Green design can mean a lot of different things. The term "green" has become so overused it is almost meaningless as a descriptor. The idea of green design encompasses everything from highly design orientated, credentialed, and internationally accepted LEED certified buildings to mud huts with a solid foundation, roof, good solar exposure, and everything in-between. It can also mean looking to nature to solve other design issues, not just housing. For instance, environmental remediation, biomimicry in technology, sustainable agriculture, and much more.
(Image of Sage Hall with solar photovoltaic flowers and prairie plantings (left), a building which is certified LEED gold)
The one thing that most green design projects have in common is the environmental forethought, planning and consideration that occurs before, during, and after the work. Green design takes a humble and inquisitive look at the state of nature and seeks to find a niche, replicate an existing environmental factor, or exist with it, in a more harmonious and mutually beneficial way.
Green design has emerged in response to the un-sustainable nature of a dizzying array of practices around the world. The scientific and moral imperative for challenging and changing these poor designs and their narrow self-interest for self-advancement through monetary means is inherent in the notion of sustainability and green design. That is, doing the right thing will not (usually) be the cheapest road to take. It will not likely be the most efficient path. Also, taking a green design approach will be most antithetical to the perpetuation of our global economy as we know it.
(CC Image (above) of Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, Taiwan. The largest LEED Platinum building in the world. See page for author [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
The various critiques to our current economic system more or less point to the irresistible force paradox, whereby an unstoppable force (global capitalism) meets an immovable object (limited Earth resources). This paradox must come to pass at some point. As technology improves, population increases, the scarcity of finite resources continues to rise, and corporations globalization of markets continue continue to the detriment of humanity and Earth's systems.
Not only are economic systems today inherently unjust (assuming those that work hardest will be the most rewarded), they are destroying the planet and its resources at an alarming rate. Furthermore, the economy is only a subset of the environment. The environment is essentially the products and resources in various geographical regions. These goods, and the people who control them, have a disproportionate amount of wealth, power, and obfuscate that political reality to the detriment of all. Green designs in all markets are not necessarily challenging these points, but run in the vein of solutions. By creating alternative green design systems that hold a moral and scientific imperative at their core, that doesn't break from that moral imperative, will be crucial in advancing a sustainable world of the future.
(CC Image of Zero Carbon Car (right) by Atos International [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Green design most often refers to sustainable planning of cities, sustainable architecture; but can also refer to biomimicry, industrial production and personal consumption engineering and marketing, as well as applying conservation, preservation, and sustainability frameworks in a multitude of other niches and social roles. Green design like many aspects of sustainability is not by itself a solution to the un-sustainbility we face, but a needed component of it. Working towards green designs that help us transition to a post-growth economy into a steady-state economy will be essential to overcoming the seemingly endless issues we face today.
(CC Image of an Earthship courtesy of Dominic Alves via Flickr)