Green in wolf’s clothing

Ecofriendliness is not as simple as it looks, says Adam White. In some categories so-called luxury goods are able to outperform the ‘sustainable’ ones.

Another year passes, marked by the innovation of an old favourite – but I fear Apple is about to do to product design what Michael Schumacher did for Formula One, and stuff it.

Only joking, but the award-winning iPhone/iPod is all about interface. The product is a well-made tablet of plastic/chromed metal with little visual detail to define it in terms of design, at least when it is turned off. One of the things I enjoy most about the iPhone is that when you sub-consciously squeeze it, there is a feeling that it could have been put together by a craftsman. This is quality, which, in turn, is an integral part of luxury.

Luxury is something I spend a lot of time thinking about, not least because we have been fortunate enough to have a number of luxury brands as our clients.

Did you know that 75 per cent of all Porsche cars ever made still exist, albeit some in museums rather than on the street? Also, more than 70 per cent of all Land Rovers ever made are still going. So here we have two exemplars of how to save the planet wearing wolf’s clothing.

This year all things Green will be under the spotlight, and design can contribute a huge amount to help save the planet. This isn’t news, but I was taught about sustainability a long time ago and it is only in the past year or so I see references to it appearing in client briefs.

Issues of sustainability, and therefore the intelligent, diligent use of the Earth’s natural resources, is something we have seldom got right. Control over resources has been down to how much a commodity costs, and for political reasons this is often hidden. If not, an imported litre of fuel would cost the same in the US.

Porsche and Land Rover represent, on the one hand, a supercar that people adore and dream about, and, on the other, one that will climb mountains. These qualities are embedded in their design and manufacture, but, ironically, these brands are often deemed to symbolise waste. It is important to look beyond the politicising of products and distinguish what is good, and bad, for the environment.

If you Google-Earth Sudbury, in Ontario, Canada, and look at the destruction of the environment around this mine that feeds the nickel processor in Europe that feeds the battery-maker in China that provides the power for hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius, you may question what’s going on. One thing is sure, you will see a shadow cast across the Earth by one of the world’s tallest chimneys, over an area made so barren by pollution that it’s used to test moon vehicles.

No one denies the value of low emissions to the quality of air in congested cities, but designers need to see the full picture. It may be unnecessary to have a car that delivers more than you need, but at least sports cars and off-roaders tend to have transparent design objectives.

In a funny way, that’s what we get with the iPhone, a product that is no more than a window into a digital world where telecommunications live. But the interface opens an exciting area for us to dwell on for a moment. You stroke your phone to see a picture, or shake your MP3 player to change a track. Interface has broken free from turning a knob or pushing a button to make a command and I hope it will lead to brilliantly innovative solutions on how to make technology work.

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