Craig Badke and Stuart Walker, PhD, Faculty of Environmental Design | University of Calgary
The Designers/Consumers Anonymous project was undertaken to synthesize some of the discussions undertaken during a pilot course in Sustainable Product Design conducted in the faculty of environmental design at the University of Calgary. The project outlines a comprehensive, yet nonprescriptive, two-fold approach towards more sustainable forms of product design and consumption that uses the analogy of addiction and draws upon the language of well-established and effective addiction recovery programs.
What is interesting about a program like Alcoholics Anonymous is that it addresses addiction in a way that does not treat the specific symptoms of alcoholism or any of the problems and issues related to excessive drinking. Instead, it takes a very different approach, one that advocates living a good life, developing meaningful social relationships, and understanding one’s place within a larger frame of reference. The premise is to treat the cause of the problem and not the symptoms.
Important parallels are being drawn in progressive academic discussions about sustainability. For good or bad, with the decline of traditional sources of meaning (religion, class, and so forth) our identities have become increasingly linked to design and consumption (Lansley, 1994). Increasingly, we are defining ourselves and are defined by the products we buy, the spaces we inhabit, and the activities in which we partake (Sparke, 2006). In this light, consumerism and the negative effects that have been associated with over-consumption can be seen as a social issue and not an environmental one. In other words, environmental degradation is a symptom of the social nature of consumerism, and as such, suggests that ‘solutions’ must include an understanding of this social dimension.
There is a part to be played by both consumers and designers, to critically evaluate the values driving purchasing choices for consumers and design decisions for designers. It is from this understanding that the two-fold approach was developed.