Power in Numbers

Professional associations working together can help all designers become environmental stewards.

A design idea remains just that—a thought, a dream, a projection—until it materializes. The success of the ultimate form often depends on the materials chosen. Every designer knows this. But what they have yet to fully grasp is the power their material choices have to change the world. I feel it’s my moral duty to call attention again and again to this fact.

Every chance I get I mention the GDP (the Gross Designed Product) and its implications for our environmental health and well-being. The idea of the GDP is a simple one: architects as well as designers specializing in interiors, products, graphics, and landscape are responsible for putting huge volumes of materials in motion. They specify everything from concrete to metal to wood to synthetics to paper—myriad products, thousands with mysterious provenance, suspected of causing harm to living creatures.

About 50,000 architects are responsible for creating $800 billion worth of construction projects every year in the United States. This is real purchasing power. And it’s only a portion of the GDP. Each trade association has its own measurements of the work its members perform and by implication the value of the products they specify. Together these organizations—AIA, ASID, IIDA, IDSA, AIGA, and others—can force the production of environmentally safe, energy-efficient products. They’re also in the position to provide research, analysis, and solid information about the properties and behaviors of materials. And they can bring together their own experts with other design professionals as well as those in the natural and social sciences, thus providing their combined members with the kind of information that the citizen designer of the twenty-first-century needs.

Though the signs indicate that the old territorial squabbling between the professions is abating, this is a fragile truce that must turn into a peace treaty with a backbone. Working together, keeping the power of the GDP in mind, designers are poised to make a better tomorrow today. The next generations will be grateful for their efforts. And current practitioners will have the satisfaction of knowing they lived up to the mission of every great designer: to make our world better.

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