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The hundredth object. Reflections for a sustainable graphic design.


"I think you should ‘dream the earth’, 
because it has heart and breath." David Kopenawa (Yanomami shaman)

This year the full British Museum reaches 260 years of existence and it is this Museum that comes to mind to talk about sustainable graphic design. More precisely, the book "A History of the World in 100 objects*" by Neil MacGregor (who is also director of the Museum), which tells our history through artifacts that man produced from the Stone Age to our times:  "as we humans, we shape and we have been molded by them in the last 2 million years."  The author narrates the process of choices of 100 objects, all from the Museum's collection.  The last chosen object, a lamp and charger kit solar energy, is what I refer to here.

Several questions and assumptions are mentioned for choice, and finally they decide that the hundredth object should be technological. The smartphone seems to them to be the best representative - is the object "that instantly connects millions of people around the globe, is able to summon large crowds (...) and expands horizons of knowledge far beyond the Enlightenment dreams.  In advanced societies, being without cell phone connection is almost unimaginable.  "But that depends on electricity, without which does not have any use.  So they chose, as the hundredth object, an electricity generator "able to give the 1.6 billion people without access to the electricity grid the power they need to join with the global conversation."

The choice, that is perfect in my opinion, of the hundredth object reinforces for me many other issues, all related to sustainability.  We started with the stone, we move to the paper (and continue with it) and follow by the digital age.  As creators of objects, messages, packaging, and symbols, especially as consumers I believe there is a first question to ask every one of us:  How are you helping to preserve the planet?  In my view, conscious consumers are and will be aware professionals.

According to Brian Dougherty, of the Celery Design Collaborative, we are in "ecological imbalance", which means "we are using more resources than the planet is able to generate." As he says, "we may not need an answer to the dilemma 'paper or plastic'; we need to design a different system that is significantly better. " This is our challenge: of the graphic designers, product designers, manufacturers, sellers, consumers, and finally, of Governments.

Returning to the subject hundredth, Neil MacGregor believes that complete the story of his book with solar energy is a good choice. In his words, "it can allow humanity to share more equally the opportunities of life and has the potential to allow us to enjoy the planet without harming it." They are ways of seeing a history that can be told in a million different ways.

Our time is now. And it is urgent a change of attitude so that can be more history to be told and to be lived.

References:
- * Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects. (A British Museum and BBC 4 Project.)
- David Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, The fall of the sky. Words of a Yanomami shaman.
- Brian Dougherty, Green Graphic Design.