Innovation | Environment | Caitlin Cave

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Innovation is so, like, the American dream, ain't it? This nation was founded on inventors and innovators who propelled our economy into freethinking and wheeling money. Want your part in all of this? All you have to do is be the best. Cynicism aside, innovation is king in the world the green revolution. As designers, our responsibility to eco-friendly, green design is becoming increasing pertinent, in fact, an entire industry has created a demand for our services.

Luckily for me there's an entire sector of humans working out in the world on something called, get ready for it... Green Innovation. Boy, it was like this topic was made to be written about; and, for that matter, I suppose it was. The term "green innovation" is discussed on websites from and to websites like and Arnold Schwarzenegger has used the term "green innovation" throughout his time as California governor.

But it's vague. It's all very enigmatic and inaccessible. And, I'm guessing, that's for a very good reason: innovators like to keep their inventions their own. So, how do we get on this bandwagon? Well, I'd like to say that it would be easy to appeal to the more eco side of things by just infiltrating the green revolution, but I don't think that's the answer. According to Forbes, while the sustainable industries are growing, it's been seen that the bottom line might be the biggest industry incentive, and not a conscious social responsibility, so green isn't moving as fast as they'd like. I mean have you seen some of the logos for green companies out there? Check this out: [insert GreenLogo12.jpg]

So, how do we become environmentally conscious designers without being total greenies? I don't know. But, I'm pretty sure we can come up some ideas. A little innovation is all it will take. And as designers, I see it as our responsibility to be educated on what is possible and how we can appeal to consumers through being conscious.

William McDonough, co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things and architect, has much to say about this topic. Now, I have to admit that I haven't read Cradle to Cradle cover to cover, but it has been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years now. I was first introduced to the book in a sustainable housing course I took and I've been hooked on the idea (of reading the book) ever since. Essentially, what McDonough and co-author Michael Braungart outline is how essential innovation in design is to saving the world. Innovation #1: the book is made entirely out of non-paper: a synthetic 'paper' made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, which makes the book waterproof and rugged. The book is also entirely recyclable.

Here is William McDonough talking at the TED conference in 2005 (2005!):

In my opinion, the most poignant part of the talk comes around minute 1:30 where he shows a video somebody sent him from his NPR talk on the Monticello Dialogues. He says,

"Well I think as designers we realize that design is a signal of intention but it also has to occur within a world and we have to understand that world in order to imbue our designs with inherent intelligence so as we look back at the basic state of affairs in which we design. We in a way need to go to the primordial condition to understand the operating system and the frame conditions of the planet and I think the exciting part of that is the good news that's there because the news is the news of abundance and not the news of limits. And I think as our culture tortures itself now with tyrannies and concerns over limits and fear we can add this other dimension of abundance that is coherent driven by the sun and start to imagine what that would be like to share."

Our innovation as designers, in the context of the environment (and arguably perhaps in context of every part of design), is to begin at the beginning. We need to take our basic needs and relate those to today.

It's so important to be educated on the facet of environmental design, because even if all of us in this class become web designers (unlikely, speaking for myself), we are still using and utilizing resources that are not inherent to us. Being conscious and conscientious is the first innovation we should look at.

I suggest picking up Cradle to Cradle (book club anyone?) in order to begin that process of education, but most importantly, thought. How can we, as the fundamental deliverers of messages, begin to work in a way that could ultimately impact the entire world.

C Cave

1 Comment

I like that you pointed out that “green innovation” is completely vague, because it is. Innovative designs are well, innovative, but not always practical – they’re generally conceptual. The hard part is getting past that part and putting the design to use in an optimal way. Designers tend to jump the gun with "green" products: Molly mentioned SunChips in her last post, which is a good example, the Toyota Prius is another one. Good ideas with the environment in mind, but they need a lot more development to be truly beneficial. You make an excellent point at the end: being conscious about our resources and our basic needs should be our number one innovation!

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This page contains a single entry by Cave published on October 21, 2010 10:53 PM.

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