Sustainable Lifetimes – Week 1

In my study group for constellation this term I am looking at sustainability & sustainable lifetimes. Sustainability is currently a massive issue across the world and is something that the art and design community must begin to understand and develop in their practice.

In groups we started by looking at what sustainability meant to us, what the main causes of un-sustainability could be and what sustainability means within our individual areas. This was used starting task as it made me think about how sustainability is broad but effects every single art and design practice, it’s something that needs addressing.

This first week we looked at the context behind un-sustainability in detail looking at key stages in how it came into being. Starting with the pre-industrial phrase right through until post war where consumption of products was at it’s highest. Within this we discussed the brith of the market economy and capitalism, looking at the two laws created by Adam Smith. The law of self interest and the law of competition we designed to balance each other out and stop people abusing the law of self interest. Also, amongst the rise of un-sustainability rose consumerism. With people putting more products onto the market more consumers wanted to buy.  Post war the middle class became more prosperous as things were cheaper to buy, which was known as the abundance/dynamic economy.

There were many critics of consumerism including Thorstein Bundle Vebken and Vance Packard who critiqued the corporation on consumerism. It started to become clear within the 1960’s that sustainability was an issue and throughout the USA and Europe ecological movements began to emerge. Businesses that had used planned obsolescence started to be challenged as this was used as a ploy to sell more.

Art & Design Responses

There were three main art and design responses to sustainability Green Design > Ecodesign > Sustainable Design. These all occurred chronologically and subsumed by the following response.

Green design was the initial response, which included campaigns, designs reflecting the issue, and the colour green being used to symbolise the issue. However, business soon caught onto this and ‘green’ started to make great business sense as people wanted to buy into the green design. This is ironic as these business weren’t really doing anything to change their models but people were buying products as they were green.

Furthermore, companies started to use things such as lightweight and biodegradable  packaging however this also brought it’s own issues. People were just disregarding objects everywhere saying it’s okay as it’s biodegradable, peoples attitudes towards disposal of objects changed. Also companies started to label their products recyclable but labelling something as recyclable doesn’t mean that it will be recycled.

People began to see the flaws in Green design as it wasn’t really doing anything about the problem. Lifecycle thinking started to be used this is where the entire process of making and selling the product was considered, thinking about where the most impact is going to happen and how you can reduce the impact. Eco Design emerged from this type of thinking and green design was subsumed by it. Moving away from the idea of a linear system being used on a planet with finite resources.

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