• Scope & Contextual Relevance:
We live in a global system in which our most critical problems go well beyond regional and national borders. When past civilizations were challenged, or even collapsed, they were relatively isolated from other parts of the world. Today, in our highly interconnected global system, massive social or environmental failure in one region threatens the entire system. Perhaps the overarching question for the 21st century is the following: can the current global system adapt and survive the accumulating, highly interconnected problems it now faces? .
Increasingly, the global environmental change and social injustice, people are realizing that answers to this question require a new, more integrated, transdisciplinary understanding of the concept of Sustainability and Sustainable Development.
The Brundtland definition of sustainable development put forth an attractive vision, but left a significant gap for the business needs to be operational. This has lead to many attempts to clarify the concept of sustainability leading to a variety of interpretations from various disciplines. One reason product developers have left sustainability essentially outside of their focus is that there is general confusion in the world around the topic of sustainability .
• Terminologies & Definitions:
The terms 'sustainable development SD' and 'sustainability' are often used interchangeably. However we understand SD to refer to a process of change towards achieving sustainability goals, whereas sustainability, or the 'ability to sustain' .
Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of responsibility, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship, the responsible management of resource use. In ecology, sustainability describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time, a necessary precondition for the well-being of humans and other organisms. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems .
In 1987, the United Nations released the Brundtland Report, which included what is now one of the most widely recognised definitions: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
According to the same report, the above definition contains within it two key concepts:
1. the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given;
2. and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs. From Our Common Future (London: Oxford University Press, 1987)
Although the original definition by the Brundtland Commission does not make such a distinction, sustainable development has later become perceived as a combination of three dimensions or ‘pillars’, namely, the environmental (ecological), economic, and social dimensions. .Since the Rio conference in 1992, this tripartite description has constituted the basis for most of the generally accepted definitions of sustainable development in international organisations called ‘triple bottom line’ in the business circles. The ‘capitals approach’—(manufactured, natural, and social)—has its origins in economics, but has been much more widely accepted as a ‘common sense approach’ by the academic community more generally. However, much less consensus reigns over the relations among the dimensions .
The relationship between different dimensions of sustainable development is often represented as either a Venn diagram, with sustainability at the intersection, or as concentric circles, reflecting a layering of domains. This second case reflects the more realistic perspective that a healthy economy depends on a healthy society, both of which rely on a healthy environment. Sustainability occurs when all three are thriving. However, each of the three ‘pillars’ has its own characteristics and logic, which are likely to conflict with each other. The sustainability models do not give any guidance on how to arbitrate between the unavoidably conflicting objectives of economic rationality (profitability), social justice and ecological equilibrium. For instance, the objectives of improving of material well-being and the conserving natural ecosystems often conflict with each other. Finally, there are good reasons to believe that the three ‘dimensions’ of sustainable development are not qualitatively equal, but occupy different positions in a hierarchy. While the importance of each pillar may vary from one situation to another, the model as such does not attribute priority to any of the dimensions. Moreover, the model gives the impression of pillars as independent elements that can be treated, at least analytically, separately from each other. These disagreements over the proper hierarchy have probably prevented such models from becoming widely adopted in international policy circles.
Sustainable Development Intersections and Venn Diagram
Tripple Bottom Line
Since the Brundtland Commission (WCED 1987), the conceptualization and theorization of what sustainable development means is abundant in the literature. Some argue that the over-utilization but simultaneous under-theorization of ‘sustainable development’ as a concept means that it can lend itself to a range of very divergent goals others consider that its strength lies precisely in the fact that there is no centrally determined blueprint for sustainable development, and thus its meaning will have to emerge out of an interactive process of dialogue and reflection. Many agree that a universal and context-independent definition for ‘sustainable development’ may not be possible and as Haughton and Counsell put it, “rather than focus on searching for a definitive meaning of 'sustainable development' … it is necessary to recognize the multiplicities of sustainabilities and to analyse the ways in which these are shaped” .
Sustainable Design can therefore be defined as:
“THE DESIGN OF SYSTEMS THAT CAN BE SUSTAINED INDEFINATELY”
Sustainable Product Design defined as:
“THE DESIGN OF OBJECTS THAT AID THE SUSTAINABILITY OF THE SYSTEMS IN WHICH THEY OPERATE”
These definitions highlight the fact that sustainability is about systems. This is because nothing exists in isolation; everything is part of a system. The result is that in many cases the job of a Sustainable Product Designer will reach beyond designing physical objects and into designing other aspects of the system in which the objects operate .
Approaches to Sustainability in Design:
• Sustainable Urban Design can be implemented only if an appropriate understanding of unsustainability. ‘HOW YOU DEFINE IS HOW YOU DESIGN’ (Clune, 2009).
• New kinds of innovation, changes in systems of production and consumption and even social transformations are needed.
• The scale of changes in urbanisation, necessitates PROACTIVE than the present day REACTIVE advancement (UNFPA, 2007).
• Dealing with this kind of system complexity in design requires COLLABORATIVE approach with many experts and stakeholders participating and collaboration brings with it its own challenges.
• What is at work for designers is TRANSDISCIPLINARY context along with ‘COMMUNICATIVE RATIONALITY’ rather than simply ‘COGNITIVE RATIONALITY’.