What’s Your 12×12? A World Policy Institute Project on Smart Consumption

Project Leader: William Powers (powers@worldpolicy.org)

Website: http://the12x12project.tumblr.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The12X12Project

Twitter: https://twitter.com/The12x12Project

Instagram: @12x12project

The global economic crisis has produced many stories about the ways people around the world are getting by with less –but also seeking more. Both developed and developing countries need a smarter consumption model if the global economy is to come back into balance and produce a sustainable recovery.

The 12×12 project grows out of the powerful story of a North Carolina pediatrician, Dr. Jackie Benton, who ten years ago gave up a luxurious home to live in a 12’ by 12’ off-the-grid house and permaculture farm. Dr. Benton inspired World Policy Institute Senior Fellow William Powers, who spent a season living in the “tiny house,” to write the 2010 book, Twelve by Twelve: A One Room Cabin Off the Grid & Beyond the American Dream. The book’s messages on ecological sustainability received an overwhelmingly positive response. Twelve by Twelve is an award-winning national bestseller now in its fourth printing and published in Chinese in late 2012. The book launch included public events, a high level practitioner roundtable at the World Policy Institute, and a cover package of World Policy Journal articles exploring “How Much Is Enough.”

This project seeks an innovative way to promote personal leadership and widespread action to make mindful choices and change behaviors, and to generate wider civic engagement in embracing new “smart” models of consumption. To provide a focal point for related movements and inspire citizens to envision smart choices, we will install 12x12s in New York City and in emerging market powerhouse cities around the world. An online digital community will link the New York City 12×12 experience to other global cities to build a dialogue around policy and behavior changes that have led to tangible shifts in consumption patterns.

I. New York City Installation

A creative team, comprising well-known NYC-based architects and artists including Betsy Damon, David D’Ostilio, Simon Draper and Christy Rupp, decided that the project must include all the key substances of living lightly: water, energy, and food. After careful planning, they decided on the following: two 12’ x 12’ structures will take the form of a book-like house that consists of living walls based on the DNA double-helix weave-like design; a rain-collecting upside-down umbrella rooftop with a waterproof layer and root barrier; a moisture retention product (such as a rainwater collecting solar panel rooftop); a drainage system and filter fabric made of flow forms that channel rain water into a large container, to be used as the main water source; an erosion cloth; and a space inside the houses that will be open to the public during the daytime (to be securely locked during the park’s closed hours). Once erected, the space will encourage interaction through slide-out walls that will prompt participants to read/write/reflect about their individual houses and our planetary house and share their visions via daily web posts and social media. Readings from the book Twelve by Twelve and conversations will be held adjacent to the installation, where artists will facilitate interaction and imagination.

II. National and Global Replication

While Americans and Europeans struggle with how to make more efficient choices, the challenge is different in emerging markets, where rising middle classes envision more prosperous lifestyles and face choices about how to spend their newfound wealth. While the first phase of our approach targets New York City, future phases will engage citizens of rapidly growing economies around the world in conversations about paths that make sense for them and for the planet. Our NYC based park installation will connect with partners in the developing world, which are also emerging as some of the leading carbon-producing nations.

A key goal of this phase is to engage partners in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) to commission 12×12-inspired structures in their cities. Following the New York City launch, subsequent domestic and international installations will bring a global audience into the “smart consumption” conversations sparked by the pilot 12×12.

III. A Global Digital Community: What’s Your 12×12?

The third phase of this project seeks to employ multimedia network building as a vehicle to transport the ideas conveyed by the NYC and global cities’ art installations to a broad audience of new constituents. This fresh and innovative approach will serve to build a larger and broader coalition intended to foster dialogue among citizens and other key stakeholders beyond the usual suspects, asking what lessons can learned from these global examples and raising the level of discussion about the environmental impact of how people carry out their daily lives.

Unlike previous network building efforts, which specifically focus on climate change, this project will stimulate dialogue about the interplay among consumption, wellbeing, and sustainability, which is relevant across national boundaries and social sectors. A digital gathering place, “What’s Your 12×12?” will expand on the tools and platforms in the World Policy toolkit to engage citizens from around the world in a dialogue around smart consumption leading to thoughtful choices.


The World Policy Institute thanks the Mertz Gilmore Foundation for providing seed funding for the first New York City installation. We seek additional funding from arts and policy foundations to expand the project. We are also investigating arts funders for the design elements in other cities and will build on existing multimedia capabilities to foster the online network.


How Much is Enough? A Panel on Sustainable Consumption, June 28, 2011.

How Much is Enough? World Policy Journal, Summer 2011.

Related posts