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Thinking through Bamboo

The challenge of designing for sustainability in Argentina

DA Mariana Salgado
Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD)

Program of Actualization in Digital Design.

Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, University of Buenos Aires.

ID Mariana Massigoge
Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD)

Industrial Design Department.

Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, University of Buenos Aires.


This paper analyzes a case study of an experience done in Buenos Aires, Argentina
during 2010. The Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD) decided to put up a workshop to
explore and realized products in bamboo in line to the current city campaign to adhere
to ecological principles. Afterwards, we, designers working in this centre, realized that
there was a project from Buenos Aires province government to help the development
of bamboo in the region. Both institutions joined forces and plan their collaboration.
Therefore, forty designers from different disciplines gathered to make products in
bamboo supported by these two institutions.

We show the obstacles and opportunities of this collaboration, stressing on the

possibilities that the project open in the future agenda. We address the questions: How
could governmental policies motivate design for sustainability in developing countries
from a designers’ perspective? How policies could reinforce collaboration while the
goal is sustainability?
Sustainability in Design: NOW!

In this section we propose to map the state of the design for sustainability (DfS) in Argentina. It is
however, a difficult task as there is not a centre, or an institution that would concentrate the efforts of the
country in this matter. Information is spread in within various organizations and there is not a conscious
and systematic effort to centralize and document the projects that intend to promote DfS. As a
consequence we have decided to concentrate on the information and experience that we were able to
collect as designers working for the government of Buenos Aires City and in Buenos Aires University.
We focus on our experience in the management and organization of activities that deal with DfS. In
addition, we complement our practical knowledge with some interviews to the designers that participate
in the workshop and to experts in environmental issues and certifications.

Global initiatives are requiring greater product responsibility from producers. In Europe, new
regulations have been enacted that require producers to take more responsibility for their products by
providing for the disposal or recycling of products at the end of their useful life. Labelling products
with environmental performance data can help to differentiate products as well (Yarwood & Eagan,
2001: 10).

Though many ISO (International Organizations for Standards) and IRAM (Argentinean Institute for
Normalization and Certification) standards are required in Argentina, it is globalization with its growing
possibilities for exporting products that encourages Argentinean companies to adhere to these
certifications. ISO standards that relate to environmental issues are not yet commonly used but they are
being adopted gradually. The Argentinean government has implemented a permanent plan to help and
assist companies that want to get these certifications. However, the most important issue, as they are
voluntary certifications, is to sensitize designers and companies in order to understand the importance of
sustainability matters. This is not an easy endeavour because Argentinean citizens, mainly from the
biggest cities, are vaguely conscious of the collateral damage that their everyday behaviour could cause to
the environment.

Other influential characteristic is that in Argentina, compared with European countries there is a big
quantity of small and medium sized enterprises (SME). This was the consequence of an industrial
development that has a history of ups and downs due to changes in the economic and political system.
Frequently these enterprises are family businesses with a small structure and therefore hiring a
professional designer to develop a product line, for example, is still a way ahead in most of the cases. As
a consequence, many designers, from the beginning of their careers set up their own companies and start
to build a SME. One of the major challenges for these designers, setting up their business as soon as their
bachelor degree is finished is that they do not have anymore contact with other professionals in the field.
They continue in contact only with close friends, but there is not a network of collaboration among
designers. There is not a strong design union to congregate and give advice to designers, not enough
offers for master’s degree that could satisfy the needs of the 1500 designers that complete their degree in
Buenos Aires University, to give only one example. This number corresponds to the year 2005 (UBA,

Another issue that is important here to take in to consideration is the fact that in Argentinean Universities
there is not a clear state in the curricula addressing design for sustainability. In addition, there is no
Argentinean University in the Learning Network for Sustainability. This fact does not mean that nobody
mentions the existence of this subject, but that the presence in the curricula depends on the volunteer
action of the teachers and professors. In general terms it is possible to affirm that there is a slow and
growing attention to these issues but not a conscious and intentional project that could position design for
sustainability in the education agenda as a key factor.

Given these conditions, the Metropolitan Design Centre (CMD) has been a meeting point for many free-
lancers and entrepreneur designers organizing several courses, seminars, events and other activities for
designers. In parallel, the CMD had the initiative to use these meeting for discussion that deals with
design for sustainability.

Author 1, Author 2 Title of paper

To describe this situation, enables us to affirm that this informal education of graduate designers towards
design for sustainability is a key factor, as they are the leaders of their small and medium sized companies
and they can influence with their design production both clients, end-users and the society at large. This
process of sensitising the designers towards DfS, is a long one. This is not a short-term strategy, but a
long-term attempt that will show its impact in the next ten years. In this process we do not intend to deal
only with technical solutions that designers might implement, but also with psychological ones. In our
opinion it is vital for designers to understand how they can influence consumer’s behaviour and
government policies that relate to design for sustainability.

Designing a DfS workshop

In the previous section we present and describe some of the circumstances that have made designers a key
player in educating the society towards sustainability. In this section, we will concentrate on our concrete
actions, as learning tools to reflect on the issue. The bamboo workshop that we coordinate in the
Metropolitan Design Centre has shown us the need to research into the policies and government measures
that could motivate design for sustainability.

The aim of the program “Integrating the Future” (Integrando al Futuro) is to contribute to raise awareness
transferring from design patterns of development, production, business and consumption behaviours that
encourage Corporate Social Responsibility, social and environmental sustainability, which tend to
internalize the Fair Trade criteria.
Within this program the Metropolitan Design Centre has organized many activities; workshops that
explore different materials (adobe, bamboo, nylon scrap, etc.), conferences that gather different lecturers
to talk and transfer their experience and approaches with the different themes, product exhibitions, debate
forums with the different stakeholders, window shopping circuits addressed to all brands and design
studios, where the objective of the activity is to work not only from the production side, promoting
products that incorporate sustainable design criteria, but also from the consumption side, encouraging
responsible consumption behaviours.

The bamboo workshop is an activity focused on research and experimentation. We invite designers to
explore with materials and techniques so as to generate new tools to transfer in the future to other agents
of the value chain as we explain in previous section. The workshop as an activity gave us the possibility
to get to know a vast group of designers and discuss with them on the basis of their design proposals. In
general, designers are more familiar with this type of discussion, based on their own proposals.
Presenting design decisions behind a proposal, designers present themselves and their values. In other
events (as conference or festivals) we have had difficulty in creating fruitful discussions that really
influence design decisions, but workshops allow designers to learn in our own way, by doing. This aligns
with the "designerly ways of knowing" (Cross, 2007).

The workshops we organized in the CMD always consist of six meetings, being the second one a whole
day trip somewhere related to the material in question. This trip is important to get to know the group and
to break the ice among the participants. In this case we went to the Tigre, delta part of La Plata River.
There, we saw the bamboo plantations and we listened to a lecture from a researcher in bamboo from the
Provincial Direction of Islands.

The workshop series based on a material that can be considered "eco-friendly" as bamboo is an easy way
to start discussions and tackle the complex problem of design for sustainability. It is thinking about
sustainability, through bamboo. As we say in the previous section, there is not in our country an
awareness of the importance and impact of design decisions on the environment. Therefore, in order to
start sensitising the designers, choosing an eco-friendly material was the simplest way we could find for
opening the discussion on the subject. Also, beginning by selecting a material that is renewable,
recyclable and compostable was a way to start the life cycle of the products in line with design for
sustainability principles. The selection of the material makes designers psychologically aware of and
conscious about the framework of the workshop in within sustainable development. They could not avoid

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thinking about other characteristics of the design proposals that reinforce their projects in this context.

By departing from the material we introduce the topic of design for sustainability and in parallel present
other ways to initiate a design process. We propose some exercises as a brainstorming and a sense and
body exploration. These were seen for designers as a great exercise to break the ice motivating them to
share and get to know who was besides them.

The Metropolitan Design Centre is promoting design for sustainability in collaboration with other
agencies and organizations. In this case, we have set the collaboration with the Provincial Direction of
Islands (DPDI). We found out during our previews research that the DPDI has an economic development
program based on bamboo for the Delta area that had some points of connection with our project.
Therefore, we decided to propose a collaboration agenda for the project. During the trip day, they lecture
the participants on the material mechanical properties and also gave a concrete overview of the different
stakeholders involved with bamboo as well as advice on how to choose the right type of bamboo. Their
expertise on the subject was an important starting point for the designers. On the other hand, we will be
organizing another workshop addressed to Delta craftsman that is part of the bamboo Producer’s Forum,
organized by DPDI. This workshop will deal with production and design methods with the aim of getting
better commercial products. Another city sector with which we organized design-oriented activities is the
Environmental Protection Agency (APrA).

These collaborations should not happen by chance. We would need to implement some common
platforms to get to know about each other projects and interests. At the beginning of our bamboo project
we understood the importance of creating a discussion forum in order to share ideas and debate. This is
why we started a blog, together with all participants of the workshop, to promote the online discussion
with the members of the other organizations, producers, vendors, designers and researchers that could be
interested in bamboo.

In addition the blog ( was presented as a learning tool for the
participants in the workshop having in mind different goals. We wanted to introduce new technology to
participants, create a discussion forum, and build knowledge together on design for sustainability issues.
We gave to all participants editorial rights and we encouraged them to write and collect research material
together in the blog. The blog as a daily tool to publish online was new to most of the designers that
participated in the workshop. They do not use blogs for their daily professional activities and neither do
they comment on other blogs regularly. They have used the blog to collect material about how bamboo
was used in others part of the world and to publish their design proposals.
However, it is not common practice of industrial, textile, graphic designers and architects in our country
to share their drafts and discuss online about the design possibilities. Though, we have insisted and tried
to promote the blog as a discussion forum, designers mainly used it as a place to share their investigation
and show results. Only when they have their products in a mature state with nice drawings and finished
proposals do they dare to publish them in the blog. Neither have they had comment on others design
possibilities online.

An interesting fact to notice is that participants from the bamboo Producer’s Forum participated in our
workshop. This was possible thanks to the collaboration network we establish with DPDI and also to the
actual state of bamboo development in the country that is still handle by a small or manageable amount of
organizations so its easy to find the actors that are working with it. This was a key issue for getting to
know the producers and other stakeholders that were involved with bamboo from a different perspective.

The bamboo design objects that came out from this workshop showed the result of the material research
and the processes exploration. There were products that used the bamboo in a laminar way, others that
took the natural shape of it, some added new technology to its processing as laser cutting to generate
textures. Also, there were products that merged the bamboo with other materials as the aluminium, using
the bamboo as the structural material.

It was also interesting the connotative work of some of the projects. The bamboo has a strong East
reference therefore it is challenging to design products in the West. The barbecue table may be the most
striking product when we analysed the results from this point of view. The necklace also showed a new
way of using the material, a new application of the wood, as a delicate material merged with metal cords.

Author 1, Author 2 Title of paper

The bamboo design objects were: lightings, room dividers, curtains, women clothes, a long board, two
chairs and one table, sushi table, barbecue table, rack, artist nibs, a necklace, a raft. Figure 1.

Fig.1: Necklace. Designers: Tamara Lisenberg and Martín Martini.

Designers need more recognition and support to carry on with sustainable projects, as the one they have
started in the bamboo workshop. In the last meeting we opened the debate about what designers need to
continue the production and commercialization of the products they had developed and the main concern
was the financial assistance and access to economic resources. Analysing the comments that resulted
from the forum we understood that what is really needed is the knowledge and the support in putting
together a business with these characteristics due to the fact that the economic resources may be found
when you have a clear vision of what you need.

Government, Companies, Designers and end-

It is important to acknowledge that though we try in this paper to explore an answer to the question of
what the government can do to motivate DfS from a designer perspective; the umbrella question would be
what all the stakeholders involved could do. Creating awareness and sensitising about this topic should
happen together with all the groups involved in product development, such as companies, designers, end-
users and the government. For example, Argentinean companies could be involved in the World Business
Council for Sustainable Development ( in order to get support to operate, innovate
and grow in a world increasingly shaped by sustainable development issues.

As designers, we have our own perspective on understanding what the government could do, because we
are exploring this issues using our designs as tools for understanding what kind of needs and support our
sustainable design proposals need to be realized as products. In previous section we notice the lack of
meeting points with several organizations whose work relates to sustainability. Making use of web 2.0
tools could be a way to advance towards solidifying the net of collaboration. But the real change could
come only if government policies motivate collaboration. The same as with the University, at the moment
the collaboration within organizations is not set as priority in the agenda, but as something that might or
might not happen depending on the good will of the persons involved. Sometimes collaboration means
that we spend working days by travelling to meet people in other parts of the city. In the case of the
bamboo workshop for example there is two hours car trip from one organization to the other. Incentives
for workers involved in networks of collaboration within other organizations could be a positive change.

During the time of the workshop the Metropolitan Design Centre also organized an event on the
Environment day where some of the participants in the workshop came over. In this event we had a panel
discussion on design for sustainability. Some designers that had already started their collections based on
sustainable design sold their objects. This type of events are important to get to know other people
interested in similar issues but also, as only designers doing and promoting design for sustainability can
participate and sell their products for free are a way to recognize them within the design community.
Also, it showed the designers that participated in our workshops and do not have a line of products on the
market, that design for sustainability could be the concept of a design company.

On the other hand, the CMD, has a program named IncuBA that works like most of the incubation
programs but what differentiates it is that the project that are selected must have a design based business.
This program has selected and promoted projects based on design for sustainability, there are 3
enterprises in the current program that put together their business plan based on design for sustainability;
Gruba (, MHU! Minimahuella ( and Mateos
Davenport (

At the moment there is only one significant competition or prize in the country that specially deal with
the issue of Design for sustainability, and this could be a simple way to put designers to incorporate these
values to their design decisions. It is, nowadays, starting to be one of the basic criteria used to select the

Sustainability in Design: NOW!

awarded ones. The most important National Design Competition (Innovar, 2010) deals with innovation
and has special categories for sustainable projects.

Some manufacturers require their suppliers to have an environmental management system (EMS) such as
ISO14001 as a way to demonstrate their commitment to the environment (Kurk & McNamara, 2006: 29).
In Argentina important oil companies are asking their providers to get the certifications in this way they
generate a chain of good practice. IRAM (Argentinean Institute for Normalization and Certification) has
the IRAM-ISO 64 that provides a manual for dealing with environmental issues in product development.
Another important certification that is gradually being adopted is the ISO/TR 14062. This normalization
is about environmental management and the integration of environmental aspects into product design and

The government could provide support for translation and printing of the already published material on
Design for Sustainability. Editorial projects that promote and communicate concrete tools for designers
are missing. We believe that by promoting these projects designers could make more informed decisions.

“Ecological accounting through the use of analytical tools, such as Life Cycle Analysis, and standard
practices that measure environmental impact is an element of good product engineering and design”.
(Ceridon, 2009: 3). Designers and companies need more instruction for using analytical tools such as the
one that Kimi Ceridon proposes as a good practice for measuring environmental impact. But also there is
a need to understand labels and policies related to sustainability. For example, they would need support
for implementing the ISO 1043-1 for marking plastics.
There are certain restrictions as the European Union RoHS directive (Restriction of Certain Hazardous
Substances, effective July 2006) that set maximum levels for lead, cadmium, mercury, and other
substances (Kurk & McNamara, 2006: 12). Some European companies are already prepared for such
restrictions. Therefore, if Argentinean companies intend to commercialize with European countries they
should start to consider them and be prepared to adjust their products to them.

The issue of design for sustainability is in line with other city government actions for a more eco-friendly
life in Buenos Aires city. We understand that this workshop is only a small contribution, but it has helped
us to draw directions and map possibilities of what could governmental actions can do to grow the seeds
that we are planting. The more the government should induce companies to get the certifications
supporting their payment, excepting companies that voluntary use the international labels from taxes, and
giving consulting guidance, the more the companies will react positively towards sustainable issues.

In this process we do not intend to deal only with technical solutions that designers might implement, but
also with psychological ones.. In our opinion it is vital for designers to understand how they could
influence in consumers behaviour and governmental policies that relate to design for sustainability.

In section 3 we give a detailed description with concrete ideas on how the government polices can
promote articulating, consulting, educating, spreading, standardizing, getting financial support,
researching and recognizing the DfS. As designers working in the area is important to have a sensitive ear
on policy issues and be ready to understand how these issues influence our daily work, our products and
our decision making processes. Being more aware and documenting these issues are important steps
towards learning on sustainability. On the other hand, designers well informed on policy issues can
influence DfS and with it take informed decisions.

Every designer should have the possibility to access information related to laws, methods and tools
addressing sustainability as a basic component of the syllabus of every subject. Though, we believe that
education towards these issues should happen constantly, it is vital to be presented in the first years of our
vocational training as the bases of design.

Author 1, Author 2 Title of paper

In concordance with Ezio Manzini (2007: 239) the governance tools needed have to promote horizontal
links between peers, while connecting different vertical levels of the public administration organisational
structure. This workshop illustrates the linkages between actors, artefacts and social arenas and show how
these elements build upon each other while sharing values and promoting sensibility towards design for
sustainability. This process of incorporating a new sensibility towards sustainable issues happens not
without tensions; this is why we wanted to reinforce the proactive role that governmental institutions
could have.

As a country that is in a development stage in this area we need to enable new solutions and propose new
paths without necessarily going through every step the developed countries took. We have the advantage
that we can learn and replicate good practices in the light of the aim we want to achieve.

Thanks to Silvia Veizman for the interview. She provided us with meaningful insides about the complex
certification system in Argentina. We also want to thank Clara Peña y María Emilia Caro from the DDPI
that replied to our many questions. Our gratitude goes also for Cindy Kohtala, Yanina Kinigsberg and
Martin Avila for recommending us bibliography on the subject. Finally, we thank all the participants in
the workshop that with their energy and support motivate us to reflect on the experience. Thanks to all of

Ceridon, K. (2009) “Green Design with Life Cycle in Mind”. Edited by ChangeThis. accessed 2 July 2010.

Cross, N. (2007) Designerly ways of knowing. London: Springer-Verlag

Innovar (2010). accessed 7 July 2010.

Kurk, F. and McNamara, C. (2006) Better by Design. An Innovation Guide: Using Natural Design Solutions. USA:
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Manzini, E. (2007) “Design research for sustainable social innovation”. Design Research Now. Springer, pp.233-245.

UBA (2010). Stadistical data. accessed on 7 July 2010.

Yarwood, J. M. and Eagan, P. D. (2001) Design for the Environment. A Competitive Edge for the Future. Toolkit.
USA: Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance.

Mariana Salgado holds a doctoral degree from Media Lab, University of Art and Design, Helsinki and a
master degree in Product and Strategic Design from the same University. She has worked during 9 years
as designer and researcher at the Media Lab Helsinki. During 2010 she is visiting researcher in the
University of Buenos Aires and worked as collaborator in the Metropolitan Design Centre.

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Mariana Massigoge has a bachelor degree in Industrial Design from the University of Buenos Aires.
Since 2008 she has worked as the coordinator of the Design Management area of the Metropolitan Design
Centre. She has also been teaching at the University of Palermo and the University of Buenos Aires.
Since 2006 she has been working as a volunteer at the NGO Progresar in a program intended for cultural
and educational stimulation.