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Thinking through Bamboo

The challenge of designing for sustainability in Argentina

DA Mariana Salgado
Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD)
Program of Actualization in Digital Design.
Faculty of Architecture Design and !rbanism !ni"ersity of #uenos Aires.
ID Mariana Massigoge
Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD)
$ndustrial Design Department.
Faculty of Architecture Design and !rbanism !ni"ersity of #uenos Aires.
This paper analyzes a case study of an e%perience done in #uenos Aires
Argentina during &'('. The Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD) decided to put
up a )or*shop to e%plore and realized products in bamboo in line to the current
city campaign to adhere to ecological principles. After)ards )e designers
)or*ing in this centre realized that there )as a pro+ect from #uenos Aires
pro"ince go"ernment to help the de"elopment of bamboo in the region. #oth
institutions +oined forces and plan their collaboration. Therefore forty designers
from different disciplines gathered to ma*e products in bamboo supported by
these t)o institutions.
,e sho) the obstacles and opportunities of this collaboration stressing on the
possibilities that the pro+ect open in the future agenda. ,e address the
-uestions. /o) could go"ernmental policies moti"ate design for sustainability in
de"eloping countries from a designers0 perspecti"e1 /o) policies could
reinforce collaboration )hile the goal is sustainability1
In this section we propose to map the state of the design for sustainability (DfS) in
Argentina. It is however, a difficult task as there is not a centre, or an institution that
would concentrate the efforts of the country in this matter. Information is spread in
within various organiations and there is not a conscious and systematic effort to
centralie and document the pro!ects that intend to promote DfS. As a conse"uence we
have decided to concentrate on the information and e#perience that we were able to
collect as designers working for the government of $uenos Aires %ity and in $uenos
Aires &niversity. 'e focus on our e#perience in the management and organiation of
activities that deal with DfS. In addition, we complement our practical knowledge with
some interviews to the designers that participate in the workshop and to e#perts in
environmental issues and certifications.
(lobal initiatives are re"uiring greater product responsibility from
producers. In )urope, new regulations have been enacted that re"uire
producers to take more responsibility for their products by providing for the
disposal or recycling of products at the end of their useful life. *abelling
products with environmental performance data can help to differentiate
products as well (+arwood , )agan, -../0 /.).
1hough many IS2 (International 2rganiations for Standards) (and I3A4 (Argentinean
Institute for 5ormaliation and %ertification) standards are re"uired in Argentina, it is
globaliation with its growing possibilities for e#porting products that encourages
Argentinean companies to adhere to these certifications. IS2 standards that relate to
environmental issues are not yet commonly used but they are being adopted gradually.
1he Argentinean government has implemented a permanent plan to help and assist
companies that want to get these certifications. 6owever, the most important issue, as
they are voluntary certifications, is to sensitie designers and companies in order to
understand the importance of sustainability matters. 1his is not an easy endeavour
because Argentinean citiens, mainly from the biggest cities, are vaguely conscious of
the collateral damage that their everyday behaviour could cause to the environment.
2ther influential characteristic is that in Argentina, compared with )uropean countries
there is a big "uantity of small and medium sied enterprises (S4)). 1his was the
conse"uence of an industrial development that has a history of ups and downs due to
changes in the economic and political system. 7re"uently these enterprises are family
businesses with a small structure and therefore hiring a professional designer to develop
a product line, for e#ample, is still a way ahead in most of the cases. As a conse"uence,
many designers, from the beginning of their careers set up their own companies and
start to build a S4). 2ne of the ma!or challenges for these designers, setting up their
business as soon as their bachelor degree is finished is that they do not have anymore
contact with other professionals in the field. 1hey continue in contact only with close
friends, but there is not a network of collaboration among designers. 1here is not a
strong design union to congregate and give advice to designers, not enough offers for
master8s degree that could satisfy the needs of the /9.. designers that complete their
degree in $uenos Aires &niversity, to give only one e#ample. 1his number corresponds
to the year -..9 (&$A, -./.).
Another issue that is important here to take in to consideration is the fact that in
Argentinean &niversities there is not a clear state in the curricula addressing design for
sustainability. In addition, there is no Argentinean &niversity in the *earning 5etwork
for Sustainability. 1his fact does not mean that nobody mentions the e#istence of this
sub!ect, but that the presence in the curricula depends on the volunteer action of the
teachers and professors. In general terms it is possible to affirm that there is a slow and
growing attention to these issues but not a conscious and intentional pro!ect that could
position design for sustainability in the education agenda as a key factor.
(iven these conditions, the 4etropolitan Design %entre (%4D) has been a meeting
point for many free:lancers and entrepreneur designers organiing several courses,
seminars, events and other activities for designers. In parallel, the %4D had the
initiative to use these meeting for discussion that deals with design for sustainability.
1o describe this situation, enables us to affirm that this informal education of graduate
designers towards design for sustainability is a key factor, as they are the leaders of
their small and medium sied companies and they can influence with their design
production both clients, end:users and the society at large. 1his process of sensitising
the designers towards DfS, is a long one. 1his is not a short:term strategy, but a long:
term attempt that will show its impact in the ne#t ten years. In this process we do not
intend to deal only with technical solutions that designers might implement, but also
with psychological ones. In our opinion it is vital for designers to understand how they
can influence consumer8s behaviour and government policies that relate to design for
Designing a DfS workshop
In the previous section we present and describe some of the circumstances that have
made designers a key player in educating the society towards sustainability. In this
section, we will concentrate on our concrete actions, as learning tools to reflect on the
issue. 1he bamboo workshop that we coordinate in the 4etropolitan Design %entre
(%entro 4etropolitano de Dise;o) has shown us the need to research into the policies
and government measures that could motivate design for sustainability.
1he aim of the program <Integrating the 7uture= (Integrando al 7uturo) is to contribute
to raise awareness transferring from design patterns of development, production,
business and consumption behaviours that encourage %orporate Social 3esponsibility,
social and environmental sustainability, which tend to internalie the 7air 1rade criteria.
'ithin this program the 4etropolitan Design %entre has organied many activities>
workshops that e#plore different materials (adobe, bamboo, nylon scrap, etc.),
conferences that gather different lecturers to talk and transfer their e#perience and
approaches with the different themes, product e#hibitions, debate forums with the
different stakeholders, window shopping circuits addressed to all brands and design
studios, where the ob!ective of the activity is to work not only from the production side,
promoting products that incorporate sustainable design criteria, but also from the
consumption side, encouraging responsible consumption behaviours.
1he bamboo workshop is an activity focused on research and e#perimentation. 'e
invite designers to e#plore with materials and techni"ues so as to generate new tools to
transfer in the future to other agents of the value chain as we e#plain in previous
section. 1he workshop as an activity gave us the possibility to get to know a vast group
of designers and discuss with them on the basis of their design proposals. In general,
designers are more familiar with this type of discussion, based on their own proposals.
?resenting design decisions behind a proposal, designers present themselves and their
values. In other events (as conference or festivals) we have had difficulty in creating
fruitful discussions that really influence design decisions, but workshops allow
designers to learn in our own way, by doing. 1his aligns with the @designerly ways of
knowing@ (%ross, -..A).
1he workshops we organied in the %4D always consist of si# meetings, being the
second one a whole day trip somewhere related to the material in "uestion. 1his trip is
important to get to know the group and to break the ice among the participants. In this
case we went to the 1igre, delta part of *a ?lata 3iver. 1here, we saw the bamboo
plantations and we listened to a lecture from a researcher in bamboo from the ?rovincial
Direction of Islands.
1he workshop series based on a material that can be considered @eco:friendly@ as
bamboo is an easy way to start discussions and tackle the comple# problem of design
for sustainability. It is thinking about sustainability, through bamboo. As we say in the
previous section, there is not in our country an awareness of the importance and impact
of design decisions on the environment. 1herefore, in order to start sensitising the
designers, choosing an eco:friendly material was the simplest way we could find for
opening the discussion on the sub!ect. Also, beginning by selecting a material that is
renewable, recyclable and compostable was a way to start the life cycle of the products
in line with design for sustainability principles. 1he selection of the material makes
designers psychologically aware of and conscious about the framework of the workshop
in within sustainable development. 1hey could not avoid thinking about other
characteristics of the design proposals that reinforce their pro!ects in this conte#t.
$y departing from the material we introduce the topic of design for sustainability and in
parallel present other ways to initiate a design process. 'e propose some e#ercises as a
brainstorming and a sense and body e#ploration. 1hese were seen for designers as a
great e#ercise to break the ice motivating them to share and get to know who was
besides them.
1he 4etropolitan Design %entre is promoting design for sustainability in collaboration
with other agencies and organiations. In this case, we have set the collaboration with
the ?rovincial Direction of Islands (D?DI). 'e found out during our previews research
that the D?DI has an economic development program based on bamboo for the Delta
area that had some points of connection with our pro!ect. 1herefore, we decided to
propose a collaboration agenda for the pro!ect. During the trip day, they lecture the
participants on the material mechanical properties and also gave a concrete overview of
the different stakeholders involved with bamboo as well as advice on how to choose the
right type of bamboo. 1heir e#pertise on the sub!ect was an important starting point for
the designers. 2n the other hand, we will be organiing another workshop addressed to
Delta craftsman that is part of the bamboo ?roducer8s 7orum, organied by D?DI. 1his
workshop will deal with production and design methods with the aim of getting better
commercial products. Another city sector with which we organied design:oriented
activities is the )nvironmental ?rotection Agency (A?rA).
1hese collaborations should not happen by chance. 'e would need to implement some
common platforms to get to know about each other pro!ects and interests. At the
beginning of our bamboo pro!ect we understood the importance of creating a discussion
forum in order to share ideas and debate. 1his is why we started a blog, together with all
participants of the workshop, to promote the online discussion with the members of the
other organiations, producers, vendors, designers and researchers that could be
interested in bamboo.
In addition the blog (http0CCworkshopbambu:cmd.blogspot.comC) was presented as a
learning tool for the participants in the workshop having in mind different goals. 'e
wanted to introduce new technology to participants, create a discussion forum, and
build knowledge together on design for sustainability issues. 'e gave to all participants
editorial rights and we encouraged them to write and collect research material together
in the blog. 1he blog as a daily tool to publish online was new to most of the designers
that participated in the workshop. 1hey do not use blogs for their daily professional
activities and neither do they comment on other blogs regularly. 1hey have used the
blog to collect material about how bamboo was used in others part of the world and to
publish their design proposals.
6owever, it is not common practice of industrial, te#tile, graphic designers and
architects in our country to share their drafts and discuss online about the design
possibilities. 1hough, we have insisted and tried to promote the blog as a discussion
forum, designers mainly used it as a place to share their investigation and show results.
2nly when they have their products in a mature state with nice drawings and finished
proposals do they dare to publish them in the blog. 5either have they had comment on
others design possibilities online.
An interesting fact to notice is that participants from the bamboo ?roducer8s 7orum
participated in our workshop. 1his was possible thanks to the collaboration network we
establish with D?DI and also to the actual state of bamboo development in the country
that is still handle by a small or manageable amount of organiations so its easy to find
the actors that are working with it. 1his was a key issue for getting to know the
producers and other stakeholders that were involved with bamboo from a different
1he bamboo design ob!ects that came out from this workshop showed the result of the
material research and the processes e#ploration. 1here were products that used the
bamboo in a laminar way, others that took the natural shape of it, some added new
technology to its processing as laser cutting to generate te#tures. Also, there were
products that merged the bamboo with other materials as the aluminium, using the
bamboo as the structural material.
It was also interesting the connotative work of some of the pro!ects. 1he bamboo has a
strong )ast reference therefore it is challenging to design products in the 'est. 1he
barbecue table may be the most striking product when we analysed the results from this
point of view. 1he necklace also showed a new way of using the material, a new
application of the wood, as a delicate material merged with metal cords. 1he bamboo
design ob!ects were0 lightings, room dividers, curtains, women clothes, a long board,
two chairs and one table, sushi table, barbecue table, rack, artist nibs, a necklace, a raft.
7igure /.
7ig./0 5ecklace. Designers0 1amara *isenberg and 4artDn 4artini.
Designers need more recognition and support to carry on with sustainable pro!ects, as
the one they have started in the bamboo workshop. In the last meeting we opened the
debate about what designers need to continue the production and commercialiation of
the products they had developed and the main concern was the financial assistance and
access to economic resources. Analysing the comments that resulted from the forum we
understood that what is really needed is the knowledge and the support in putting
together a business with these characteristics due to the fact that the economic resources
may be found when you have a clear vision of what you need.
Government, ompanies, Designers and end!users
It is important to acknowledge that though we try in this paper to e#plore an answer to
the "uestion of what the government can do to motivate DfS from a designer
perspective> the umbrella "uestion would be what all the stakeholders involved could
do. %reating awareness and sensitising about this topic should happen together with all
the groups involved in product development, such as companies, designers, end:users
and the government. 7or e#ample, Argentinean companies could be involved in the
'orld $usiness %ouncil for Sustainable Development (http0CCwww.wbcsd.org) in order
to get support to operate, innovate and grow in a world increasingly shaped by
sustainable development issues.
As designers, we have our own perspective on understanding what the government
could do, because we are e#ploring this issues using our designs as tools for
understanding what kind of needs and support our sustainable design proposals need to
be realied as products. In previous section we notice the lack of meeting points with
several organiations whose work relates to sustainability. 4aking use of web -.. tools
could be a way to advance towards solidifying the net of collaboration. $ut the real
change could come only if government policies motivate collaboration. 1he same as
with the &niversity, at the moment the collaboration within organiations is not set as
priority in the agenda, but as something that might or might not happen depending on
the good will of the persons involved. Sometimes collaboration means that we spend
working days by travelling to meet people in other parts of the city. In the case of the
bamboo workshop for e#ample there is two hours car trip from one organiation to the
other. Incentives for workers involved in networks of collaboration within other
organiations could be a positive change.
During the time of the workshop the 4etropolitan Design %entre also organied an
event on the )nvironment day where some of the participants in the workshop came
over. In this event we had a panel discussion on design for sustainability. Some
designers that had already started their collections based on sustainable design sold their
ob!ects. 1his type of events are important to get to know other people interested in
similar issues but also, as only designers doing and promoting design for sustainability
can participate and sell their products for free are a way to recognie them within the
design community. Also, it showed the designers that participated in our workshops
and do not have a line of products on the market, that design for sustainability could be
the concept of a design company.
2n the other hand, the %4D, has a program named Incu$A that works like most of the
incubation programs but what differentiates it is that the pro!ect that are selected must
have a design based business. 1his program has selected and promoted pro!ects based
on design for sustainability, there are E enterprises in the current program that put
together their business plan based on design for sustainability> (ruba
(http0CCwww.gruba.com.arC), 46&F 4inimahuella (http0CCwww.minimahuella.com.arC)
and 4ateos Davenport (http0CCwww.mateos:davenport.com.arC).
At the moment there is only one significant competition or prie in the country that
specially deal with the issue of Design for sustainability, and this could be a simple way
to put designers to incorporate these values to their design decisions. It is, nowadays,
starting to be one of the basic criteria used to select the awarded ones. 1he most
important 5ational Design %ompetition (Innovar, -./.) deals with innovation and has
special categories for sustainable pro!ects.
Some manufacturers re"uire their suppliers to have an environmental management
system ()4S) such as IS2/B../ as a way to demonstrate their commitment to the
environment (Hurk , 4c5amara, -..G0 -I). In Argentina important oil companies are
asking their providers to get the certifications in this way they generate a chain of good
practice. I3A4 (Argentinean Institute for 5ormaliation and %ertification) has the
I3A4:IS2 GB that provides a manual for dealing with environmental issues in product
development. Another important certification that is gradually being adopted is the
IS2C13 /B.G-. 1his normaliation is about environmental management and the
integration of environmental aspects into product design and development.
1he government could provide support for translation and printing of the already
published material on Design for Sustainability. )ditorial pro!ects that promote and
communicate concrete tools for designers are missing. 'e believe that by promoting
these pro!ects designers could make more informed decisions.
<)cological accounting through the use of analytical tools, such as *ife %ycle Analysis,
and standard practices that measure environmental impact is an element of good product
engineering and design=. (%eridon, -..I0 E). Designers and companies need more
instruction for using analytical tools such as the one that Himi %eridon proposes as a
good practice for measuring environmental impact. $ut also there is a need to
understand labels and policies related to sustainability. 7or e#ample, they would need
support for implementing the IS2 /.BE:/ for marking plastics.
1here are certain restrictions as the )uropean &nion 3o6S directive (3estriction of
%ertain 6aardous Substances, effective July -..G) that set ma#imum levels for lead,
cadmium, mercury, and other substances (Hurk , 4c5amara, -..G0 /-). Some
)uropean companies are already prepared for such restrictions. 1herefore, if
Argentinean companies intend to commercialie with )uropean countries they should
start to consider them and be prepared to ad!ust their products to them.
1he issue of design for sustainability is in line with other city government actions for a
more eco:friendly life in $uenos Aires city. 'e understand that this workshop is only a
small contribution, but it has helped us to draw directions and map possibilities of what
could governmental actions can do to grow the seeds that we are planting. 1he more the
government should induce companies to get the certifications supporting their payment,
e#cepting companies that voluntary use the international labels from ta#es, and giving
consulting guidance, the more the companies will react positively towards sustainable
In this process we do not intend to deal only with technical solutions that designers
might implement, but also with psychological ones.. In our opinion it is vital for
designers to understand how they could influence in consumers behaviour and
governmental policies that relate to design for sustainability.
In section E we give a detailed description with concrete ideas on how the government
polices can promote articulating, consulting, educating, spreading, standardiing,
getting financial support, researching and recogniing the DfS. As designers working in
the area is important to have a sensitive ear on policy issues and be ready to understand
how these issues influence our daily work, our products and our decision making
processes. $eing more aware and documenting these issues are important steps towards
learning on sustainability. 2n the other hand, designers well informed on policy issues
can influence DfS and with it take informed decisions.
)very designer should have the possibility to access information related to laws,
methods and tools addressing sustainability as a basic component of the syllabus of
every sub!ect. 1hough, we believe that education towards these issues should happen
constantly, it is vital to be presented in the first years of our vocational training as the
bases of design.
In concordance with )io 4anini (-..A0 -EI) the governance tools needed have to
promote horiontal links between peers, while connecting different vertical levels of the
public administration organisational structure. 1his workshop illustrates the linkages
between actors, artefacts and social arenas and show how these elements build upon
each other while sharing values and promoting sensibility towards design for
sustainability. 1his process of incorporating a new sensibility towards sustainable issues
happens not without tensions> this is why we wanted to reinforce the proactive role that
governmental institutions could have.
As a country that is in a development stage in this area we need to enable new solutions
and propose new paths without necessarily going through every step the developed
countries took. 'e have the advantage that we can learn and replicate good practices in
the light of the aim we want to achieve.
1hanks to Silvia Keiman for the interview. She provided us with meaningful insides
about the comple# certification system in Argentina. 'e also want to thank %lara ?e;a
y 4arDa )milia %aro from the DD?I that replied to our many "uestions. 2ur gratitude
goes also for %indy Hohtala, +anina Hinigsberg and 4artin Avila for recommending us
bibliography on the sub!ect. 7inally, we thank all the participants in the workshop that
with their energy and support motivate us to reflect on the e#perience. 1hanks to all of
Ceridon, K. (2009) Green Design with Life Cycle in Mind. Edited by ChangeThis.
http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/62.06.GreenDesign accessed 2 July 2010.
Cross, N. (2007) Designerly ways of knowing. London: Springer-Verlag
Innovar (2010). http://www.innovar.gob.ar/ accessed 7 July 2010.
Kurk, F. and McNamara, C. (2006) Better by Design. An Innovation Guide: Using
Natural Design Solutions. USA: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
4anini, ). (-..A) <Design research for sustainable social innovation=. Design
Research Now. Springer, pp.-EE:-B9.
UBA (2010). Stadistical data. http://www.uba.ar/institucional/contenidos.php?idm=28
accessed on 7 July 2010.
Yarwood, J. M. and Eagan, P. D. (2001) Design for the Environment. A Competitive
Edge for the Future. Toolkit. USA: Minnesota Office of Environmental
4ariana Salgado holds a doctoral degree from 4edia *ab, &niversity of Art and
Design, 6elsinki and a master degree in ?roduct and Strategic Design from the same
&niversity. She has worked during I years as designer and researcher at the 4edia *ab
6elsinki. During -./. she is visiting researcher in the &niversity of $uenos Aires and
worked as collaborator in the 4etropolitan Design %entre.
4ariana 4assigoge has a bachelor degree in Industrial Design from the &niversity of
$uenos Aires. Since -..L she has worked as the coordinator of the Design 4anagement
area of the 4etropolitan Design %entre. She has also been teaching at the &niversity of
?alermo and the &niversity of $uenos Aires. Since -..G she has been working as a
volunteer at the 5(2 ?rogresar in a program intended for cultural and educational