A Report on Teaching Eco-Awareness and Changing ID Education
Leslie E. Speer, Associate Professor, Associate Chair Industrial Design Program | California College of the Arts
“Reduce/reuse/recycle only tells us what we should do— it doesn't tell us how to do it.”
— Jonathan Larson, Elegant Technologies
“Consciously or not, the design of products and processes is the main determinant of environmental impact.”
— Edwin Datschefski, The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products
Around the world, there is a growing awareness that Western lifestyle— particularly our American lifestyle with its emphasis on the conspicuous consumption of products and services and its connotations of cultural imperialism— is creating an environmental load that is simply not sustainable. Thus far, the industrial design profession has made only limited progress in addressing this problem from any perspective. While industrial designers often select the materials and manufacturing processes by which business makes its goods, they have thus far been unable to steer industry toward a more appropriate and sustainable direction. Although industrial designers are potentially in a position to influence both the general public (demand) and elite corporate decision makers (supply), they have yet to create a truly compelling ecology-based product that ignites the passions of either group.
It is unlikely that any eco-driven change— at least a change of any magnitude— will come from a corporation. It is much more likely that such a change will come from the academy. Ecologically oriented changes will likely come from within collegiate industrial design programs— the place where design is taught, philosophies are shared, and ID students are cultivated to question the status quo.
While it may be argued that designers do not have the knowledge needed to affect change at the top, the counterpoint is that designers are the ones who work at street level to conceive of and facilitate the arrival of new products. By arming today's students— tomorrow’s professional designers— with a new way of thinking about the next revolution in industry, we can better prepare them to clean up the mess left behind by those before. Even better, we can prepare them to utilize some of this waste as a new kind of raw material for future products and services.