“Responsible Desire” and more. An interview with Sustainable Product Designer, Jaime Salm of Mioculture

Eco – Industrial Design may have been discredited ten years ago, but today, this is the same genre that is attracting much attention. Jaime Salm is a flag bearer of this category and dedicates himself to exploring opportunities through sustainable design. His design laboratory MIO focuses on bridging the gap between sustainability and business through design. His works have been exhibited at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Ontario Science Center, Museum of Scotland and Material ConneXion. He has been part of world-wide lectures including at the Parsons School of Design and has been featured on magazines like ID and Metropolis amongst others. With his brother Isaac as partner he founded the CultureLab, a consulting firm that assists companies that want to incorporate sustainable solutions to their business practices. His client roster includes names like Urban Outfitters, FedEx, Target, Bloomberg, Neiman Marcus, to name a few.

B :   How did you venture into this field? Was it that you woke up one day wanting to be a sustainable product designer, OR, were you born with a design>sustainability mantra, OR, other?

J:    When I was a teenager I use to spend most of my weekends in friends farms hiking in the woods, camping and playing outdoors. I think this was in a strange way the start of my relationship to sustainability. I think that if you haven’t really had a chance to explore nature and experience it then it is harder to really grasp what we are losing. Sure, we all know that we need to preserve certain things in order to “survive” but the goal should be broader (more ambitious) than that. We should be able to preserve the experience of the natural world.

The reason why I became a sustainable product designer is because I was also fortunate enough to have attended an Industrial Design program (University of the Arts) that taught big picture thinking and that embraced the larger relationship between design and context. By context I mean human behavior and the world around us. We were taught that social and environmental responsibility are part of design not a series of check lists for the marketing department.

Designers today grapple with questions of ethics whether they want to or not (whether they are aware of it or not). So you could argue we are all sustainable designers (or we aught to be) as this is actually part of the job description.



B:  Someone recently posted the following comment on our blog “Consumerism is not sustainability”. What would be your response to this, given you are working in the world of consumer products.

J: I would challenge whoever posted that comment to post a picture of the room they are sitting in (computer included). I would like them to look at what they own, how they live, what they eat and lastly to be honest with themselves. Much of the world population now lives in industrialized, urban centers that have been built around commercial and industrial models that are inescapable. The only solution to our problems is to reinvent consumer society through design, engineering and the re-design of culture as we know it. No one said this was going to be an easy and fast transition. Sustainability is not a fad, it is a process of evolving products, services, experiences and culture. We need to redefine values and the only tools at our disposal are those of commerce and design.

My philosophy is that we need to co-opt the tools that have driven this planet to the ground and use them to change things. I call it “responsible Desire”, the idea that people should lust after the greenest and most efficient products. Positive reinforcement has been and will remain the most powerful motivator. If we go back to guilt, fear and granola aesthetics I believe we will fail.



B: The current issue with green living is that it often comes with a higher price tag. With your Target initiative, hitting efficient price points must have been crucial. How is Mio Culture addressing this?

J: We have always believed that in order for “green living” to become “living” (as it should be) requires that we make beautiful, sustainable and affordable products and services. Our goal is to make things that are accessible to more people. More people equals more impact and more minds changed. We are constantly designing around lower price points to make even those uninterested in the green attributes of a product interested in them. The hook is beauty, function and price, we take care of the sustainability portion or build it in.

With the MIO For Target line this was important but the most important achievement with that line was the conversation we started and the influence we had with buyers and vendors. Price point is definitely key but it needs to go hand in hand with quality, beauty and service.



B: In your everyday life, what are some of the things you do to walk the talk?

J: I do not own a car so I ride my bike regardless of the weather all year round. I do lot’s of small things that in aggregate add up to a very low impact lifestyle. I use a low flow shower head, aerators, reusable bags (rigorously), buy local foods whenever possible, compost all year round, rarely turn on the heat (that’s what sweaters, blankets and insulation are for), turn off lights as I walk out of the room, avoid harsh chemicals in general (cleaning and at work), buy concentrated and bulk packaged items when available and lastly donate quite a bit of time to education (we need to spread the word).

Image:  Mioculture – Jaime (featured on right) with Brother Isaac



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