CompostModern 2011: A Call to Action


This weekend, Compostmodern, the biennial design and sustainability conference created by the San Francisco chapter of  AIGA (the professional association for design), delivered more thought-provoking messages in a day than it would be possible to absorb, without the help of this poem by moderator Alissa Walker.

From Yves Behar to Bruce Mau, most of the speakers at the Compostmodern conference were the type of design gurus you’d line up to hear share their insights, but Herbst theatre on Saturday was like the mothership of inspiration. It felt like a crash-course on how to change the world, and attendees were furiously scribbling notes and tweeting their favorite convictions.

But frankly, after a couple hours the messages began to merge in my memory and I remembered why these events are so hard for me. I do want change. I try  to be socially responsible and ecologically proactive and supportive of the innovators in sustainable design. But I get itchy when things get repetitive—it must be the editor in me—and there were some common topics that I’m certain we’ve discussed for years: use fewer resources, buy less stuff, spread the word and do your part. So here I am in an auditorium of what I imagine to be the city’s most creative “makers” and “messagers” and all i can think is, “Come on people, we know this already… do you really need to write it down. Do we need to hear it again? Why am I writing this down?”  But then I remembered that some might consider me a “messager,” and though I’ve heard it all before, I’m not sure I’ve taken the call to action very seriously yet. 

I’m a firm believer that the arrival of social change is marked by the end of the conversation about how to change. Not that there’s a finite resolution to social dilemmas or global issues, but there is a moment in every conflict when the discussion is over and  I’m usually impatient to get there. For instance, once the furniture and design community reached the consensus that sustainability was not a hindrance to aesthetics but a logical part of the creative process, I ditched our “green issue” and eventually our “eco report” department, and have even suggested we eliminate all use of the prefix “eco-” in the magazine. My thinking was that the sustainability of the designs we featured should be a given to our readers. But the fact is, we are not yet there… closer each day, but not yet covering ONLY the most sustainable designs in California and not yet printing the magazine in the greenest manner. Plus there’s such discrepencies among certification systems and truly green standards, that I’m completely paranoid to make that statement, because once it’s true, I want the conversation to be over.

So I did get something out of How to Change the World 101: a renewed commitment to making a greener product and sending out a more responsible message, and an educated answer to  my friends on Saturday night who said: “Where were you today? A composting seminar? A compost tradeshow?” 

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