The Sustainability Challenge for Industrial Designs

Since the 50s we have been immersed in a constant technological development that has provided an ideal environment for the creation, transformation, and dissemination of works and inventions. This seems as inevitable as beneficial to society, but rarely do we stop to consider its environmental impact.

One of the consequences is mass consumerism, that increases the demand for materials and energy so as to satisfy the changing human needs, generating waste and emissions closely linked to the damage caused by climate change.

The need of redefining the priorities of industrial design thus arises, since experts in the matter have the privilege of and the responsibility to positively influence the changes that can be implemented in order to reverse the current environmental crisis. Then, alongside the debate on sustainable development comes the concept of sustainable design.

Nowadays, industrial design is being increasingly forced to incorporate sustainability criteria to every project; the updated proposal is to consider the life cycle of a product no longer as a linear process, but rather as a closed cycle, wherein processes are circular and the concept of waste becomes obsolete.

Industrial design schools have been preparing students to improve the function and value of products through an attractive and novel appearance; however, in their professional practice, they should also be redirected towards becoming ethical designers, capable of questioning the moral impositions through a creative process that leads them to rethink and gain awareness of the imminent ecological and social impacts.

Mexico is worldwide known for its efforts in incorporating in every aspect its traditions combined with contemporary elements. The particular design techniques of each region and the use of materials according to economic or aesthetic needs have resulted in unique creations. This is how human beings go back to the roots, i.e. more and more designers bring back knowledge and methods “from the past,” which results in ecofriendly projects.

Furthermore, the presence of Mexican companies dedicated to designing and making products “by hand” has increased. In addition to the piece’s value due to the handcrafted manufacturing process, its development and life cycle are friendly with the environment, given that from sketching through assembly the designs are intended to be energysaving, to use materials like national woods, and to employ techniques such as rattan knitting, wood carving and leather crafting, among others.

The real challenge is not manufacturing products that can both take care of the environment and be attractive to the consumer, but producing changes in social behavior that generally emerge as bottom- up processes. Transformative learning must not only occur among students but also among clients, and it is necessary to legitimize new practices such as:

  • Adopting and instilling a responsible consciousness as consumers.
  • Separating garbage from the beginning, i.e. to be responsible of since the manufacturing stage until the end of the useful life of each product.

 

Pamela Serrano Magaña

 

Sources

  • Ramírez, Mariano JR, Challenging Industrial Design Students to Foster Sustainable Behaviors. University of New South Wales, Australia, 2007.
  • United Nations. World Commission on Environment and Development. Brundtland Report. 1987.
  • Papanek, Victor, Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change.2nd ed., 1972, reprint, Chicago, Academy Editions, 1985.