Since volunteering at Practivism a couple of weeks ago, I've been thinking a lot about sustainability. What does it mean to be a sustainable designer? Really? I never really think about it when I'm working on something, and if I do it's mostly in terms of the literal thing I'm working on and not the transport/fuel/labour costs it takes to move/ship/produce stuff. One of the speakers made the point that going forward from now it will become less and less significant in terms of marketing one's self this way as the design field moves towards making these practices mandatory, which is a valid point. I think whether or not you choose to utilize those concepts, they will be demanded of most designers as we continue to slowly spiral towards some kind of Trash-pocalypse. Garba-geddon? Sorry.

To be honest, I feel like it's a slippery slope. If someone is designing a new logo for a company, suddenly the business cards look a little dated... then the website... then it's a whole rebrand, everything needs to change in order to stay consistent. That's how I feel about sustainable design. If you're making a record sleeve out of cardboard for, say, an ecologically-minded Christian Black-Metal band, will it still be wrapped in plastic once it leaves the distributor? What about the band's t-shirts, are they made out of natural fibres? Does their van run on bio-diesel? I know real change has to start somewhere, but I feel like even when people try to do the right thing, somehow external influences can still hamper positive impact.

The other night, I considered the sustainability problem from another angle. I was at another event and was talking to someone about Eames chairs, and he brought up this point: What's better: a chair made from sustainable materials that will break under normal wear and tear after 10 years, or an Eames chair made from fibreglass (using chemicals that are extremely toxic) that still functions perfectly after 50 years? I sat in an Eames chair while having this discussion, and if my butt is any judge... that means Eames always wins, and also that I have a butt that's capable of judgement. People will assuredly argue that there's plenty of eco-friendly chairs that can last a lifetime, and that's probably true, but considering the durability of Chairs like the one above, at what point does the functionality outweigh environmental impact? If at all?

Somehow I came out of this more confused than before.


  1. Being someone who has been trying to commit all that she can to the green-sustainable-eco-[insert latest save the world buzz word], trying navigate it all is completely confusing and almost disheartening.

    It seems once an object leaves the designer's hands, it's at the whim of the world. When I designed my recycled paper letterpress business cards, I realized that many of the cards will most likely get lost, discarded, etc...leaving it to be another piece of paper cluttering the street.

    On the Eames chair, I agree that something that is designed to withstand the test of time is more sustainable then an eco one that will eventually bio-degrade back into its natural foundations. That is how it was designed (longevity), as is most of the toxic plastics that surround us today. But as you and I know, the majority of people don't keep the same pieces of furniture around for a decade, especially in our day in age of the "new" (unless of course you're into thrifting/etc...but even then people replace their clothes and furniture around them often).

    The idea behind the longstanding design is great, but realistically, many Eames chairs and such end up in landfills, the ocean, etc...where their longevity and resistance to breaking down becomes a massive hinderance to our fast moving 'must-have'society.

    I think we as designers need to start merging the two. Where practical meets environmentally friendly...or maybe as a society we learn not to trade in our old for the new until the old has actually broken and not just become uncool.

  2. Ah! I'm sorry for such a long winded comment...it was such a good discussion post, couldn't resist.