One of the best ways to save the world, is to consume less.
Perhaps it’s an obvious statement, the less you consume the less you create—product and pollution. But more interesting is that, a lot of the things we own are creating pollution on a scale much larger than any of us may realise or care to take notice of.
Take for instance the humble t-shirt. We all own at least one and they’re mostly made of cotton, which on the surface seems like a pretty sustainable material. It grows from the land, harvesting is done by hand and the weaving can be done without any machinery. But there’s a darker side with the way it’s become industrialised.
“Cotton fields contribute millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. A conventional cotton field stinks; its chemicals burn the eyes and nauseate the stomach. Before harvesting in non-frost regions like California, cotton has to be sprayed by a crop duster with the defoliant Paraquat, about half of which hits the target. The rest settles over the neighbours’ fields and into our streams.” Let my people go Surfing (2005)
We all own products that have generated pollution and that’s unavoidable. But if we can repair them when they rip, reuse them time after time and recycle them when they’re finished—our pollution to consumption can be balanced and this can be made much easier when we invest onto the side of better.
What of the status-quo?
If the current pandemic (COVID19) has taught us anything, it’s that just because something is normal, that doesn’t make it correct. The status-quo may seem to be plain sailing from above, but the waves it’s breaking are sometimes monstrous.
As mentioned before, the common material of cotton is one such example. At present, it’s consumed enormously by the culture of fast-fashion which produces low-quality products on a larger scale, to feed the customer demand for easily accessible ‘newness’.
The current status-quo for cotton is production by the cheapest and fastest means possible, but this hasn’t always been the case and it needed be for the future. Previously quoted, the passage from Let My People go Surfing continues by saying “None of this is necessary. No cotton was grown this way before World War II, when many of the chemicals now used in agriculture were first developed as nerve gases for warfare.”
There isn’t a single person reading this that hasn’t bought a piece of clothing, simply because it was cheap enough for your budget and just never interacted with it again. The low-cost-low-care attitude spreads well beyond clothes and it’s become a mainstay for big brand marketing. The biggest example of this is Apple, they produce a new iPhone ever year even though its very first incarnation was built from parts strong and useful enough to be still in action today. Problem is, their software cannot be legally removed from that classic device and it’s no longer supported by them—forcing the customers hand, in favour of fast consumption.
How does this relate to design?
It hasn’t escaped me that you’re reading this, written on the blog of a design studio’s website and at present, this particular studio doesn’t sell t-shirts. Though I do manage the merchandise for The Brickyard, which is also eco-friendly and sustainable—nudge nudge, hint hint.
The point I’m making is this, at present everyday things such as business cards, leaflets, marketing and even meetings aren’t particularly bothered with the environmental impacts they are implicated in. Too many businesses are bothered by quick turnarounds, flash company cars and low costs for things they deem necessary but unimportant.
I stand – as a business and a human – to turn up to client meetings on a bicycle, to offer sustainable products as the default and to prioritise working with others who share this vision. I’ll likely lose much more custom from these choices than they’ll generate but if nobody else takes the initiative to challenge laziness and greed in our community, I might as well try.
If you can make the choice to buy better, whether that’s a t-shirt, business stationery or branding and do your upmost to keep those items in good condition—not only will they serve you better but you’ve made a big step towards being a more conscious human being.
Buy better, take better care, be better.