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Environmental Ethics

Volume 33, Issue 4, Winter 2011

Paul Knights, David Littlewood, Dan Firth
Pages 339-356
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics201133441

Eco-Minimalism as a Virtue

Eco-minimalism is an emerging approach to building design, construction, and retrofitting. The approach is exemplified by the work of architect Howard Liddell and sustainable water management consultant Nick Grant. The fundamental tenet of this approach is an opposition to the use of inappropriate, unnecessary, and ostentatious eco-technology—or “eco-bling”—where the main emphasis is on being seen to be green. The adoption of the principles of the eco-minimalist approach offers, they argue, a significant opportunity to improve sustainability in construction. However, a critical examination of eco-minimalism as a design philosophy shows that eco-minimalism needs to be further developed within the framework of virtue ethics. The focus should be on two main themes: (1) incommensurabilities arising in relation to eco-minimalism’s goals of minimizing environmental impact and maximizing human benefit, which cannot be resolved from the principles Liddell and Grant have articulated, and (2) the practical importance of cultivating settled dispositions to act eco-minimally on the part of those who design, construct, and use buildings. A strong emphasis needs to be placed on the role of practical wisdom when navigating challenging decisions of the kind facing eco-minimalists in practice.