It is remarkable how many times the word ‘sustainability’ has cropped up this week. It is as though the design world has just woken up to an issue it can address to positive effect.
The interest has seemingly been sparked by two events: last week’s Applied Green conference at the British Museum in London, and the North East’s Design Event 07 festival, which opens tomorrow as part of the Designs of the Time initiative in the region.
The difference between the two is that while the one was a talking shop – charging £650 per delegate – the other celebrates practical ventures to promote sustainability in its widest sense, which promise to have a lasting influence locally and beyond.
Much has been said about sustainability in design – though the focus used to be more on recycling and waste limitation than on the shift in attitudes we are told will help save the planet.
There is evidence in student work and that of emerging furniture designers that the message is getting through to the next generation. Sadly, though, ‘awareness’ appears to fade once they start ‘real’ work in consultancies. This is largely because in some sectors neither consultancy heads nor their clients are aware of the possibilities or even the commercial potential of sustainable design.
We are told designers can take a lead in promoting sustainability, blending their humanity and technical skills to make a difference, but looking at the industry bodies you wouldn’t think it possible. The Design Council claims continuing commitment to sustainability (see Letters, page 11), though it has been low-key in defining or promoting it. But where are, say, the Design Business Association and the Chartered Society of Designers in this? No one appears to be taking a stand.
Among creative bodies, only the Royal Institute of British Architects is guiding its members through the sustainability morass. But then architects are subject to legislation that doesn’t yet apply to most design. Enough said.