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Canada leads world on sustainable design standards

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In the three steps forward, two steps back world of design and ethics, I found myself putting the finishing touches on this year’s Ethics Chair report for the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada annual gathering (this year in Moncton) while in flight to a design conference in Georgia dedicated exclusively to design ethics (It was an amazing event: more on that in my next post).

And as the airplane to Savannah burned away at my carbon credits, I thought about what I’ll share with American conference delegates about Made-In-Canada design idealism, and found myself reviewing in my head just how far design professionalism has come in the past decade, creating a better profession both at home and abroad.

In November 2011, the Canadian-led development of the Icograda Global Sustainability Standard was unanimously accepted at the Icograda World Congress in Taipei by delegates from over 50 countries. This standard will set the bar for how sustainable a design project needs to be in order to be considered part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Rather than being intimidated by the activities of the most environmentally-active agencies, rank-and-file designers whose focus is not entirely on green design will have a clear measuring stick to ensure that every design project is doing its part to help create a better world, while also fulfilling its other strategic objectives. And in Taipei, national design associations from around the world, including Canada’s GDC and Ontario’s RGD, agreed to expect their members to have the majority of their design projects meet the standard.

The standard’s metrics will be established by an international jury representing the top voices in sustainable design worldwide. And the voluntary compliance system will be online, and will define sustainability not just on environmental grounds but using a quadruple-bottom-line definition that includes compliance with one’s national professional code of ethics. The worldwide jury is being assembled this month, and will be announced next month.

This means that in order for designers in Canada to certify their projects, they will need to declare their adherence to their code of ethics of professional practice. Once again we’ve demonstrated our Canadian propensity for exporting good governance and high ideals, keeping ethical practice at the forefront of how we define professionalism in design.

Another key measured aspect of the standard will undoubtedly be universal design (also known as “accessible design” or “design for all”) and I predict that in the same way that environmental responsibility has marched from being considered extremist to mainstream over the past decade, we will see a parallel march around design that leaves no one behind, regardless of ability.

As chair of the committee developing the standard, I’ll share more details in later posts. However, this standard follows on global declarations and standards on speculative work and competition guidelines ratified in 2007 worldwide, which were substantially based upon policy developed through Canadian designers’ long experience of taking strong positions where ethics are involved.

The past twelve months also saw Canada’s design ethics structure shared with our colleagues in other countries: we directly helped establish a code of ethics for designers in Indonesia, and are now helping with the first steps for the same in Mexico. The common thread: designers seeking to make a stronger public commitment to their role in professionalism, in society, and the natural environment … and recognizing the value of gaining from our Canadian experience.

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Reviewed August 17, 2012


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