I remember during that time going to an Earth Day rally. It was 1990 and a serious concern for the environment was slowly creeping back into the American consciousness after being shelved during the deregulation era of the 80s. The challenges that we were just starting to face seemed much more insidious than the issues of air and water pollution that were the eco-poster children of the first Earth Day in 1970. Environmental problems seemed scarier, bigger, and more potentially disastrous—remember finding out about the hole in the ozone layer or global warming?
I was glad to see the recognition that Earth Day was getting in my community at the time, which (thanks to the 20th anniversary and some media hype) hadn't celebrated it in such large numbers since its creation. However, at that rally, I kept thinking how pitifully inadequate it was to give our planet only one day a year in which we deeply consider our impact on it. I thought people should be doing it every day. After all, the Earth sustains us so doesn't it deserve more? Although that event left me feeling uplifted from the celebration, I also couldn't help feeling a bit hopeless from my observation. The next day, when life resumed as usual and people's major concerns shifted away from the environment, I resolved to stay aware and to positively act on this awareness every day.
Years have passed since then and I've tried to stay true to that resolution. Some days are better than others, but I haven't forgotten. Now that I'm about to set out on a career as a surface pattern designer I've been asking myself what I can do within my new industry to uphold my decades-old goal of doing right by our planet. I figured that a good first step would be to find a set of environmental best practices for the trade that I could follow, so I cracked open my books from school for some guidance. An empty, howling wind whipped me in the face, then silence. Those books mentioned little to nothing of what I was looking for.
I had no choice but to embark upon a Google search. Typing in "surface pattern design and the environment" and then "green surface pattern design," I was presented with pages of links to businesses selling non-toxic kitchen countertops and research papers on eco-friendly building materials. Despite the mostly irrelevant results, I was pleasantly surprised to see SPDG's "Designing Green" blog series near the very top. Nice! Of course that meant I was back where I began—here on the blog.
Clearly, I had to dig deeper. I broadened my search terms and with the click of a button, slipped and fell down the Internet rabbit hole only to emerge with a head injury. The amount of information available on the general category of "green design" is simply overwhelming! It was encouraging to see. However, the more specific notion of "green surface pattern design" was a concept that still eluded me. From what I was finding, it seems easier (understandably) to discuss green design in terms of the impact of creating physical objects like products, materials, architecture, and landscaping rather than something like surface pattern design, which resides more in a 2-D world—and arguably today more often than not, in the digital realm.
I was starting to feel a little daft in this pursuit. Why even bother trying to define green surface pattern design anyway? Is this just a feel-good exercise in greenwashing for my chosen career, akin to lumping other more virtual world enterprises like web design under the "green" banner? I don't think so.
I still believe that we can and should come up with a set of applicable green guidelines for those practicing in our trade because change starts within the abstract world of ideas and thought. As designers, we stand upstream of how our designs are ultimately used and can therefore affect, to some degree, the real world environment downstream. And, further to just establishing a "green philosophy" for surface pattern design, I think there are real and tangible actions we can take within our daily work to engender actual change.
So if you and I were to sit down today to come up with a definition and a vision of green surface pattern design what would that include? Thanks to my research, including the discovery of the Textiles Environment Design group's 10 strategies for sustainable design and SlowLab's 6 principles of slow design, I was able to move beyond my thought paralysis on this subject and make a rudimentary attempt in the list below. It's imperfect and includes things that aren't always easily attainable, but it's a start.
Let this be a collaboration. Please consider reviewing and then adding or modifying this list. We can be precipitators of change for our profession, even if we are only able to take small steps. We'd be doing my former teenage Earth Day resolution proud!
1. Green your work place, whether it's a cubical or your home studio. Use non-toxic, water-based paints and other green materials. Design on the computer, using low-energy machines. Switch out your lightbulbs to CFLs or use natural lighting when designing. Recycle.
2. Choose to partner with or work for companies that have established green practices, or propose green practices to companies you already work with.
3. When selecting materials and products to apply your surface pattern designs to, choose those that are made of organic and/or easily recyclable materials.
4. Try to use your designs on items that are multi-functional and/or not single-use.
5. Partner with companies that use mechanical technology rather than chemicals to make surface pattern designs, such as laser, water-jet, or sonic cutting and laser/sonic welding. Or, use non-toxic or natural chemicals along with low-water and energy use processes, including digital printing.
6. Think small batch, local, artisinal. You don't have to go the mass market route to make money. Create designs for products that are customized or to-order. It minimizes production waste and creates items that have a higher perceived value, encouraging people to hold on to them longer. Try to avoid falling into the "fast fashion" trap where clothes and goods are made cheaply at the expense of the environment.
7. Make surface pattern designs that are meant for digital uses, such as computer wall paper, e-greetings, web site backgrounds, and so on.