Are you a green designer?

A few years ago I remember going to a few different talks/conferences and there was a lot of talk about sustainable green design. A question always came up “is this just a fad?” It’s been a couple of years and I still see a lot of green this and green that but I want to know how many of you actually design with sustainable practices in mind, and how do you implement these practices at your job.

How’s this for stirring the pot:

There is no such thing as a Green Designer.

We’re all integrators. 99.999% of us (because I am sure someone can prove me wrong). We all tear something down to make something else. We’re all producing something that can, and will, end up in a landfill someday. We’re all making something out of plastic, or has a PCB in it, or eats away at a forest somewhere. Maybe it can be recycled. There’s a small chance it can composted. There’s a 100% chance that whatever your designing requires a significant amount of energy and effort to create it. Whether its in the fuel for the chainsaw to tear down the tree, or the electricity to light the bulb to see what you’re drawing.

Don’t get me started on the fallacy that is carbon offsetting.

One thing I do believe about the industry of Industrial Design is that it is well intentioned. It is Greener…Greenish? Industrial Designers, by nature, care about this topic. But because we integrate one object with another to make a third…we’re always going to be nibbling away at the world’s resrouces.

Worst of all, you can make the most green product on the planet…you’re still hamstrung by what the consumer does with it. If you create a compostable coffee cup…you still rely on the consumer to not put that cup into a nice, air tight, green plastic garbabe bag that won’t disappear for another 20 years or so allowing your cup to deteriorate properly.



excuse me while I go put on my asbestos underwear…

Ill keep stirring the pot, we take a bunch of things out of the earth, put them together to make a product, and that product eventually ends up in a landfill in the ground. We have not added anything to the earth, we just changed it so what’s the big deal?

As a designer for a marine lighting company, we have just changed our manufacture for ease of disassembly due to new EU electronic waste legislation being passed.

This means we have to take back products at the end of their life, and even now when someone breaks one of our products we get them to send it back and can usually repair/salvage it.

Our circuit boards are based on a massive copper plate, then this has a layer of ceramic screen printed onto it, then the traces stuck onto it. This is then coated with another ceramic layer, which was carefully chosen for heat transfer capabilities.

This means whenever something is sent back or an led breaks, we can just stick it on the hot plate and replace teh component, or if things are really fucked up we can salvage the body for something else.

Being green isn’t a fad. It has a direct connection to your amount of wastage and energy consumption, which in turn costs money. Its basic common sense.

Designers can never really be “green,” unless we can figure out a way that all waste becomes raw materials for another process or product. What designers can be though is efficient! If we can get more for less then we are heading in the right direction.

Efficiency=More money on the bottom line, green is just a marketing term.

Here are my thoughts:

1 - you can’t beat entropy
2 - most of ‘green’ is material and chemical selection
3 - like IP said, it depends on the consumer

I think of green as just being thoughtful with chemicals and being efficient with resources. We can’t beat entropy, but we can get the most out of what we have, and of course there are still many areas we can make ‘greener,’ although I think we have reason to be pleased with the progress we’ve made in even the last few years.

I like examples. Let’s remove mercury from the earth, deep in the earth, where it is sitting undisturbed and in low concentrations, purify it and concentrate it and then allow it to end up back in landfills, the earth, that are poorly lined and close to populations and the water they drink. Mercury is in the water we drink and the larger, more than one year old fish we eat to the point where pregnant women are advised not to eat more than one serving of fish a week, so that is sort of one way it can become a big deal, but I know you were just trying to keep the dialog going so… :smiley:

Being green is a fad (it’s a fad because I can go to wal-mart and buy a t-shirt that says “go green”), and it’s actually hurting itself because when there is a fad there is a counter-movement. Acting responsibly is not a fad. When you design responsibly, you do the best you can to ensure your products are as sustainable (both socially and environmentally), safe, ergonomic, uplifting, manufacture-able, distributable etc as they can be.

Another thing designers can do to help create a more responsible product climate is to influence behavior. And believe me, influencing consumer behavior is in your job description already.

I think “green” is both a fad but also something that can turn into a standard. Eventually the “Go Green” shirt will not be sold anymore because fad’s die out but the real meat of sustainable green design can stay. But the question still is, How does everyone implement sustainable green design in their current job, or do you at all? We all know what it takes to be green, implementing those materials and processes is a totally different story, especially in a mass corporate environment.

I think the biggest deal is the fact that most of what we change it into is something that is no longer convertible to something else. e.g. oil becomes plastic. Many versions of plastic are thermosets and not capable of being formed again…they can only be repurposed. As I stated already, you are only as successful as the person who buys your product. Even beyond that, there is no such thing as sustainability either. We will be able to asymptotically approach 100% effectiveness with our consumption of raw resources…particularly non-renewable resources.

Your comment of “what’s the big deal” is appropriate if resources like crude oil and rainforests weren’t disappearing.

Using my Producer, Integrater, Consumer Theory (R) only the Producers are able to provide the world with new components to integrate into products that don’t eat away at our world’s valuable non-renewable resources (e.g. more efficient solar power, etc.). Industrial Designers, as Integraters, are only able to bring together components that are applicable to our product (e.g. plastic for a mass produced cell phone).

That is true, but it’s also a bit of a cop-out, design teams, ad firms, marketing, engineering are all able to influence behavior, and the integrator view doesn’t seem to account that from the short explanation given. I hope I have missed that part due to your brevity.

To elaborate, we may be able to determine the type of plastic for a cell phone, but we can also work together to change the use for a year and throw it into a drawer behavior. Designers are the people who take technology and interpret it to be used by society, and during our interpretation we ought to be considering sustainable materials and use patterns.

But that’s not all of it, sustainable material use is only part of it. When you practice Responsible Design (R) :smiley: you consider all of it, usability, ergo, manufacture, distribution, appropriateness and so on and so on.

I think that the really big issue for ‘Green’ design is determining what is green in the first place.

Often the ‘environmentally’ better solutions are more complex than simply changing the material a product is produced from or cutting down on the amount of packaging used to pack it (if we packed eggs in 80gsm paper there would be less packaging, but you probably would end up with a lot of broken eggs). Part of the problem is that there is not enough unbiased education of designers, or the population as a whole, about the options out there.

I would like to be a green designer, and I do what I can to make educated choices using the knowledge that I do have, but am I a green designer? No, probably not.

Yes. Welcome back IP.

You can design “Green” until you’re blue in the face. But, you cannot control the ecosystem around you. Even if you make the greenest product on earth, you’ll still need to transport it in some way. Let’s say you choose to distribute your green product with a bicycle. Thats pretty environmentally friendly, right?

That cyclist needs to eat. Food is transported by boat, plane, truck, etc. Their bike is made of steel or aluminum, that was mined, or recycled and drawn, and welded with gas and/or electricity, and painted with toxic paint, and ridden on rubber tires made in industrial factories in China or Eastern Europe.

It’s the same thing with LEED certification in architecture, and providing tax credits for “energy efficient appliances”.

Where do all the chairs and cubicle walls go that were replaced with new bamboo chairs and walls? Where does all the drywall coated in high VOC paint go? Insulation? Do you really need a new washer/dryer combo kit that steams and folds your clothes under the pretense that it’s saving you money? Doubt it.

It is not a cop out if you believe doing the best with what you have is mandatory. Which is what I believe. I also believe that Designers are all “well intentioned”. But we’re very limited in only being able to make do with what is on hand. Not to mention that we have to sell someone that is focused on the bottom line that designing “green” is the right thing even though it costs more (which it typically does).

Its been said by others in this thread, already. “Green” is a marketing term. It is my opinion that it is pure, unadulterated, bull$hit.

Do I design for disassembly? Yes.
Do I promote materials that are better for the environment, by being recyclable, compostable, etc.? Yes.
Do I want the world to be better and to make it better though design? Yes.

Am I a “Green” designer? No. And I never want to be one…because I am like that. I hate anything that sounds as though it was created by a Marketing Exec.

That’s exactly what I’m talking about, glad to see I missed it due to your brevity. By designing for disassembly, designing recyclable and compost-able items, you are influencing behaviors. If it can be easily disassembled, chances are it can be repaired or refurbished. If it is recyclable and compost-able, you are influencing behaviors by providing an alternative to throwing in a landfill. I think this is way more than simply integrating material choices into your process.

I don’t like “green” either, like I said I think it hurts the cause because people think it’s just a marketing scam. We own a company that has a very green product (cloth diapers), but we try to avoid the green stuff and focus on influencing behavior by being trend forward, choosing good materials, educating people about the cost savings, health benefits etc, but you rarely see us talking about being green or even sustainable. And I argue that it’s more successful than if we were some green fad company.

You might sell more diapers right now…but for a long term brand built on establishing trust with your clients that you’re not just trying to fleece them out of their money…a much more viable long term angle to take.

This is departing from the discussion, but you have lost me entirely. Trust that the product is a good value because it is healthy, cost effective and made from quality materials is different from what you are saying? Like I said, I rarely if ever talk about the environmental benefits what I discuss them. And when I do, it is after the other positive aspects.

There are several ways to build a brand and connect with consumers, trust being one. I have built this one around products that are fun and different from other offerings in that product area. People want these first because they are trend forward and interesting, and then can rest assured that they are being provided a quality product that can be trusted. The trust being the very minimum of what a company can do to succeed.

I can go buy just about any computer and trust that it will work and probably be a good value, that isn’t why we buy things. I need to buy a computer, there are many companies that can be trusted. I want to by an apple, because they have differentiated themselves with attention to details both aesthetically and experiential.

Its ok, Carton. Let’s leave it with “we’re in agreement” about your market positioning :slight_smile:

lol, phew, thought it was about to get hairy… :smiley: