the rubbish around the edges

Unofficially, I've been accepted into a post grad course on public art next year. I'm really excited about it and have already been sucking up some great architecture/planning info and discovering new places to waste my time (here, here, here and here); thinking about structure and 'spatial relationships' and hopping from one foot to the other in anticipation.

As well as all that, I’ve been thinking about environmental and sustainability issues and how important good, or more specifically smart design is to helping combat some of the destructive things we’ve been doing to our planet.

[for an excellent post on the benefit of design in environmental sustainability, read ben terrett’s presentation from applied green..]

I also recently did the fantastic WWF footprint calculation and was appalled to realise that I’m living like we’ve got 3.5 planets to live off. As they gently reminded me, we've only got one so i better do something about it.

While I know that I can do a lot to reduce my impact, most of it had to do with things that are outside my usual pattern of operating (2 x 21 hour plane trips plus a couple of trips within europe will do that) and I wanted to plead: but I’m not usually like that! In actual fact, I'm petrified at what state this planet will be in within the next 20 years, because I know that, for all the talk, there are still only a few people really doing anything about it.

Which brings me to the main point of this post.

Most current sustainable solutions rely on the structure and habit of 'everyday living' to impement: you know, solar panels on your house, kerbside recycling, using public transport instead of taking the car everyday; going organic, using reduced packaging and energy-saver lightbulbs, etc, etc, etc. The good news is that for the most part, they're pretty easy to do for your average Australian, with an average job, average wages and average lifestyle. Which is great!

But what about when you want to step outside the order of that regular life? Like, you're travelling. Or you're renting or renovating. Or you're so poor you can barely afford food and electricity, let alone green power or organic vegetables. Or your workplace is sadly unenlightened and continues to fly the CBD Blaze of Glory flag. Or you're a super-cool rockstar who lives in 5-star hotels. Or you want to actually have a social life that doesn't include staying at home playing scrabbulous.

Trust me, it's really hard to remain carbon-neutral in any of those things. And being a super-cool rockstar who lives in 5-star hotels, I should know.

But seriously, here's a small case in point: the humble water-bottle.

thanks to Ooodit from flickr

I carry around a bottle of water with me, in order to a) save on packaging while keeping hydrated and b) save money. But when I go to a club, or a restaurant (as someone else blogged about recently) that water bottle gets taken away from me so that i a) maybe don't lob it at the lead singer of a shite band and b) so that i buy the water from the venue.

Now, you might not think that matters all that much, but say each club in a city the size of London takes 10 bottles of water away from customers each night and chucks it in the bin (note: not recycled). Say 10 bottles of water, 30 clubs (being conservative), 3 nights of the week (again, conservative), 52 weeks of the year = 46800 bottles of water being thrown away. It also means that another 46800 extra bottles of water are being purchased, to replace the ones that had to be chucked. And let's say that’s from people who are trying to be thoughtful. I don’t even want to think about the ones who couldn’t give a damn.

And don’t get me started on food wastage per night, per city, per year, per capita, otherwise I think I’ll vomit.

And that’s just a little example, using a bit of a peeve I had going on there. Which brings me back to my point – how can we step up the beat when we’re out of our rhythm? The real answer is easy: don’t eat out, don’t go out, don’t travel, don’t listen to loud music and don’t drive a car. Just don’t.
But we all know what happens when we have to be good all the time – the 1980s.

Is the only way to deal with these kind of ‘out of the ordinary’ environmental expenditure to offset them? Or is, as Sam says, carbon offsetting the morning after pill for environmental sustainability? Can't we just start making less of an impact? Now?

I think now is a really important time for those in service positions: city planners, architects, interior designers, food industry types, educational institutions, governments and scientists to also think about how to create sustainability structures so that when we’re out of our comfort zones, or our regular rhythms, that we’re still working towards reducing our impact, almost without even knowing!

Maybe this includes re-thinking licensing laws, developing intelligent food packaging solutions (even ones that the tight-arse mums and dads running the chippie will want to purchase) or even an incentive to eat in!, MAKING PUBLIC TRANSPORT AVAILABLE AND ATTRACTIVE!!!, using proper signage (no need for useless maps!), having proper sound insulation and equipment so that you don't need to crank the god-damned speakers until they're bursting, etc, etc, etc.

I know that loads of people are suspicious of companies jumping on the 'green' marketing bandwagon, but this is more than about marketing stuff. It's about making things green and coming to expect them to be made that way.


The AdLads said...

Note to all readers: She's kicking my ass at Scrabble for like the 5th time in a row, but this is an awesome post.

Try to do what you can do when you can do it. It's that simple. There is only one solution to this mess and that's betwix our ears.

Sam out...

Anonymous said...


I've just found your blog (via Russell) and I really like your piece "Rubbish Around the Edges".

If I was more important in my agency I would have asked why 50 of us from around the world were flown last week to XXXXXXXX for a conference that could have been done on a web call. It's shocking how agencies are so slow to learn.

Anyway. All the best.


lauren said...

sam! i must say that you're a pleasure to thrash in scrabble :)

and while you're right about it taking some basic common sense to fix 'this mess', some of it also takes, guts, balls, money and sacrifice, which isn't always easy to come by.

james, so lovely that you could pop by. and believe me, if you're considering things like that, then you're already more important to your agency than you give yourself credit for. please go and see your creative/planning/account director tomorrow morning and tell them that a certain sweary australian would like a stern word with them.

the to agency that james works for, i'm sure you're doing a fantastic job for your clients, but can you please start taking some of your own medicine and start considering your impact on the environement. especially if you're suggesting it to your clients! thank you.

Stan Lee said...

I think your last sentence says it all really, Lauren.

Marcus said...

Lauren get's her mojo on. Love it.

lauren said...

you mean i wasted all those words, stan? bugger.

my mojo... hmmm.. where will i go next with my mojo. perhaps take it for a walk around the block.

Skanky Jane said...

Hey Lauren,

This made me laugh (love the bit about being good and the 1980's) - I'm still waaaaay back but thought of you when I saw this online tonight(re empathy).

It is a dilemma isn't it. If the agencies and other big shots got on board there could still be a lot of fun to be had while walking gently. Problem is the "green" infrastructure (as you point out) isn't there so it's hard right now to do so without becoming a housebound bore. That's the frustrating thing - there are solutions.

Do you ever wonder what art will be like when all the oil runs out?

Jadedism said...

thank you for the credits to my pic