Planet Consumer – Why sustainability is the only way

On December 24, 1968 Bill Anders took the iconic Earthrise photograph through a window of the Apollo 8 command module. The photo allowed the world to see itself for the first time, changing humanity’s perspective forever. Shooting for the stars, the space explorers never thought about what they would feel when they looked back at Earth.

The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

Since the 1960’s the sustainability movement has progressed from its radical roots to an all-encompassing lifestyle that includes a sustainable environment, economy and body.

While many still worry sustainability is a fad (like last years jeggings), forward thinking businesses know the green movement is here to stay. Today, it’s cool to go green. Brands are green washing their consciences, hipsters are carrying re-usable tote bags made of recycled baby tears to their local food markets and I — I only wear hemp. But it can’t all be boiled down to a cynical quip or a ‘go green’ slogan because sustainability isn’t just a trend.

Within the design industry, many designers, architects and agencies are taking responsibility for creating a sustainable future. Whether it’s by focusing on responsible production (led by Three Trees Don’t Make a Forest), starting a buzzing pet project or creating content that challenges the social narrative (see The Occupied Times), designers are holding themselves and the consumer accountable for their creations. By taking a holistic approach to their practice that moves beyond media integration and natural wood textures, designers are shaping the future.

However, sustainable initiatives are still dispersed. Sustainable design is a niche rather than a cornerstone embedded in our industry. It’s important we ask ourselves the tough question — just how sustainable can our business be without building sustainability into our business ethos? Designing a sustainable product is more than a biodegradable tin that sprouts sunflowers and smiles; it’s about adopting a holistic approach that takes into account what will best serve both the consumer and the environment.

While we can’t all be astronauts like mama said we could, by looking back at ourselves we can transcend our sense of separation and see that everything is interconnected. Consumers are not separate from the planet they inhabit; therefore their interests, wants and needs are one in the same as their environment.

Designers can break new ground, challenge the existing black and white narrative of text and policy and inject new life into the environmental debate by using the best tool they have — creativity. Oh, and maybe some of that astronaut ice cream for inspiration.


Join the debate at our Sustainable Design talk hosted by Good Design w/ Chris Romer-Lee (Studio Octopi), Yelena Ford (Honey Club / Wolff Olins), Rachael Taylor (Southampton Solent University) and Sevra Davis (RSA) // Thu 27 march 2014 // 19:00-21:00 // £10 // Bootstrap Company, The Print House, Dalston, E8 3DL // BOOK TICKETS

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