The ideas of ecological design became to common awareness first as individual activism in the 1970s, then as brand building in 1990s, and finally, as global political movement in the new millennium.
For designers, ecological design has been both a hopeful vision and a pragmatic tool to make better things in better ways. It has mainly provided specific ways of minimizing energy and material use and reducing pollution, but also ideas for preserving habitat, restoring ecosystems and inventing landscapes.
Instead of (or, at least in addition to) asking for the lowest price, a growing number of consumers have become interested in where products come from and what they are made of. New ecolabels, standards and auditing tools have been popping out like mushrooms after the rain.
The popularity of ecotourism, organic food, improved energy literacy, and ecological footprint measurement echoes a new lifestyle that is more conscious and concern about what we are doing to our environment.
Sometimes this lifestyle costs giving up some personal comfort, like in the case of lowering your basic room temperature, eating less meat, or using public transportation. At the same time it feels good to be able to stand out and act to be a better person.Some are still asking: “Can ecological design be good business?” Well, “will people always choose the less expensive option over the ecological option, and is the ecological option always the more expensive?” Yes, no, and no. Let’s take organic food, for example. Although Fair Trade bananas often cost 20 cents more than Chiquitas, even poor students in Finland more often choose the fair.
Ilkka Suppanen told me today: “We Scandinavians think that designing wooden stools is ecological design. But to be honest, who cares about wooden stools?” Suppanen is dead right. He also believes that the new generation of designers will think beyond the product from the very beginning.
The new generation consumers are different too. They buy less material and more immaterial goods, they buy second hand, local, and recycle as much as possible. And whatever they do, they do it online.The US bank crisis and the following economical downturn changed the global consumption of new high-end products. The sales of luxury goods plunged in everywhere else than China in 2008-2009. Due to this, all design manufacturers are now rethinking their business models. Can stronger ecological arguments help them to reposition favorably on the market, or are they all just going to China?