• Greengaged at the Design Council

    Environment, Environmental Design


    Organized by Re-Design, Thomas.Matthews & Kingston University
    September 2008, London.

    Greengaged was a long overdue weeklong series of events on design and sustainability. Unfortunately, I could not spend the entire week attending events so I can only offer a synopsis of a few. I regret having missed many apparently fruitful discussions that can be found on their website. Nevertheless some of the sessions I did attend were excellent.

    In a workshop called The Power of Design Pio Barone Lumaga, from Morphic Productions, described how difficult it is to break patterns: it takes time and patience to rewire our habitual behaviour. The interval between understanding and internalizing information takes time. But sometimes shame can produce a cognitive shock that can inspire new behaviour. Still it is illogical to expect people to change quickly because of a clever or logical argument. Lumaga told a story that helped the audience understand the importance of feedback loops when responding to danger. We must communicate awareness that our feedback loops are dangerously long in our current society and we are not responding adequately to the present crisis. We urgently need to create a quantum leap in communications & revamp our cultural map. Designers must rework their practice and ask themselves not what will they create, but why will they design what they design. Most design improvements with incremental efficiencies are meaningless in the face of increasing consumption. Still, design has the potential to be radically transformative if we dig deeper into the nature of our practice.

    In a discussion on design education Emma Dewberry from the Open University emphasized the need for behaviour change not just technological change. She explained that the agenda of design itself needed to change as the current boundaries of design do not take into account ecological limits. Ecodesign as it is now will not get us to where we need to be. Social innovation with a focus on process that connects everything within a sustainable context and within ecological limits must be what we aim to encourage within design education. Tracy Bhamra from Loughborough University described how she asks students to looks at systems not products. Ian Capewell from Practical Action described his work with secondary schools and the Six Rs- Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Refuse, Rethink and Repair.

    The crowning event was Michael Brauguart’s lecture on cradle-to-cradle design at the RSA. Brauguart warns that eco-efficiency is like using a teaspoon to bail out the Titanic. When you are doing something wrong, do not make it more efficient; ‘an inefficient Nazi is much better than an efficient one!’ Instead Brauguart aims for eco-effectiveness which looks at remaking systems around principles of abundance, diversity, renewable energy, and waste = food. The most important message of cradle-to-cradle design is the separation of the two waste streams: biological metabolism from technical metabolism – to enable 100% waste free systems. Designers must develop the self-esteem to contribute to big problems, and have the ambition to make healthy products. We must reinvent communication design, and reinvent relationships to form community with public. We are presently suffering from socialized risk and privatized profit. We must immediately redesign systems and learn how to deal with nutrient flows. We need legislation to support cradle-to-cradle waste free systems design as soon as possible.

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