If we are really concerned about sustainability, why would we make anything at all? It is the extraction, use, and (in many cases premature) disposal of resources that pose threats of long-term damage to our planet, and many of those resources are used in consumer goods. An immediate solution to our global ecological problems would be to simply stop consuming and disposing of objects – it is possible to argue that consuming things and saving the planet are mutually exclusive.
But I believe that to stop consuming flies in the face of our innate urges as humans, after all the ability to make objects can be seen as what defines us as humans. Generally speaking, we like to buy, make, trade and enjoy objects, and I don’t think we should have to sacrifice our ancient relationship with them. So, in order to enjoy material things, and prevent ecological disasters, we need to alter those material things, and the way we appreciate them.
For the past few decades ‘green’ design has tended to have a focus on a symptom- based approach; the use of recycled, reclaimed, or upcycled materials are good, but alone won’t suffice in developing a sustainable future. Carrying on wastefully with less harmful materials isn’t change enough. We need to re-evaluate the way we currently go about ‘eco’ design.
My solution to the environmental issues that the consumption and disposal of objects causes is to create objects that consumers can value more, and will want to keep for many years. Slowing down the amount we consume seems a sensible starting point. To achieve this we need to consider redefining our aesthetic landscape, starting with our notions of product beauty. In doing so we should learn to appreciate objects over longer periods of time, delaying the point of disposal for as long as possible. I still endorse the use of renewable resources, design for disassembly, recycling, benign materials, low impact processes and the like, but I believe we also need to open up a debate about a more philosophical and holistic approach to sustainable design.
In my essay ‘Traditional as Radical’, I examine traditional and ancient ideas associated with making as a useful paradigm for considering this more holistic approach to sustainable design. If you wish to contribute to the debate, please do so on twitter under the trend topic #tradrad.
Please click the cover below to open the PDF.