Sustainability debate returns design to its roots

I read your Comment on sustainability (DW 15 January) with great enthusiasm as it cuts straight to the point of alerting the design profession to true issues rather than chasing short-term objectives. Sustainability is important because it addresses the growing concern of our relationship to the planet that supports us and gives equity for its inhabitants.

Much has been written against this argument, usually by those who fear change as it might upset the status quo. This is where design should play an important role. Historically, we have never been afraid of challenging existing paradigms and embracing the future. In fact, our role has always been to inform and communicate to our clients and the wider public.

We are therefore in an important position to take a lead role. The problem arises in understanding what we mean by sustainability. What do we do if a client turns to us and says fine, design me a sustainable product? There are very few in the profession who currently have good answers underneath the slogans. And yet much material is available to quantify environmental impacts and assist in development strategies to reduce our drain on resources, material, energy and manpower.

For example, if we extend our understanding of product from just manufacture and use to a complete lifecycle incorporating origination, manufacture, use and disposal, then the design opportunities become very exciting. Many advocates of sustainable development think the answer is not to focus on the product, but on the service(s) that the product facilitates.

Returning to the practicalities, it is not easy to convince clients to invest development time and money in thinking about sustainability. But time, patience and communication will pay dividends if we can articulate exactly what sustainable development is.

As a lecturer on a programme that places sustainability central to product development, I realise that the first step is to allow designers to become comfortable with the concepts, strategies and possibilities of sustainable development. Consequently, I applaud the idea of a debate in Design Week as it returns design to where it started, as a future-thinking profession willing to prick the consciousness of society about issues and values.

We are all striving for a better world – sustainability ensures there is still one available to make better.

Julian Lindley

Senior lecturer

BA (Hons) & MA product design sustainable futures

Surrey Institute of Art & Design

Farnham Campus

Surrey

GU9 7DS

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