A Designer’s Footprint

I always knew I had an impact on the environment, but, this week, I realized that my impact as a designer might be far greater than the impact of the consumer, or even of the government. Climate change is attributed to many different things: from green house gas emission, to waste, and, even, industries. But what if I was the one responsible for the growth of global warming? What if my industry, and my future profession, were most responsible for the hurricanes we have been experiencing and the global warming that people still deny?

Before this class, I never really considered the effects, or even the existence of global warming. As I mentioned in my first blog, I had never really acknowledged the existence of climate change, or how dangerous it truly is until I watched the 11th Hour. Now, four weeks later, I feel I have a new responsibility as a designer to create things that are both sustainable and eco-friendly. I have an impact on the environment, whether I choose to acknowledge it or not. However, the world will be better off I do acknowledge it, and if other people in my profession acknowledge the footprint that we can leave as well. While designing new appliances or fashion trends, I need to research the impact that it will have on the world. Of course, this concept is a wicked problem, so the likelihood of determining the specific outcome is slim, but I still have a responsibility to look into it.

On Tuesday, we discussed whether the government or a free-market system would work best in creating a sustainable economy. Personally, I think, like many others, that the government moves slowly. And, while we are dealing with what is essentially a life or death situation, slowly can be dangerous. However, I also do not think that the power should go directly to the people. While there are some who research the products they use and the impact it will have on the environment, most do not pay attention to these concerns. A lot of people simply look for the cheapest brands, or they might look for a decent brand with the lowest cost. Either way, most do not consider the impact that brand has on the environment. So why should the people be in charge of confronting global warming? Some do not even acknowledge it exists. If a state were given the responsibility to choose whether or not to be green, the people would probably opt for the cheaper choice, and, most of the time, that choice is not eco-friendly. So what should we do? I think the best way to go about setting some regulations in place is for the government to take the first step, but to not control the end goal. If the government were to set a maximum pollution level based on each state’s population, then the state could determine which rules and policies would work best for their citizens in order to meet this goal. Global warming and sustainability are wicked problems because they cannot be solved with some generic solution. So why should each state be held to the same standards? Something that works in Boston would most likely not work well in Oklahoma. They have more people and a bigger city, while we have farmlands and a much smaller population. However, something that works in Boston may be able to be sculpted to fit Oklahoma’s situation. Of course, there is no way of knowing how effective this would be or if other problems would arise in the process. However, something needs to be done. Someone needs to take the first step. And a change needs to occur.

That is where I come in. As I discussed, most people do not research the products they want to buy in order to determine how eco-friendly they are. If I can design products that are eco-friendly, then maybe people will not have to do the research. They will know that the products they have to choose from will be safe and sustainable. As we learned from the video on Thursday, what we buy tells political officials where we stand. While people may consider themselves “green”, what they buy may not be eco-friendly. Officials may not know how much an individual person recycles, but they can see what brands people are buying and what brands contribute the most to global warming. If people only buy things made by non-sustainable companies, then the officials only see profits in non-sustainable companies and may assume that the general population does not care about the environment. At the same time, the consumer may only be focused on the aesthetics and cost of the product, which is where designers come in. If I know that the consumer only wants the cheapest products, then what is keeping me from going to a third world country where I can mass produce for cheaper prices? Essentially, nothing. The designer can choose to take advantage of the situation and only produce non-sustainable goods because they are the cheapest and give them a bigger profit, or they can choose to take a different approach. Personally, I believe that the blame will fall on the designer. Consumerism is an issue and people are wasteful. But why are our designs not more sustainable? Why do people care more about making a profit then making a better world? I think part of it is our paradigms. We are told that we need money to be happy, much like the consumer is told that they need a certain product to be happy. But what if we changed that? I believe that, with a change in production, the world can take a step towards sustainability.

So what can I do? At this stage in my life, I lack the power to change design. I have no control over where products are manufactured or how sustainable they are. But maybe someday I will. Eventually, I may be the one in charge of choosing how a product is designed or where it is manufactured. I may have the responsibility of choosing which path to take. I hope, even if it goes against the paradigms of our culture, I will choose to be green. For now, I have to focus on being more eco-friendly in my daily life. If I choose to lead a sustainable life now, I may have an easier time in the future standing up for greener products. At the same time, I have a responsibility as a consumer to choose the best products out there. Instead of focusing on cost, I need to find the most eco-friendly products. I can also choose to stay away from the consumer mindset. Instead of buying things I may not need, I can work towards a greener world, and, maybe, others will be inspired by my efforts and choose to do the same.

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