behind these principles could be applied to the cultural heritage sector, which has a complementary role alongside design. Whether cultural heritage organisations curate artefacts, knowledge, built or natural environments, they are all basically about stewardship and sustainability. Design is mainly about inventing things and places, and cultural heritage is mainly about conserving and teaching about things and places but, together, both sectors work towards enhancing the way we live with things and in places. Together, both sectors need to work towards ensuring that ‘enhancing the way we live’ is not about indulgence and greed but about living well with nature.

I remembered that I had written some principles in the Framework for Climate Action in Culture and Heritage. What I may do now is to revise these inspired by the Hannover principles. Both sets of principles are below.

The Hannover Principles by William McDonough

1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.

2. Recognise interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale.  Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects.

3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness.

4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems and their right to co-exist.

5. Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creation of products, processes or standards.

6. Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems, in which there is no waste.

7.  Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income. Incorporate this energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.

8. Understand the limitations of design.  No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature.  Treat nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.

9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers and users to link long term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and re-establish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity.

The Framework for Climate Action in Culture & Heritage 

1. However local our remit, we accept a global responsibility and perspective, aiming to secure social and environmental justice.

2. The survival of our own organisation is ultimately only important so that we can contribute to wider social and global challenges.

3. We interpret ‘sustainability’ not as the continuation of every initiative or preservation of every asset but the evolution of our services to meet environmental, cultural and educational needs as they emerge.

4. We must identify how our knowledge, practice and assets can best be targeted to the great challenge of environmental sustainability.

5. It is essential that we collaborate more with other bodies to share knowledge and resources, giving our time and ideas freely if necessary to bring about fruitful mutuality.

6. We need to make our assets even more accessible to aid urgent and pragmatic learning from them. This may involve increasing digital access to our culture and knowledge.

7. We should not delay in reducing greenhouse gas emissions across our operations, as this is only the first step we can take towards helping to sustain life on the planet.

8. We must model and enable imaginative thinking and practice, working optimistically and generously with creative people and ideas.

9. We must aim to think systemically to deal with the complexity of the situation, so that we can continually reassess our priorities.

10. We should work more closely with domains outside our own, including organisations involved in the natural environment, place-making, engineering, design and sustainable economics.

11. We should prioritise community engagement, and redefine our audiences primarily as ‘communities of interest’ rather than customers we only value quantitatively. This means that our audiences are groups of people, who share common interests in places or practices, who we must help to develop their understanding and solve problems.

12. We must see the prime rationale for our learning programmes as developing ‘smart capacities’ so that people can play an active role in democratic decision-making, cope with future challenges and maintain their wellbeing. We must emphasise participatory, non-didactic, challenge-based and enquiry-based learning approaches in order to develop these capacities.

13. In our interpretation programmes, we should drive towards contextualisation, so that artefacts and knowledge are more dynamically placed into an ecosystem of landscape, biodiversity and human economics and creativity.

14. In making decisions about our relationships with businesses, we should be scrupulous in considering environmental ethics.


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