Sustainability Considered a Given

Posted on August 30, 2010


For those who think sustainable design differentiates you, or maybe that sustainable design is not yet here to saty:  wake up. Green design is a given.

Fast Company interviewed Clive Roux, the chief of the Industrial Designers Society of America, which runs the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEAs), and during this year’s awards he was quoted as saying:

“When considering products for awards in the future, they will be evaluated on their social, ecological, cultural, as well as economic responsibility.  The design profession can no longer claim excellence in design unless we have considered the concept of responsibility as a central part of the design problem.”

Industrial design struggles with making utilitarian things beautiful:  how to design more functional and attractive can openers, soap packages and light bulbs.

Building design also struggles with making utilitarian things beautiful.  Buildings, however, last longer than consumer goods.  Buildings are also more inherently tied to energy and the environment, with the expectations that accompany that obvious relationship with nature and climate. Therefore, every building as a design object must address, as Mr. Roux puts it, the “social, ecological, cultural, as well as economic” issues of design. If a more utilitarian design branch like industrial design believes this is an assumption for all work going forward, it should be fait accompli for building design.

Green design is not an exact substitute for the four attributes mentioned above by Roux, but I believe it touches on all four. Mandates for LEED certification aside, sustainable design concerns and their implications need to be proactively managed from the get-go, regardless of the client’s comfort or knowledge level; it is simply what we do as designers and builders. Sustainable design is not something eligible for a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude or to be told by the client; it is expected, business-as-usual for savvy investors in the built environment.