“Is this a trick question”, you may ask? Interestingly, there is a correlation between the structure of an egg and the environment. Before we examine this intriguing relationship, let us start by trying to better understand the term “environment”, because while it has become a common word in our vocabulary today, the true extent of its significance remains relatively obscure, and thus merits further exploration. Published literature defines the environment as “the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates”.  In my opinion, this definition is overly simplistic. I would suggest that the environment represents one of the principal foundations of our existence in this material world, and therefore, deserves a holistic classification.

Let us explore the analogous relationship between an egg, the human body, and the environment at multiple, integrated levels: The first level commences with our body and its inner workings, which is synonymous with the core of the egg  yolk. The next level is our built environment, which includes our homes, towns, cities, industries, and all man-made structures within which we operate. This is represented by the egg-white, which houses and surrounds the yolk. The third level, which is represented by the eggshell, is the natural surroundings within which our built environment exists; including green fields, forests, water courses and nature at large. Finally, the fourth level is the atmosphere within which the egg resides. This simple analogy shows us how deeply each one of us is embodied within the environment, from our inner core, all the way to our atmosphere. We are an integral and inseparable part of the environment. Therefore, the notion of the environment as being “something out there” deserves to be dispelled from the human mindset.

This begs the next question, what is “environmental responsibility?” Is it a motherhood statement, which makes us feel good to be a part of?  When we care for the environment, are we really doing anyone any favors? I would suggest that environmental responsibility is vital to our very survival, as individuals, and as humanity at large, because if we damage our climate and hence, our atmosphere, we throw the sustainability of the egg into question. If we were to damage the fragile eggshell through global warming, pollution, and our lifestyles of excessive material consumption, we would expose our entire built environment to irreversible damage. Let us be mindful that once the egg white starts to flow out of the shell, the survival of the yolk becomes endangered and potentially terminal. Therefore, environmental preservation, protection, and responsibility are, in fact, vital tenets of our survival, and certainly not terms that belong in the “nice to have” category.

The term “sustainability” is also widely used today, with varying degrees of understanding and interpretation. I would surmise that from a holistic perspective, sustainability is basically the ability of the egg to successfully exist at all four key levels that make up its environment; bearing in mind that we live within the yolk, its core.

At the Aga Khan Award for Architecture 2016 Winner’s Seminar held in Dubai, His Highness the Aga Khan professed that “Climate change threatens to wipe out areas of the Islamic world within two decades. Many of the world’s Muslims live in a ‘band of land’ under threat from natural disasters caused by climate change. We are beginning to see in many parts of the Muslim world … how global warming is beginning to create situations where life is at risk, where it was not at risk before. We’re seeing villages being wiped away by earthquakes, by landslides, by avalanches; we are seeing people moving to dangerous areas in modern environments. And with more people living in cities than ever before, many end up living in dangerous, unsafe conditions.”

He challenged the world’s architects by saying: “I would ask you to try to bring this issue forward so that we address it in good time. I see these crises of change as being badly predicted.”

In conclusion, I believe that in order to capture the full essence of His Highness the Aga Khan’s message, it is imperative that we begin to view the environment and its sustainability from a holistic perspective, by drawing upon the simple analogy of the egg.

Dr. Amyn Dahya is a global leader in the environmental and sustainability sectors. He is an author and thought leader with a holistic approach towards integrating science and nature with well being.