Sustainability Networks

Posted: April 24th, 2009 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized |

From a series of conversations with people in HATCH, it really hit me the need for our community to come together on the global effort of building a responsive public awareness for sustainability. We can really make a difference! Thousands of researchers around the world are conducting a series of environmental studies and collecting petabytes of relevant data. We can help them better communicate their findings and in the process help driving knowledge, education, and potentially uncover hidden patterns in the data - one of the key strengths of data visualization.

Visualizing your network of friends is cool, but we have many other urgent problems that need to be addressed. Intensive Farming, Land Degradation, Overpopulation, Ozone Depletion, Water Pollution, Waste, etc. The list of environmental issues is long and in desperate need of powerful, functional and rich visualizations. Besides our moral duty, many of these topics present problems of organized complexity, where hundreds of variables are interconnected and interdependent, posing astoundingly compelling visualization challenges for developers, artists, designers and programmers. If you want to join this effort, here are some links of resources where you can get environmental data:

There are currently 16 categories of projects on VisualComplexity, from Transportation Networks to Biology. My wish is to create a new category in a near future, that will be filled with fresh visualizations on many of the issues mentioned above. The name that this category might carry, either Sustainability Networks, Ecosystems, or simply Environment, is probably the least important aspect. If this wish comes to fruition it might prove that designers really want to make a difference with the tools they have at their disposal, and that Information Visualization is more that just eye-candy pictures.

12 Comments on “Sustainability Networks”

  1. 1 Topics about Top-trends » Sustainability Networks said at 8:23 pm on April 25th, 2009:

    [...] Spaghetti Gazetti created an interesting post today on Sustainability NetworksHere’s a short outlineFrom a series of conversations with people in HATCH, it really hit me the need for our community to come together on the global effort of building a [...]

  2. 2 Peter Couvares said at 10:00 pm on April 27th, 2009:

    We’re working to enable useful, powerful visualizations of this and related data (like the rich OECD data sets) at For example:

    We welcome any of this data on our site, as well as any feedback on how our tools could be more useful for efforts like this.

  3. 3 Colin Mutchler said at 12:23 am on April 28th, 2009:

    Thanks for this note Manuel. Completely agree with the sentiment. It’s amazing that it’s 2009 and we have yet to effectively visualize environmental progress based on real data.

    Part of the issue is that most carbon footprint tools seem to be asking users to submit information manually, and much of the pre and post purchase information about the transportation of products is unfortunately private / proprietary.

    I think the work from AMEE is in the right direction, and we now need the best of the data viz community to help show the full value chain to people to help inspire behavior change.

  4. 4 Drew Jones said at 2:04 am on April 28th, 2009:

    Yeah, Manuel! Well said. This movement has so much to offer. Sustainability issues are so frequently full of interdependence and complexity. We need a generation of folks who can make sense of it all — and is the best convenor of the tools and approaches to do it.

  5. 5 Victor Galaz said at 10:27 am on April 28th, 2009:

    Brilliant idea, and I would recommend you all to have a look at the Potsdam institute and their projects on data visualization for climate change data:

    One comment though: wouldn’t it be neat to also visualize “unofficial” environmental data collected via blogs, Twitter etc? Only way to complement conventional - and malfunctioning - environmental monitoring as I see it.

  6. 6 Fred Adam said at 8:06 am on May 3rd, 2009:

    Hello from spain. In 2006 we made a tool for people to chat upon the data of the ozone in the south pole. ( like the 70th. sitin. In my experience, for your project, it is necessary to capture the ecoactivist network to catch the information of the data all around the web and create a output for people, artists, programers and activists to catch the data sources and work with them. The other aspect is the architecture itself of your visualization database. think that it can be cool for people to occupy the data. The reason is that data are abstracts and we can create online debates upon the data to learn about them. Let me know if you are interested in this point of view and i can send you more information about our experience. best regards. fred adam.

  7. 7 Franz said at 1:55 pm on May 7th, 2009:

    Beautiful idea! I really think we need a manifesto of intents to really show that design is not only a discipline to sell stuff, but has the potential to show people how things work and how everybody can change their behaviour and daily actions!

  8. 8 Sage Lichtenwalenr said at 5:04 pm on May 16th, 2009:

    Here here! While there are a few dozen good blogs and sites dedicated to data and information visualization, they rarely touch on the topic of environmental visualization.

    It’s an important effort that could use the assistance of the larger design community, beyond those inside oceanic and atmospheric institutes.

  9. 9 Chris said at 8:52 pm on June 12th, 2009:

    Enabling sustainability is important, however, you have seem be focused on only the environmental dimension. For sustainability to be operationalized by industry and governments, they need to also look at economics and social justice, the other dimensions of the triple bottom line.

    Putting all these things together in decision making, understanding their status and trends, and innovating new ways of doing things to benefit the triple bottom line of sustainability can certainly be enabled by better visualization. You are on the right track.

  10. 10 INFORMATION KINETICS: EGOVIZ | [ecosistema urbano] blog said at 12:15 pm on June 18th, 2009:

    [...] Visualización de información de entornos. Estados y empresas tienen información sobre entornos de gran escala y existe una creciente presión para que estos datos se hagan públicos. Manuel Lima comenta la importancia que tiene la visualización de información de datos de entorno: [...]

  11. 11 Networked_Performance — Information Kinetics: EGOVIZ [San Sebastian] said at 5:02 pm on July 10th, 2009:

    [...] Visualization of Information on Environments: States and companies have big-scale information on and there is growing pressure for such data to be made public. Manuel Lima comments on the importance of the visualization of information on environment-related data: [...]

  12. 12 Stef said at 1:06 pm on December 22nd, 2009:

    Hey, great to see that you’ve listed the GEO Data Portal there. We’re working hard to make - not only environmental - data accessible to UNEP’s Collaborating Centers and, if possible, to everyone (that normally depends on the data providers).

    We’ve invested some time over the recent months to explore some data visualization techniques, and some of the results are pretty nice and innovative.

    Just have a look here :
    … and let us know what you think.

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