A conference in California brought together environmentalists and the auto industry
Shrinking oil reserves, global warming, failed political administration policies, the car as an avatar, industrial humanism and the motorized shoe were just a few of the topics and ideas discussed at the Art Center College of Design 'Designing Sustainable Mobility' conference, held in California in February.
For the designers in the room, a bright light was shone from BMW's Chris Bangle. A lively speaker with an optimistic speech giving us terms like "Industrial Humanism" and "design with meaning". He also gave us inspiration on day two with his presentation of BMW's latest experimental flexible structural material called GINA—encouraging to see from a major auto manufacturer.
However, the overall theme taken from day one was the central idea that we, as an industry, need to address the topic of the summit from a systems level design solution standpoint and not from that of being intent upon creating a new type of automobile to solve the problem all on its own.
The second day of the summit was distinctly changed in both tone and atmosphere to one of optimism with presentations on implementing tangible solutions—a focus for day two's discussions. For instance, Amory Lovins gave a very precise and informative presentation pointing the way for the auto industry to embrace lightweight composite materials, alternative powertrains and greatly reduced costs resulting from these efforts. Further discussion focused on rethinking the use of urban land, adding intelligent highway and commuter systems to help ease congestion, and integrating a much wider variety of mobility options into the existing urban landscape.
Whilst few of the ideas presented at the conference were new in isolation, it was the collective gathering and presentation of these ideas that made a strong impact. There were elegant solutions presented on this day from the likes of MIT, Calstart, Disney, Peter Treadway (with his aforementioned motorized shoe), and those more closely associated with the auto industry like Honda, Ford and BMW.
One topic not discussed, was that of organizational structures and processes that prevent and hinder designers exploring and developing sustainable mobility solutions due to the short term corporate focus of all but a few car companies. Encouraged as conference delegates may have been by the variety of discussions and solutions presented during the summit, until this critical issue at the highest level of decision makers within the industry is brought to the table, true progress is still nothing more than talk. With conferences such as this summit taking prominence there is a real possibility this can occur sooner rather than later: hope was something that all delegates left the Designing Sustainable Mobility conference with.