Green Design in the age of 'Drill, Baby, Drill'

This is a design blog, not a political blog, but it seems that politics is effecting the environment in which design is done. Companies invest in products that they think people will buy. If people don’t seem to care about environmental concerns, at least not enough to factor it into their buying decisions, then what? The only companies left producing products with an eye toward environmental impact are the ones that have decided, on their own, regardless of whatever extra costs or effort they will expend, that it is important.

Have you noticed that our public discourse about environmental issues, driven largely by energy, have changed over the past year? 'The Inconvenient Truth' is a distant memory. Talk of alternative energy is glossed over with the political catch phrases "all of the above." But there’s none "above" oil.

For a while there, there was a coming to terms with the connection between fossil fuels, global warming and string of 100 year storms that batter the gulf coast during hurricane season.

So how is it that the Republican National Convention was put on hold for a day due to one of those storms, and the most memorable mantra that came out of it was "Drill Baby Drill"? They had chosen as their nominee one of the few senior members of their party who acknowledged man’s role in global warming.

It seems that people were so upset by the price of gas, that the most important thing became how to make it cheaper. We were so obsessed with the price of gas that the global warming deniers made a comeback. It seems the truth has become even more inconvenient.

"It doesn’t matter at this point as we debate what caused it. The point is it’s real, we need to do something about it," said Sarah Palin in her interview with Katie Couric. You got that? It doesn’t matter what caused it, but we need to do something about it. 


So, If you don’t know what caused it and aren’t concerned with finding out, what exactly can you do about it? That's right, nothing.

The product design question is, while there’s been a lot of talk about green initiatives over the past few years, who is really committed to those initiatives in practice? There are Green Design competitions like the Green Dot Awards. There are a handful of companies that have committed to reducing waste and paying attention to their environmental impact (Flor, Herman Miller).

So here are a few questions for you:

If you’re a design consultant, tell me, when was the last time a client insisted that you spend time and energy thinking about the environmental impact of the product you’re developing for them? When was the last time you pushed the issue?

If you’re a corporate design manager, have you spent any time, outside of a one-hour seminar at a conference applying what you learned?

Is your company committed to considering the environmental impact of your products? If so, how?

The answer for most will be "no", or "I wish I could, but…" and that’s okay, because the point of this entry is not to provide a forum for a few people to pat themselves on the back. The point is also not about making everyone else feel bad for not doing more.

The point is to figure out what the problem is and think about how to solve it.

David Oliver | Cusp |

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  • David-Henry Oliver

    James, thanks for the feedback.

    Perhaps I'm a little conflicted. While I am troubled by Sarah Palin's position, I think the bigger problem is just how fragile the American commitment to Green Design and energy production seems to be. Perhaps mention of her statements is a distraction, but imagine if she were making those exact statements a year ago. I think the reaction would be a little different.

    The blame can certainly not be placed solely in the lap of one party or the other. After all, at the end of the day, off-shore drilling went from being opposed by both major party candidates, to promoted at one level or another by both.

    The shifting tides of one alternative energy initiative or obstruction to another in the political sphere suggests that it maybe up to enterprising and yes, profit motivated private interests to lead the way.

    I just hope that the government incentives and fluctuations in the price of oil(whether too high or too low) don't act to put a damper on green enterprise.

    In the end, my questions are about what you as a designer or design manager are doing in your own product development efforts to address the issue. I think we can all agree that that is important.

    Yours is one of the few companies that is addressing the issue in a meaningful way. Keep up the good work.


  • James Hobbs

    My friend, I'm not saying your part of the problem but think you are injecting politics into "Green design." America is going to have to (and is, just look at how much solar sprung up over night in Silcon Valley) use traditional business models that have profit motives and payback to make this work.
    Folks can go back and forth blaming or praising politicians in Washington about this issue but it always ends up nowhere. I'm not saying pumping primordial soup back into the atmosphere is helping anything but I do think the US is getting better, go to Asia and you might lose all hope.
    I really think that in the end clean energy will get us out of this finicial crisis and put us back on top, but I don't think it's going to be either party who gets us there. Sarah Palin's views (or ignorance of the scale of the problem)aren't the problem, calling the problem a democratic or republican fault is the root of the climate issues we cannot get past and I think your might be blaming a party and over analyzing peoples words to make a political point.