Wednesday, October 14, 2009

calling all designers

I think I need a design student to explain to me how commodifying nature is environmentally friendly. As Laura illustrated on Tuesday with one of her GPS maps, we have reduced the whole world to a scale of financial value. I understand the concept of “money talks” and I understand that in order for some people to change their behavior they must be shown how it can financially benefit them. Otherwise they won’t change. But we have to ask ourselves if change is going to come from within the system or whether it will require a radically different approach. As I’ve been reading Massive Change and Cradle to Cradle I keep waiting and expecting for someone to say something truly different. I was optimistic at first, but now I feel as though they are both pandering to the corporations (Ford, Microsoft, etc.) that largely contribute to our environmental degradation. (I applaud them for their efforts to be conscientious, but I kept help but be cynical that they are making the changes in order to win customer loyalty and improve profits.) Janine Benyus says “we need to use our scientific savvy to change the way we’ve been living our lives” (Mau 156). She contends that by mimicking nature we can create sustainable ways of living our lives as humans. This line of thinking appears to be progressive (an interesting interpretation of “back to nature”) but the assumption is that what we have been endowed with is not enough. The theory is that the more we know about how nature works, the more we can become integrated with it. My fear is that any scientific knowledge that is ascertained will be used to further the human agenda with little regard to the natural world that offered us the alternatives. Again, I believe that changed minds are more powerful than changed practices.
The most inspiring and hopeful concept has been the idea that waste is food, as discussed in Cradle to Cradle. In addition to devoting an entire chapter to the subject, they emphasize the concept repeatedly throughout the book. On page 177 they advocate that “the product is designed from beginning to end to become food for either biological or technical metabolisms.” My rudimentary knowledge of chemistry informs me that it’s extremely important to think about technical metabolisms based on the fact that nothing leaves the earth. All things that exist can never go away, they just reconfigure themselves, making it vital that we figure out how to reconfigure harmful chemicals and pollutants. There is great potential for designers to work with scientists to reconfigure rather than recreate.

1 comment:

  1. Ilana, I don't really get it either. And I agree with you about the books that we are reading- it's great that the ideas of making the workplace and the home more pleasant and environmentally sustainable are working for some corporations and for individuals, but it seems like the main idea is all wrong. Instead of working with nature and to make nature better, we are still using it as a tool to ultimately further our own species. Even if we are doing that in a way that allows sustainability and 'upcycling', the fundamental idea that it stems out of necessity for humanity makes the efforts fall flat. And you are absolutely right about the need to reconfigure harmful chemicals and pollutants- the whole concept of throwing something away is flawed, because away to where?