Designing the New Economy

January 29, 2009
  • Aron Cramer portrait

    Aron Cramer

    President and CEO, BSR

Davos is scheduled with military precision. The World Economic Forum plans the event to the last detail, and participants like me run frantically in the snow from meeting to meeting. But it’s the chance encounters that tend to make the time here especially worthwhile.

At the opening night reception, I had the fortune of meeting four people who are using design to build a more sustainable economy. What’s particularly noteworthy is that not one of them comes from a sustainability background; instead, they spring from urban planning, journalism, and architecture.

Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator for Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York spoke passionately about how sustainability should not be about piety, but rather passion and creation.

Christopher Luebkeman of Arup talked to me about his firm’s work on models for sustainable cities in 2030, including Hong Kong and São Paulo. He spoke of the need to break down silos within government and other constituencies as the foundation for sustainable cities. Arup is working with the C40 initiative of the UN Global Compact to make this a reality.

Toshiko Mori is using her platform as head of architecture at the Harvard School of Design to catalyze emerging architects and designers to think about the social impacts of their work.

Rounding out this impromptu gathering was Alice Rawsthorn, design critic for the International Herald Tribune, who’s facilitating a workshop on sustainability for tomorrow’s consumers, along with me, Brian Collins of COLLINS, and Tim Brown of IDEO.

There’s lots of talk at Davos about how the recession is taking everyone back to basics. But for these design gurus, sustainability is providing a path forward. And, in turn, it’s a path being enriched by folding design principles deeper into the world of sustainability.

For anyone asking the question of whether sustainability will survive the downturn, this is a shaft of light, giving reason for optimism.

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