five non blondes

Design Green Now
May 6, 2008, 6:28 pm
Filed under: design, environmental issues | Tags: , , , ,
This post is a bit belated since things got a little crazy right before I left on vacation, but I didn’t want to miss the chance to share about attending “Design Green Now.”   It’s basically a series of panel discussions exploring the integration of green design into all consumer products.  The participants are always local to the area, so you’ll get a little different perspective at each one.  They just finished the west coast tour, but I’m under the impression that more tours will be set up nationwide in the coming months.  If you’re interested, you can sign up to receive notification of the upcoming dates here.  Keep in mind that they’re free as well- even more incentive to attend! 
The San Francisco event was held at CCA (California College of the Arts).  There were 4 panelists: Yves Behar- founder of fuseproject, Dawn Danby- sustainable design consultant for Autodesk, Bob Adams- sustainability lead at IDEO, and Ken Wood- creative director at Lunar.  They each gave a short presentation on how they and their firm are addressing sustainability and how they see green design affecting the world at large.  That was followed up with a panel discussion between all of them and then questions from the audience.  They each had a different outlook on the movement as a whole and it was great to hear the different perspectives.  One of the big underlying ideas they were all bringing up was consumerism and the designer’s role in addressing that.  Society as a whole and business in particular are based on a cycle of making more products, so they can sell more, so they can make more money, so they can sell more, and so on, in a big, viscious, circle.  Everyone wants more, when we really need less, but as designers we help facilitate that broken system.  People pay us to supply the “stuff”.  Which begs the question- why introduce more products into an already oversaturated economy?  Are we just making the problem bigger?  We’ve asked ourselves the same question about Savvy.  The panel’s conclusion, and ours as well, is that people may certainly don’t need as much as they think they do, but the products they do need, should be sustainable.  If there aren’t green options to choose from in the market, then we’ll never get anywhere.  We have a unique opportunity to help transform society and we shouldn’t ignore it.  
We also need to consider that we, as designers, enable behaviors based on the things that we make.  If I design a bomb, I have some responsibility in what the owner of that new bomb does with it.  The same logic applies to all things.  It really puts design in a different perspective.  We shouldn’t be making products that have toxic materials in them or that can’t be recycled.  We have to take responsibility for the full life cycle of our designs, not just what it takes to get it on shelves.  Bob from IDEO, took it a step further with his example of the steelcase chair that they had recently designed.  It’s won every sustainable design award in the book because all of its individual parts are recyclable, but his point was- how many users of the chair will take the time to break it apart when they’re through and make sure each individual piece gets put into the correct recycling stream?  We have to consider typical human behavior as well and adjust to it as best we can.  The easier we make it, more will be accomplished.
The other theme they drove home, was that it’s obviously not just up to designers.  These global changes can only take place in the context of teamwork.  We have to partner with others to really make a difference.  The entire event was very inspiring and certainly thought provoking.  I would definitely recommend that you go if any come to your area.
-Rebecca, SF

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