The term ‘green’ became increasingly commonplace in the 1970s and was closely associated with debates relating to environmentalism and ecology. ‘Green’ politics had first emerged in Europe, particularly in West Germany, where there were powerful environmental pressure groups such as the Grüne Aktion Zukunft (Green Action for the Future), which campaigned against nuclear power. In Britain the Greenpeace organization was established. Although a number of ecologically conscious enterprises such as Anita Roddick's Body Shop (established 1976) had been founded in Britain it was not until the following decade that ‘green design’ began to be widely discussed in the design press. Essentially, green design embraces ecological considerations, sustainability, recycling, conservation of resources, and cleaner, quieter, and safer domestic environments.
Many of the achievements of technology and science, symbolic representatives of Modernism and Fordism, had been under challenge for some time. In 1960, Vance Packard had written The Waste‐Makers: A Startling Revelation of Planned Obsolescence and, two years later, Rachel Carson had published her best‐selling Silent Spring. The latter was a strident attack on the American agri‐chemical industry and drew attention to the potentially devastating impact of pesticides. Furthermore, the work and writings of French Modernist architect and designer Le Corbusier that had so dominated the outlook of progressive town planners for years was also challenged in a number of radical texts such as Jane Jacobs's 1961 polemical book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In design terms in the decades following the end of the Second World War, the architect, inventor, designer, writer, and thinker Richard Buckminster Fuller was a strident critic of the industrial design profession. Writing and lecturing to audiences around the world he highlighted the shortcomings of industrial design, particularly in relation to its squandering of finite resources and encouragement of obsolescence. Also significant in critiques of large‐scale manufacture and mass consumption were the writings of Eugene Schumacher and Ivan Illich who respectively wrote Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered and Tools for Conviviality, both from 1973. Three years later Peter Harper and Geoffrey Boyle edited Radical Technology, proposing that greater emphasis should be placed on small‐scale techniques with individuals and communities managing production on a human scale under workers' and communities' control.
The 1980s saw many publications relating to green design, as well as a Green Designer exhibition at the Design Centre, London, in 1986. Alongside talk of the ‘ethical '90s’ in the 1990s the literature in the field also expanded with texts such as Dorothy Mackenzie's Green Design: Design for the Environment (1991) and Brenda and Robert Vales's Green Architecture: Design for a Sustainable Future (1991). However, as the expansion of Roddick's Body Shop chain attests (1,400 shops opening in the first twenty years of the company's operations with over 70 outlets in Japan), being environmentally and ecologically conscious also brought highly lucrative business. As confirmed in 1990 by management consultants Touche Ross, many major European companies felt it important to mediate their output with environmental considerations. This could be seen at Philips and Zanussi in Europe and IBM in the United States and was further reflected in contemporary consumer interest in ethical investment on the Stock Exchange. The Design Museum, London, mounted an exhibition exploring the theme of green design in 1990. The fact that ‘green design’ and ‘green capitalism’ were still essentially elements in the world of consumption gave rise to a number of critiques: in Britain, Sandy Irvine's Beyond Green Consumerism (1989), and, in the United States, Green Business: Hope or Hoax? (1991).See also Design for Need.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.