I might have started too harsh, however, I believe that the role of design in sustainability is underrated: Design is the starting point of all products around us. Design decisions make our lives easy, but they also shape the whole lifecycle before and after the product use, ultimately enable the potential creation of waste.
However, when we look into the roots, we realize that the design process is usually not performed for freewill. From the birth of the industrial revolution, humans tend to use design as a power to contribute to consumption. The lifecycles became shorter, quality became lower, which was not a demand by the consumers. The market economy driven system was all that matters for such a long time, without even questioning the efficiency or impacts; which ultimately resulting in concepts of scarcity, dis-respect, social inequality, and division.
Looking back with different filters, we realize that; whatever our profession is, we were educated and employed by this core mindset around capitalism and feeding competitive markets. The definition of success for businesses was always linked to increasing demand for consumption and maximizing the profit, no matter what.
Design, originally being the solution provider; however, pressures around consumption overcame its power.
With a desire to create new markets and maintaining obsessive growth while continuously decreasing the costs, systems and supply chain strategies became complex and overseas dependent. What was the hidden cost of turning all systems moving away from simplicity to become so complicated?
The carbon footprint, which took years to realize the catastrophe, and only recently, humanity started to reconsider.
For many years, the impact of the capitalism-focused design and engineering system remain ignored, and the consequences were covered. Last decade, as sustainability awareness became inevitable, businesses started to set targets and proudly communicate over environmental savings.
However, while most of the sustainability strategies were focused solely on low impact materials, ingredients, and processes, the production of waste did not decrease enough to targeted levels, the reason being, on the big picture, the system remains growth-focused.
This conflict between the growth economy and the common sustainability practices is exactly where we fail to create a positive impact.
Is it possible to embrace a system with graceful growth, in which the supply-demand and profit- sustainability (both social and environmental) can both survive in balance?
The right moment to bring along this new term of progressive capitalism proposes a human-centered industrial strategy. With this new mindset, the solutions to global social and environmental challenges become business opportunities. What emerges is a form of capitalism in which the capital is society’s well-being.
Even though it sounds too good to be true, the need for a transformation and the next-gen’s awareness is clear than ever, the best time to activate and spread such revolutionary actions.
New terminology has arisen for the period we live in, defining it as the age of liminality. Liminality, “being on a threshold,” is the idea that we live in a unique period of transition and change.
Amid this potential mind and lifestyle-shift, the power of design for creative solutions has never been demanded so desperately. The designers should feel responsible; engage new methods to include ethics and environmental impact considerations. The lifecycle and after-life should be evaluated at the beginning of the design process to avoid waste generating decisions; design with the end of life in mind.
One of the approaches that need to be extended is positively disruptive design. To create real solutions for this age of Anthropocene, this mindset is key, where traditional innovation tools are not enough. A disruptive design method is a unique approach to understanding, evolving, and solving complex sustainability problems by design.
A more common methodology around sustainability is the circular design, which provides a useful process, where the core idea is that today’s products are raw materials of future products; focusing on eliminating the waste. As deeply explored in our “Sustainability as a Mindset”, a ‘74PODCAST series, on Episode #2 with Tuna Özçuhadar, here is the link, circular design is the power to move away from the world of linear systems.
While circular and waste-less design models are becoming a new standard, it is no wonder we see a tendency to focus on nature. Biomimicry, an approach in design and engineering systems, examines models in nature and imitates or draws inspiration from these designs to provide solutions to people’s problems. So, ultimately and finally, mother-nature has become a source of inspiration.
All people can create a positive impact, but designers are in a unique position to drive change. There could be no better time to use the power of design to challenge existing systems and invent new methods.
On the latest episodes of Sustainability as a Mindset, a ‘74PODCAST Series, I have talked with Tuna Özçuhadar on Episode #2, and Chef Douglas McMaster on Episode #3 on some of these key issues I’ve mentioned above and design concepts that are essential for creating sustainable design systems. Be sure to have a listen!
Cover photo: Mandy Barker