Financial Vitality

For sure, innovative solutions, no matter how sustainable, can’t be effective if they aren’t fi­nancially viable. While designers, traditionally, eschew these considerations or assume others are “on top of them,” this further disempowers their work. Currently, the economy is stacked against sustainable solutions because it doesn’t recognize or value the true cost (that which totals social and environmental costs in addition to financial costs) of the products and services that are created, deployed, and disposed of. This makes it even more difficult to design in a sus­tainable fashion. However, those designers who understand the mechanisms that support or challenge the products and services they de­velop, will find more opportunities to have inno­vative ways of solving challenges at all levels of sustainability (environmental and social as well).

Currently, the economy is stacked against sustainable solutions because it doesn’t recognize or value the true cost (that which totals social and envi­ronmental costs in addition to finan­cial costs) of the products and ser­vices that are created, deployed, and disposed of.

As I said earlier in this chapter, at the heart of sustainability is efficiency, and this always makes economic sense. Designers who reduce the amount of energy or materials in their so­lutions are inherently making more sustain­ably—financially—viable results. In this way, we can often take on more challenges across the array of sustainable issues and still deliver financially attractive answers.

But financial viability means more than just a better bottom line. As we’ve seen recently in the global financial markets of fall 2008, lack of transparency and accountability can create whole financial systems that aren’t real, sus­tainable, or viable. The basics of supply and

demand, credits and debits, loans and savings weren’t at issue here (although even these have their problems). Instead, a shadow world of un­accountable value was created and then allowed to grow unsustainably until the entire house of cards came crashing down. In the wake, the good investments and value suffers along with the bad. This, too, is a lack of sustainable de­sign. Those who developed these mechanisms didn’t have a systems perspective, lacked eth­ics and accountability, and developed a system that wasn’t healthy for any system, let alone the financial system itself. This is what can happen when sustainability isn’t part of the criteria in a design and development process.

… financial viability means more than just a better bottom line. As we’ve seen recently in the global financial markets, lack of transparency and accountability can create whole finan­cial systems that aren’t real, sustain­able, or viable.