Recent comments from a former student put me in mind of the following. Several years ago I attended an IDSA Conference in which the keynote, speaking about his successful career in automotive and kitchen appliance design, said that he did what designers are supposed to do: make money for their companies. Huh?!. Sell stuff and make money is what design is about? What a dinosaur! Didn’t he know that design was taking on the [then] new challenge of sustainability? That his re-design of a kitchen mixer made more cheaply and selling at the same price point, but in 12 different, highly desirable colors, was not a success according to new thinking?
Looking back, that speaker was probably the most honest person in the auditorium. Sales was his measure of value and he never used the words sustainable, eco- or environment-friendly. Most of his audience was familiar with, or may have used, eco-jargon, but most hadn’t bothered to learn what it meant, nor was sustainability called out in design briefs or part of design process. Fortunately, much work has been done in the years since attending that conference, and what we know about sustainability has research, practice and advocacy supporting it. From the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], to industry-specific best practices and standards, the concept of sustainability has been defined and is being translated into actions.
Does this mean that designers are now at the vanguard, scouting out, advancing, and preparing the way for ongoingness? Has design education re-written the curriculum so that every graduate is equipped with lifecycle thinking and emboldened with a planetary state of mind? Equally important, have design schools integrated sustainability into operations, governance, and the college experience? These are necessary and achievable undertakings that have been launched at many scales and in many locations. While individual action is important and empowering, it is the collective effort amongst designers, studios, colleges, and professional organizations that will amplify progress towards a lasting relationship with the earth.
Design it better. Get started…and don’t stop. Ever.