Post-Compostmodern: Now What?

We’d be lying to you, dear readers, if we didn’t admit that before this weekend’s Compostmodern conference, we were in a very bad place.

Maybe it’s just the typical occupational hazard that comes with being a blogger. But when you’re bombarded, every day, with designers touting the eco-sensibility of their newest utterly useless product you should buy for only $499.99, architects who want to be praised for using some non-toxic paint on their latest 500,000 square foot monstrosity, and creative people using up valuable resources to launch misdirected movements about using up valuable resources, it’s enough to make us want to reach our hands through internet until we can wrangle the mouse from their smug little hands and whack them over the head with it until they get it.

So when spoken word artist Dawn Maxey stood up and read her little poem on eco-hype yesterday (read the full text), we wanted to run up on stage and kiss her. Oh, how we feel you, sister.

Valerie Casey addressed that eco-fatigue we’ve all been feeling. But she coupled it with a very interesting point about movements in general–they spike, then dip, then slowly gain more solid acceptance over time. So don’t despair, we’re all just feeling that spike. The dip has yet to come.

Except now, this movement belongs clearly to designers. Activism didn’t work, said Adam Werbach. We are in need of better stories, said Alex Steffen. We need to stop making stuff, said everybody. And Casey made a great argument for why designers by nature are perfect to spearhead change. But when Casey showed the slide above, which was sent to her by, in her words, a “very prominent and well-known designer,” it really got us fired up. Because every single company we heard represented at this conference–Mark Galbraith and Nau, Jane Savage and Nike, General Electric and VSA Partners, yes, even Werbach and Wal-Mart–has realized the importance of not just being designer-centric, but being designer-dependent in order to make big changes. People: There. Is. No. One. Else.

This movement is more about shifting from the traditional designing model (closed environment, lots of secrecy, working alone, guarding your intellectual property…you know, the kind of place that Mystery Old School Designer above works at) to a completely new way of working. Complete corporate transparency coupled with industry-wide knowledge sharing. Knowing the stories behind every product or service you come in contact with, including your own. Designing to avoid problems, not just fix them after they happen. Sure, there were a lot of big ideas about how to make big change. But from what we could discern, the process can be distilled into these three easy steps:

1) Get your story straight.
2) Make it irresistible.
3) Share it with everyone you possibly can.

This is only the beginning. In fact, the name of this conference couldn’t be more appropriate, as moderator Joel Makower pointed out in one of his excellent segues. “Compost”-ing is one of the most fundamental, simple (and fundamentally simple) ways to engage with this lifecycle concept that all designers are trying to bring to their work. But the “postmodern” part is just so perfect. This new model–the postmodern sustainability movement–just kicked in. Like, this week.

Earlier this week, IBM and others pledged to make their eco-patents public. When CES backlash hit a few weeks ago, the Greener Gadgets conference answered, and resoundingly: Now we hear CES wants to get involved with Greener Gadgets! And we can only imagine what kind of response will come from the already overwhelmingly positive reaction to the new Designers Accord.

This isn’t “thinking about sustainability,” this isn’t “being environmentally-responsible,” this isn’t “adopting eco-friendly policies.” This is now, officially, simply, your job. Maybe it’s like the design world’s version of the screenwriters’ strike: What if all of you refused to work with clients who didn’t get it, and yanked your business from vendors who didn’t get it, and only collaborated with other designers who got it? How long would it take?

Makower opened the conference by saying we have no way of knowing what’s good enough. But we all know what’s better, even if it’s just a tiny bit better. And we also know that it’s no longer about doing one thing. It’s about doing everything. So.

1) Get your story straight.
2) Make it irresistible.
3) Share it with everyone you possibly can.

And if you promise to us you’ve done steps 1 and 2, we promise–yes, cynical, skeptical, but suddenly enlightened us–we promise to help you spread the word.

More Compostmodern coverage at Inhabitat and CNET, and all our coverage is right here.

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