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Filling the gap: design and designers' potential to build happier sustainable societies
conference contributionposted on 2013-08-21, 11:11 authored by M. Carolina Escobar-Tello
Few would disagree with the idea that the foundations of our current world place too much value on externalities such as materialism and money. Our world is currently driven by the economic system, economic growth, and its system relies on high consumption of goods and services. In order to maintain this growth, our present ‘material-centred culture’ has led these to be, in their majority, designed and marketed in unsustainable ways. Consequently, consumers at present buy and discard products more frequently. The manner and the degree in which products engage us, are in fact a mirror of our consumption behavior and our well-being trends; hence, directly proportional to the sustainability of our world. The level of engagement establishes stronger or weaker relationships with products as it influences the perception of our experiences, defining among other things our level of satisfaction. Unfortunately, increasing evidence suggests, that although economic growth has been increasing for the past 60 years or so, happiness & well-being, environmental and social capital, and sustainable lifestyles have been declining. Our economic system has failed us. This fact has set off alarm bells which have led countries around the world to invest in the development and implementation of new economic and well-being systems that improve the foundations of our world. Sustainable Design and Sustainable Consumption present good opportunities, with strong potential, to improve these foundations, and build more sustainable lifestyles and happier societies. Although the relationship between sustainability, design, and happiness has not yet been studied widely in a systematic way, there are already many indicators which show that we can live happily and more sustainably, with much less material items and less consumption. Through understanding the way in which design and the designer can contribute in a holistic way to sustainability, this paper proposes an initial theory of the design methods, and characteristics of sustainable products, services or systems capable of contributing to shaping and promoting society towards well-being and sustainable lifestyles underpinned by sustainable economic foundations. Followed by a discussion of the preliminary testing with sustainable design thinkers, the initial theory is validated and considers other interesting avenues in order to develop and test it further.