University of Brighton 20 September 2008
The 360 Degrees conference was convened by DEEDS (Design Education for Sustainability), a project that aims to integrate sustainability into mainstream design education and practice. DEEDS is creating exactly the kind of conversations that designers must have in order to respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing world.
Anne-Marie Willis, design educator from Sydney, Founder of the EcoDesign Foundation and now working with Tony Fry at Team D / E / S, gave the first key note speech. Willis presented her work developing the idea of sustainment and redirected practice. She described unsustainability as a normality in industrialized development, a structural feature of the current system. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, pollution, etc. must be seen as symptoms of a larger problem – that is our conceptual framework that allows these things to exist. Only by understanding that the unsustainable is structural, can we hope to create the paradigm shift that will break free from the legacy of corrosive systems. Willis’ essential point is that sustainability as it is practiced now has definitive limits, and often works to ‘sustain the unsustainable’.
For design as a professional practice to survive, it will need to redirect itself and shift the structure of unsustainability by ‘redesigning design’, i.e. redirecting design so we have the agency to work towards ‘sustainment’. Sustainment is defined as ‘how to continue to be’. The meaning is similar to that overused word: sustainability. But sustainment implies a process, and an object of belief - where we dig much deeper into the heart of the dissociation from nature than is currently standard.
Alastair Faud-Luke presented is work on Slow Design. Despite the fact that I have enormous respect for work he has does in other areas, and recently quoted his work extensively in an article in Creative Review, I sceptical about Slow Design. This method seems to give those with the privilege of choosing to slow down, an escape route just when we urgently need those with a sense of social responsibility to engage with the serious, critical and urgent nature of the problems we currently face.
Jonathan Crinion from Jonathan Crinion Associates, presented work on Holistic Design Ecology. He started with the fantastic Buckminster Fuller quote; ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality, to change something we must build a new model to make the old model obsolete.’ It is time for designers to become culprit for our actions and make the relationship between what we do and the effects on the environment and social justice. Sustainable design can function as part of the problem – we need holistic design ecology that will inform a paradigm shift.
Crinion developed his ideas in depth by describing creativity as locked within an unconscious self-perpetuating feedback loop. The ‘sustainable’ design path attempts to hold onto the existing socio-economic system that caused the problem in the first place, and thereby designers substitute one problem for another one. One of the problems is that design as it is practiced now is grounded in the concept of ‘serving’ a client. Social innovation must move from a product-oriented approach to a systemic and strategic one. Designers must become facilitators of change. Design education must develop an understanding of the need to build resilience into our system through the systems, processes, and products we design – because cutting carbon emissions without building resilience is useless. Much of Crinion’s thinking is based on the insights from permaculture.
Finally, a brave presentation (by someone who does not want to take credit for this discussion) was made on the institutional challenges within his University to change. Mr. X described the fear of exposure, the lack of leadership, ring fencing, and other obstacles he encountered when attempting to make the necessary changes at his University. After a day of inspirational but quite theoretical papers, Mr.Xs descriptions of the nitty gritty resistances to change were welcome.
For evening entertainment we watched the documentary; The Power of Community: How Cuba survived Peak Oil, and then a lecture by Roberto Perez who described in detail how the Cuban economy transformed itself in the 1990s when its access to foreign oil exports from the USSR collapsed. The country underwent a transition from fossil fuel intensive corporate agriculture to large permaculture cooperatives within a decade. Cuba now is the only country on the planet to have a footprint of less than a planet (0.8) and a high index of human development. This fact was mentioned by Michael Braugmart at the RSA later this week (see Greengaged review) as an example for other countries to emulate as we face resource depletion and our own need for radical energy descent.