While on BlogTour, I spent a week in London surrounded by some amazing design. From lighting to furniture I saw new and exciting fixtures, prototypes and old favorites re-imagined. What I didn't see was anything sustainable, or even any company or designer claiming their work is sustainable. Not even a tinge of greenwash.
Despite my provocative title, I don't mean to put the London Design Festival squarely in my crosshairs. My question arises from the simple observation (admittedly made mostly in hindsight) that sustainability was simply not a theme during the design shows I attended as part of BlogTour. Whether it was walking the floor of 100% Design or Decorex the discussion of sustainability was practically non-existant.
Walking the tents, warehouses and show floors it became clear that sustainability wasn't necessarily a priority for many of these designers and companies, rather it was the creation of beautiful objects. I'm not trying to throw the world of european design under the bus for not embracing sustainability more directly. But I do think it's an important observation to be discussed.
Over 200 separate events constitute #LDF12 and as part of BlogTour I could only see a fraction of them. But of the five events I did see (some of the highest profile events of the festival) I recall seeing the word sustainable only once. It seemed to be collectively decided that buyers don't care so we're not going to mention it. I think it's important to note that I don't have a frame of reference. I've never really visited London, let alone the design festival and so I don't know if previous festivals paid more homage to the idea of being green or sustainable. What I do know is this festival did not.
The question to ask is why? I have a few possible reasons:
1. The culture has moved on - this idea scares me the most. I worry that as a culture we've gotten past the idea of "An Inconvenient Truth" it's just not in the popular culture any more, so no one is talking about it.
2. It's not a core value. This strikes me as the most plausible. When the economy was still roaring the idea of creating a sustainable future was more palpable. Profits were high and unemployment was low. The populous felt in control of it's destiny and therefore ready to take on the challenge of shifting to a more sustainable future. Companies began adopting "green" as part of their mantra, but it never quite baked in. It was an extra, seen as a necessary add-on to their marketing efforts. Not necessarily a deceptive one, after all they do care about the environment, but in the end, the value of sustainability didn't grow organically out of who they were. Rather it was applied, like a coat of paint. Then the global economy collapsed and individuals and companies fell back to their core values. If at your core you make beautiful furniture, that's what you'll boil back down to in a crisis. Sure it would be nice to be green in the long term, but in the short term you have to survive.
3. For some brands, it's baked in. This is the most hopeful side of my thinking on this. When I looked at lighting manufacturers at the shows many had integrated LED and CFL technology into their fixture designs. They were displaying fixtures that use 1/6th of the energy of their incandescent counter parts and were truly innovative designs. They didn't talk about being green, but perhaps, they felt they didn't need to. Perhaps the design of the fixture itself and the simple fact it's on display shows us all we need. Perhaps we've moved on, but it a positive way, where sustainability isn't requested, but simply expected.
Whatever the reasons, there was a theme that seemed to recur throughout the festival, especially at shows like Design Junction and Tent London. The word bespoke was uttered by many a manufacturer on the floor. At Design Junction there was an installation discussing the benefits of bespoke furniture. The installation explained the benefits of handmade pieces using much the same language as the rest of the "slow" movement epitomized by "slow" food. You know this argument, local people will create a piece of higher value that you will cherish much longer making it worth the added cost. There is a corollary to that, which is you will consume less and what you consume will use fewer resources making it more sustainable. (That corollary wasn't discussed explicitly to my knowledge, but it's an easy inference to make).
Perhaps the culture has indeed moved on and wants to talk about the practical implications of being more sustainable. Perhaps the the bespoke movement is an even more pure version of the sustainability speak we heard so much of in years prior? Perhaps, designers want to turn their lofty ideals into practical action?
Did you attend LDF12? Did you see any examples of sustainability in action that I missed? Tell me in the comment section or on twitter.