Working in an oil company has certainly opened my eyes to the complexity of the energy infrastructure in the US and the world. I’m sure that the majority of the people I come into contact with who have an opinion on energy consumption are unaware of just how complex it is to actually get oil out of the ground and into our cars.
Last year I learned and started thinking about “wicked” problems and “designerly” thinking. My understanding is that there are some problems in the design world, in which the variables and interactions between problems are extremely complex and are called “wicked” problems. Sustainable energy consumption is most definitely a “wicked” problem.
Lately, it seems I’ve heard the term “sustainability” being used quite a bit, with what I suspect is a regards to energy conservation and design of manufactured goods. Technically, these are two different things and, to be honest, the word “sustainable” is used too often without any particular type of qualifier. Sustainability is like spirituality. There are all kinds of spiritual practices. We need to be clear about what we’re talking about with regards to sustainability – e.g., sustainable agriculture, a sustainable approach to business development, and sustainable technology development.
Change to the way the world uses energy is not something that can happen within even 5 years. It’s something that will require a deep commitment from several generations of political leaders and will require us all to put aside our motivations for power and economic wealth in favor of the future of the planet. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I do believe that it’s somewhat unrealistic to think that one industry or even one country will be able to make lasting changes to the energy infrastructure of the world alone.
Check out this download for Firefox, “Oil Standard” – See the world in barrels of oil
Stirring Design Into Business – article on design thinking in Business Week, 2007
“On addressing wicked problems…” – from Interactions, 2008
“Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI” – requires ACM subscription for full-text