Defining Sustainable Design

Although “Green” is definitely one of the biggest buzz words of 2010 and most likely the rest of the decade, there’s a good deal of confusion among consumers in regards to which products and materials are truly sustainable, and not just a marketing ploy.

Below, we give over the podium to New York Times design critic Alice Rawsthorn, who poses some interesting questions about “green” design in her article, Debating Sustainability:

“What exactly is sustainable design? What constitutes success? And failure? On what criteria? Different designers may well give very different answers to all of those questions, and more.”


These questions were aired in January at a debate called “Design for Sustainability” at World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Discrepancies and inconsistencies do exist, acknowledged panel participants including architect William McDonough, industrial designer Tim Brown and Architecture for Humanity co-founder Cameron Sinclair, despite the fact that many in the design/build industry have been quick to adopt common standards, like LEED,

Each of the above participants in the panel discussion were to name two examples of successful sustainable design and one failed example. Both were equally enlightening, according to Rawsthorn. (Spoil alert: one failed sustainable design project named was the Segway personal transporter!) Read more in Debating Sustainability.

Although Davos may not have resolved the ultimate question — “What is sustainable design?” — we suspect the term will continue to evolve as everyone from architects and builders to product developers discover new and inspiring ways to make all aspects of design more efficient.