sustainable design

Navigating Relativism and Globalism in Sustainability

by CAROLINE TURNBULL, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School & Maryland Institute College of Art Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor Sustainability initiatives—social, economic or environmental—can have universal value for stakeholders. But how sustainability is defined, and what successful solutions might look like, can vary dramatically among different communities, or even conflict. One particular interaction a few years ago forced me to re-evaluate my own definition of sustainability, and this experience has affected my approach to the solution-finding process ever since. ⊚ In 2014 I was working for a nonprofit organization that partnered with companies to certify their carpet supply chains as being free of child labor. I was just four years out of college, dizzy with optimism and eager to be working in a field that married my interests in products, ethics and sustainability. The 20-year-old organization I represented was doing incredible work – freeing children from licensed...

Empathy as Faux Ethics

adbusters image with text "me, myself, I"
by THOMAS WENDT, Surrounding Signifiers “The term ‘empathy’ has provided a guiding thread for a whole range of fundamentally mistaken theories concerning man’s [sic] relationship to other human beings and to other beings in general.” —Martin Heidegger Popular design discourse is full of articles, books, and conference presentations on the role of empathy in design. In both commercial and non-commercial settings, most designers argue the same thing: designers should attempt to build empathy for “users” so they can better design for them. But empathy as it’s generally practiced ultimately subverts its own goals. It tends to reinforce “otherness”, promote anthropocentrism, and ignore ecological considerations. Everyday Empathy I recently moved from Manhattan to Queens. My old neighborhood, NoLita (north of Little Italy…thanks, real estate agents), had fully gentrified, with storefronts quickly transforming into cold pressed juice bars ($10/cup) and men’s shaving supply stores ($25 “beard oil”). My...

Sustainability and Ethnography in Business: Identifying Opportunity in Troubled Times

by MIKE YOUNGBLOOD, The Youngblood Group Introduction to the Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor Sustainability—we’re hearing this word a lot these days, even in business (if not, depressingly, in Trump Tower). It’s probably something readers of this post all generally support, and it’s definitely something we’re all connected to in one way or another. Whether we work in tech, consumer goods, education, government, or any other field, it’s pretty easy to see how the products, services, and organizations we serve affect larger social and environmental issues. For most of us in the EPIC community, however, sustainability isn’t in our job descriptions. So how should we understand and act on this issue? What are our perspectives, capabilities, opportunities, and responsibilities with respect to sustainability? Are we actively addressing sustainability in our work, or is it properly “someone else’s job?” This post introduces an EPIC discussion on sustainability. Over...