- to make or do (something) in a clumsy or unskillful way
- to proceed or act clumsily or ineffectually1
Green is a positive colour. The colour of grass and leaves at the peak of Earth’s fertility. It is the colour of nature’s element which feeds solely on daylight – green light-waves are reflected by chlorophyll, contained in plants, which absorb energy from blue- and red-light waves of sunlight. Herbivores gain energy by eating plants, and carnivores obtain it by eating herbivores. This is the trophic structure of nature and it starts with daylight. Green is a colour of a start and of a cycle of continuity. Sustained continuity of nature. Sustainability.
Green is also the colour of unripened fruit and, metaphorically speaking, unripened ideas. An unwise youngster is green. Is green associated with our acts of care for the environment, continuity of nature; or are we still green in our efforts of transitioning to a sustainable society?
Contemporary society of the global north holds a belief that “green” stands for a sustained humankind along with clean water, unpolluted air, fertile soil and a planet rich with life of all shapes and colours. We strive to preserve the environment while tightly weaving the threads of industries that hold together the fabric of contemporary society. But no longer industries marked by black smoking chimneys and clanking giant machinic arms, but wind and sun powered, material-re/up-cycling plants spilling out goods in abundance, for humankind. (Isn’t it ironic that the daylight feeding and the earth’s mineral flesh eating entities should both be named “plants”?) The way to preserve the environment is to relieve pressures caused by the systematic industrial production of goods. Renewability of materials, rate of emissions and run-off pollution in production, sources of energy, water, then the transport and use cycles and the final disposal of goods produced: these are the factors we primarily relate to causes of environmental pressures. Green design, in theory, is in service to a production of goods decoupled from such (and other) environmental pressures.
On the other hand, consumerism-driven societies favouring green designs are meant to tip the scale towards sustainability. We are asked to vote with our wallets for the green transition. Besides, consumption of sustainably produced goods not only helps to preserve the environment, but also helps to preserve the fabric of our society. Hence, what societies need are more green innovations, technological- and market-based solutions to climate and environmental crises. It is through an eventual step-by-step transformation of industries that our societies become sustainable, cumulatively.
But is consumerism modelled in response to our undying desire for things, or is it rather a heritage of industrialisation of the past century? The notion that our collective materialistic values are so strong that we are prepared to jeopardise our own existence is becoming increasingly redundant. The growing number of activist groups, demonstrations and globally well-organised petitions challenging non-environmental actions can attest to that. No-waste lifestyles, avoiding consumption of certain goods due to their high environmental impact, favouring innovative products from re-/up-cycling streams can also attest against the picture of society driven purely by materialistic values. The values that qualify our contemporary society have changed – and it is not the “green” design which is the protagonist in this change, but our preferred value of a continuity of life.
In consequence to the above, motivating behaviour-change by appealing to our materialistic values with green consumption is a misguided effort in a long-term strategy for sustainability2. In parallel, a model of economic prosperity through the production of goods decoupled from the environmental pressures is contestable, for the lack of evidence of the model’s viability in a short time required to halt climate change and prevent environmental degradation3. The two leading propositions on how a sustainable society might be built – decoupling industrial activities from the environment and green consumerism – appear to have some rather wide gaps, which are little discussed in mainstream sustainability narratives.
Green Bumble - undiscussed discussions
To resolve what matters most for sustainability, we must appreciate how it entangles environmental and social wellbeing, and scientific discoveries for new ways of designing “material wellbeing”. A proposition for enabling a transformation to sustainable society emerges, where we model a production of goods for sufficiency, rather than abundance 4. This is an alternative third proposition to the two that lead in our society, though less discussed and without a narrative.
Going forward, we must unravel what is bound by knowledge silos that prevent us from creating sustainable futures, and work towards building foundations that foster new expertise transcending disciplines. Trans-disciplinary knowledge is context bound. It cannot be generated by randomly grafting elements of one discipline into a tree of another. What we must transcend is informed by conditions, by the times we live in and by the future we want to create. This is one of the intentions of ABRA project, which brings researchers together from disparate disciplines to explore how to imagine and design this future together.
Conditions in nature can be as relatively lasting as rapidly transformational. Looking through a keyhole of disciplinary silos, nature appears disorderly and impossible to in-form with all encircling solutions. That is why design for sustainability produces technology- and market-driven answers, inheritance from the industrial era (which the design discipline still maintains). Sustainability cannot be “done”, as its very doing is an ongoing process that requires an understanding of the entanglement and the transcendence of disciplines. At the same time, the society of the global north might need some undoing, some questioning of willingness and unwillingness of its participants to embrace the leading propositions of how our society is being built, and what, or who’s, expense.
We flag the colour green as a metaphor for visions of nature at a height of fertility and its undying continuity, while green is also a metaphor for unripened ideas, or someone unwise, immature. Under this flag, we are still in a state of bumbling. Our positive efforts to become a sustainable society are young, and so “green” indeed carries a dual meaning. For us to overcome the challenge of “being green”, we must tell a story which helps us grow – a story of entanglement of nature, humans and a new model of our “material wellbeing” for which we can then begin to design.
By Karina Vissonova for ABRA-hub, March 25th, 2021
Green Bumble – undiscussed discussions (2021) is an anthology of works which raises questions about contemporary propositions to how our society might be built. The body of works discuss sustainability from perspectives of industry transitions (such as circular economy) and “green” consumerism. The publication offers critical reflections on the mainstream propositions of sustainability and lays out several theories for motivating human and environment-friendly behaviour of individuals as well as industries.
The digital publication is produced by Institute of Advanced Design Studies, non-profit and will be available free to download on the publisher’s website and websites of the contributing partners from April, 2021. The publication is done with the support of Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture, Latvia, and contributions from Common Cause Foundation, UK with a report from WWF-UK, The Futures Lab, USA and the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economy, USA as well as Prof. Jonathan Trent.
The contents of this article reflect the views of the author, who is a strategic partner of the ABRA project. The views do not constitute an endorsement by the ABRA project.
T. Crompton, “Weathercocks and Signposts”, a report originally published by WWF-UK (2008). The report can be downloaded in a complete and original version from the WWF-UK and the Common Cause Foundation websites. ↩︎
Parrique T., Barth J., Briens F., C. Kerschner, Kraus-Polk A., Kuokkanen A., Spangenberg J.H., 2019. Decoupling debunked: Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability. European Environmental Bureau. https://eeb.org/library/decoupling-debunked/ ↩︎
Also see ibid. ↩︎