Emotional Eco-modernism: Is Using Bamboo Really Enough?

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Shin, Cliff; Benson, Eric; McDonagh, Deana
Section: Sustainable and Universal Design
Page(s): 354-359


Sustainability as a concept has begun to be more fully integrated into the American undergraduate design curricula. Our design students are more aware than previous generations of the increasing need for more thoughtful and responsible use of materials and resources, however it seems that apathy and politics prevent full acceptance of sustainable models of creation. Moreover, our educators must quickly become more skillful in environmentally and socially responsible design methodologies to create a completely new curriculum focused on developing a sustainable profession and world that connects with the students of the current generation. Chapman (2005) discusses how one may feel when disposing of a product, as if it is a failed relationship. The user-product affinity can provide the designer with an insight and awareness of authentic needs that can lead to more impactful, responsible and ultimately more sustainable user-product relationships. This paper critiques and further explores how the movement of Ecomodernism can offer a groundbreaking set of guidelines to teach more responsible design at the university level. Ecomodernism includes key pedagogical themes including: collaboration, outside, community, research, communicate, grounded and creative. These concepts are present in emerging sustainable product design curriculum that tend to focus on a greater connection to materials and processes. However Ecomodernism goes further by mandating greater collaboration between disciplines that aim to create outcomes that are not definitively defined at the beginning of the design process. What is missing from Ecomodernism and current design curricula is the need to educate our students to also develop empathic and emotional connections to the designed artifact on top of using sustainable materials and processes. Effective design needs to satisfy needs that are functional (utilitarian) and supra-functional (less tangible) to ensure product outcomes fully respond to the users needs. Equally, manufacturing products in a sustainable material goes only so far in ensuring more sustainable products. An emotional bond to the product is needed. Industry has also become increasingly aware of more environmentally responsible manufacturing processes and invested significant time and capital to improve the efficiencies of their processes. Those companies making significant strides to minimize their impact on our ecosystems are rightly more respected by their current customers (and hopefully future ones as well). However after purchasing a product, the consumer is faced with value-based questions – "How long should I keep the product?" "Is it worth keeping even if it isn't in 'style'"? These questions are important to dissect and discuss. Royte (2005) described our current design process as “(w)e throw things away to make things that we throw away.” What if we kept more of our objects because they evoke our emotions, help create our life stories and capture our important intimate memories? This paper will explain how and why the Ecomoderism model of teaching sustainable design needs to include a stronger connection to our full range of human emotions and highlight important designers who are employing this criterion in professional practice.

Keywords: ecomodernism, sustainability, emotion, empathic, design

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