ECO-BLING! To Decorate Ourselves with Sustainablility

Celebrities decorate themselves with eco-lifestyle! Celebrity David De Rothschild sails around in a boat made from plastic bottles. Is this a worthwhile effort or is it ECO-BLING?

A while ago I was in a meeting in Oslo about design and creative industries, one of many. We were representatives of design education, the business and industry sector; and from the design promotion centre in Norway: NorskForm. When we were leaving, people packing away their laptops the ladies were packing their half litre water bottles into the handbags. The leader of the industry commented: “Market research has shown that up to 80% of women carry a water bottle in their bags. Still there is not one bag on the market that accommodates for this type of water bottle!”

Very interesting remark from the marketing/industry angle about responding to market needs. I and the representative from the design centre responded clearly: “We do not promote design solutions for carrying plastic water bottles. It is a wrong problem definition. There should not be plastic water bottles in the first place!”

This represents two fundamental differences in how design addresses problem definitions. The view of the industry is short sighted and irresponsible to global fundamental problems. In opposition to this trend designers should strategically work with city planners, engineers, politicians and environmentalists to create design solutions for people to have access to safe water without having to resort to the use of throw away plastic bottles. A fundamental right! The Romans addressed this problem, building viaducts for the transportation of good water directly into urban antique Rome to make life more viable. In various locations in Italy there are fountains of good drinkable water. Why do we create and promote such stupid solutions as the half litre plastic water bottle? I am from a country that provides super good water from the tap and still people buy water to carry with them!

Why do I write this? Because there has been a major project going on in the Pacific that many might know about. A ‘celebrity’ has organized a sailing trip from San Francisco to Sydney on a boat made out of plastic bottles. This is an admirable effort and we should support all those who make an effort to promote sustainable living. In the last Cumulus Conference (The global association of design, art and media schools) in Belgium, keynote speaker, design journalist Alice Rawsthorn, mentioned this boat as a great initiative for sustainability. I can tentatively support that idea while posting my doubts.

The Plastiki project , an initiative by celebrity David De Rothschild (yes of that family and an ex-boyfriend of Cameron Diaz) is to me uncomfortable project and this ‘itch’ has to do with problem definition. “To design is to solve human problems by identifying them” said Ivan Chermayeff, and there lies my discomfort. Plastic bottles are not solutions unless there are no other possible resorts. The use of plastic bottles is a fundamental environmental problem and we should work for finding solutions that help us stop using them. I hope that David De Rothschild and his gang will take this next step and concentrate on addressing fundamentals. Here is a photostream from the Plastiki voyage. In the conference in Belgium we landed a new (or we thought new) term for certain celebrity tendency to decorate themselves with eco attitudes: ECO-BLING. Like the writer Paulo Coelho says in his recent book, The Winner Stands Alone:

“The young all have the same dream: to save the world. Some quickly forget this dream, convinced that there are more important things to do, like having a family, earning money, travelling and learning a foreign language. Others, though, decide that it really is possible to make a difference in society and to shape the world we will hand to future generations.” My opinion is that we have to increase the number of these ‘others’ that he writes about, and those have to be fundamentally questioning and entrepreneurial, while the entrepreneurial ambition has to take second place to questioning every step of our acts.

My worry here is that the Plastiki project will actually reinforce the rooted belief in society that it is ok to buy water in plastic bottles since there are so great people developing ideas for the re-use of them. This is an incredibly sad situation and has to be turned around. There are more projects that are going in the same direction like the school classrooms made by the Phillippine dreamer and entrepreneur Illiac Diaz. These are built out of concrete inset with plastic bottles and many think this great.

But I also want to point out the great design solution promoted by inventor Michael Pritchard: a water filtering bottle named LIFESAVER. You can see his very inspiring presentation in a TED lecture HERE. It is these kind of projects that we should promote and support, not ECOBLING adventures.

June 30, 2010  Tags: , , , ,   Posted in: DESIGN, PONDERINGS