Green design must be encouraged to bloom

It’s the season for green shoots again. The Design Week consultancy survey findings, Fitch’s much-improved financial results and a sense of optimism abroad hint at an upturn in the industry’s fortunes.

The price is still being paid, of course – professional ethics so eroded that a free-pitch no longer provokes cries of “foul”; design fees slashed to levels that yield what the Design Business Association described as “pitifully low margins” in its recent quarterly survey (DW 22 March); and students still facing dire prospects of work. But design groups are saying they haven’t been so busy for years, and that’s a start.

Is it a coincidence that as health slowly returns to the industry, there’s a strangely Greenish tinge to its complexion? Every other document to pass across the desk over the past week or so seems to have had a ring of “sustainability” about it.

The Design Council’s impending business plan promises it as one of its themes, then there was last week’s conference on the environment and visual communications masterminded by Surrey Institute’s resident Greens, Anne Chick and Martin Charter. Even the consultancy Sustainability, once part of the Michael Peters Group, has popped its head above the parapet and sent out a newsletter.

It’s like the late-Eighties all over again. But will this flurry of Green-ness be the bandwagon it proved to be then, a boomtime fad that was an early casualty as hardship struck. Or is it more fundamental?

We have to make sure that it’s the latter, and that environment-consciousness ceases to be simply the stuff of student projects. It also has to go deeper than saving trees.

Business responds mainly to two things: legislation and market forces. Both are fired by public opinion, which in turn is informed by choice – something it’s surely down to the designer to provide. Don’t wait to be asked to come up with a Green proposal – that’s the way transitory fashion lies. If your design takes account of people and the environment as well as sales, you’ll be doing us all a favour.

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