Monday, October 25, 2010

Announcing the Sustainable Design Auditing Project

Republished from the Re-Nourish Blog

Re-nourish, together with several partner organizations including the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC), is excited to announce the official launch of the Sustainable Design Auditing Project (SDAP), a multi-stakeholder working group tasked with developing open-source metrics for measuring the environmental, social and economic impacts of the graphic design supply chain. It’s time for the graphic design industry to start walking the walk.

The need for metrics in a changing industry

Many would have us believe the design industry is changing from a dependence on designing commodity materials to experiences and systems. This may be true: with climate change and conventional resource extraction now recognized globally as a legitimate threat to human development, we’re rethinking our relationships with production, consumption and disposal. There are many opinions about how designers should go through this process, and what direction we should move in as an industry, and as a culture. But which direction the industry moves is irrelevant if the language used to articulate this new reality remains opaque and exclusionary.

There’s no doubt the design field has changed dramatically over the last decade or two. Technological developments have made obsolete many traditional design roles - typesetters, anyone? - requiring designers to adapt or go out of business. Then came crowdsourcing and the proliferation of competitions as a means of soliciting creative work at low cost. This debate continues to rage, with many seeing such a development as yet another commoditization of creative services. And now - perhaps as a backlash to this commoditization - there seems to be another shift occurring. This shift in particular calls into question the very nature of design itself: what, exactly, are we all designing? And what should we be designing? Services, systems, experiences - these are the most frequent answers right now.

But without a universal and transparent means of communicating impacts and outcomes, whatever we choose to design going forward will be nothing more than a best guess or worse - a shot in the dark. And what exactly do we mean by “impacts and outcomes?” We mean: the true cost to individuals and communities, to waterways and land and air, and to economies. Outcomes and incomes are the what: the degree of toxic contamination swimming through a particular lake, or the number of jobs lost or healthcare plans cut, or perhaps the number of species disappearing from a particular monocultural tree farm.

Outcomes and impacts are not the same as standards, which is where Re-nourish started our journey and have since moved on from. Other industries already recognize the danger of proscribing one-size-fits-all solutions rather than measuring real-world impacts, and are furiously at work developing metrics and measures that serve as the building blocks for any honest, accurate discussion of social and environmental impact. The design industry needs to lead this charge, not play catch-up.

A universally-accepted set of metrics that measure impacts and outcomes in meaningful ways will allow designers to explore the implications of new design methodologies and frameworks on equal footing. It will prevent one small group of people or one particular commercial interest from monopolizing the conversation. It will encourage transparency and accuracy instead of greenwash and platitudes. This is a matter of fairness and inclusion and justice - everyone with skin in the game (and that includes every designer who finds themselves grappling with their changing industry) must have access to a shared language to ensure private interests don’t dictate the terms of our existence.

Underlying principles of SDAP

There are four principles underlying this project that must be present for it to be a legitimate process:
  1. Multi-stakeholder engagement. This should include the private sector (equipment and paper supply chain), working designers (including freelance designers, design firms, and in-house designers), academia, and nonprofits/NGOs.
  2. Ample public review and commenting opportunities. This should be executed through both online and offline outreach for maximim reach and inclusiveness.
  3. Full transparency, disclosure, and crediting. It is essential that all legal entities involved (including both for-profit and nonprofit institutions) are publicly disclosed in the interest of transparency. It is also critical to allow individuals operating independently of established organizations or agencies be able to participate in an anonymous fashion to encourage those who might differ from their places of employment to have a voice.
  4. Consideration of other credible, established metrics systems and processes.This process cannot be conducted in a vacuum, nor would it be wise to repeat efforts already underway. Specific systems worth considering as potential models or case studies include but are certainly not limited to LEED (architecture and construction industry), Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (agricultural industry), and ISO processes (accreditation industry), ULE 880 (general private sector), and Oxfam’s Poverty Footprint project (general private sector). 

What will be measured?

While specific metrics will have to be determined through the SDAP process, the following general impact areas should be considered:

  • Environmental impacts (e.g. energy, water, GHG emissions, toxicity levels)
  • Social impacts (e.g. labor and employment, health and safety, community development)
  • Economic impacts (e.g. productivity, profitability, local investment)

How will SDAP be governed?

Currently, Re-nourish is facilitating the formation of a Steering Committee comprised of representative stakeholders including designers, environmental nonprofits, manufacturers and suppliers, and academia. This Steering Committee will be the primary governing body, and will oversee a General Assembly of further stakeholders. Anyone can join the General Assembly and provide input into the metrics development process.

SDAP governance structure

We’re also working on a way to include an option for anonymity, to ensure those who might have input that differs from an employer will be protected. The challenge will be to balance this anonymity with the need for transparency.

How can people get involved?

In the interest of inclusivity and accessibility, we encourage anyone and everyone with a stake in this process to join us. There is no fee to join, and there is no minimum commitment.

We also encourage you to leave your comments below, and to spread the word: 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Historic Agreement to Protect Tasmania's Ancient Forests

For decades, environmentalists have been trying to protect Tasmania's stunning, ancient forests from destruction. Indeed, the Paper Planet has reported on the issue and progress multiple times, and members of the Environmental Paper Network and other allies from around the world have rallied in support, helping chase Gunns around the world as they sought financial partners.
Its also true that timber workers have been trying to protect their jobs. And this unresolved dispute has led to protests, arrests and, sadly, ongoing logging in high conservation-value native forests.

But with the Tasmanian timber industry in collapse, after five months of good-faith discussions, the key stakeholders have come to a place of agreement. The Statement of Principles agreed between conservation groups, timber communities, forest unions and the industry gives Tasmania a unique opportunity to create a sustainable timber industry, protect its remaining native forests and resolve the conflict over logging.
The benefits for the whole of Tasmania are huge, including:
  • a moratorium to end logging in the most precious forests within three months
  • world class forests like the Tarkine Rainforest, Great Western Tiers, Styx, Blue Tier and the Upper Florentine Valley will be formally protected
  • detailed planning and consultation for the timber industry to transition out of native forests will occur over the next 12 months – protecting and developing timber jobs that are sustainable
  • Tasmania’s image as a clean, green state will be preserved, in a major boost for tourism
You can see the statement signed by the Wilderness Society, here.

This is the second major agreement of this nature in the past year in one of the key areas of the world where endangered forests and pulp and paper industry development overlap.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seattle Passes Nation's First Yellow Pages Opt-Out Ordinance

Seattle residents and businesses tired of getting two or three - or more - unwanted yellow pages phone books will soon have an efficient, effective way to stop those deliveries following yesterday's 8-1 City Council vote.

The new Seattle ordinance also requires yellow pages publishers to begin paying for recycling of unwanted and outdated yellow pages directories beginning next year.

The new law creates an Opt-Out Registry that Seattle residents and businesses can access on the web, by phone or by mail and requires yellow pages publishers to pay the costs of operating the registry, for which the City expects to hire a contractor. The legislation also sets out penalties for yellow pages publishers who continue to deliver books when requested not to.

"Seattleites are constantly looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment, and the Council has heard from an overwhelming number of people who don't want phone books," said Councilmember Mike O'Brien, who chairs the committee and is the prime sponsor of the legislation. "Creating a one-stop shop managed by a third party will help reduce clutter, increase residential security, and, save Seattle Public Utilities customers, the people of Seattle, money. This is a win-win for Seattle."

The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) has been working tirelessly over the past couple years to find these win-win solutions for municipalities and citizens relevant to the deluge of multiple, and often unused, phone books per household, and the mountain of waste created for cities to deal with.  PSI deserves a lot of credit for the progress that has been made.

Another Environmental Paper Network member, Catalog Choice, is great service for people all over the country to reduce unwanted junk mail, catalogs, and phone books.  Its free and easy to use.  

The Yellow Pages Association have been trying to offer there own tools for opting-out, but they have only moderately useful and effective in addressing the issues of waste, and more municipalities after Seattle are likely to take matters into their own hands.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Arborgen Plans to Operate Like Monsanto

Arborgen, a firm developing genetically engineered trees for the United States, plans an initial public offering of common shares to raise as much as $75 million, they said in a regulatory filing. Headquartered in Summerville, South Carolina, Arborgen is a joint venture of International Paper, Mead Westvaco, and New Zealand's Rubicon Ltd. 

ArborGen, is the world's largest seller of conventional seedlings for forestry, and it is developing freeze-tolerant eucalyptus trees for the U.S. South.

Bloomberg News reports,

"ArborGen said it plans to produce modified trees for the paper industry in much the same way Monsanto Co. provides genetically modified crops to agriculture."
For those familiar with the history of Monsanto Co., that's another serious reason to be concerned.