Thursday, 24 March 2011

Critical Debates In Design: Task 8: Sustainable Design

Green design, green architecture, environmental design, ecodesign, sustainable design, sustainable products, ecoefficiency and sustainable consumption - all these have claimed to bring design, ecology and environment together over the past two decades. However, the real issue that we are suffering is bringing together human and environment again. Except, "design for sustainability" mostly focuses on the designed object itself - the materials from which it is made, the amount of energy embodied in it, its ability to be recycled, and so on.  These things are significant too, but stylistic solutions will not help us to close the gap between the modern human and environment. In my estimation, we as one the most defenseless creatures on earth, should find our way to make peace with the nature to continue our existence on earth. Sustainable design may only be a small step on this way - because those objects are designed to allow the users to feel more related to the natural environment - but they are certainly not the absolute solution.

Sustainable design is an important process which helps eliminating the waste we create. Yet there are many applications on this approach ranges from the microcosm - small objects for everyday use, through to the macrocosm - buildings, cities and the Earth's physical surface. It is a philosophy that can be applied in the fields of architecture, urban design, urban planning, engineering, graphic design, industrial design, interior design and fashion design. However, the limits of sustainable design are reducing. Whole earth impacts are beginning to be considered because growth in goods and services is consistently outpacing gains in efficiency. As a result, the net effect of sustainable design to date has been to simply improve the efficiency of rapidly increasing impacts. Unfortunately, the present approach does not solve the problem that the scale of resource use is growing and not stabilizing. Still, there are some major principles that can be applied to all design platforms above, which are mainly:

Using Low Impact Materials: Non-toxic, sustainably produced or recycled materials
Energy Efficiency: Producing products which requires less energy
Quality and Durability: Longer-lasting and better functioning products
Design for Reuse and Recycling: Everything should be designed considering their after life
Biomimicry: Redesigning industrial systems on biological lines.
Service Substitution: Shifting the mode of consumption from personal to provisional
Renewability: Materials should come from local places which can be decomposed properly

A lovely example for sustainable packaging by Boston-based design firm Essential Design, the aim is to create a reusable shipping container intended to replace cardboard boxes. The structure is made entirely of the sustainable wood-based polymer cellulose acetate.

Besides those options on sustainable design above, as a graphic designer, l always do my best in order to think about the all the aspects of my designs and their impact on environment. When it comes to design world, the good intentions might blown away in the search of perfect solution for the customers. But we have to change our priorities - design and communication need to reduce negative environmental impacts and enhance the positives within the society. In this manner, we should orient especially the customers, and the society about choosing the appropriate and sustainable solutions to preserve environmental resources. In addition to big changes, even using a recycled paper may cause incredible differences, when you are printing millions of magazines or boxes. All in all, backwards thinking has never been so important - we must consider the outcomes of all the things we produce right from the start, reducing the negative impact in emissions and resource use. This will allow us to avoid the roadblocks to creating design that makes sense not only for us but also for the next generations.

I believe that our present solutions about environment and global warming is definitely not effective enough but I personally find the idea of "redesigning the planet" a little absurd. Therefore, human habits caused all those negative impacts at the first place, so the solution is not re-building the entire planet - it would be the exact same approach and end up damaging the nature even more - it is re-building our behavior patterns and actions. Moreover, what is more scary than global warming is "unconscious redesign" which is an unconsidered effect of the activities of changing economic and political structures devoted to self-growth and private profit. This unbalanced reordering may rapidly change the social and environmental orders, which means, the natural capital of social and environmental evolution. We must remember that, we all depend on a healthy planet to give us vital things like clean water, food and breathable air. Consequently, what we need to do is stop trying to beat the environment and be a part of it again. 

Datschefski, E., 2001, The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products: Rotovision
Fry, T., 2009, Design Futuring Sustainability Ethics And New Practice UK: Oxford International Publishers Ltd.
Hailes, J., 2007, The New Green Consumer Guide: You Can Make a Difference USA: Simon & Schuster
Mackenzie, D., 1997 Green Design: Design for The Environment: Thames & Hudson 

Web Sites
Carbon Footprint, Carbon Management Company,, Home Calculator, Available from: 
Friends Of The Earth, Organization, Available from:, Natural Resources, Available from: 
Neo, Positive Change Agency, Available from:
Redesigning The Planet, Text, Available from: Sustain Ability, Environmental Services Company,, Blog, Available from: 
The Dieline, Packaging Design Blog, Available from:, The Sustainability Enigma, Article, Available from:  
TED, Ideas Worth Spreading,, A Greener Future, Available from:   
Which?, Works for You,, Environment & Saving Energy, Available from:
Wikipedia, Available from:, Sustainability, Available from:

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