Through her leadership of strategic research, community cultural interpretation, brand master planning ,and design development for numerous clients, Principal and Global Discipline Leader for Perkins+Will Branded Environments Eileen Jones has developed and exemplified a more holistic view of sustainability in design. "Sustainability is a three-part proposition–environmental, economic, and social," she says. But how can designers address all three of these issues? Therein lies the challenge and core mission of design, according to Jones.
Here, Jones explains her philosophy to Contract magazine readers and details how their skills can be used to better benefit all people and make lasting impressions on the world.
What do you believe is the definition of sustainability to designers today? Does the term go beyond simply being green and utilizing eco-friendly materials in projects?
The design industry was initially focused on the environmental aspects of sustainability—i.e., making things green—and quickly moved to include the economic impacts, particularly as clients were seeking to understand the fiscal impacts of environmental sustainability around facility and campus-wide decisions.
The industry is just now beginning to question the third part of that equation—social sustainability or responsibility—and trying to understand how this can complete a holistic view of work and practice. When viewed in this manner, sustainability deals with “systems” not just “things.” It is about commitment to doing what’s right to improve the human condition both generally and specifically.
Your gave a talk at NeoCon in June that deiscussed a holistic view of sustainability as a social responsibility. Can you elaborate what you mean?
Communities thrive because they are social systems with interdependencies and common forms of agreements. When things fail within those communities, all parties are impacted by those failures. As designers, we can use our skills to assist in finding solutions to those failed systems and improve the overall quality of life for those in greatest need, and further improving life for all people. Making design” accessible to those who need it most has a huge impact on social systems.
What role and inherent responsibility do you feel design has, and has come to have over the years, in benefiting people and making a lasting impression?
Design is ultimately about human engagement and interaction. Designers are problem solvers with aesthetic sensibilities, and ultimately apply their skill sets to solve problems. As such, we have a responsibility to treat design with respect and consider the universal application of our solutions while tailoring solutions to specific needs of specific populations.
Have you always been an advocate for sustainability? When did you first become enlightened to the importance of “green”?
My awareness of sustainability starts with early readings about indigenous populations—their philosophy as caretakers of the earth and the importance of social systems. Thoughts expressed in their stories deal with the interconnectedness of different life forms and ecosystems, and the harm we do to ourselves through careless actions.
What do you feel is the most important lesson that the next generation of designers needs to learn about sustainability?
That designers truly are caretakers of the planet and have a responsibility to do no harm; in fact, we have a responsibility to make life better. If you imbed a sustainable approach into your design work process, it becomes second nature, not something that needs to be treated separately. Design can equal sustainability—environmental, economic, and social.