Sustainable design sometimes is called Green Design (ironically green is one of the most toxic colors) or Eco-design, and it has nothing to do with. Well sustainable design does concern about the environment but that’s just one of its three pillars: social, economics and environmental. This approach focuses on the balanced use of these three resources to achieve the well being of the planet and of future generations (Sherin, 2009. Sostenible). People mainly believe that by throwing their garbage in the right bin or by using a certain material the problem is going to be solved, and although it does help, these are just tiny bits of the issue that sustainability tries to deal with. Too much concern is going to the environmental part and leaves the other two variables (specially social) out of the game. Just to put an example of how hard sustainability can be, inks made out of soy are vegetable inks and considered ecological and sustainable but truth is that to plant the soy, companies have been deforesting the amazon to make room for this plant.
I’m going to leave a video that I recommend watching, it’s 40 minutes long but it shows why sustainability is so important and the fact that not all sustainable certifications or companies are what they are supposed to.
This is just one case study from many others, and the accusations against the FSC (which is the world leading company in sustainable management) might not be entirely true but it’s enough to create doubt and realize how big the problem could be.
Lately I’ve been thinking how sustainable design is trying to tackle this problem, but no ones says something about the products. The way I see it is that we can create the most planet-human-friendly packaging, but what about the product it contains? In my opinion it’s not only about sustainability (because we would still consume a lot of resources but less that the current consumption rate), but also a change in our behavior as a species. We can create more products/processes that are more sustainable but this is still consumerism, we would just make things less harmful. Don’t get me wrong, this is good, but I just can happen to wonder if also we should have less quantities of products, buy less, be more auto-sufficient. Does everything out there needs to exist?
One issue also is that (as far as I know) there is no system that can certify if a design is sustainable or not, it’s just a matter of perspective.
This is where design thinking could come in. Seen as an innovative approach for problem-solving, design thinking is (in Tim Brown’s words, CEO OF Ideo): a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. This approach relies a lot on field-research, different types of brainstorming and specially in multi-disciplinary members. What I like about design thinking is that everything is done with the help and insights of the people they’re aiming to help, rather than assumptions and stereotypes. This is how design should be done.
As for me, I haven’t really thought about how my design can be more sustainable. I often thought since I come from a small country there was nothing I could do, that I need to be part of some big company to apply these approaches and specially it’s hard to get out of my usual working habits. It might be harder (and more stressful) but anyone can do it, and should, but from what I’ve seen most people think someone else will do it for them. Like I said before, a change in behavior is needed.