Thursday, November 3, 2011

Kent Gration: Musing on sustainability


What is Sustainable?
General acceptance of the term “sustainable” goes hand-in-hand with conducting well-maintained practices, which are environmentally and sociologically aware. These practices, by definition, should be able to be maintained to a certain standard without impairing the planet’s ability to support all forms of life for an indefinite period of time.
What concerns me is the flippant use of phrases such as “sustainable”, “eco-friendly” and “green” and the cynicism that will follow when the general public realise they’ve been manipulated by the ambiguity of these terms.

A product is considered to be “sustainable” based upon current and future management of available resources (renewable and non-renewable), hence some materials are more “sustainable” than others. The term “sustainable” when used in conjunction with selling a product, is becoming more diluted as businesses scramble for a piece of the “Green Pie”. Sustainable, may also relate to the general running of a company, it’s financial position and ability to meet market demand based upon forecast modelling. A company that markets it’s product as “green” in order to sell or unnecessarily make more of it, may in fact counteract the environmental benefits gained by switching to a “greener” option, requiring more energy, materials and finances to meet higher production or demand.

Image: Tectonic,  Tectonic was created as part of the Miniatures and Multiples exhibition (SGAR gallery)

The fundamental driver of sustainability is the rate at which, and how we consume resources, in connection with events outside our control.
Over-consumption is only created by oversupply and its impact is amplified with increases in global standards-of-living in accordance with global affluence. As the population grows, so does the number of designers, and as design becomes more democratised, true is the adage that “everyone wants to be a designer”. So do we really need all these new products (necessary and unnecessary), creating an oversupply in the marketplace, and impairing the planet’s ability as a biological support system. The answer to that comes down to design awareness, rather than design for design’s sake. How many designers have stopped to think that there are more chairs in the world than people? In what way is it an environmental and social imperative that more chairs need to be designed and produced, unless you’re using furniture as a medium to communicate that there are better, more environmentally preferred materials and processes to make chairs with, that needn’t be a memorial to a designer long after they’re gone?

By definition it is impossible to classify a product as “sustainable”, as there are no assurances that our quality of life, ecological standard, and resource availability will endure indefinitely, or that every single process in the supply chain is environmentally-aware. The most realistic assumption of sustainability modelling is a generational projection, the here, the now and not to distant future, based upon what we have and know today. Therefore, it is only the next generation who will encounter and have to address the miscalculations in our “sustainable” models.

Image: Wambamboo, Zhu lights

As a result of the ambiguous use of “sustainable” associations, and the fact that all resources (renewable and non-renewable) are finite, many governments and businesses have not properly implemented conservative supply and demand ratios. They have in fact opted for more aggressive strategies, in order to compete on a world stage that is driven by increasing resource demand, production expectations and profit margins. The problem with these strategies is that they’re not able to fully allow for, and react to future supply issues and events, such as climate change, reduction of available materials, delay in proposed technologies, political upheaval and a growing global population.

Image: Wambamboo, Zhu pendant lights

In order to be truly sustainable, governments and businesses must conservatively self-regulate their consumption and production levels, in order to find a rational supply and demand ratio. This may inturn achieve an equilibrium within a global consumptive ecological system.
Examples of ecological equilibrium are found in nature and the human race must adopt these symbiotic relationships to remain “sustainable”
in the future.
Wambamboo website 
Sustainability stories link 
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