2020What design can do during an era of change
Kaie Murakami
Kaie Murakami Director’s Message “Designs to improve the environment”

Transform “difficult” into “fun” Environmental solutions involving all people


Possibilities of “Circulation within community”

Looking back on this year’s Good Design Award as a whole, there were many aspiring entries which strove to depart from the mass-production and mass-consumption economy and to redesign society from a broad perspective. This may be a sign that in the background of a capitalist economy, the conventional society, which has developed in an awkward way since the Industrial Revolution, mainly through the production of “items,” spontaneously started hoping to reconstruct social platforms such as administration systems, infrastructures, environments and communities in order to shift to a harmonious framework.

Japan’s initiatives for environmental issues, which have been delayed for many years, started showing signs of change. Not being limited to economic sectors, engagement with SDGs is now commonly seen at educational sites. Also, in our familiar environment, other initiatives such as a fee for shopping bags at retail stores are changing our mindset.

This year reminded us that it is time to take action against issues we have vaguely recognized but left untouched. This change was significantly driven by the global economic slump due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the series of incidents seriously demonstrating climate change risks, including 2019 bush fires in Australia and Brazil, the crop damage in Africa and the Middle East due to a plague of desert locusts, and in Japan, the flood disaster in Chiba due to a typhoon.

Also, in India, the Himalaya Mountains, which are normally shown as nebulous figures behind smog throughout the year, could be seen clearly during lockdown for the first time in decades. And in Venice, the cloudy green water of canals became transparent. The COVID-19 crisis made human activities come to a halt temporarily, and these incidents gave us a deep impression of how and what humans and the earth should be.

The conventional materialistic economic cycle has been developed based on relationships in the form of globalism occurring across the world. However, the COVID-19 crisis has disconnected such relationships in the world. Interestingly, in such a situation, this year’s award-winning objects included more than a few entries which indicate the possibility for a society that can sustain an economy and human living just by circulating things within a community, no matter big or small it is, as represented by “WOTA BOX,” “House for Marebito” and “BRING.”

Without relying on a large economic block or a government, we may be able to develop a civilization that can run an economy and support human living within an independent community by recreating an infrastructure which is a social foundation, and its scale. Then, we may be able to show another concept of a society derived by the democratization of public design, which is not just eco-friendly. I could clearly see pieces of such a possibility in these entries.

For environmental issues, it is essential to focus on contamination by transfer of materials

The reason why I rate “WOTA” and “BRING” highly is that I myself have been engaged in the apparel industry for a long time. Now, owing to the emergence of fast fashion, the apparel industry is becoming a symbolic environmentally harmful industry of the mass-production and mass-consumption economy, producing 10% of total CO2 emissions of all industries over the past 20 years and consuming the second largest amount of water following the petroleum industry.

While the sustainability movement occurs, “BRING” impressed me a great deal, and it was a fruitful experience to imagine a future with an advanced technology like “WOTA.” In addition, “LOOP,” which created a circulating infrastructure based on the reuse of used products and packages, showed solutions for challenges I have been having on-site as a designer, and at the same time, it inspired new creativity.

ZOOM and LINE Pay are also solutions that are impossible to ignore in terms of the environment. These tools suggested a new type of social engagement that can run an economy and culture without moving people or items.

What we see at the root of environmental issues is that the transfer of materials, including humans, accounts for a large proportion of the pollution burden. For example, while the world’s economic activities halted for About four months owing to the COVID-19 crisis, greenhouse gas emissions for this period decreased by 1.6 billion tons compared to 2019 (announced by ‘Carbon Brief’, a UK-based environment website). This is equivalent to the total number of cars decreasing by 350 million.

Also, the food-waste issue is not just About leftovers. In the farming and livestock industry, a substantial amount of energy, including water, petroleum and electricity is consumed during the course of production. Transporting excessively produced food internationally, going out to buy food, then collecting and discarding leftovers, all these processes involve all sorts of transportation methods. The energy costs and CO2 emission that occur during these processes have all been a serious problem. In such a situation, online services which deal in items or matters that do not require transportation and create a new lifestyle and economic market from information circulation have significant meaning and impact on us.

Good design makes us address a difficult challenge in a joyful and positive manner.

This can be applied to all the entries I have mentioned so far. What makes these entries excellent is that they have a motivation to fascinate people and drive them to use their products as well as economic rationality, not just the purpose of considering environmental and social issues. The reason Tesla stands out from many other EV manufacturers is not just the great environmental efficiency of their products, but they also succeeded in appealing to people’s desire by providing better drivability than conventional mobilities and pleasantness as a partner to support people’s lives.

In order to advance my theme “Designs to improve the environment” further in the future, the most important things are definitely education and awareness campaigns. What measures can be another step for environmental improvement including carbon neutrality? What should be prioritized?

There is no other way than to gain knowledge from reliable data and publicize it widely. However, such knowledge cannot affect people just by being passed as information from right to left.

Presently, the society requires designs that can be a gateway to problem solution, assisting people to understand an issue and face it in a positive manner when they work on a difficult task and supporting their feelings and behavior, not those with just a beautiful figure or good function. This year’s award-winning objects have created such a gateway to environmental problem solving.

Designs that let everyone from children to the elderly participate in this problem-solving task. Creating a future or lifestyle where altruistic thoughts are naturally taken into consideration in everything that supports items, events, our lives and the economy. That should be the role that designers and the design industry fulfill in the future.

Hints of design may be hidden in something like traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing, if taking an existing object as an example. Anonymous objects that are hardly noticed in our everyday lives but support our lives, make us move, and protect us. It is not to show off a designer’s ego, but to define a “new public,” which takes a society into consideration, formed by people.

Good designs with such philosophies are required in everything to be produced in the future, not just in products and services for environmental improvement. When a society is filled with these philosophies, the world can overcome the wall of ideology and literacy and advance to forming a society where all people across the world can participate in environmental solutions.

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