Ethics in Sustainable Design by Alana (AJ) Stuit

Much of what I discussed in the presentation about Sustainability in Design pertained to how, as designers, we can be much more aware of the impact that our work has on the environment. The focus on being “green” or “eco-friendly” is not so much of a focus, in all honesty – but instead can be quite broad, which is why it seems that many people cannot always get a grasp on how one can personally become more sustainable in design. There is a constant argument over whether or not it is truly more ethical that we have begun to replace physical work with digital, or if we should return to physical work because of the electricity (and therefore, energy) it takes to do digital work. So, ultimately: what is the most sustainable option for us in a world that is so focused on “going green”?

The fact of the matter is this: Earth is already on a steep downward slope. Humans have overstepped their boundaries by taking advantage of and draining the Earth of its resources. It is no longer about “sustaining” the Earth; humans have to take major steps to improve the situation at hand. What can designers and artists do to better the Earth’s state?

One great example was through the case study that I reviewed about Magno Design. All of their products are made out of wood and designed specifically to not exploit the materials through mass production. The company trains its designers and employees to make their products in special ways to avoid harming the environment, while also giving back to the environment by planting a tree for every product they produce.

Much of what I discovered through my interview with Ian Garrett (co-founder of the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA)) was that there is one main way to consider the process for becoming a more sustainable designer or artist: does the work meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future? The entire process has to be stretched out and truly thought about before executing any kind of real final work. Sometimes this is about making it less convenient to not recycle, or making it harder to print something. However, these aren’t necessarily also the best choice. If you look at the energy that goes into the infrastructure to email large attachments, it might be better to print something and hand it to someone. To simplify this: one must get into the habit of asking what is the best practice for an individual situation.

The most important thing overall is to make good art. I won’t define good art, but CSPA research shows the following:

  1. Gathering people together for a shared experience (filling the house) is the best thing you can do for the environment as it amortized impact over a large group,
  2. It has a great impact on community and social identity and builds empathy which is key to sustainable futures, and
  3. It has a positive local economic impact.

Ultimately – one should do the best work that one is capable of, which translates to being the best designer/artist possible. And then, based on where one is at in the process, start to track and record the impact of the work. Just having the data is an important first step, and will reveal the best place to start. It’s different for everyone; sometimes it’s about lights, sometimes lumber, sometimes about insulating a rehearsal hall. One must find out what their own impact is and then start to improve one step at a time.