Design will save the world

Or maybe it won’t, I don’t know

by Richard Perez

I just spent 8 hours in a classroom learning about sustainability systems and design. I’ve never felt more hopeful and hopeless all at the same time. We talked about reducing harm vs creating a positive impact. We talked about improving the quality of life for all living beings while living within the caring capacity of living systems. We also talked about how, from an environmental standpoint, we are “in a car heading towards a cliff.”

While we’re careening to our death, we as designers, have the opportunity to change the world from a social, economic and environmental standpoint. It’s exciting and terrifying. It’s a “with great power comes great responsibility” kind of moment. Designers can redesign the current system into one that’s renewable, long-lasting, beneficial. Designers can save the world.

Except what if we can’t?

What if we’re just starry-eyed, dreamers? What if we just begin and end in words and nothing gets started or finished? What if our ideas are never accepted or adapted? What if we’re afraid to push back, or we push too hard? What if we solve the wrong problems? What if we fail?

I felt guilty that I bought a coffee today and wasted yet another paper cup, and also all those times I used plastic bags. Yet, at the same time I was excited that so much of what we touched on today in class dealt with social sustainability, like educating girls and women — a topic that I wholeheartedly believe in and want to do more to support.

I’m inspired to learn that there are so many people pioneering change through biomimicry and B corporations, cradle to cradle products and “more joy, less stuff,” yet I still have no clear understanding about how I can change anything, as one small person.

Today’s rally cry seemed to be, “Designers can save the world! Except maybe not. I don’t know.”