The following is the introductory chapter to a terrific new book Reverb, edited by Caleb Ludwick, reproduced here with permission.
Book Introduction: REVERB, edited and published by Tricycle, Inc. 2006
This is the beginning. The very first paragraph, where the author inevitably feels obligated to create a pain point, a hook that is so compelling, so raw in its insight and honesty that you can’t possibly stop reading. However, today there are few people who have been exposed to the sustainability dialogue that has been burning up the interiors industry who are not already aware of the pain points. Strong voices remind us from every side that there is a need and that the need is urgent.
The trouble is, frankly, that this pain is mixed in with so much that is so very nice. The modern world of interiors is nice to look at and nice to touch. Luxury is more democratized, satisfying, and affordable than ever before. In the past fifty years, designers and manufacturers have reshaped much of the American environment into an apparent land of plenty.
Of course, it is harder and harder to ignore that this reshaping has come at a price. We love plastic because it is inexpensive to make and lasts forever… but even as we say this, we are aware that something is off-kilter. Inexpensive and lasts forever? Sounds contradictory. Especially when we read in the Seattle Times (April 23, 2006) that there is six times more plastic in our oceans than plankton.
If, ten years ago, the buzzword of industry was “change,” today it is surely “acceleration.” To make the point, we need look no further than the energy crisis that comes to mind every time we hand our Visa cards to the gas station cashier. In Twilight in the Desert, investment banker Matthew R. Simmons suggests that the Middle East’s producers of oil will be unable to meet the world’s enormous demand twenty-five years from today. Even those who say that such predictions are premature admit that we will, in fact, run out. Yet, the world spins, and we are more dependent than ever on energy, with no signs of slowing.
If you hesitate to agree that this is a major concern, think about this: a hot button in venture capitalism today is “cleantech.” The same investors who enabled the internet boom have turned their sights on knowledge-based products and services that improve operational performance, productivity and efficiency while reducing costs, inputs, waste and pollution. Topping the lists of targets? Companies involved in energy generation, energy storage, energy infrastructure and energy efficiency.
Suddenly, car companies are competing to create the greenest ad campaigns. Chevron hangs billboard-size ads in airports announcing that the world uses two barrels of oil for every barrel discovered. GE creates a Gene Kelly-impersonating digital elephant to talk about “Ecomagination.” Coffee drinkers grow more savvy, understanding that an “organic” label is not enough; their cuppa Joe should support fair trade to protect field workers and should be shade grown to protect dying species of birds. Food service providers are catching on to the value of locally grown food, not only for freshness but also for the sake of the ozone layer.
And there are other voices, other rooms — voices that take a more forceful stance against the old argument that all human problems have economically-driven solutions, that refuse on principle to “play along,” and that come from both corporations and anti-corporation activists alike. Herman Miller has designed its Mirra chair so that 96% of its materials can be recycled at the end of a long and useful life, as part of the company’s commitment to produce zero landfill waste and zero hazardous waste by the year 2020. A new anti-consumerism website that is still in beta, www.borrowme.com, invites anyone with an internet connection to borrow, lend and swap items rather than purchasing them. Calling itself the product lending library of the world, BorrowMe says “bye bye to buying” under the motto “Always free forever.”
In the four years since Tricycle was founded we have discovered an accumulated wisdom about sustainability: a real willingness to share ideas on the part of both experienced veterans and newcomers who have challenging views, as well as real willingness to listen. In our role as a sustainable design company we frequently find ourselves serving as a bridge between design professionals and product manufacturers and have been pleased to find that both camps are searching for better models and best practices.
LEED is one example of best practices in the search for best practices. The US Green Building Council is a consensus organization, and the LEED rating system (which has become the most powerful tool for green design currently in use) is developed, piloted and revised according to member vote. Eight years after it was first introduced, LEED continues to educate and influence the market because it evolves according to the needs and demands of the members of the USGBC.
So where does this book come in? REVERB is an anthology of the moment, a one-off annual report for sustainability in 2006. It is written by leading designers, design thinkers, and editors of trade publications whom we asked to share their thoughts on where the industry stands today and where we should be going. The initial brief for these writers was no more, and no less, than “design as change agent.” When we received their pieces into our offices at Tricycle, we launched a five-day non-stop creative marathon (thank you, Starbucks!) where our design team digested each article, then created the intros and graphics at the bottom of each page.
Take this book how you want it: its three sizes are an experiment in form. It comes as a pocket-size flipbook if you are looking for a Taoist book of first principles; it comes in textbook size if you are looking to drill down; it comes in tabloid size because sometimes soaking in a vat of good design is the best path to understanding.
Similarly, the content is a mixed bag of conceptual arguments, open letters and practical how tos. Taken as a whole, REVERB is an anthology of trends, vision-casting, squeaky wheels. We are not looking for absolute definitions that apply absolutely in all cases, but for operational definitions, case studies and concepts. We know better than to ask for absolutes, because in four short years we have been astonished and thrilled by the changes taking place in our industry. And we are still young, with a great deal more to see and learn.
To Tricycle’s way of thinking, the challenges the interiors industry faces today are not a reason to point fingers and find blame. There are egregiously wasteful practices, certainly; there are companies that must change and change fast. Greenwashing is no solution, nor is talk without action. We believe that transparency about waste generated in the creation of products and projects is a great first step toward large-scale change. Because transparency is as simple as telling the truth, we are unapologetically optimistic about industry change on a grand scale.
Our optimism is rooted in history. Witness the recent growth of LEED, of third party certifications, of environmental report cards, of editorial reviews that cut through greenwashing, of magazine ads that feature straight data rather than clever taglines. In our work, we continually meet people who reject the fallacy that the real world forces a choice between profit and principles, between revenues and conscience, between “me” and “we.” The real world is not something that happens to us, or even something that happens around us. It is made up of what we believe and do. And our hope is that, one year from now, every pioneering idea you read in this book is “so 2006,” because we as an industry have moved on to new and greater ideas.
In these pages you will find writing by people who also think this way. While we might (or might not) agree with everything they say, the voices here create reverberations that we hope will carry through the industry like the simultaneous point and counterpoint of direct and indirect sound, only strengthening instead of diminishing as they go. Although Tricycle is serving as the sounding board, we are much more accurately an open ear — each essay, and the group taken as a whole, causes us to pause in our hectic lives to re-look, re-think, re-visit, re-verb sustainability. So we say: Enough of monocultures, monograms and monologues! When like-minded people come together, design can change the world.
One such person is Cameron Sinclair, whose not-for-profit organization Architecture for Humanity (AFH) benefits from the sale of this book. We first met Cameron in the fall of 2005, when both AFH and Tricycle were shortlist finalists for Denmark’s INDEX: award for design that improves life. AFH won, Tricycle did not — and after learning more about their work, we can see why they were selected.
AFH is a grassroots charitable organization that promotes architectural and design solutions to humanitarian crises. Through competitions, workshops, educational forums, partnerships with aid organizations and other activities, AFH brings together design professionals who can give and communities that are in need. Their core belief is that where resources and expertise are scarce, innovative, sustainable and collaborative design can make a difference.
All of the articles in REVERB were donated by their authors. Tricycle donated editing and design. Mohawk Fine Papers, Inc. donated the paper for the entire book; Dusk printed it at a significantly discounted cost; Aquafil contributed to the printing. So this introduction is foremost a sincere “Thank you” to each of them. Because of their generosity, 50 percent of every sale of this book goes to AFH, which helps communities around the world that have been damaged by AIDS, tsunamis and hurricanes.
At the same time, if you have bought one of the three versions of this book, you benefit from a wealth of information on timely topics. We hope that you find something in these pages that shapes, and re-shapes, and reverberates through your world. This is not the end.