THE ART CENTER SUMMIT | Designing Sustainable Mobility

Sustainability Summit Overview

“The first step in finding a solution is admitting you have a problem. Well, we have a problem.”

With these words, Art Center College of Design’s Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Nate Young opened the first-of-a-kind Art Center Summit: Designing Sustainable Mobility. The problem he pinpointed involves the global impact of an aggressively mobile human society. Carbon emissions, climate change, traffic—these are all issues that the Summit sought to address over two days, from February 7-8, 2007, at Art Center’s South Campus Wind Tunnel in Pasadena, Calif.

Representing 11 countries, a diverse group of 100 designers, engineers, scientists, product planners, government officials and leading educators seeking creative new ways to achieve sustainable mobility through design gathered to debate and redefine the future of transportation and mobility. Their goal was to discover how designers and other creative-minded people could play a role in advancing the sustainability dialogue. In the opening keynote presentation, President of Worldwatch Institute, Christopher Flavin, discussed the environmental challenges facing the world. He maintained that future design concepts must consider these challenges and overcome them. Next Christopher E. Bangle, director of BMW Group Design, addressed the role of designers in sustainability. He stressed that designers must keep actual people and their well-being at the center of planning.

Later, AeroVironment’s Paul MacCready, inventor Jay Baldwin and industrialist Budd Steinhilber convened for a panel moderated by John Paul Kusz, founder of Center for Sustainable Enterprise at IIT Stuart School of Business. They discussed how innovators have historically overcome the sustainability challenges that increased mobility has generated. Steinhilber in particular emphasized that transportation is not the same as technology, and that optimism about technological solutions cannot be allowed to replace the reality of transportation needs.

In another presentation, Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway personal transporter, noted that huge opportunities exist to build new systems that hinge on sustainable advantages. He insisted that innovation was really just invention that has an impact on society.

At the end of the first day of the Summit, attendees and others were transported to Art Center’s Hillside Campus to hear from California’s Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency Linda S. Adams, followed by Ed Begley Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who argued passionately that we have a moral, spiritual and legal obligation to not bankrupt future generations by continuing to plunder the natural resources of the planet.

Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute opened the second day sessions by demonstrating how ultra-light vehicles and efficient technology can dramatically improve energy efficiency, arguing that transportation was a means not an end. Next, Bill Breen, an editor at Fast Company, moderated a panel that included Chris Bangle, CALSTART-Weststart president John Boesel, designer Larry Erickson of Ford and Ben Knight of Honda Americas R&D. They discussed how designers inspire engineers and how designers make the industrial process people-centered. It was noted that market segmentation provides a huge opportunity for young designers.

 X-prize leader Mark Goodstein laid down the challenge to design and build a new breed of vehicle, emphasizing risk-taking among designers. As the Summit proceeded, breakout studios, interspersed with the presentations, conceived new approaches to mobility by accepting the constraints of a radically changing world. The Summit concluded with a call to action from conference leader Art Center’s Vice President for Educational Initiatives, Dave Muyres. He convened a group to extract a set of principles from the Summit that can be used as a guide for future sustainable mobility discussions. While the Summit ended, the conversation has continued.