Most products we use are now more efficient than they were even ten years ago, but we are still producing more greenhouse gas emissions. For example, most cars are more ‘eco-friendly’ than they once were, but there are millions more drivers and cars on the road. While passenger jets might gain around 1% in ‘eco-efficiency’ every year, there are 4-5% more passengers flying. In terms of the volumes of goods produced, or the numbers of people using them, global consumption is still growing faster than our capacity to ‘green’ them.
In my writing and research I am particularly interested in the potential of design to reduce both the intensity of consumption and our overall emissions. This is not to downplay the importance of environmental science, of making greener things, or of using less energy, power and water in their production and use. However, it’s clear that we cannot rely on technological innovation alone to stop or reverse our climate crisis.
The task before us is too urgent, and the momentum of our existing ‘high carbon’ systems and products, and our habitual dependence on these, is too great. We need to look more closely at what we do in our everyday lives, and the impact of this ‘consumption’ on the environment. This will require ‘systems thinking’, and a ‘precautionary’ approach to design, that takes into account its likely impacts on the environment. This is what I understand by ‘design for sustainability’, or ‘design for sustainable consumption and production’.