A sustainable environment provides all our needs without damaging the earth for future generations. Sustainability means providing for the present needs of society without depleting resources for use in the future. The environment is our eco system that we rely on to provide food for us now and in the future. Today’s world is lost in a consumer culture where we think of the needs and wants of the present but not our needs to come. This has resulted in a non-sustainable environment. An environment, which is beginning to feel the strain of its abuse.
The sudden need for us to take note has come with a change in world attitude. The western world has become a branded society consuming more than its share. We have been shaped into a consumer culture through advertising and manipulation (Century of the self, 2001). Edward Bernayse an influential character in the world of public relations and propaganda “the father of Public relations” used his uncle Sigmund freuds research into the subconscious and created a massive advertising manipulation campaign. One of his successful campaigns convinced woman who were discouraged to smoke by men at the time, to smoke. He did this by realizing that woman of the time wanted. Liberation, freedom and power. He hired a group of models to join the New York City parade and light up cigarettes in front of the media. This caused uproar. The very next day the title “torches of freedom” filled the papers and woman everywhere suddenly associated smoking with being free and powerful, which was what they subconsciously desired. Cigarette sales increased and the campaign was successful. This was one of the first incidences of mass manipulation. Its through this type of manipulation that according to Annie Leonard (Story of stuff, 2007)
“We have become a nation of consumers”.
The average person consumes twice as much as they did fifty years ago and shockingly 99% of consumable goods are waste product within 6 months of purchase. This is not completely our fault products nowadays are designed to be disposable. This is called planed obsolescence and it is a technique designers use to make products useless after a period of time in order to insure constant sales of products. Another reason for our increased waste is perceived obsolesance. This is linked to fashion and trends that the media enforce on us. Designers deliberately change the way items look frequently to make it obvious when your items are old. The added pressure from society is enough to make it perfectly acceptable to throw away working objects.
The constant disposal of these products has lead to the pollution of the earth. Each person in the USA produces approximately 4.5 lbs of waste per day (Story of stuff, 2007). This waste goes to landfill, or sometimes incineration and then landfill. This pollutes the earth, water and air, which has caused major changes in our climate (Ecological Impacts Of Climate Change, 2008). This is the cause of global warming, currently the biggest threat to our civilization. The USA alone admits to emitting 4000000000lbs of pollution per year. This severely damages our eco systems and will ultimately lead to the earth being unable to provide for our basic needs.
Climate change is dramatically changing our environment and the eco systems within the environment. It is making entire species of animals extinct, sea levels rise, temperatures rise, reducing oxygen levels and increasing co2 levels. (Ecological impacts of climate change, 2008). When animals become extinct it causes havoc in its eco system. One animal becoming extinct can easily eradicate another who feeds on it. Eco systems are delicate and major disruption like the extinction of an animal species can be catastrophic. One of our most diverse eco systems on earth is a corral reef. Corral provides a habitat for loads of different varieties of fish, whilst being a living organisim itself it can also act as protection for the shoreline. The rise in sea temperature has lead to its demise. This has been recorded in the reefs off Florida Keys and other tropical us waters. (Ecological impacts of climate change, 2008).
Sea levels are rising as a result of the polar ice cap melting. This is due to an increase in temperature globally of 0.6 to 0.2 degrees Celsius (Summary for Policymakers, 2001). This has dramatically affected animals that depend on the ice, Polar bears and Walruses. The ice’s area has decreased making it very difficult for them to hunt for prey and nurse their young. Walruses for example use the floating blocs of ice to look after their young and to dive from to feed of their prey on the bottom of the ocean. In 2007 the ice moved so far the water was too deep for them to feed. This resulted in the relocation of several thousand walruses to the beaches of Wainwright Alaska where they were in danger of exhausting the resources there, similar to the way we have exhausted the earth’s resources.
The Problem lies in the attitude towards sustainable design. While some people are happy to embrace change for a better future the simple fact is the consumer shouldn’t have to, or even have a choice to. Various industries have been producing goods for centuries without a second thought to their life cycle. Products in today’s system go through a wasteful process from extraction to production to distribution and finally disposal.
Designers have a major role to play in the redevelopment of our consumer-based world. The sustainable design forum encourages designers to influence consumer choices through their designs (27th June 2005 – Design and Sustainability a scoping report). In my opinion sustainability shouldn’t be a choice it should be a way of life and the norm for a finite planet.
Recycling can be a major help to reduce the amount of waste we produce and stop the extraction of new finite resources. However recycling rubbish at home would not solve the problem because for every one unit of waste you produce at home seventy units have been produced in the production process of the now waste goods(Story Of Stuff, 2007) This is where design can contribute. Up cycling is the process of converting waste material like plastics and glass into materials and products of higher quality. An example of this is Quentin, designers Ian Cardnuff and Hamid Van Koten designed a unique light shade from recycled newspaper and paper mill waste, which omits a beautiful warm tone (Fig 1). Up cycling is beneficial to the environment because it insures the constant reuse of extracted materials and adds opportunity for quirky designs. On the other hand designers need to be careful not to down-cycle. Down cycling is down grading the quality of a product, e.g. Office paper to toilet paper and it supports the idea that whilst the product has been reused it will ultimately become waste.
We can encourage sustainable production and products by designing with sustainability in mind. To do this we can specify sustainable materials in our designs and use sustainable production methods. Using local trade to reduce embodied energy costs of shipping materials half way round the world. Taking local eco systems into consideration and using appropriate material to support and benefit habitats.
Exciting discoveries in biomimicry have proved influential for design. Biomimicry is designing sustainably by taking inspiration from nature. Recently designers have used inspiration from shark scales to design a surface uninhabitable by bacteria. This innovative surface could dramatically improve heath by reducing the cross contamination of bacteria and also reducing the need for harmful chemicals, which are poisonous to the earth and us (Biomimicking Sharks, 2009).
Designers have the power to change the world we live in today. Whist we thrive of consumer culture we can be responsible about the choices we make through the design process from production to disposal. By changing the way we design we can change our impact on the earth indefinitely.
Braungart M. McDonough W. 2002 – Cradle to Cradle - North Point Press.
(Sustainable thinking and in depth analysis of the life cycle of our products)
Ecological Impacts Of Climate Change - (2008) - National Academies Press.
(Description of the recorded effects of climate change on eco systems)
Environmental Knowledge For Change - (2001) - Summary for Policymakers. http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc%5Ftar/?src=/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/005.htm.
Fuad-Luke A. (2004) - The Eco Design Handbook (New Edition) - Thames and Hudson.
(eco design at its best, a selection of sustainable and eco designs)
Hubber J. (2009) - Biomimicking Sharks
Leonard A. Video (2007) - Story Of Stuff - Free Range Studios
http://www.storyofstuff.com/(Video discussing the facts of a consumer culture and detailed analysis of the cycle from extraction to disposal)
Lury C. (2009) - Consumer Culture
(Our current culture compared with past)
Lury C. (1996) - Brands, the logos of the global economy
(Study into the media and analysis of the brand)
Moore s. (2010) - Pragmatic Sustainability, Theoretical and practical tools.
(Leading industry thinkers tackle sustainability problems within architecture and design)
Papanek V. (1971) - Design for the real world.
(Blueprint for survival in the energy and resource deficient world of today)
Richardson J. Irwin T. Sherwin C. (27th June 2005) – Design and Sustainability a scoping report.
(Report on how design can contribute to the development of sustainable products)
The Century of the Self - video - broadcast (17, 24, 31 March 7th April, 2001) BBC2
(Investigation into the self, concerned with consumer culture and media influences)