inhabitating the planet.

Inhabitat is a well-designed site that talks up ecodesign. They say that good design is green design, and green design is good design. Bully for that. Recently, inhabitat founder Jill Fehrenbacher conducted a panel with Allan Chochinov of Core 77, Susan Szenasy of Metropolis, and Graham Hill of treehugger.com. Though the reel is a few highlights of the conversation, it touches on some valid issues and provides a framework around the problems involved in working in sustainable design.

My responses to what I saw are as follows: ultimately, I believe the imperitaves for designers in the developed world are twofold:

First, to encourage consumers to decrease their consumption; in other words, to convince all of us that we can have more fun with less stuff. The vast majority of the actions we take toward sustainability (including recycling and buying hybrid cars) are band-aid solutions, making us feel better but not really making a significant change in our carbon footprint. The potential for a bleak future is very real; a goal of decreasing consumption will only be achieved if we provide richness of experience. We are engaging in what will eventually have to be a revaluation of values (as Nietzsche called), and it will not be an easy sell. Changing consumer behavior will require real design innovation (as well as changes in our behavior as designers) from throughout the design disciplines.

But the process of engaging consumers in the change process is a cakewalk compared to the true challenge that confronts us. The Second imperative for design is to fundamentally change our relationship with our clients; this change will require us to put our whole livelihood at risk. If there is a change in the values and behaviors of the customers for our products, there will have to be a corresponding change in the values and behaviors of industry. Not just in terms of use of recycled and sustainable approaches to design, but to reevaluate and retool the entire product lifecycle. Think your clients are going to want to change their business model to sell less? They may not want to, but eventually (some day) they will have to. The question is whether the change is engaged in voluntarily, caused by outside forces, or some combination of both.

One approach to this, potentially, is to encourage the artisinal in design, where there is less consumed but what is consumed is of a higher quality (however quality is defined). But this is a long way from happening in our WalMart and McDonalds world. Even in so-called elite circles who claim to be aware of our world’s needs, there is a tendency toward preferring the appearance of the authentic over the truly authentic. Last summer I attended at the Aspen Design Summit, and the topic was social and environmental justice, but in each hotel room there was a plastic bottle of Fiji water. Apparently Aspen tap just wasn’t good enough.

In the end, the hardest change is personal change, and the toughest awareness is personal awareness. Before I can encourage others to have fun with less, I need to have fun with less. I’m gonna work on that.

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