Sustainability. It’s obviously not the first time the word was used in a design blog and you’ll hear it again from us (maybe even a few times this month – can I get a what-what for an Earth Day inspired month!). Acting sustainably was quickly translated by some into a design trend when it was coined by the term “green design”. However, sustainability is not a trend; it’s not a practice that should be followed only by some, but by everyone. The true principle behind being sustainable is reduced to one simple notion: we all must be good stewards of our environment.
As business owners, our burden on the environment exponentially increased. We now have an influx of important business documents, project specific storage and the need for Etch personnel meetings. Combining all of the general business functions with the fact that our profession is part of the architecture and building industry only means our responsibility is that much greater. Of course as artists and designers, we love the feeling of tangible items and value their place, but we also understand when to sacrifice the hand-held and depend on digital resources to help limit our environmental impact.
Documents are an obvious necessity. We have official Etch organization docs, contract proposals, invoices and tax certificates. I’ve worked in offices where every piece of information was printed out and housed in project files, but not only is the redundancy overwhelming, it’s a huge waste. Aside from the handful of hardcopy certificates we’ve received in the mail, we tend to keep documents to their softcopy version and house them on our computers, shared cloud servers like Google Drive or Dropbox and backed up on external hard drives. We send all of our proposals and invoices to clients via email, which also helps speed up the process. Historically, fully executing even an emailed contract required the wasteful step of printing, signing and then scanning, only to result in an unnecessary hardcopy document with no purpose but to increase the to-be-shredded pile. To eliminate this painful step, we’ve been using SignNow. SignNow actually sends documents out for you to as many signers as you need with simple signing boxes in the document. You can insert a digital signature file or use your finger to trace your signature right from your phone. I also recently learned that Apple’s Preview program on my Mac was just as digital signature friendly. You can insert a signature by using the computer’s camera to capture your John Hancock. All in all I probably spent 3 minutes finalizing a contract last week and that was only because I was trying to make my signature not look like it was written by a child. #perfectsignatureenvy
Project specific storage is another area prone to excess paper use. Our necessary hand-held tools are hardcopy building plans, concept sketches and fabrics/finish samples, but we try to keep the remainder of our project data digitally based. Finishes and fabrics obviously need to be viewed in several different lighting situations and cannot be tainted by the limitations of a computer screen. Thankfully we usually have a clear idea of the colorway we are leaning towards in a project, so we often only order a small handful of samples after we’ve narrowed down from the on-screen swatches. Once we are finished using the samples, we store them in our finish library for future reference. Pinterest is fabulous for gathering project specifications. We typically upload the exact web link for an item, like a piece of furniture or artwork, instead of using the Pinterest search tool. Most projects start out as secret boards and then we usually make them public once our design development phase is over. Flickr is also our current go-to for “before” project photo storage. A free account gives you 2TB of photo storage, which provides mobility to view something in or out of the office.
My favorite digital processes we frequently use are FaceTime “meetings” and messaging. Our business was practically founded on messaging – any relevant (and sometimes not so relevant) ideas that inspired us were typed on our phones. I love how integrated it is into our lives, since we basically share ideas as soon as they come to us. We both have the clear understanding that immediate responses are not necessary, since messaging acts more as our sounding board and if something is urgent, we dial instead. We obviously love actual face-to-face interaction, but we often conduct Etch business meetings with FaceTime. It’s a nice way to reduce the amount of driving we both need to do and it’s a much more efficient use of our time. We can hold meetings at any point in the day (last weekend our Etch meeting was from 8:30-11:30pm and there may or may not have been sweatpants and wine involved).
In general, I feel like being efficient with any resource and using only what you need is an important sustainable practice that is easy to implement. Whether it’s paper, unnecessary finish samples, gasoline in our cars or our time, choosing to use less and staying mindful of the impact of our actions is a necessary business and life practice for everyone.
Check out these two projects completed by students at Rural Studio in Alabama. Rural Studio is an off-campus design-build studio of Auburn University predicated on the philosophy that all people deserve good design. The students design and build projects for the community in the Black Belt region of West Alabama using the principles of reusing, recycling and remaking. The first project is called Glass Chapel and it’s a transportation stop/community pavilion clad in old car windows. The second project, Yancy Tire Chapel, is built from old housing wood and used tires that are packed with dirt, held together with rebar and stuccoed. I had the privilege of being able to visit Rural Studio with a handful of my classmates for a long-weekend during college and help one of the student teams with the build part of their project. The community’s pride in the homes and buildings Rural Studio created was amazing and the best part is they were able to make these extraordinary spaces with very little. It’s probably the epitome of making more with less.
Image Credits: 1. VIA 2. VIA