The Beduoin Tent
“If you ask a designer to name the most important issues facing design today, one is bound to be sustainability, which is design-speak for helping the rest of us to live responsibly, ethically and environmentally. That’s the easy bit,” according to a recent article in The New York Times. “While most designers would agree that sustainability is important, they’re very likely to disagree about everything else to do with it. What exactly is sustainable design?”
A distinguished panel debated the issue at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Architect and Cradle to Cradle author Bill McDonough, industrial designer and CEO of IDEO Tim Brown, and the co-founder of Architecture for Humanity Cameron Sinclair each brought their own perspectives and examples of successful sustainable design projects.
McDonough cited the Brazilian City of Curitiba for its innovative and visionary achievements and the Beduoin tent – a centuries-old near-perfect example of shelter. “It does so many things with one simple non-toxic (goat hair) fabric,” he said.
Focusing on corporate successes, IDEO’s Brown mentioned the supply chain developed by Preserve, an American manufacturer (tag line - Nothing wasted. Everything gained.) of recyclable plastic household products from recycled materials recovered from empathetic businesses such as Stonyfield Farms. He also praised the Japanese government’s Cool Biz campaign, which encourages “office workers to wear lighter, less formal clothing during the summer thereby enabling their employers to save energy by turning down the air conditioning.” As an aside, tie makers are complaining that their business is down and are demanding that the program be stopped.
Sinclair called out Sustainable Health Enterprises, or SHE, for addressing social problems in developing countries as well as an environmental advocacy project, which produced The Plastiki, a catamaran made from a new method of recycling plastic bottles.
Each panelist was also asked to name examples of unsuccessful sustainable design. “McDonough cited recycling claims made for PVC-backed carpet. Brown criticized the Segway, which he feels fails to meet some basic user needs. “The technology is almost miraculous,” he said. “But it is too heavy for people to manhandle in and out of their homes, and the battery life is insufficient to allow a postal worker to complete a full round.”
Sinclair picked “the sustainable design crime of wasting resources on superfluous packaging, notably the single bananas sold … in its own biodegradable trays and wrapping. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “Why couldn’t they have put a price tag on the banana skin?”
Read the entire article. It’s enlightening, but defining sustainability - in all its forms - is still elusive.