Greener by Design 2009: It Doesn't Matter If It's Sustainable If It Isn't Cool, and Other Insights
Photos by Jaymi Heimbuch
A panel this morning at Greener by Design featured Angela Nahikian from Steelcase, Inc, Adam Lowry from Method, and Joseph Fiksel from the Center for Resilience at Ohio State University. The three offered some great pieces of information about product design and sustainability, from how to remember the resources we use to getting consumers to actually buy what it is designers create. Adam Lowry:
At Method, the mantra is "Innovation is design that creates change." That change could be anything from consumer attitudes, to changes in how an industry functions. The problem Method often finds itself having is that coming up with the innovations that create change is not lacking. No, the problem is getting consumers to keep up. Unfortunately, the company has seen that consumers simply don't want some of the innovations it has dreamed up because it's too far off from what the consumer is used to. So one of the tricks of sustainability is getting consumers to love what it is you have to offer. It doesn't matter if the product is sustainable if it isn't cool enough or familiar enough for a consumer to purchase it.
At Steelcase, a focus is radical evolution. It seems oxymoronic, but it's actually a vital process to figure out if we want businesses and the products coming out of them to be sustainable. Just as consumers don't want products that change their habits too drastically, businesses don't typically feel comfortable completely revolutionizing how they conduct themselves and their processes. So, the answer is held within the idea of evolving really, really quickly. We have to change systems well outside a business's walls, points out Nahikian, and that means taking a radical change, scaling it up, and putting it into action.
What we often forget when looking at a product is the sheer amount of resources we use in creating that product. There is a hidden mountain of resources that each product we consume sits atop. With that in mind, Fiksel points out that while it's great when an individual company makes changes for sustainability, sometimes the problems are just too big, like resource management across the board. And that means we have to have a public-private partnership to help address and fix the many issues of sustainability.
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