Why I Went Green: An Artist and Designer’s “Aha” Moment

It happened, the green “snap” moment that is, while I was quietly meditating at a yoga camp last summer, on Cortes Island at Hollyhock, during our early morning hours of total silence. I had simply asked myself as a topic for meditation and contemplation, “What do I want to do now?”

To set the scene, I need to fill in some background. As senior design partner of a midsized interior design firm, doing projects of all types and sizes, with a staff of six and several subcontract designers and draftspeople under my direction, my health was beginning to be compromised by stress. So I gave myself a week of yoga camp.

So there I am, asking, “What do I want to do now?” And I start my silent answer… “I want to do green work, I want to work as close to my studio and home as I can — no more airports!” (Even though some of my most prestigious work and some of my wealthiest clients are international and I’ve been travelling and designing luxury beach houses and resorts).

I think again, “So…. good green design, as close to my studio and my home as I can.” I realize that except for the “good work” part, this is going to involve a huge change. In fact, it will involve a complete change because, for me, ‘good work’ fundamentally means not just a high design aesthetic with perfect craftsmanship, positive client and business metric results — it also means 100% sustainable work. From that moment forward, only simply and truly green would be acceptable to me.

So that was the scene, and that was the simple event — a quiet meditation — was set to change my purpose, my life, my finances and my business.

I took a bit more holiday time, returned to the studio and informed the team that this change was a real commitment for me, that it would involve massive change, that there would be much less work for a while as we changed direction and marketing focus, and that it would involve sacrifice on all of our parts. There would be less work while we created a new business.

I asked them, “Are you ready?” and they all bought in, but in their own ways. Our senior staff designer was pregnant with twins so she took maternity leave. Our project manager had just been certified at university in Project Management and she’s a single mom, so she decided to try working on contract from home. Our oldest staff member who does senior care and contract writing wanted to move to an adjacent city to be with her new man and work as an associate designer. My partner, our internationally trained design draftsperson and our administrator, stayed in the boat with me. So suddenly we were half our size!

Why did I come to this point now? What drives someone to go green now? I’ve been an environmentalist for 30 years. I designed the second Greenpeace poster ‘Stop the Slaughter’, illustrated by Carl Chaplin, to protest the seal hunt in 1977.

So why commit so much now after all these years of being a quiet but committed environmentalist?

The answer is because I can, and because I feel like Bruce Mau states in the catalogue for his travelling exhibit Massive Change — that designers show people how to live and, because of that, designers have a responsibility to do the right thing. The planet needs us to stop just talking, thinking and intending to do the right thing. Our planet needs us to start really addressing the ecology and environment now, before it’s too late.

I have a sense that, more and more in the next few years, the Earth will start to tell us that she needs us to wake up. The weather changes are one way she will do it. Certainly Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call for some people about the government’s apathy. More and more of us are accepting that we have to take personal responsibility because government is choosing to ignore the elephant in the closet.

We all notice the weather, we talk about the weather and we live with the weather every day. Have you actually paid attention to changes in the weather where you live? I have. This weekend, while we were fishing close to the coastal mountains, I confirmed that we have much less snow on the nearby mountains. While cycling, I have noted that our spring river runs are low in their water flow — and I live on the ‘wet coast’ of Canada.

Where I grew up in central Canada, there was snow all winter throughout my youth, but there was virtually no snow this year, not to mention that snow had to be trucked into Vancouver’s mountains to host this year’s Winter Games. Change is upon us.

With what is happening to the weather, can you really say that no change is happening in your environment? Can you really — the way the government would like you to — pretend that it’s not happening or blame it on cycles and natural causes?

These are the words I have focused on and committed to around the word eco:

  • ecology, environment, energy
  • community, cooperation
  • our planet, our responsibility.

I feel great about the green change I have committed to. I’m getting lots of support from suppliers and industry people who see the shift to sustainability on the horizon, and I am hopeful that in the near future this commitment will start to grow an all-new business model.

When I told our current clients that as of January first of this year we would be a green-only design firm, I suspected some might decline our services, but they all said ‘OK’ . Thanks to them and our suppliers, we have been doing only sustainable work since the beginning of 2010. Soon our eco Design Gallery will open to the public, and I will find out if going green is going to produce a red or a black bottom line.


Photo Credits

“wood and natural light” courtesy of jc scott

“water, home spa bathtub” courtesy of jc scott


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