The first world-wide revolution- Green Design

Green design has been called the next industrial revolution. Yet unlike past “revolutions” it is based on a worldwide common goal. The idea of Green design indicates cooperation and sharing not competition. We are all together in this fight for sustainable life. However people’s innate competitiveness might contaminate what could otherwise be an amazing opprotunity. We learned from the failure of the International Style that no one asthetic can apply to different cultural regions; even technology can not be universally applied do to different environments. So I am not proposing that we cross-culturally band together to find the one universal solution to our problem. I only suggest that we take an outlook of comradery instead of competition. At a Green lecture I attended a few weeks ago in New York a designer from Australia got up and humorously issued a challenge to the US to “beat them” in eco-design. The comment struck me because it made me realize that engineers and designers all over the world are working on the same issues right now. Sure the specifics might be slightly different but the underlying problem is the same. If instead of trying to compete in eco-design we all pooled our world knowledge on the subject think how much more we could achieve. Perhaps this proposition is far too utopian for a world run by self centered competitors but hey…think about it.

Personally, I’d love industry to become environmentally responsible. It’s often said that the triple bottom line (environmental, social, economic success) should be the aim of all industry and I support that.

However, and I don’t want to be too negative or political here, after all many companies are changing under their own steam, but the real motivation remains money. So until governments worldwide introduce a some sort of penalty and subsidy system based on environmental cost (or some other carrot), change will take much longer than just realising this might just be a competitive advantage without pressure from those in power. Also, with the strength of the industrial lobby in the States, this becomes an equally difficult task. Really, the main issue is overcoming the fear of change, or perceived threat of ‘green design’.

The pooling of knowledge is an interesting one. I think the best way to achieve that is the creation of an international lobby group, institution or society; I think there’s enough will amongst designers and those involved in the profession, but at the moment we’re all saying the same thing without a common voice, as it were. If there’s such an institution there already, they’re not doing their job. Having an international voice, a common aim and a means of providing some sort of central resource for anyone wanting to learn, contribute or refresh the movement would be an appropriate and responsible begining.

The main problem with industry getting behind green design is the corporate memory.

If one looks back at where companies look for a competitive edge, one finds three. The first is efficiency. Henry Ford capitalized on this big time with his Model T and he remains the symbol of the assembly process. The second is design. Apple took a bunch of boring hardware that was just about to bankrupt itself, threw it together in an interesting and easy to use design and managed to somehow maintain their 5% market share with the iMac and its offspring. The third is sustainability. Some companies have already found out that being really green can increase efficiency and attract customers.

So…why aren’t all companies being green? Corporate memory. The education and experience of the decision makers limits them in terms of their problem solving. Here in Canada design is not nearly as widely known a competitive edge as it is known in the US. Companies here have tried to compete merely on efficiency. We all know what the outcome of that is once a Chinese firm hops into the market.

It will take a critical mass of companies to adopt sustainability as their competitive edge to make all the companies consider it. Which is why, we as designers and the other stakeholders who realize it, need to keep bringing this up to our clients and bosses. Sure, 99% of the time they will tell us that there are no extra resources to work on that aspect of the company but change takes time.

I hope someone can help me understand the details. It is a fact many industrial processes are very toxic and produce harmful byproducts. As designers who specify products for production you have to decide to no longer use these chemicals, and products that support harmful industries. Can a consultancy afford to take this option away from a client?

Consumers need to be informed about the products they choose. I understand designers are consumers, too. Learning about dolphin safe tuna, nike sweat shops, or organic produce has produced an effect and taken money away from some horrible industries.

Are we really talking about social awareness/consumer awareness? IDers can learn about alternatives and provided them to clients, BUT the client makes the choice, what real effect can any IDer have?

I agree, in the end it is not an IDer’s decision. It is down to customers and project managers. However, provided we learn about better ways of production, we can offer that to our clients. Often times an environmentally friendly alternative exists but is shot down because people assume it will cost more and have no other returns. We need to know enough to let our clients know if that is true.

For example, there is a large US carpet maker that was using synthetic fibers and toxic dyes 10-15 years ago. Over the years they have gone to natural fibers and dyes and supplemented their power supply with renewables. Despite this, they are making more profit today and it is BECAUSE of their sustainable business plan.

This is an example, a manufacturer makes a business decision to create a niche for themslves. The fashion of going green becomes a competitive advantage. This does not reflect the complexity of the situation of influencing clinets to incurr xtras.

It’s further from the IDers control as consumer. It makes sense for some products. Recycled goods used in beverage containers is a 1:1 exchange. Certainly in other industries such as food industries, the green factor is a health issue. The recent awareness of electronic waste has added to the design equation. If countries institute fines and other penalities for products that can be proven to become dangerous when they are discarded, this is an incentive for desigerns to improve upon this intangible phase of a product.

Products that contain many parts and components and substrates have too many inconspicious pieces that have no visibe effects or selling points–not worth the money. This is why I’m confused.

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