Thinking through Bamboo. The challenges of designing for sustainability in Argentina


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This paper is also available in the Proceedings of the Design for Sustainability Now! Bangalore, India (2010).

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Thinking through Bamboo. The challenges of designing for sustainability in Argentina

  1. 1. Thinking through BambooThe challenge of designing for sustainability in ArgentinaDA Mariana SalgadoMetropolitan Design Centre (CMD)Program of Actualization in Digital Design.Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, University of Buenos Aires.ID Mariana MassigogeMetropolitan Design Centre (CMD)Industrial Design Department.Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, University of Buenos Aires.AbstractThis paper analyzes a case study of an experience done in Buenos Aires, Argentinaduring 2010. The Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD) decided to put up a workshop toexplore and realized products in bamboo in line to the current city campaign to adhereto ecological principles. Afterwards, we, designers working in this centre, realized thatthere was a project from Buenos Aires province government to help the developmentof bamboo in the region. Both institutions joined forces and plan their collaboration.Therefore, forty designers from different disciplines gathered to make products in bam-boo supported by these two institutions.We show the obstacles and opportunities of this collaboration, stressing on the possib-ilities that the project open in the future agenda. We address the questions: How couldgovernmental policies motivate design for sustainability in developing countries from adesigners’ perspective? How policies could reinforce collaboration while the goal issustainability?
  2. 2. IntroductionIn this section we propose to map the state of the design for sustainability (DfS) in Argentina. It ishowever, a difficult task as there is not a centre, or an institution that would concentrate the efforts of thecountry in this matter. Information is spread in within various organizations and there is not a consciousand systematic effort to centralize and document the projects that intend to promote DfS. As a con-sequence we have decided to concentrate on the information and experience that we were able to collectas designers working for the government of Buenos Aires City and in Buenos Aires University. We focuson our experience in the management and organization of activities that deal with DfS. In addition, wecomplement our practical knowledge with some interviews to the designers that participate in the work-shop and to experts in environmental issues and certifications. Global initiatives are requiring greater product responsibility from producers. In Europe, new regula- tions have been enacted that require producers to take more responsibility for their products by providing for the disposal or recycling of products at the end of their useful life. Labelling products with environmental performance data can help to differentiate products as well (Yarwood & Eagan, 2001: 10).Though many ISO (International Organizations for Standards) and IRAM (Argentinean Institute for Nor-malization and Certification) standards are required in Argentina, it is globalization with its growing pos-sibilities for exporting products that encourages Argentinean companies to adhere to these certifications.ISO standards that relate to environmental issues are not yet commonly used but they are being adoptedgradually. The Argentinean government has implemented a permanent plan to help and assist companiesthat want to get these certifications. However, the most important issue, as they are voluntary certifica-tions, is to sensitize designers and companies in order to understand the importance of sustainability mat-ters. This is not an easy endeavour because Argentinean citizens, mainly from the biggest cities, arevaguely conscious of the collateral damage that their everyday behaviour could cause to the environment.Other influential characteristic is that in Argentina, compared with European countries there is a bigquantity of small and medium sized enterprises (SME). This was the consequence of an industrial devel-opment that has a history of ups and downs due to changes in the economic and political system. Fre-quently these enterprises are family businesses with a small structure and therefore hiring a professionaldesigner to develop a product line, for example, is still a way ahead in most of the cases. As a con-sequence, many designers, from the beginning of their careers set up their own companies and start tobuild a SME. One of the major challenges for these designers, setting up their business as soon as theirbachelor degree is finished is that they do not have anymore contact with other professionals in the field.They continue in contact only with close friends, but there is not a network of collaboration among de-signers. There is not a strong design union to congregate and give advice to designers, not enough offersfor master’s degree that could satisfy the needs of the 1500 designers that complete their degree inBuenos Aires University, to give only one example. This number corresponds to the year 2005 (UBA,2010).Another issue that is important here to take in to consideration is the fact that in Argentinean Universitiesthere is not a clear state in the curricula addressing design for sustainability. In addition, there is no Ar-gentinean University in the Learning Network for Sustainability. This fact does not mean that nobodymentions the existence of this subject, but that the presence in the curricula depends on the volunteer ac-tion of the teachers and professors. In general terms it is possible to affirm that there is a slow and grow-ing attention to these issues but not a conscious and intentional project that could position design for sus-tainability in the education agenda as a key factor.Given these conditions, the Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD) has been a meeting point for many free-lancers and entrepreneur designers organizing several courses, seminars, events and other activities fordesigners. In parallel, the CMD had the initiative to use these meeting for discussion that deals withdesign for sustainability.
  3. 3. To describe this situation, enables us to affirm that this informal education of graduate designers towardsdesign for sustainability is a key factor, as they are the leaders of their small and medium sized companiesand they can influence with their design production both clients, end-users and the society at large. Thisprocess of sensitising the designers towards DfS, is a long one. This is not a short-term strategy, but along-term attempt that will show its impact in the next ten years. In this process we do not intend to dealonly with technical solutions that designers might implement, but also with psychological ones. In ouropinion it is vital for designers to understand how they can influence consumer’s behaviour and govern-ment policies that relate to design for sustainability.Designing a DfS workshopIn the previous section we present and describe some of the circumstances that have made designers a keyplayer in educating the society towards sustainability. In this section, we will concentrate on our concreteactions, as learning tools to reflect on the issue. The bamboo workshop that we coordinate in the Metro-politan Design Centre has shown us the need to research into the policies and government measures thatcould motivate design for sustainability.The aim of the program “Integrating the Future” (Integrando al Futuro) is to contribute to raise awarenesstransferring from design patterns of development, production, business and consumption behaviours thatencourage Corporate Social Responsibility, social and environmental sustainability, which tend to intern-alize the Fair Trade criteria.Within this program the Metropolitan Design Centre has organized many activities; workshops that ex-plore different materials (adobe, bamboo, nylon scrap, etc.), conferences that gather different lecturers totalk and transfer their experience and approaches with the different themes, product exhibitions, debateforums with the different stakeholders, window shopping circuits addressed to all brands and design stu-dios, where the objective of the activity is to work not only from the production side, promoting productsthat incorporate sustainable design criteria, but also from the consumption side, encouraging responsibleconsumption behaviours.The bamboo workshop is an activity focused on research and experimentation. We invite designers to ex-plore with materials and techniques so as to generate new tools to transfer in the future to other agents ofthe value chain as we explain in previous section. The workshop as an activity gave us the possibility toget to know a vast group of designers and discuss with them on the basis of their design proposals. Ingeneral, designers are more familiar with this type of discussion, based on their own proposals. Present-ing design decisions behind a proposal, designers present themselves and their values. In other events (asconference or festivals) we have had difficulty in creating fruitful discussions that really influence designdecisions, but workshops allow designers to learn in our own way, by doing. This aligns with the "design-erly ways of knowing" (Cross, 2007).The workshops we organized in the CMD always consist of six meetings, being the second one a wholeday trip somewhere related to the material in question. This trip is important to get to know the group andto break the ice among the participants. In this case we went to the Tigre, delta part of La Plata River.There, we saw the bamboo plantations and we listened to a lecture from a researcher in bamboo from theProvincial Direction of Islands.The workshop series based on a material that can be considered "eco-friendly" as bamboo is an easy wayto start discussions and tackle the complex problem of design for sustainability. It is thinking about sus-tainability, through bamboo. As we say in the previous section, there is not in our country an awarenessof the importance and impact of design decisions on the environment. Therefore, in order to start sensit-ising the designers, choosing an eco-friendly material was the simplest way we could find for opening thediscussion on the subject. Also, beginning by selecting a material that is renewable, recyclable and com-
  4. 4. postable was a way to start the life cycle of the products in line with design for sustainability principles.The selection of the material makes designers psychologically aware of and conscious about the frame-work of the workshop in within sustainable development. They could not avoid thinking about other char-acteristics of the design proposals that reinforce their projects in this context.By departing from the material we introduce the topic of design for sustainability and in parallel presentother ways to initiate a design process. We propose some exercises as a brainstorming and a sense andbody exploration. These were seen for designers as a great exercise to break the ice motivating them toshare and get to know who was besides them.The Metropolitan Design Centre is promoting design for sustainability in collaboration with other agen-cies and organizations. In this case, we have set the collaboration with the Provincial Direction of Islands(DPDI). We found out during our previews research that the DPDI has an economic development pro-gram based on bamboo for the Delta area that had some points of connection with our project. Therefore,we decided to propose a collaboration agenda for the project. During the trip day, they lecture the parti-cipants on the material mechanical properties and also gave a concrete overview of the different stake-holders involved with bamboo as well as advice on how to choose the right type of bamboo. Their expert-ise on the subject was an important starting point for the designers. On the other hand, we will be organiz-ing another workshop addressed to Delta craftsman that is part of the bamboo Producer’s Forum, organ-ized by DPDI. This workshop will deal with production and design methods with the aim of getting bettercommercial products. Another city sector with which we organized design-oriented activities is the Envir-onmental Protection Agency (APrA).These collaborations should not happen by chance. We would need to implement some common plat-forms to get to know about each other projects and interests. At the beginning of our bamboo project weunderstood the importance of creating a discussion forum in order to share ideas and debate. This is whywe started a blog, together with all participants of the workshop, to promote the online discussion withthe members of the other organizations, producers, vendors, designers and researchers that could be inter-ested in bamboo.In addition the blog ( was presented as a learning tool for theparticipants in the workshop having in mind different goals. We wanted to introduce new technology toparticipants, create a discussion forum, and build knowledge together on design for sustainability issues.We gave to all participants editorial rights and we encouraged them to write and collect research materialtogether in the blog. The blog as a daily tool to publish online was new to most of the designers that parti-cipated in the workshop. They do not use blogs for their daily professional activities and neither do theycomment on other blogs regularly. They have used the blog to collect material about how bamboo wasused in others part of the world and to publish their design proposals.However, it is not common practice of industrial, textile, graphic designers and architects in our countryto share their drafts and discuss online about the design possibilities. Though, we have insisted and triedto promote the blog as a discussion forum, designers mainly used it as a place to share their investigationand show results. Only when they have their products in a mature state with nice drawings and finishedproposals do they dare to publish them in the blog. Neither have they had comment on others design pos-sibilities online.An interesting fact to notice is that participants from the bamboo Producer’s Forum participated in ourworkshop. This was possible thanks to the collaboration network we establish with DPDI and also to theactual state of bamboo development in the country that is still handle by a small or manageable amount oforganizations so its easy to find the actors that are working with it. This was a key issue for getting toknow the producers and other stakeholders that were involved with bamboo from a different perspective.The bamboo design objects that came out from this workshop showed the result of the material researchand the processes exploration. There were products that used the bamboo in a laminar way, others thattook the natural shape of it, some added new technology to its processing as laser cutting to generate tex-tures. Also, there were products that merged the bamboo with other materials as the aluminium, using thebamboo as the structural material.
  5. 5. It was also interesting the connotative work of some of the projects. The bamboo has a strong East refer-ence therefore it is challenging to design products in the West. The barbecue table may be the most strik-ing product when we analysed the results from this point of view. The necklace also showed a new wayof using the material, a new application of the wood, as a delicate material merged with metal cords. Thebamboo design objects were: lightings, room dividers, curtains, women clothes, a long board, two chairsand one table, sushi table, barbecue table, rack, artist nibs, a necklace, a raft. Figure 1.Fig.1: Necklace. Designers: Tamara Lisenberg and Martín Martini.Designers need more recognition and support to carry on with sustainable projects, as the one they havestarted in the bamboo workshop. In the last meeting we opened the debate about what designers need tocontinue the production and commercialization of the products they had developed and the main concernwas the financial assistance and access to economic resources. Analysing the comments that resultedfrom the forum we understood that what is really needed is the knowledge and the support in putting to-gether a business with these characteristics due to the fact that the economic resources may be foundwhen you have a clear vision of what you need.Government, Companies, Designers and end-usersIt is important to acknowledge that though we try in this paper to explore an answer to the question ofwhat the government can do to motivate DfS from a designer perspective; the umbrella question would bewhat all the stakeholders involved could do. Creating awareness and sensitising about this topic shouldhappen together with all the groups involved in product development, such as companies, designers, end-users and the government. For example, Argentinean companies could be involved in the World BusinessCouncil for Sustainable Development ( in order to get support to operate, innovateand grow in a world increasingly shaped by sustainable development issues.As designers, we have our own perspective on understanding what the government could do, because weare exploring this issues using our designs as tools for understanding what kind of needs and support oursustainable design proposals need to be realized as products. In previous section we notice the lack ofmeeting points with several organizations whose work relates to sustainability. Making use of web 2.0tools could be a way to advance towards solidifying the net of collaboration. But the real change couldcome only if government policies motivate collaboration. The same as with the University, at the momentthe collaboration within organizations is not set as priority in the agenda, but as something that might ormight not happen depending on the good will of the persons involved. Sometimes collaboration meansthat we spend working days by travelling to meet people in other parts of the city. In the case of the bam-boo workshop for example there is two hours car trip from one organization to the other. Incentives forworkers involved in networks of collaboration within other organizations could be a positive change.During the time of the workshop the Metropolitan Design Centre also organized an event on the Environ-ment day where some of the participants in the workshop came over. In this event we had a panel discus-sion on design for sustainability. Some designers that had already started their collections based on sus-tainable design sold their objects. This type of events are important to get to know other people interestedin similar issues but also, as only designers doing and promoting design for sustainability can participateand sell their products for free are a way to recognize them within the design community. Also, itshowed the designers that participated in our workshops and do not have a line of products on the market,that design for sustainability could be the concept of a design company.On the other hand, the CMD, has a program named IncuBA that works like most of the incubation pro-grams but what differentiates it is that the project that are selected must have a design based business.This program has selected and promoted projects based on design for sustainability, there are 3 enter-
  6. 6. prises in the current program that put together their business plan based on design for sustainability;Gruba (, MHU! Minimahuella ( and MateosDavenport ( the moment there is only one significant competition or prize in the country that specially deal withthe issue of Design for sustainability, and this could be a simple way to put designers to incorporate thesevalues to their design decisions. It is, nowadays, starting to be one of the basic criteria used to select theawarded ones. The most important National Design Competition (Innovar, 2010) deals with innovationand has special categories for sustainable projects.Some manufacturers require their suppliers to have an environmental management system (EMS) such asISO14001 as a way to demonstrate their commitment to the environment (Kurk & McNamara, 2006: 29).In Argentina important oil companies are asking their providers to get the certifications in this way theygenerate a chain of good practice. IRAM (Argentinean Institute for Normalization and Certification) hasthe IRAM-ISO 64 that provides a manual for dealing with environmental issues in product development.Another important certification that is gradually being adopted is the ISO/TR 14062. This normalizationis about environmental management and the integration of environmental aspects into product design anddevelopment.The government could provide support for translation and printing of the already published material onDesign for Sustainability. Editorial projects that promote and communicate concrete tools for designersare missing. We believe that by promoting these projects designers could make more informed decisions.“Ecological accounting through the use of analytical tools, such as Life Cycle Analysis, and standardpractices that measure environmental impact is an element of good product engineering and design”.(Ceridon, 2009: 3). Designers and companies need more instruction for using analytical tools such as theone that Kimi Ceridon proposes as a good practice for measuring environmental impact. But also there isa need to understand labels and policies related to sustainability. For example, they would need supportfor implementing the ISO 1043-1 for marking plastics.There are certain restrictions as the European Union RoHS directive (Restriction of Certain HazardousSubstances, effective July 2006) that set maximum levels for lead, cadmium, mercury, and other sub-stances (Kurk & McNamara, 2006: 12). Some European companies are already prepared for such restric-tions. Therefore, if Argentinean companies intend to commercialize with European countries they shouldstart to consider them and be prepared to adjust their products to them.The issue of design for sustainability is in line with other city government actions for a more eco-friendlylife in Buenos Aires city. We understand that this workshop is only a small contribution, but it has helpedus to draw directions and map possibilities of what could governmental actions can do to grow the seedsthat we are planting. The more the government should induce companies to get the certifications support-ing their payment, excepting companies that voluntary use the international labels from taxes, and givingconsulting guidance, the more the companies will react positively towards sustainable issues.DiscussionIn this process we do not intend to deal only with technical solutions that designers might implement, butalso with psychological ones.. In our opinion it is vital for designers to understand how they could influ-ence in consumers behaviour and governmental policies that relate to design for sustainability.In section 3 we give a detailed description with concrete ideas on how the government polices can pro-mote articulating, consulting, educating, spreading, standardizing, getting financial support, researchingand recognizing the DfS. As designers working in the area is important to have a sensitive ear on policyissues and be ready to understand how these issues influence our daily work, our products and our de-
  7. 7. cision making processes. Being more aware and documenting these issues are important steps towardslearning on sustainability. On the other hand, designers well informed on policy issues can influence DfSand with it take informed decisions.Every designer should have the possibility to access information related to laws, methods and tools ad-dressing sustainability as a basic component of the syllabus of every subject. Though, we believe thateducation towards these issues should happen constantly, it is vital to be presented in the first years of ourvocational training as the bases of design.In concordance with Ezio Manzini (2007: 239) the governance tools needed have to promote horizontallinks between peers, while connecting different vertical levels of the public administration organisationalstructure. This workshop illustrates the linkages between actors, artefacts and social arenas and show howthese elements build upon each other while sharing values and promoting sensibility towards design forsustainability. This process of incorporating a new sensibility towards sustainable issues happens notwithout tensions; this is why we wanted to reinforce the proactive role that governmental institutionscould have.As a country that is in a development stage in this area we need to enable new solutions and propose newpaths without necessarily going through every step the developed countries took. We have the advantagethat we can learn and replicate good practices in the light of the aim we want to achieve.AcknoledgementsThanks to Silvia Veizman for the interview. She provided us with meaningful insides about the complexcertification system in Argentina. We also want to thank Clara Peña y María Emilia Caro from the DDPIthat replied to our many questions. Our gratitude goes also for Cindy Kohtala, Yanina Kinigsberg andMartin Avila for recommending us bibliography on the subject. Finally, we thank all the participants inthe workshop that with their energy and support motivate us to reflect on the experience. Thanks to all ofyou!BibliographyCeridon, K. (2009) “Green Design with Life Cycle in Mind”. Edited by ChangeThis. festo/show/62.06.GreenDesign accessed 2 July 2010.Cross, N. (2007) Designerly ways of knowing. London: Springer-VerlagInnovar (2010). accessed 7 July 2010.Kurk, F. and McNamara, C. (2006) Better by Design. An Innovation Guide: Using Natural Design Solutions. USA: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.Manzini, E. (2007) “Design research for sustainable social innovation”. Design Research Now. Springer, pp.233-245.UBA (2010). Stadistical data. accessed on 7 July 2010.Yarwood, J. M. and Eagan, P. D. (2001) Design for the Environment. A Competitive Edge for the Future. Toolkit. USA: Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance.
  8. 8. BiographyMariana Salgado holds a doctoral degree from Media Lab, University of Art and Design, Helsinki and amaster degree in Product and Strategic Design from the same University. She has worked during 9 yearsas designer and researcher at the Media Lab Helsinki. During 2010 she is visiting researcher in the Uni-versity of Buenos Aires and worked as collaborator in the Metropolitan Design Centre.mariana.salgado@iki.fiMariana Massigoge has a bachelor degree in Industrial Design from the University of Buenos Aires.Since 2008 she has worked as the coordinator of the Design Management area of the Metropolitan DesignCentre. She has also been teaching at the University of Palermo and the University of Buenos Aires.Since 2006 she has been working as a volunteer at the NGO Progresar in a program intended for culturaland educational