Re-Designing Design

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In 1999, I was at the National Town Meeting for a Sustainable America in Detroit, and heard Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface say something about how it was all a design issue. As a designer, I could not agree more.

At the time, I was quitting the IDSA – the Industrial Designers Society of America. I had joined in 1989 to give my nascent ID career a boost, and stuck with it to impact the ‘designasaurs’ – those who seem to believe they live outside natural systems, creating more stuff that merely makes what we already own undesirable. I had been the national Chair of the Ecodesign Section in the mid-90s, when we successfully lobbied to get eco-criteria into the annual design competition and change the Code of Ethics.

But by 1999, I was frustrated by IDSA’s shortsightedness, especially when compared to the AIA – American Institute of Architects – which had embraced sustainabiliity and was making remarkable headway.

Freshly inspired, I talked to Philip White, then and still chair of the Ecodesign Section. Out of that conversation came the Business Ecodesign Toolkit. In 8 (!) pages, it introduced key concepts to practicing IDers and students. It created demand for something deeper, and spearheaded by Philip, the section created learning opportunities, more resources and web tools.

About five years ago, Philip (of Orb Design and Arizona State University) got together with design educators Louise St. Pierre and Steve Belletire – together they created Okala, a robust 18 week course of modules designed to be integrated into existing ID classes and of value to all industrial designers, product developers, innovators and CSR advocates.

Okala’s now been requested by 60 design schools and updated in 2007 with:

  • The latest Lifecycle Impact Assessment characterization methods and normalization data
  • Okala impact factors for 240 materials and processes (and their CO2 equivalents) to enable estimation of the ecological performance of any product or system
  • Guidelines for design for disassembly and recycling
  • Explorations in environmental ethics, bio-mimicry, climate change mitigation and
  • Green marketing data and Product Life Cycle costing analysis

Okala’s well-written and cleanly designed course book costs just $19 (previews and readings can be downloaded) -- a great investment for designers, business leaders and others involved in product development and design education – plug these modules in and move with alacrity beyond the ‘baby steps’!

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