By Guest Blogger Diane Ruengsorn
Sustainability. This is such a nebulous term and everyone has their own definition. Rather than give you a brief statement explaining what I think it means, in this and future posts I’ll be exploring sustainability in a real world context. Specifically from the point of view of a person who has started her own company that produces ecologically and socially responsible products for domestic use.
My company, Domestic Aesthetic, is driven by the philosophy “live well, live right” which means you can have products that enhance your life while also taking into account people and the planet. My goal for Domestic Aesthetic is, unapologetically, to be a mass-market brand. As uncool as that may seem to my fellow designers, I have this goal because deep down I believe that sustainability needs to be democratic.
As much as I laud the efforts of my colleagues, the architects and designers who are integrating sustainable practices into their work, it’s preaching to the choir. Without widespread consumer education and participation, sustainability will continue to be an ineffective top-down, supply side effort. What it needs to be is something so ingrained in our society that consumers are demanding it and companies are responding – the result of people voting with their dollars. While green efforts get a lot of hype, what is really lacking are the everyday initiatives that truly educate people and connect them to the process. Although shopping isn’t the most lofty of platforms to drive home a message, it is one of the ways people participate with the choices they make and has an impact on their day-to-day lives.
My role, both as founder of Domestic Aesthetic and as a designer, is to be mindful of the products I create. While there are several factors that are taken into account (energy consumed, materials used, transportation, local manufacturing, social and community development – there’s an entire list on my website), ultimately it comes down to the question: “Do I feel good about it?” For example, are the products in my current line “heirloom products” (items that can be passed on to future generations) or will they be thrown away next year to make room for the new cool thing? Am I producing products simply because the market dictates you have a certain number of SKUs or because I believe in the efficacy of each product? While these particular issues do not fall under the typical purview of sustainability, it’s a small way I feel I’m contributing to the conversation.
However you define sustainability, designers play a significant role. For those of you working for clients or as in-house designers, you have the responsibility of not only educating your companies and co-workers, but also making the case for sustainable practices compelling. In many cases this is an uphill battle. But rather than give up the fight, I’d simply ask “how are you contributing to the conversation?” I look forward to inspiring your answer through my future posts.
Diane Ruengsorn is founder + director of Domestic Aesthetic whose products are available at retail stores across the country including the MoMa Design Store. Press has included numerous features in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Treehugger, and countless blogs and websites.
Click here to read more articles like this one published in the current issue of Catalyst SDR.