Climate Change and Design
"Our climate is changing - that is now indisputable." A report by World Bank (2009) concludes that studies have shown that human activities such as burning fossil fuels have contributed massively to the economic and environmental problems we are now facing. This is putting huge pressure on designers to come up with solutions to combat this everyday universal crisis. Campaigns to recycle daily household waste and to walk or cycle to work have swept the nation. A report by Appliance Design (2009) states that "more then 8/10 consumers say that energy efficiency is the most important feature for them." Major companies have recognised this and have started producing eco friendly packaging and products - promoting this as a selling point. A considerable amount of time and money have been invested in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro electric power. Designers are also looking at the built environment and constructing ‘Green’ buildings.
Over millions of years of the world’s existence the climate has changed dramatically. In 1986 Arrhenius discovered that emissions released into the Earth’s atmosphere from burning fossil fuels would lead to global warming whilst cutting CO2 emissions by half could potentially lead to an ice age. A few years earlier Jean-Baptiste Fourier proposed that the Earth’s atmosphere kept the planet warm thus introducing the greenhouse effect. The first real warning that climate change could potentially be disastrous came in 1967 when computers estimated that the world’s temperature could rise by more then 4 degrees Fahrenheit and consequently, the ice caps would melt and sea levels rise. Governments around the world met to discuss how they could prevent warming and set themselves targets for reducing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
These are just some of the questions R Cassidy addresses in his report on Green Buildings and Climate change. His studies have shown
That our actions are the main cause of global warming. Due to the greenhouse effect, Earth’s temperature is escalating at an alarming rate which may prove catastrophic to our planets existence today. A report by World Bank suggests that the rise in natural disasters such as floods, droughts, heat waves and forest fires is connected with the increase in temperature. Experts have estimated that climate change may also wipe out ¼ of all known species proving catastrophic to the economy and food chain. It proposes a theory that if we can observe and control the amount of harmful substances being released into the atmosphere, we can restrict the increase in natural disasters and allow the environment to adjust naturally. They foresee that if we do not take action now, the temperature by 2100 will rise by 2.5-7 degrees Celsius worldwide.
Renewable energy sources are being presented as a solution to the worlds shortage of coal, natural gas and oil - otherwise known as fossil fuels. The emissions of these fuels have impacted on the environment contributing towards global warming. R.E.H. Sims argues that increasing the use of renewable energy within industry will be tricky especially as resources such as coal and oil are still obtainable and inexpensive. Huge multinational companies such as BP have put in massive amounts of money towards these projects and will not be prepared to lose it. Renewable energy such as wind power has been used for centuries. Website www.darvill.clara.net states that wind power has been used as far back as "4,000 years ago when the Babylonians and Chinese used the wind to pump water for irrigating crops." Most recently wind power has been used to generate electricity with several turbines being built together creating ‘wind farms.’ These farms are usually situated around the coastline and are designed to provide an alternative electricity supply. Another renewable energy source is the sun. The recent invention of solar panels for generating heating and electricity are eco friendly and make the most of the worlds natural resources. Solar panels are made up of solar cells which convert light into electricity and are generally more effective in sunny countries. However as technology progresses an increasing amount of solar panels are being used in the UK. Larry Elliot journalist for the guardian newspaper recently revealed "10,000 Birmingham council homes were to get solar panels". Solar panels can provide homes with around 90% of their energy supply and are often built into the roof of the house in order to absorb the majority of sunlight.
Design of ‘Green’ buildings are becoming increasingly important as designers have to consider energy efficiency and the effect of CO2 emissions which contribute towards global warming. A book in collaboration with Professor Peter Droege, Partridge and Veale state:
"Developing a strategy to achieve a low carbon urban form requires addressing all aspects of carbon emissions in the urban environment. This includes not only building energy consumption but also transport, waste generation, recycling and material use."
When designing a green building, designers must take into consideration ways to reduce energy use and limit the long term impact of fuels from heating and electricity systems, safe disposal of waste and the impact of the building materials on the environment. Designers must think about ventilation, location, shape and size of the building in order to make it energy efficient. For example in a temperate climate, low rise buildings may be much more energy efficient then high rise buildings. Due to ventilation and shading from other taller buildings or vegetation it will be cheaper to cool thus saving energy.
Another way in which designers are attempting to control carbon emissions are with eco friendly cars. These hybrid cars provide consumers with a better mileage whilst reducing CO2 emissions. The majority run on a gasoline-electric system, combining the speed of petrol run cars with the eco friendly properties of an electric vehicle. Pollution is a huge problem, especially in large cities. Designers are looking at ways in which to decrease air pollution and are encouraging the residents and visitors to take public transport in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Many major cities - most recently Edinburgh are reinstalling tram lines in order to reduce pollution from the amount of buses and cars in the city centre. These trams will run electrically appealing to the public and benefiting the environment.
A considerable amount of money has been invested into campaigns for cycling and walking in order to be more eco friendly. Graphic designers have concentrated on promoting this via posters, mottos and logos. One example is the company Go Smart based in Dumfries and Galloway, which encourages people to walk and cycle in order to be greener. They aspire "to encourage both residents and visitors of Dumfries to reduce their car use in favour of more sustainable modes of travel." Decreasing car journeys by a minimum of 5% by promoting cycling as an everyday method of transport. The campaign has been so successful that they are now promoting it in cities and towns throughout Scotland.
Many multinational companies are consciously making their products and packaging more eco friendly. A report by Appliance design states that "The American society of heating refrigerating and air conditioning engineers have committed to using and developing natural refrigerants" in their kitchen appliances. This means there is less carbon being released into the atmosphere during the manufacturing process as they only use ‘natural refrigerants’ in their products. They are aware that it is a high priority of consumers to purchase more eco friendly products and so to market their refrigerators as being environmentally friendly is a major selling point. Again the design behind the campaigns and the design of the products play a major part in aiding in awareness of global warming as well as the future of the planet.
Another company seen to be going green is Kenco Coffee. Their recent humorous advertisements have been designed to target and encourage customers to be more eco friendly. Sustainability is a very important issue for them, working alongside The Rainforest Alliance to ensure their coffee beans are obtained from certified farms. They generate 85% of their energy used in manufacturing and have even started to produce recyclable paper cups. The design of their ‘97% less packaging’ promotion appeals to consumers and benefit’s the environment by reducing the amount of household waste.
In conclusion, designers must look at everything that affects climate change so they can then develop a realistic plan that results in carbon emissions and pollution which contribute to global warming being lowered in everyday life. They are consistently working hard on a variety of campaigns, products and new inventions, brainstorming new ideas and ways in which to reduce climate change, so we can preserve precious ecosystems and life on earth for future generations.
Appliance Design (2009) vol57, Climate Change Resolutions
Cassidy, R. Green Buildings and Climate Change: sixth in series of annual reports on the Green Building Movement, Building Design and Construction
Droege, P. (2010) Climate Design: Design and Planning for the age of Climate Change, ORO Editions
Elliot, L. (2010) 10,000 Birmingham council homes to get solar panels. guardian.co.uk