How can design and sustainable development work together?

The term sustainable development is commonly defined as:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  — World Commission on Environment and Development’s (the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

However, there is still more to consider.

Sustainable development encompasses the key components of our global system, the social, the environmental and the economic as they change over time. Thus, sustainable development must become a social movement where people come together to address key factors:

·      Needs (especially of the poor)
·      Limitations
·      Values (freedom, peace, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, and    shared responsibility)
·      Criteria for measurement
·      Goals (short-long term)

Why is sustainable development important?

It gives us an understanding of the world we live and a framework for addressing complex problems we all face. The problems and the methods leading to solutions are vast as well as diverse. Therefore, sustainable development must be an adaptive, evolving and critical process.

The overarching goal:

To bring the three governing aspects of our world back into balance:  the social the environmental and the economic.

Social                                                    Economic                       Environmental

Community development                   Poverty                          Food
Consumption                                       Equity                            Chemicals
Tourism                                                Interest/Banks               Natural disasters
Health                                                  Labor                              Climate change
Mediation                                            Industries                       Resources
Cultural preservation                          Buy/Sell/Trade                Energy
Quality of life                                       Value chain                    Clean air and water
Population                                                                                    Resources
Justice system

Design as a vehicle for sustainable development.

Good design considers aesthetics, functionality, purpose, durability, quality, viability and economic and sociopolitical implications. Therefore, the design philosophies and methodologies must be thorough.

Qualities for a design approach:

·      Empathy
·      Whole-brain thinking (logic and intuition)
·      Experimentation and iteration
·      Collaboration with an aim toward synthesis
·      Multi-perspective (big picture to finer details)
·      Purposeful and meaningful

The design process is very comfortable working with ambiguous, complex issues where there are no clear objectives or parameters. Part of the process is learning to ask the right questions and looking at the whole system. Only then, can conflicts between areas be identified and sequential compromises be thoughtfully considered.

Design Solutions           

Capacity Building
Participatory research
Human- centered design
Education, awareness
Collaboration, sharing
Financing, loans
Biotechnology, science
Systems thinking, linking it all together through cause and effect
Design thinking, process before action

Overview of the current guiding principles used in current system (room for change)

Top-down (outside–in)
Supply and demand (value then demand and supply)
Hyper-individualize (Integrate)
Budget, produce and target (seamless flow)
Buy (share)
Contractual (collaborative)
Slow to change (dynamic and flexible)


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