Is Sustainability Becoming Another Buzzword?

Among all the year-end recaps of 2008, a International Herald Tribune Culture column about design appeared to give sustainability a rousing cheer with a headline reading, “2008: The year that substance and sustainability reigned.” But reading further, the story was more about damning with faint praise. On the trend in design, their assessment is hardly consistent with sustainability. The article featured Nacho Carbonell’s “Evolution bench,” a highlight at the 2008 Milan Furniture Fair.

bench.jpg

It’s ugly and ungainly. The colors are dirty, and it has a very strange shape. You can sit on it (though not very comfortably) by perching on either end, but what’s with the cave-like cocoon in the middle? Duh. The designer says he put it there so you can crawl inside to hide from the horrors of modern life…

Disturbing shapes and dystopian subplots made survivalism the cool design aesthetic of 2008…

Sustainability was the buzzword in consumer design as companies raced to develop eco-responsible cars, trucks, and whatever to make their customers feel ethically and environmentally comfortable.

Granted that this was a tough year for many, sustainability is more than surviving, and I hope is more than just a buzzword. Buzzwords may be thought to imply cultural acceptance, but here are a couple of different reasons to use these idioms:

  • [To produce] thought-control via intentional vagueness. In management, by stating organization goals with opaque words of unclear meaning; their positive connotations prevent questioning of intent, especially when many buzzwords are used.

  • To inflate the trivial to importance and stature.

If we don’t take sustainability seriously, we may end up having to buy one of Carbonell’s chairs.

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