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Green Design Needs Style, Not Just Substance

 By Andrea Newell

Can green be beautiful? Logically, it would seem like green and beauty would go hand-in-hand, yet sustainable design is widely considered unattractive. Sustainable Brands 2012 emcee Lance Hosey, CEO of GreenBlueand author of The Shape of Green, argues that “if sustainable design is intended to act like nature, it should knock your socks off.” But as a collective discipline, experts pan sustainable design as boring, drab and even inefficient.

Hosey quotes architect Peter Eisenman in his book as saying, “Some of the worst buildings I have seen are done by sustainable architects.” And critic Aaron Betsky saying, “Sustainable architecture justifies itself by claiming to be pursuing a higher truth – in this case that of saving the planet. The goal justifies many design crimes, from the relatively minor ones of the production of phenomenally ugly buildings…to the creation of spaces and forms that are not particularly good for either the inhabitants or their surroundings.”

But the lack of inherent beauty isn’t restricted to sustainable architecture, but all manner of sustainable products.

If a product does good, does it necessarily have to look good?

As humans, we react to physical attractiveness and form connections with things we perceive as beautiful. The more time people spend outside in nature, looking at its beauty and appreciating it, the less likely they are to harm it, while the less time they spend with it, the opposite is true. We also react to beautiful products, or things we form a connection to and care about.

Hosey says, “If we don’t like something, we won’t use it. I’m not talking about sales here, but not actually using it once we buy it. And that’s an environmental nightmare.” If we care about something, we will keep it longer. And that’s one of the most sustainable actions we can take.

Manufacturing a computer uses 80 percent of its total energy profile over its lifecycle. Using it only accounts for 20 percent, and, Hosey explained, those numbers are similar for nearly every electronic product on the market. “If we put all that energy into the making of something and then only use it briefly, that’s incredibly wasteful. The longer we use it, the more we rationalize the consumption of the materials and resources used to make it in the first place. Continuing to use a computer instead of recycling it is 20 times more efficient.”

Hosey asked, “How do we design products so people want to keep them and not discard them as soon as they are tired of them or something newer comes along?” What do we love? Studies show that certain forms, shapes and colors are pleasing, and graceful, interactive products that are easy to use are the most appealing. “The more attractive something is, the more functional we estimate it to be. We need to shift the focus from the making of things to the shaping of things.”

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