Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sustainable Design



The idea of sustainable design may make you think eco-friendly design but sustainability is more than a green trend. In some ways it is ancient wisdom to live in a thriving relationship with the earth, in terms of its natural resources and human life for the long term. The ancient great law of the Iroquois summarizes sustainable design: "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation."

Importantly, sustainable design is not a separate category for design it is part of every category. Thinking sustainably means having a global view of communication, fashion, objects and environments.

Sustainable design includes:
Respect for human thriving in relation to earth's life
Consideration of the past and the future
Consideration of the environment
Consideration of cost
Consideration of waste
Consideration of any type of damage or consequence
Innovations in old materials
Innovations in survival

While some sustainable thinking seems like common sense, the industrial revolution placed a greater emphasis on speed and efficiency. The effects of manufacturing were not fully understood until the mid 20th century. There were 2 pivotal books that contributed to the collective consciousness of sustainable thinking. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring of 1962addressed the negative influence of pesticides on birds. E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful of 1973 addressed the trend of "bigger is better" and asked businessmen to re-think their priorities. Together these books raised mass awareness.


Another small but valuable voice in 20th century sustainable consciousness was Ken Issacs. Using wood 2X4's Issacs started the adaptable living space “urban nomad” movement that is also called “loft.” He eventually created “microhouses” which were simple wood frame and plywood temporary structures that were also biodegradable.


In 1997, The Kyoto Protocol established a global referendum on sustainability. The United Nations called a conference on the stabilization of greenhouse gasses by international businesses, mandated by countries. The United States signed the agreement but has not put it into action. China is the largest emitter of gases and excess overall, they claimed to making reforms but have increase emissions every year. The problem is not just the governments but the businesses who are supposed to be moderated by the governments. Many countries are starting to impose a Carbon tax upon businesses that refuse to reduce emissions.


When we think of sustainability today, it involves all aspects of life and consequently as aspects of the design process and production.


The great “global responsibility”: Now it is no longer enough to be designer, you have to be a responsible global designer. Responsible global designers are first and foremost caring about the lasting influence design has on future generations. Some designs take from the earth and do not give back like de-forestation, fossil fuels, etc. Some designs are just one hit wonders, following trends, rather than understanding enduring human needs. Design businesses can also care for sustaining humanity, caring for employees and making use of people who need jobs in Africa and elsewhere.


Examples of green businesses are companies involved in the sustainability aspects of food, energy, water, waste management, and other environmental issues. The hierarchy of environmental strategies is to first reduce, second reuse, and third recycle.

#1. Reduce

Designers reduce by being more efficient in both the production and the packaging
Whole Foods is a good business model as they reduce cost and energy required in transportation and distribution by including local produce and products
Zap! Is “Zero Air Pollution” a consumer available, all electric car company that also has a solar option to reduce energy one consumer at a time
#2. Re-use
Designers re-use by utilizing existing materials, fabric scraps, material excess, anything before it is thrown away, repurposing something like old clothes for cleaning cloths is a basic example
Re-use is preferable to re-cycling because it takes less energy.
•Production can re-use glass bottles. Machinery can have renewed parts. Businesses that re-use are HP and Mac cosmetics.
#3. Re-cycle
Environmental design is creating new products that will have less impact and can be recycled with little energy. Plastic water bottles are a a poor environmental choice as they require a lot energy to recycle and virgin plastic is required for new bottles which requires energy and material to manufacture. T

-Surfboards of recycled glass, and “green” friendly foam


Atelier Yanagi, 100% recycled green surfboards



Sustainability also includes the work force!

Patagonia in Ventura, California takes its materials seriously and has increased sustainability in production. They also urge all employees to take it outside. The office is stocked with surfboards, climbing gear, bikes and even a yoga studio. Patagonia's flex time philosophy lets Patagonians escape from their desks to the sun and surf anytime of day -- as long as the work gets done, no one cares when you clock in or out. If you're wondering where the best breaks or swells are that day, simply call reception. It's their job to direct your call and tell you where you catch the best surf. This keeps employees active and reduces sick days which reduces costs.


One position on sustainability is that it starts with safety, though most people do not think of safety until it doesn't work.



The Factor of Safety is what designers consider in the creation process. Sometimes designers must use more elements than necessary to provide safety, such as materials with greater tensile strength or attachments like seat belts. Normally good design exceeds the minimum factor of safety and is stronger than the publicized limit. Read 14 Universal Design Tips in Safety.


Forgiveness is another important design element. This means considering that users will make mistakes. In software communication design forgiveness is allowing users to "undo" and using "confirms" before proceeding. For objects, items like plugs prevent dangerous plugs of greater power and the golf club offers a curve that makes up for the faults in the golfer's swing.


Victor Papanek was a philosopher of design and a promoter of social and ecological considerations. He wrote that "design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself).” He was both a professor and a working designer for UNESCO, Volvo and others. He wrote "Designing for a Safe Future" as a manifesto for sustainable design. He suggests that design must be positive and unifying, addressing human needs, culture and ecology. Design should also benefit design, bringing lasting innovation.

Some advance considerations for designers:
The choice of materials…what resource supply and effect?
The manufacturing process…impact?
Packaging…what’s necessary…?
Transporting the product
Final waste
Production of greenhouse gases/ozone gases
Relation to acid rain
Habitat/species interference
Harming life
Polluting air, soil, water
Noise pollution
Visual pollution

Finally Papanek addresses the problem of packaging. Not only is there a habit toward too much packaging but now packaging is a product, especially in luxury brands that use packaging as an extension of excess.

Two packaging solutions, above the biodegradable "Globe Guard" aiming to replace peanuts and below Pangea Organics has created packaging you can plant, containing embedded spruce needles that will grow a tree.


Tony Fry explains in his essay "Sacred Design," that we have a sacred resource of the earth. There is nowhere for us to be other than here. The ecological crisis has arrived by design, as design is between creation and destruction. Design has focused on aesthetics and sales instead of integrity and effects. Designers re-create made forms instead of asking why and how things are first made. Fry encourages designers to work against darkness, meaning working against the negatives we have created.


The sacred is what we consider meaningful, what is respected more than design or production. The sacred declined with mass production. Our respect for human life and ecology should be globally sacred and protected. UNESCO is one agency that works toward global protection of the sacred.

In his article, "A Cosmopolitan Localism," Ezio Manzini explains localism as a natural occurrence whenever a particular place has assets. If those assets are leveraged for global consumption or tourism it is considered glocalization.


Champagne is a glocalism since the grapes thrive in the region of France but have a global consumption that requires Moet & Chandon to use glocal business strategies.

The sustainability factor of localization is “the ability to combine the enhancement of a resource to the need of safeguarding it from overexploitation.” Two important examples of problems are diamonds and acai. Both products are connected to regions of proverty and the resources have been used to an extreme, creating strain on the communities in the case of diamonds causing wars and a black market and with acai creating food shortages.


At top DeBeers changed its ad campaigns from encouraging diamond consumption to giving back a portion of diamond sales to people injured by the diamond market.

Acai was relatively unknown until it was featured on Oprah and de-plenished the rain forest supplies and oppressed workers.

Manzini concludes by exlplaining that Designers should be working for good, not for clients. Designers who create manufacturing strategies for local assets should be sure the strategies can be done and will not harm people. Designers no longer work with communication, fashion, objects or environment but the best possible integration of design and place.

Holistic design is respectfully approaching design as an organic process so that no matter what you design you consider the world.

Sustainable Communication Design
One way for communication design to be more responsible to the world is through content that informs users. Since 1992, United Colors of Benetton has been using their ad space to highlight key issues around the globe.

1992, in their first campaign reporters contribute images of catastrophes

2008, Sengalese businessmen who were given micro-credit loans


The 2007 Red Campaign is one example of a somewhat failed communication design strategy. The intention was to involve a number of products in red versions that gave proceeds to Africa. Gap, Motorola and Apple invested $100 million in advertising and raised only $18 million for The Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.




Sustainable Fashion Design
International Herald Tribune writer Suzy Menkes says sustainability is back in fashion. Stella McCartney has been working sustainably for a long time and not only in her avoidance of leather and fur but use of wind power. Read the Menkes/McCartney interview here.

Stella McCartney campaign F 2009

Another important figure in sustainable fashion design is Rogan Gregory. Bono and his wife Ali approached Gregory to create an eco clothing line called Edun, produced in Africa using African materials and workforce. They then added Tunisia, Peru and India. Gregory started his own company “Rogan” which was the 2007 winner of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion fund. The line uses natural sources such as coffee and plats as dyes and minimizes packaging. He also re-purposes spaces for his stores, keeping the original elements rather than re-building.



Sustainable Object Design
Perhaps the greatest category of sustainable design is objects because they can be quickly produced to follow the trend and turn a profit.

Above left a chair from carboard boxes by Fumi Masuda and Eco Fan, a bamboo computer cooler. See free eco options for cooling your computer.

Solio: Bringing solar power to the people!
Solio has created global chargers for computers and cell phones. Only one hour of sunshine gives 20 hours of Ipod use! For every charger that is purchased a Solio is provided to a family in global poverty who may be living with little or no electricity.


Sustainable environment design
The city of Paris is aiming to be the greenest in Europe by 2030. Various proposals have been submitted. Below Jean Nouvel would like to transform the non-descript towers and underutilized public spaces of the modernists’ failed housing developments. The monotony of these structures is transformed into hybrid building types. By selectively demolishing parts of buildings, altering unit layouts, re-defining entries, and adding building skins, the possibilities of a new identity for its residents emerge. He also proposes re-thinking the role of the surrounding landscape. Clearly defined green zones are brought into the city, to the front door of residences and neighborhoods.


One highly awarded sustainable structure is Renzo Piano's Academy of Arts & Sciences from 2008. Paino used an existing museum structure that was damaged in an earth quake to expand into a new museum, including a planetarium, aquarium, to which he added a natural roof environment.



Located near the Neckar River, Germany is the ‘Dupli Casa'. The private residence was designed by German architect Jurgen Mayer. Made from poured concrete the design sought to be low impact by re-using an existing location in the exact footprint of the previous house.



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