Monday, October 30, 2006

An Interview With the Eric, Founder of Re-Nourish, part the first

One of my happier recent discoveries was Re-Nourish, a repository for just about every sustainable thing you could ever want to think about, especially as it relates to graphic design . Sites like these are hard to find—so many of them deal exclusively with industrial design, a field that's been looking towards sustainability for years. Eco-friendly print design, while not new, has not started looking really sexy until recently, when the world (or, at least, the US) finally started turning an ear to the green movement. Re-Nourish has listings of green design firms (in which the zen kitchen is, in fact, listed), information on how and why to design green (including safe PANTONE swatch pallettes and paper listings), and notes on other miscellaneous greenery, including a running commentary on environmental news in the articles section. Not long ago, I asked Eric, the founder of Re-Nourish and a design professor at the University of Illinois, a few questions about his reasons for developing this incredible information repository and vision for the future of the site.

note: This is the first part of the interview, as it's a bit long for the blogosphere. Tune in next week for part two!

1. Why did you decide to create Re-Nourish? How did it get started?
Renourish really started back in the autumn of 2003, when I attended the AIGA Power of Design Conference in Vancouver, BC Canada. I heard people like Bruce Mau, Susan Szenasy, Jeff Mendelsohn and Michael Braungart speak. The all spoke about the things that were running through my mind at the time as I questioned my purpose as a designer. I was curious to know how detrimental the paper industry really was and if I could do better. I had recently read "Culture Jam" by Kalle Lasn and "Cradle to Cradle" by William McDonough and Michael Braungart and found myself wondering should designers be less consumer related and more citizen focused?
These ruminations led me to the University of Texas at Austin where I decided to purse and MFA in design and social responsibility. I struggled for two years to find a positive relationship between graphic designer and the environment. At times I felt my efforts were in vain and that our society was doomed to fail, consuming everything as it fell. I read voraciously. I spent hours in a nearby coffee shop writing, asking myself questions, and experimenting with projects with limited success. The turning point came when I asked myself these questions: "How can the graphic designer practice more sustainably in a very practical way?" and "What is the medium where the designer can be reached 24/7 at home and at the job?" At first my answer was a sustainably designed paper sketchbook, but found the web more accessible and less wasteful in its construction. Renourish was born. It was two years of research and a hurried 3 weeks of design and implementation to meet my thesis deadlines. Looking back I feel the answer was sitting in front of me a year earlier, but I needed to test my other ideas before accepting I was right all along.
2. What first intrigued you about green design? When did you start applying an eco-friendly focus to your design projects?
I think in reality I got interested in the topic when I was a teenager arguing with my dad about why (as a household) we should recycle. I would constantly pull newspapers, milk jugs and cardboard out of the kitchen trash bin and haul it out to the curb every week. It was a losing battle, but in the end I think that sparked my interest. Later, as a designer I found the direct mail, packaging, and print collateral I spent days/weeks slaving over piled in city trash bins. I wanted to do better. I didn't want my work to end up the way it was. But, it really wasn't until graduate school when I began to apply eco-friendly, sustainable principles to my work. Up until that point I really didn't have the information and techniques to do so.
3. How much research did you put into the Re-Nourish resources? How do you find information to put into the site?
I spent 2003-2006 reading about the environment, design impacts and sustainability. I wrote a number of papers and my thesis on the topics. Along the way the information came from books by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, Daniel Imhoff, William McDonough,, the Sierra Club and literally hundreds of other sources. I also had the pleasure of meeting a number of people who also focused their life on sustainability. They were from different cultures (India, Mexico, England) and brought to my life a different perspective on the topic outside of that here in the USA. I collaborated with a few of them on some eco-friendly projects and used those experiences on renourish.

To learn more about Re-Nourish, visit Tune in next week for part two of the interview, where Eric talks about his vision for the future of the site, and how he works sustainability into the courses he teaches.

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