The ’60s was a time when resources were ‘unlimited’ and progress was unabated and was measured by industrial development. But today, the scenario seems to have changed. Years of technological development, mass production and our collective consumption has impacted our finite and dwindling natural resources and climate on earth.
What is the need for sustainable design?
Design, by definition, is about creation and pushing boundaries. But how often have we, at the time of creation, investigated the long-term impact and consequences of what we have created. The design may be as culpable as science, technology, and industry in causing the gradual erosion of our ecosystem. Over the years, the relationship between business and design to provide products and services has evolved from a conscious, need-based one to an indulgence inducing, excessive consumption-based one.
Along with the 4 R’s, sustainability and green technology have also become the buzzword of our times. Sustainability is about how well connected we are to our ecosystem and how much of a steady-state we maintain by being one with it. Today, many business practices seem to hide behind these amorphous and often vacuous words, which loosely imply that we care about the environment. Whether it is plastic bags, packaged water bottles or the automobile and information technologies, these have originated as solutions that improved life. Yet, over time these once-great ideas are today the harbinger of dystopian times and are no more sustainable solutions.
Our world is a ‘steady state’ in which the trinity of creation, preservation and destruction coexist and collude to maintain a balance. The question of sustainability arises only when this balance is disturbed.
How are consumers harming the ecosystem and environment?
Over time we have become more detached from what we consume. What we consume often comes from across the country or even across continents in highly sophisticated packaging. Despite being ‘informed’ in an abstract sense, the end consumer, who is only increasing in numbers with products and services becoming more accessible, is unaware of their consumption’s negative impact on the ecosystem and the environment.
The designer has been complicit in encouraging the individualized consumption economy for many years now. This probably has a role to play in detaching the consumer further, not only from their immediate social networks and the downstream impact of the products due to waste and refuse but also from the upstream, social, and environmental consequences that the production of these products has.
What should be the role of a designer in ensuring a sustainable future?
A future of preservation begins by being brave enough to ask the right questions to curb our relentless consumption, following through with the right action, and making the right choices individually.
Sustainability and preservation are about an extended relationship with our environment, both natural and manmade. A designer should strengthen and thus lengthen the relationship between people and products. Extending the life of products and intensifying their usage are two strategies for environmental optimization of a product’s life. Products could provide services with fewer physical resources.
The designers should shift their focus from designing dispensable individualized products to focusing on creating products and services that are catalysts of behaviour change that ensure resource-saving and planet preservation. Designers need to develop products and services that encourage a reduction in consumption by designing products that are easy to repair to prolong their life. The products should also be reusable and recyclable using minimum energy. More importantly, advertising and marketing also need to shift their focus from promoting products and services to selling more and pushing up the bottom line to being the advocates of sustainability centric behaviour change. Only if every product and service designed is assessed can we proclaim design to be a sustainable practice that would ensure the conservation of our planet.
The views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Janak Mistry is the Design Principal at Srishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru (A constituent of Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal).