Design, Ecology, Politics: Towards Ecocene Design Economies

by Dr. Joanna Boehnert
on November 14, 2019

Despite accumulative social and technological innovation, the design industry continues to face significant obstacles when addressing issues of sustainability. For the sustainability-oriented, it is obvious that designed products, spaces, services and communications must work with nature’s patterns and processes to create conditions that will be amenable for human civilization over time and also make adequate room for other species to flourish. In more stark language, design must be mobilized to slow down cascading ecological crises that are proliferating around us including climate change and a sixth extinction event. Instead, we all rely on designed products, spaces, services and communications that continue to cumulatively create highly unsustainable ways of living. All design disciplines (product, architecture, service, communication, fashion, etc.) are implicated in this reproduction of unsustainability – despite the fact that sustainable alternatives are now available.

My work responds to these problems with a focus on the political economy of design while simultaneously theorising transition pathways to sustainable ways of living generated by new design economies. Climate change and other environmental problems call for systems transitions across all sectors and domains. These contexts include the systems that influence priorities and practices in the design industry, i.e. the socio-economic-political context. The sustainability predicament requires deep reaching interrogation of the knowledge systems that have traditionally dismissed environmental concerns. Responsible design must be both critically and ecologically engaged. Systems mapping offers a means for designers to provoke an appreciation of complexity as a prelude to decision making on issues of sustainability.

This talk will introduce the arguments I put forward in the book Design, Ecology, Politics: Towards the Ecocene (Bloomsbury, 2018), the paper Anthropocene Economics and Design: Heterodox Economics for Design Transitions (She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 2018) and the recent The Conversation article: “Techno-fix futures will only accelerate climate chaos – don’t believe the hype”. It will also over a brief overview of some research that puts these ideas into practice – including the new ESPR project Powering Productivity: Exploring links between energy, wellbeing and the UK’s productivity puzzle.

About Dr. Joanna Boehnert

Dr. Joanna Boehnert is an environmental communicator, designer and educator. She is a lecturer in Design at the Loughborough University. Her first book Design, Ecology, Politics: Towards the Ecocene was published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2018. She is a Canadian who tweets at @ecocene and @ecolabs.