This is part of a series of articles by MBA students at California College of the Arts dMBA program. Follow along here.
By Justin Lokitz
It goes without saying, mass production and mass consumption of throwaway goods, be they toys, packaging, or housewares, has led us to a place where we often are forced to weigh the impacts of wanting (and purchasing) more stuff versus the effects of how all of this stuff is produced and where we will dump it all when we are done with it. In short, we are killing ourselves to buy more stuff to kill ourselves even faster. Like it or not, this is the dark side of the industrial revolution. Stemming the world population growth and the buying habits of billions of consumers is likely an unbeatable challenge. So, what if instead we looked to the Maker Movement to help cure us, not of consumerism, but of the mass production and disposable nature of goods we buy?
The Maker Movement was born out of the desire to invent, design, create, hack, reinvent, and build things of one’s own hands. While people have certainly been doing this since, well, humans have existed, making things has taken off in the last several years largely due to new tools, digital and physical, that enable makers to design and build things on a small scale with little prior knowledge and only spare equipment. What has blossomed from this, is a raft of community knowledge such as that found on Instructables, as well as sites dedicated to selling niche craft items, like Etsy.
So, how is this good for green? People value and will keep and use custom goods longer than mass-produced goods. Think about it. If you were offered a pair of made-to-order shoes, made precisely to fit your feet, and a pair of off-the-rack shoes from your favorite big box store, which pair would you consider having resoled in a couple of years and which would you donate to charity (or throw out) once the soles wore out? The answer should be simple: made-to-order shoes, as with almost any other personalized good, connect with each of us on a deeper, sentimental level than typical, mass-produced goods. Hence, the made-to-order goods are kept and used longer. Moreover, by virtue of making things, makers also tend to learn how to fix things. Rather than throw something away, most things a maker finds broken or inadequate can be repaired or modified to fit a task or need. Basically, this also means less need for mass produced goods, less packaging to hold those goods, less shipping, and potentially less energy going into the Maker version of a consumer good.
The green effect of customization doesn’t just stop at the individual Maker Movement either. On a larger scale, there is a mass customization movement afoot. And, as with the Maker Movement, new technologies and processes have enabled manufacturers to customize and create made-to-order goods for just about anyone – but on a larger scale. In fact, in a recent MIT Media Lab study researchers found that “mass customization, over the entire product lifecycle is indeed more energy and resource efficient than is mass production.”
Just as the industrial revolution changed the way we lived and consumed, so will the Maker Movement. With the advent of new tools, such as environmentally friendly 3D printers, we are fast moving into a new revolution whereby mass consumption will turn into mass customization. And, with this customization comes the hope that with every new good produced, specially and perfectly for each of us, one less thing is thrown away and perhaps fewer disposable things are made in their place.
So, what’s your take? Will the Maker Movement lead us to greener pastures or is it just a way to pass the time?
Justin Lokitz is Senior Product Manager at Autodesk and CCA DMBA Candidate