RESTORING FORCE: VOLUME I
I hope this letter finds you, your family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and your communities doing well. We are doing all we can to keep all of our Sherwood staff safely employed while also recognizing that this is a time for unity and caring for others.
As engineers focused on sustainability, we are accustomed to thinking out in one, ten, one hundred, one thousand year increments. We anticipate what challenges the future holds and we prepare strategies for addressing those challenges with solutions that are restorative and self-sustaining. Today, however, who can predict with confidence what even tomorrow will look like, let alone years from now? Hundreds of thousands of deaths; an estimated 30 million American jobs lost; an interconnected global economy possibly on the brink of collapse. The news could hardly be worse.
Not all is doom and gloom however. As the economy has ground to a halt and created a world-wide timeout, there is an opportunity to pause and consider what a reset might look like. For me, that has started at home. In these past seven weeks, I’ve never felt more connected to my immediate community. I’ve talked with my neighbors more in the past month than I did all last year. We’ve organically set up informal support networks at the super-local scale, allowing the stronger connections we feel to those we may have to depend on to pull us together if this gets much worse.
In our professional world, I have seen a combination of good news and bad news. There are many challenges moving forward with new initiatives in many sectors you have heard about (retail, hospitality, food service, many development projects, etc). Construction has stumbled but not stopped. Our increased reliance on technology for those of us still working has supported some tech companies to advance their projects. Many higher ed and municipal clients are pausing trying to make sense of the future. Will we need more space for people to spread out or less space because many can learn, work and operate remotely? Is public space more important moving forward, where and who will pay for it? Certainly public policy, public health and governance are influencing the future of design and engineering more than ever before. So what can we do next?
In the longer timescale of human civilization’s arc, perhaps this pendulum swing has reached peak amplitude. If so, in this pause before the restoring force brings us back toward equilibrium, can we take clear-eyed stock of the present? Is our global interconnectivity worth the downside of shocks like we experienced in 2008 and are living with today? Are we as human beings happier as a whole now more than before? Are we happier as individuals? 27% of all assessed species on our planet are threatened with extinction today. That should not be acceptable to any of us. How did this happen? It seems to me we have to address questions like these before we can influence that restoring force toward a balance that serves us and our home planet.
So much of this has to do with awareness and appreciation. My wife, Ciela, pulled me outside recently to watch a hummingbird flying up 100 feet or so, then dropping top speed right next to the same flower over and over. It was hypnotic. Could it be that this has been happening every day and we only noticed it now? An hour later on a call with a global developer based in NYC, he mentioned sustainability has leaped to the front of their priorities as landlords. A new awareness of the movement of pathogens in the air and how they deal with air quality, a cornerstone of the green building movement, has become the leading topic for them now. How does awareness of a bird’s flight in a garden relate to awareness of a pathogen’s movement in a building or a neighborhood? These are the kinds of questions I’m thinking about now.
On Earth Day last week I did some writing and reflecting about what sustainability means to me. Simply put, it’s giving my great-grandkids a chance to be swept away by the beauty of nature as I have been so many times. How can I help reconnect people today with nature and its rhythms to improve the likelihood that future generations will get to experience that communion as well? If our planet is healthy in 2200, that means we have slowed down the destructive cycles that remove old trees, that erase foot trails through the forest, that silence the frogs in the wet edges of the world. So, getting serious about making a positive impact through all our work is essential; it’s not good enough to just do less harm. Our actions as restorative, regenerative and redefining civilization need to be considered as part of nature rather than opposed to it.
I started Sherwood to do just that. And it seems to be working. We were incredibly busy before the Pandemic and our project work has not slowed down since. Projects in higher ed, for tech companies, water districts, parks, international development and many other areas continue to push forward. The entire Sherwood staff in all of our nearly 100 home-offices has been getting up everyday to respond to the challenges and projects in front of us. We have continued to hire people through this pandemic and have found an incredible camaraderie and shared sense of purpose emerging for us at Sherwood and for many of our clients. Some of our projects are the most transformative journeys we’ve been on; others are about building as responsibly as we can. They are all defined by a sincere belief that what we do matters, and each of us is dedicated to do our part to see that the coming restoring force is an expression of beauty and reconciliation with our planet, the only home we have.
Thanks to our Sherwood team and their families. Thanks to our clients and design partners. Whatever lies ahead I’m happy we’re on this journey together.
S. Bry Sarté, Founder & CEO