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2 Products, Contexts and Capacities

Then one becomes aware that, when things become lighter, smaller, more efficient and cheaper, they are trying to change their constitution and multiply their numbers, develop for wider and faster consumption, converge with fashion (like wristwatches) or approach the ephemerality of throw-away items (like cameras). Similarly, the development of user-friendly interfaces that are supposed to ease otherwise tedious and difficult procedures tends to trivialise and eventually sprawl. For example the notorious “push and print syndrome”, together with the proliferation of computers and text editors, has made editing and printing so easy that every document is now printed in countless copies, infinitely multiplying the consumption of paper. Definitely a great and for many also tragic eye-opener of today has been the rebound or boomerang effect, i. e. a phenomenon, where certain technological decisions were believed to be ecologically positive, but turned out to generate even more problems when put into use. As a matter of fact, as the aforementioned cases demonstrate, every technological improvement that is intended to raise the ecoefficiency of products and services appears to become a new and “natural” opportunity for consumption for reasons that are inherent in the overall socio-technical system. This is accompanied by a substantial increase in the unsustainability of the given system. The fact that nobody was able to forecast such a course of events springs from the technocratic culture that is dominant among observers who have always disregarded the complexity of the socio-cultural implications of technological innovations and, most of all, has never really recognised their systemic dimension. Even if in hindsight it seems clear, it was a bitter discovery of inevitable, laidout facts: the industrial mitigation of single product lines has brought and will continue to bring a cumulative and multiplying cause–effect relationship between mitigation and consumption growth, unless something else is changed.

2.2.3 Lightness as a Non-sufficient but Necessary Condition The last statement of the previous paragraph should not be misunderstood: it only attests to what we have had to learn, i. e. that the product lightening on its own does not guarantee any greater sustainable effects among the final results. But it does not exclude the respective research into light products (i. e. low environmental impact throughout the life cycle) from being a beneficial course to be followed with all the energy available, even if we know that it alone is not a sufficient precondition for sustainable solutions, but more than ever it is an indispensable condition. Sustainable society can only be an outcome of structural changes, but in the end it has to be supported by a new generation of products, which without doubt have to be light products 1. 1 Cf. Von Weizsacker et al. (1997); Berzet and Hemel (1997); McDonough and Braungart (2002).

Design for Environmental Sustainability  

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