UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 2


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This is one in a series of documents that follow my UCLA winter 2010 course titled Cradle to Cradle: Closed Loop Systems. This interdisciplinary course contributes to the school's Certificate of Global Sustainability.

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UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 2

  1. 1. UCLAx class 2 1 UCLAx Cradle to Cradle: class 2 Our second night of class focused on the topic of community engagement and local material cultivation. To give the issue context in relation to the need for transition from industrial age to sustainable age thinking, we need to first look at how the industrial revolution was the single largest migration from field to factory - from agrarian to industrial - from suburban to urban - from harvest to assembly line. Two hundred years ago, the majority of the world’s population lived in the country. It was rare to for the average person to even visit a city. But today the opposite is true. Globally, more than half of all people live in cities. In China alone there are thirty-one cities with a population larger than one million. Never before have so many people moved from one type of landscape to another in so short a time frame. Prior to the industrial age, producer and consumer were much closer. In most cases they lived in the same town or village. But mass produced goods manufactured in urban factories sold to a wider audience meant greater distance between those who manufacture goods and those who purchase them. Early on factories were located close to vital raw materials, workforce labor, accessible energy, and prospective customers. Back then raw materials hardly had to be extracted. As an example, early coal deposits stuck right out of earth. It really didn’t require much mining. As resource supplies in one location dwindled or were extinguished, and as labor costs rose with an increased standard of living, new sources had to be found for both. Gradual economic globalization has dramatically decreased the cost of transport and exponentially increased the distance traveled between resource extraction point and store shelf. The average item on a grocery store shelf has traveled 1,500 miles. And process that were once quite simple have increased in complexity along the route. At the same time, forms of communication have undergone a similar transformation keeping pace with advances in technology. The invention of radio in the late 1800s was the first mass media of significant scale. Although print - through books, newspapers, and magazines - had been commonplace for hundreds of years, the radio was the first dramatic step toward a one-size-fits-all approach in product design and promotion. Manufactured goods lost their locational specificity. Once radio usage achieved wide-scale acceptance, the race was on to create more generic products which appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Television amplified those effects, and the internet today is radically transforming long held marketing practices. www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601
  2. 2. UCLAx class 2 2 To reach a broader audience, manufacturers have made their products more universal and less specific. They have been quick to leverage new forms of communication and promotion - through print, then radio, then television, and now the internet. There's hardly a physical or digital surface in the world that hasn’t been considered for branded messages. But this kind of brand building has led to heavy homogenization. Purchase a coffee at your local Starbucks and you’ll discover a customer experience basically the same no matter what part of the country, or world, you happen to be in. To be fair, Starbucks is experimenting with new locally focused concepts - discussed here. Of course, consistent brand message and experience is absolutely vital to retailers operating so many stores in so many varied locations. Starbucks alone has more than 15,000 units and the top ten U.S. retailers operate more than 31,000 domestic stores. But the physical places have become indistinguishable and monotonous. Even though we acknowledge the importance of a consistent brand experience, customers are no longer connected to the real brand but instead only have relationships with their surrogates. Brand images, logo marks, and easily recognized features are not the brand itself. Who wouldn’t be able to recognize the orange roof of a Home Depot before they’ve even seen the sign? Who wouldn’t recognize the red roof of a McDonald’s before seeing the double arches? Not only have consumers gotten further disconnected from producers, but the physical places where any level of interaction could occur is utterly removed from the community being served. While the past two-hundred and fifty years have shown that the best and fastest way to an elevated standard of living follows the path of industrialization, that same route leads to human separation, alienation, and dislocation. New sustainable design strategies must account for this unintended consequence and vigilantly bridge the growing gap between ubiquitous place-making and apathetic participants. To demonstrate a real world example, I invited my good friend Jason Panneton to join the discussion and present some of his recent work. Jason and I worked together on a retail design project for a client in Santa Cruz, CA where connection to place and local material sourcing were both key elements of the design. Jason walked the students through the design process and showed them how specific design attributes and attitudes can reflect communal culture. As a quick example, surfing, sailing, and action sport lifestyles are a big part of the region identity and have their own visual vocabulary, materials, language, and graphic style. Jason and his team investigated how to tap into those in subtle ways that wouldn’t be obvious or applied, yet would still be meaningful. He also showed how one specific design solution has become a new side venture for himself and a colleague. They’ve combined locally sourced salvaged sail cloth and the services of sewing company www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601
  3. 3. UCLAx class 2 3 within the L.A. garment district to manufacturing beautiful pendant lamps based on those originally designed for the store in Santa Cruz. Their idea is to locally source raw materials, salvaged components, and local production to make products with appeal to coastal communities. The students grilled him with thoughtful questions and pressed him for greater detail than I think any of us were expecting. It was an enjoyable night and hopefully we were all exposed to new thinking that will lead to altered perspectives about what constitutes original source material for any design or product. www.threadcollaborative.com ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601