[ 1] See “Optimistic
May+June 2008, 52– 54.
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Jon: I’m tired of advertising, and to be completely
frank, I’m tired of marketing. The entire infrastructure for corporate marketing has arisen
from a desire to convince the public that they
need more, faster, better, now. We keep talking
about sustainability, but we—and I include myself
in this, as I work at a consultancy that makes
“things”—keep producing more stuff, and keep
thinking about ways to sell versions two and three
and four of the same stuff to people who don’t
really need it in the first place.
What are we doing?
Richard: Change of such great magnitude
doesn’t happen overnight. Some of the marketing
you are tired of, which describes what companies
are doing to address sustainability, might suggest
Of course, the making of “things” won’t go away,
but the nature of those things can promote sustainability, as reflected in our cover story. Also,
the way your organization responds to clients who
want you to make things for them can increase
sustainability, as reflected in the Designers Accord
(described in our May+June issue). Indeed, I think
you can be proud that the accord was born where
you work—frog design.
The Designers Accord is a very important
effort, and I was pleased that Adaptive Path provided some time on the program of its April 2008
Managing Experience conference to describe it.
Most of the attendees of that conference do not
work at consultancies, but all sorts of companies
can adopt the accord, and management personnel
are obvious candidates in terms of people who can
get that done.
Jon: I’m a bit of a pessimist about things like
this, and I just can’t help but recall the number
of conversations with clients who are either overwhelmed with greenwashing—they want everything to be packaged as green, even if it makes no
sense—or who simply won’t listen to sustainability
talk until it affects their bottom line. That seems
to be the theme to the entire sustainability discussion, at least as it unfolds in the United States. The
Fortune 500 and the people that buy their prod-
ucts—and the culture that embraces bigger, better,
faster—won’t make a definitive move to sustainability until they see the personal, demonstrable,
and financial reason to do so. It’s shortsighted, but
it’s also reality.
Things like the Designers Accord, and the few
products we’ve highlighted in the cover story, are
certainly steps in the right direction. I’m still concerned, however, that the marketing rhetoric that
wraps the entire discussion is so obtuse that the
“lay consumer” will simply tune it all out, the bad
and the good, at once.
Richard: Perhaps some answers are embedded
in some of the other articles in this issue. Michael
Graber writes: “Today’s consumers don’t trust top-down messaging; they can see the seams—and the
holes—too easily.” With companies increasingly
enabling participation with, and open interaction
about, their products and brand, consumers are
challenging that top-down messaging. Companies
are starting to pay attention.
Apala Lahiri Chavan argues that there are “rich
opportunities for value-added solutions that lie
in the gaps between cultural ideal and cultural
practice.” The gaps to be discovered that have the
greatest tension—the greatest strain—will increasingly be about sustainability, and companies will
I can see Hugh Dubberly adding a fifth design
learning curve in a future version of this issue’s
On Modeling forum: sustainable design quality as
the next important field of competition.
Jon: That’s an interesting extension on Hugh’s
argument that quality overturned production,
and innovation overturned quality; perhaps sustainability will overturn innovation. Of course, if
that’s true, it paints it as just another business fad.
I hope it’s not cliché to say that this may be too
important to be transient.
Richard: I think it’s an extension of a different
argument, but I can understand your pessimism.
Just don’t tell Richard Seymour about it [ 1]!
— Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko