Bring new generation into the debate on climate change

Lynda Relph-Knight

The call has gone out from an unexpected source for designers to engage with the issues surrounding climate change.

Speaking at the Royal Society of Arts last week as he received the coveted RSA Medal, film-maker Lord Putnam cited climate change as ‘the biggest challenge’ facing the creative industries. He urged the audience, comprising mainly Royal Designers for Industry and their guests, to raise their sights to the notion that to survive as a species we need to redesign the way we do things.

It made for a strong speech, and it was delivered with passion by a man bent on action. Indeed, Putnam has been battling his corner in the House of Lords to effect the constitutional changes needed to put the UK on course and he is urging the film industry to engage in the debate.

Putnam is right to goad the creative community to ramp up their efforts. Committed individuals are playing a small part and a handful of initiatives have addressed sustainability generally, but as whole the industry lacks leadership on this issue and it will take a concerted effort to achieve real change.

Design bodies have been slow to follow the strong line taken by the Royal Institute of British Architects. The RIBA has long provoked discussion on climate change and kept its members informed, but we have seen little of this in design and, as Putnam says, time is running out.

But if there has been a lukewarm response by practitioners – unless the client demands it – that isn’t the case with students. Most generations tap into Greenness, but in his inaugural address as Master of the RDIs, design engineer Chris Wise followed Putnam on to the podium, saying that, in his experience, many students now enter design to do their bit to save the planet.

If this is so, experienced hands in design should involve the next generation. Design bodies, for example, might do well to give more junior players a voice and empower them to act in the name of the profession. We all stand to gain.

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