Changing Material Isn't Enough

4. 1 Why Changing Material Isn't Enough

 - A Discussion Of What Additionally Needs To Change-

The continuously unraveling of the many and alarming flaws of the existing linear productions require a re-think and redesign of existing products and systems. It is therefore clear that the sustainable agenda asks many of the fundamental questions of design and designers. So far only conventional plastic and compostable packaging and materials have been introduced, discussed and compared. In the last chapter of this essay a discussion of three different views of what they believe additionally needs to be changed in order to obtain significant and sustainable development.


Starting of with William McDonough and Michael Braggarts, authors of the book Cradle to Cradle who emphasis the importance of a holistic design approach and argue that a shift of attitude towards how we view nature needs to change. Secondly is the leading argument that as long as our systems are built on capitalistic relation real change will never be reached, found in the essay “Design Of Scarcity” written by Jon Goodman, Michael Klien, Andreas Rumpfhuber and Jeremy Hill . Lastly, authors of Design for Sustainable Change, Anne Chick and Paul Mickletwaite argue that the emerging field of design thinking could open up ways for to engage the field of design and designers more actively in societal challenges.


When talking about the concept of sustainability in this essay it refers to the definition of the Brundtland Report of sustainable development: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability for future generation to meet their own needs.(84)


4.2 Cradle To Cradle

 - A Discussion Of What Additionally Needs To Change-

In 2002 the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by Chemist and visionary William McDonough and Architect Michael Braggart was published. According to authors Anne Chick and Paul Mickletwaite of “Design for Sustainable Change” the protocol has been “highly influential on the thinking of many designers”.(85) The New Plastic Economy lists the Cradle to Cradle concept as the number one influence on their generic concept among seven others.(86) The Cradle To Cradle concept has also been turned into a certification for products as mentioned before.


Cradle to Cradle presents a theoretical basis of new ways of managing material flows in closed circular, loops. This design philosophy considers all material involved in industrial and commercial processes to be nutrients, of which there are two main categories: technical and biological.(87) They believe that “if humans truly going to prosper we have to learn how to imitated natures highly effective cradle to cradle system”.(88) They are convinced that by “taking a eco-effective approach to design might result in an innovation so extreme that it resembles nothing we know, or it might merely show us how to optimise a system already in place.”(89) They are sure that “The waste, pollution and other negative effects… are not the results of companies doing something morally wrong. They are consequences of outdated and unintelligent designs”.(90)


The concept of Cradle to Cradle stresses that the whole life cycle and process needs to be considered. To do so you need to “widening the scope of input and embrace a broader range of ecological context”(91) … “to just concentrate on one criterion creates instability in the larger context…and represents an extreme position disconnected from the overall structure”.(92) If not the whole is considered we might end up solving one problem but at the same time creating another. To McDonald and Braggart “it is not the solution that is radical but the shift in perspective with which we begun, from the old view of nature as something to be controlled to a stance of engagement”.(93)

4.3 Design Of Scarcity

 - A Discussion Of What Additionally Needs To Change-

However influential McDonald and Braggarts book was it did not come without its criticism. The authors of “Design Of Scarcity” supports the concept of Cradle To Cradle but criticised the model, accusing the book to be full of contradictions. According to them it’s not possible to make their system “work on the basis of capitalistic relations”.(94) They argue that the economical concerns are not relational enough and design needs “to take it’s cues from outside existing economical models”.(95) When a shift from matters of economical fact to matters of social and environmental concern take place, design shift its attention from shaping objects - to their relationship with human and non-human world.(96) Otherwise design and designers will always be “caught in between addressing needs and producing desires”.(97) Too often “designers becomes obsessed with form and techniques, as they are the area the designer has most control over. Ultimately these technologies of design silence the user, freeze the object and depoliticise design as such”.(98)


4.4 Design For Sustainable Design

 - A Discussion Of What Additionally Needs To Change-

“Far too long, the design community has viewed political social and environmental as being beyond its remits; This status quo has been upheld by a design education system primary concerned with training future designers for business of designing and selling “stuff”.


- Anne Chick and Paul Mickletwaite,

Design For Sustainable Change






In the book “Design for Sustainable Change” the authors Anne Chick and Paul Mickletwaite explore the many different ways in which sustainability and design interrelate. They investigate how the two can engage with one another and how design can positively address the agenda of sustainability through theoretical explanations, interviews and case studies. It has been celebrated as “an invaluable guide to the major ethical design themes of our time” By Professor Stuart Walker of Lanchester, among many others.(99)


Anne Chick and Paul Mickletwaite agree with the previous argumentation in “The Design Of Scarcity” that design is far too often being downgraded “to the learning of often mundane technical capabilities.”(100) They argue that design is a powerful tool for change and should take a wider role in addressing our societal challenges. The book emphasis the emerging field of “design thinking” as a positive approach, while it “looks beyond the confines of the design professions and designer client relationship”.


Design thinking offers different strategies to utilise and to consider and resolve issues where design not only is about problem solution, but also problem finding.(101) They suggest that design might not alway have to be a physical, tangible product. “It might be a service or a new way of doing things, we may not even need a new product, just a better way too integrating the products we already have in order to serve our needs.”(102) Moreover do the argue that “Design is too important and too useful, to be used only by professional designer”.(103) In, for example, participation design, is the rationale that involvement of stakeholders (such as employees, customer, citizen and end-users) will ensue that the final design actually meets actual needs and requirements and is usable by its intended audience and not only to be economical beneficial. Together with a shared vision of ecological, sustainable and participatory design it could obtain durable sustainable solutions; “shared visions, reached through collaborative processes like participatory design are most likely to deliver sustainable solution of long time value.“ (104)


However what is to say that these approaches will take the environmental concerns into consideration? According to Anne Chick and Paul Mickletwaite it essentially boils down to a ethical and moral debate on a professional and personal level for designers where “we have to make our own choices on the basis of our own guiding principles or values.”(105) They state further that the real test is if “we change the way we act as well as the way we think.”(106)


Deceleration Of Authorship


Supervised by Professor Cyrus Khazeli and Ivan Perez

Communication Design, BTK- Berliner Technische Kunsthochscule

Copyright by Marika Berglind- Ekman 2017