By: Boudewijn Buitenhek
“That’s bad for the environment” is a phrase I hear almost every day. Miscommunication and misunderstanding on the subject create a feeling of helplessness and discouragement. There is so much focus on what is bad, leaving people craving for a solution. As a designer I deal with this situation quite often. Big corporations use this very real issue to their advantage, and manipulate consumers into paying more for something equally bad. The fact that so many companies are able to do this, is only because the consumer often lacks the correct knowledge of what is actually helpful in preventing environmental problems. In order to hold businesses responsible for their actions we need to differentiate right from wrong. With this manifesto I want to clear up the confusion surrounding sustainability and create awareness in order to help people to make their own decisions surrounding the subject. These are my seven rules for a more sustainable world.
Recycling should be as natural as breathing
We pride ourselves on generating energy from waste, except what we are burning is not waste at all. Many valuable natural resources are being destroyed because of the way we dispose of our unwanted products and waste. To solve this problem we have to start changing our way of life, starting at the household by separating our waste into different streams and by redesigning how we use and consume products. The government needs to provide us with more insight in what happens to our recycled waste, so we can make a conscious decision about the best way to recycle reuse and reduce.
Fight for the right to repair
Most manufacturers currently make revenue from a ’break-it-replace-it’ business model. Their products are made in a way that makes it too hard or expensive to fix, so the product gets thrown away. As consumers we should have the right to fix our products and the manufacturer should motivate this by considering this in the design. We can make tiny microchips, yet we cannot make it so that a laptop can be taken apart, if one of the components breaks? We should not accept that kind of excuse. We need to fight for the freedom to upgrade and repair.
A bad material is a material that cannot be recycled or reused. What many people don’t understand is that most of the energy lost in creating a product, is acquiring the raw materials. If these raw materials can only be used once, the initial energy investment cannot be spread out over multiple recycle processes, making it quite energy inefficient. That’s why it’s important to be aware of composites and so called “bio” materials. As stated above many of these materials take a lot of energy and resources to produce and cannot be recycled.
Design for balance
No system is perfect. Make products last too long and they become energy inefficient and outdated in material use. Make products not last long enough and you get way too much waste. We need to think about balance. Find a way to produce the product so it can adapt in efficiency or can be repurposed in a closed loop. A good example of this is the leasing system. Where instead of buying a product you buy the service. The company makes sure you can always use the service without any issues, requiring the company to produce high quality products that are easy to repair and repurpose.
Work with nature
When designing a product or a service, it is very important to think about your focus group. Who or what are you designing for. Most designers tend to think way too small in this regard. The focus is too much on people and not enough on the impact the product will have on other organisms during its lifecycle. These organisms, which provide everything from building materials, oxygen and even pollination of flowers are essential in a sustainable healthy world. We should not forget to think about, and learn from our surroundings, like our ancestors used to do for so many years. Somehow we act like we have outgrown nature, and are more evolved then our surroundings. Yet we are part of nature, not apart from it.
One of the easiest ways to reduce enormous amounts of CO2 output, is for companies to produce and sell their products locally. Currently fossil fuel is one of the worst causes of CO2 output, yet governments of big countries still subsidize a large portion of the fossil fuel necessary to travel these great distances. They thereby give big companies incentive to produce their products at the cheapest location possible and then shipping it across half the planet while still making a profit. Elimination of these subsidies will promote local production, or at least push companies to spread their production across multiple regions, greatly reducing CO2 emissions.
Learn to share
We have become very materialistic and seem to have developed the urge to accumulate more than we need. With our possessions we give our identity a face. Yet for a planet with limited resources, sharing is the way forward. We teach our kids from a young age to value their own personal items, while we should actually teach them to share. The sharing of products should be as common as sharing ideas and knowledge. As an industry we can promote sharing by implementing it in the design and as stated above by profiting not only from the sale of the product, but the use of the product.
This Manifesto is obviously not a total solution to the environmental problems we are facing to date. But good solutions can only come from working with the right kind of information. I believe many people are willing to help to solve the problem, and given the right guidelines we can start changing our lifestyles for the better. The government gives people proper education on food and health subjects, but regarding sustainability, it leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is it the responsibility of the people to start changing their lifestyle, but it is the responsibility of the government to spread this information in stores, public areas and schools, and motivate the sharing of this kind of information, since it is becoming increasingly important for the health of the population. And what is good for the population, is good for the environment.
If you want to learn more about my work as a designer be sure to visit my website at boudewijnbuitenhek.com