Happy New Year from Inhabitat! Today marks the beginning of a new calendar year, and it’s the perfect opportunity right now to look towards the coming year with new ideas, goals and resolutions. While it’s traditional for us to make personal resolutions, we at Inhabitat feel its important to reflect on the environment and the state of the design industry and make some green design resolutions for 2008. What is the future of green design? What important issues, movements, and ideas do we foresee being influential? What do we hope to see in the coming year? Read on to hear our thoughts, and from all of us at Inhabitat, here’s to a wonderful 2008!

Last year I wrote a long wordy resolution about what green really meant to me and how we might improve upon our actions as designers and consumers in 2007. This year I’m taking a different tack- one of simplicity, intention, and optimism. In 2008, let’s do whatever we do, use the tools at our disposal, and work our days FOR GOOD. That’s it. Green design is what we preach, but let’s make sure to use “green” (materials, production methods, and systems) for things that matter and will make our world better. Let’s expand environmental responsibility to include good ethical choices. What’s better- a $6000 bamboo table? Or a simple shelter built from cinderblocks to house a squatter family? Both are important and valuable, but let’s not forget that real sustainability isn’t just about materiality. It’s a tool for improvement both environmental and social. Here’s to the next 365 days of adventure and good. And to all our supporters, thanks for making 2007 such a wonderful year.

Be informed and act properly! If 2007 was the year that the world took notice of how necessary it was to be green, then 2008 will be the year when every company will want you to be green by using their products. From now on, it isn’t enough to just go on and do something that is meant to be green, but rather, one should make the effort to know what it is that they are doing and to find out if indeed that is the greenest option, or if it is just a load of greenwashing.

But alas, that won’t be enough! So far, the focus has been on energy efficiency, but being sustainable should encompass everything that we do, from the way that we eat, dress, even the things we do not purchase and do not need. It is about caring for the environment, and being aware that there exists abuse of labor practices around the world, abuse which we have the power to stop. Let’s all be aware and informed, and make 2008 the year where sustainability becomes truly global, and not just for the few.

Shiny River, Aerial Photography of winter midwest, Jill Fehrenbacher photography

In 2008 I resolve to see more of my new hometown in San Francisco and the Bay Area, exploring by foot whenever possible. I resolve to eat more healthy locally grown produce from the farmers market. In 2008 I hope to see the elimination of green washing and the application of truly sustainable practices throughout the industrial market.

2007 was a momentous year for me as I became a first time parent, and of twins at that. Life before this point was spent working around the clock, traveling globally, and engaging in fulfilling eco-art projects and a multitude of environmental outreach efforts.

Despite the time, energy, and dedication required in being a new mom, I still have goals of greening the art and design world in ways that redefine beauty, conservation, and sustainable practice. I not only hope to address the materials and methods that artists and designers use as a means to realize their goals, but to also help us continually re-examine what objects are truly essential in their message, function, and overall impact. I believe that this evaluation is rooted in a domestic or ‘ecological’ assessment of how one lives life and prioritizes needs. I am reminded in this instance of the root meaning of the word “ecology” – oikos, “household”; and logos, “knowledge”. As cliché as this might sound, it seems increasingly apparent that one cannot implement sustainable ideas or share knowledge without tackling the green choices made under one’s own roof or in one’s backyard. The decisions that I make now will inevitably impact the lives of all children in the days, weeks, and years to come. The artwork that I generate should similarly have lasting value and cause no harm in the course of its creation, unveiling, and ongoing effect.

I believe that we are at a turning point where we have shifted away from our obsession with the material properties of art and design objects, and have in turn embraced a need for things and moments in our lives to have the potential to make a difference as multi-faceted and intelligently integrated events. It is a goal of mine to make ‘green’ a more transparent term in 2008, in the sense that we no longer need to distinguish between what is or is not sustainable but rather whether objects have embedded in them the legacy and lasting fiber that we wish to pass along to future generations.

water world, aerial photography of san francisco bay delta, aerial photo of san francisco bay, Jill Fehrenbacher photography

MY RESOLUTION: To keep on the bright side of life
2007 was a difficult year in many ways, but also a great year at the same time. This is as true for me on a personal level as it is on a wider social and environmental level. I lost someone very dear to me this year, but I also got married and experienced some of the happiest days of my life. In terms of the bigger picture, the environmental outlook is similarly simultaneously horrifying and exciting. We are already experiencing more drastic ice-cap and permafrost melting than climate scientists had imagined in their worst predictions. New coal plants are popping up all over the place in the U.S, and the EPA (Environmental Plundering Agency?) blocked California’s attempts to set tougher car emissions standards. Finally, we still have George Bush in the White House and a war in Iraq.

At the same time – it was a year of innovation and opportunity: countless new ventures explored creative new forms of energy generation, from kinetic energy, to poo power, to wave power. Solar power got cheaper, more flexible and more efficient, beefed up by an emerging market for cleantech investing. And perhaps most important (on a symbolic level anyway) – Al Gore won the Nobel Peace prize for his environmental activism. ‘Green’ really hit mainstream consumer culture hard in 2007, and while many are decrying this uncomfortable marriage of consumerism and environmentalism, I believe there is still a very bright side to all of this emerging consciousness and interest in sustainability. So ultimately my resolution for 2008 is to maintain optimism – on both a personal and professional level. All challenges are simply opportunities in disguise. Many people are frightened about the state of the environment (and rightly so), but these environmental challenges we currently face are also spawning incredible innovation. 2008 will be a tremendous year for all of us – make the best of it, and enjoy it!

If 2007 is the year green hit home with the masses, then I hope 2008 will be a year of greater transparency, closed cycle analysis, and that ‘truth’ will become the next great wave in marketing. I’ve seen plenty of marketing claims telling me why a product is green or what additives make it such, but as conscious consumers, we must not forget to ask why a product isn’t green… or if we even need it.

I had a Wizard of Oz moment at West Coast Green in SF last year when a materials rep of a (not to be mentioned) recycled paper product was touting their latest ‘green’ wall paneling. The marketing brochure had a flashy layout with the prominently displayed FSC Certification logo, and a list of other good green attributes about the product. But the description cleverly ignored the sheet vinyl laminate applied to the face of the product, and the Rep was reluctant to talk about the obvious non-green parts of their product (because then it wouldn’t sound as good). It reminded me of that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Toto reveals the truth about the wizard, who says over load speaker ‘don’t pay attention to the little man behind the curtain’. That’s what marketing has done a really good job of in 2007. We have to dig deeper and think more holistically about all the parts- the good, the not so glamorous, and the even the mundane. The good news is, it’s a great time for innovation, and manufacturers are scrambling to catch up with increasingly more informed consumers. Each of us has a lot of buying power to make positive change, and there’s so much we can do!

This past year I taught two new classes at UC Berkeley’s Sustainable Stewardship Program, and was blessed to spend a few hours each week with a highly-accomplished cross demographic of students, both professional and cultural, which became even more apparent by all the thoughtful questions along the way. Though the class’ focus was building design related, I found it impossible to separate how each of us lives at home from how the operations and maintenance of a building should perform, for example, or how to choose environmentally preferable materials. An underlying focus that came out of both classes was to structure these critical questions into a value system that people create for themselves and apply to everything they do.

My point is this- when we live with intention and ask questions along the way, what’s important emerges with total clarity and the path becomes obvious.

So in addition to the usuals, such as ‘drink more water’ and ‘stop procrastinating’ (already guilty on two accounts) I’ll add- ask lots of questions, live with intention, celebrate life and spread the word about what is and is not working. That’s right everyone- get up, get naked, throw a party, or throw tomatoes if it’s warranted! We’re in a time when people are listening!

Jill Fehrenbacher photography, aerial photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge