15 Buzzwords for 15 Years: SUSTAINABILITY

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Heidrun Mumper-Drumm February 5, 2016

Buzzword or buzzkill?

Heirdrun-Mumper-Drumm_600px-475x443If there ever was a buzzword, that word buzzing around is sustainability. There are sustainable laundry detergents, environment-friendly light bulbs, green building materials, fair-traded coffee, and carbon-neutral brews. Unfortunately, the word also represents major buzzkill: mention ‘sustainability’ and people picture melting ice sheets, starving sea lions and apocalyptic futures aboard a runaway train.

It wasn’t always this way. Ten years ago, when I began to teach ‘Design for Sustainability,’ the word was just coming into popular use. The implications of sustainability inspired an entirely new kind of designer and generated new methods and tools for design research and execution. Experimental initiatives, such as Designmatters, focused on social impact design, while others advocated for a new ecological design practice, based on systems and life cycle thinking.

Despite the buzzkill, sustainability remains the most important idea of the 21st century: that is, that a regenerative and reciprocal relationship with the planet [and its inhabitants] is possible and will ensure our survival. This biggest of big ideas is surely the guiding principle for design, no matter what it is called.

Heidrun Mumper-Drumm
Professor, Humanities & Sciences, Product, Graphic Design
Director Sustainability Initiatives


Heidrun Mumper-Drumm is a professor and Director of Sustainability Initiatives at ArtCenter College of Design. She began her career as an environmental engineer and led energy and environmental management projects. She later founded a communication design studio, working primarily with arts and education clients, and a publishing and letterpress company. She currently teaches design for sustainability courses at ArtCenter College of Design, focusing on a design process that optimizes product and system lifecycles. She is leading a research project to create a methodology and tools to integrate lifecycle thinking into the development of products and services.

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