Our time is running out
01/29/2013 - 22:48

Wabi-sabi, Shabby Chic and Bohemian Bourgeois were hot trends in interior design a few years ago. Everyone was talking about recycling and dumpster diving finds. Interior design magazines were raving about the union between modern and traditional.

Buying old things may not be much more than a way of buying a past and highlighting individuality. Do trends that romanticise the old days really have anything to do with ecological and resource-efficient lifestyles? If we completely gave up producing new things and only used existing ones, we would probably survive for several decades, effortlessly – but would that solve the problems threatening the globe? Do we continually need new things, new mass production, innovation and endless variation? Does our built environment really need to change with every new trend and vision? Will national economies collapse if people cease to indulge in shopping?

Eventually, all the things we have produced end up in a mountain of refuse or toxic waste and never disappear. Natural resources are dwindling, and the most pessimistic scenarios give us only a few decades before disasters of unforeseen proportions.

Companies manufacturing products need to evaluate their operations from an ethical viewpoint. The role of a designer has become more complicated amid the multitude of requirements. What should we actually design? Should we create new things simply for the sake of consumption, improve the living environment or make money for the manufacturer? Or should we just focus on pleasing our egos as designers?

Sustainability feels like the right choice. Sustainable design – the ethos of sustainable development – has prevailed in the world of design for a long time. Confused, some designers have taken to iconising old products in addition to new ones, but some companies already offer comprehensive solutions that include maintenance, repair and recycling.

Architects and designers give shape to our built environment. They have an opportunity to affect energy choices in favour of renewable energy and materials choices in favour of resource efficiency. Landfills are full of potential raw materials and will turn into veritable gold mines. Recycled metals and plastics are sought-after materials even in heavy industry.

The life-cycle model is now complemented by the cradle-to-cradle (C2C) model developed by the American architect and sustainable development expert William McDonough and the German chemist Michael Braungart. They argue that it is possible to harmonise our technologies and our entire industrial system with nature, so that all the materials we use can return to the cycle of nature and fertilise the soil instead of contaminating it.

Idealistic? Perhaps, but some successful experiments have already been carried out. The Swiss textile manufacturer Schoeller has succeeded in developing products that qualify for C2C certification. The fibres in the textiles are non-toxic and biodegradable, and their production involves no chemicals hazardous to the aquatic environment. A few such companies are not enough to change the course of development, but they give hope.

The challenges designers are facing call for new thinking and inventiveness. However, designers’ efforts alone are not enough, either. Industry, investors and governments must work together to find ways to overcome our ecological challenges. We must stop pretending that the threats to our ecosystem are not real.

A shedful of “greenies” working on their small projects will not change the world. Our time is running out. Responsibility and caring should be the flagship products of our companies.

 

Kukkapuro-Enbom Isa
Designer, Freelance Journalist
Dodo.fi & Trashdesign.fi
(photo © Henrik Enbom, Trashdesign.fi)

 

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