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Original entry posted: Thu Apr 23 18:57:55 2009

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Fri Apr 24 10:07:42 2009 EST

I'm very pessimistic about any attempt to convince people to buy less shiny technostuff---short of impoverishment, I can't think of a campaign that has successfully convinced people not to buy. There's just too much pleasure wrapped up in the act of shopping and upgrading.

Instead, I think the better solution is encouraging recycling at the manufacturing level. More efficient parts-strippers, punitive taxes on the first mining of lithium, heavy metals, and other ecologically unsound aspects of the process (coupled with tax incentives for recycling), and so on.

People like new stuff, and they really like better stuff, so I think you'd have more luck encouraging ways to make new stuff from old rather than simply glowering at the new stuff. And on a practical level, there's millions---billions!---of consumers, and only a few producers, so I think you'll have much better luck trying to change the behavior of producers.

Thomas @ Fri Apr 24 17:39:31 2009 EST

That's an interesting point, one I've seen raised in reviews of the movie "Objectified"--if you've got all these designers that are focused on the process of making new stuff, how ethical is that anymore? And how can design become more compatible with sustainability?

One of the interesting comments I saw was the need to use more organic/renewable materials, like bamboo, cloth, or non-petroleum plastics. I'm still waiting on the bamboo laptops and phones that companies show off in their concepts and then never produce. Very cool stuff.

That Fuzzy Bastard @ Sat Apr 25 13:31:24 2009 EST

The ethics of sustainable design is a great topic. Granted, it's one that's painfully often talked about, co-opted, and made horrifying --- I'm enraged by Apple's so-called 'green" laptops which, as far as I can tell, will just mean more laptops getting disposed of in their goddamn entirety instead of just throwing out the battery, which is bad enough.

But I would love a move towards recyclable materials, and organic materials, becoming more a part of product design. I've heard it said that eras of Republican political dominance produce sleek product design, while Democratic administrations appear in the form of "funky", organic design, so a bamboo phone is hardly out of the question---much like iMac colored plastic, it certainly could take over. Then, of course, there's the ethics of massive lumber milling and...

In order for it to happen, I think it requires both a design aesthetic to become popular and a financial transaction (buying recyclable materials, and converting them for new use) to become profitable, or at least less unprofitable than not doing it. I think it's a lot more likely that a design aesthetic will become popular than that consumption limitations become popular, so that's our best hope.

But of course, if the financial math doesn't add up, then it won't happen however much we want it. Manufacturing, not consumption, is where the real action is; I think finding way to refurbish and upgrade is what's going to make the difference.

Thomas @ Mon Apr 27 13:28:45 2009 EST

I get the feeling that Apple's recent initiatives are more about being singled out by Greenpeace, and less about a cohesive sustainable initiative. Which goes to show how counterproductive environmental activism can be, or how easy it is to co-opt.

You're probably right that a design aesthetic is more likely to become popular, which is profoundly depressing. But it needs to be a mix of supply- and demand-side approaches. Legislation and subsidies for those recycled materials might be a good start, as well as a 'green' certification. Probably a nightmare to implement and enforce, but better than the eventual market adjustment when we go over the peak oil tipping point--at that point, these changes will be made, but it'll be a lot more painful.

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