Autodesk's Dawn Danby seems to float onto the stage in a lovely color-coordinated-to-the-conference-materials outfit, looking especially stylish in a celery-hued wrap (last night while she was serving as the hostess at the Autodesk Gallery reception, she was wearing a magenta polka dot wrap). It's appropriate that she was our hostess last night because she wants to invite more people to the sustainability party. Sure, it's great and all that we're friends and see each other at conferences and can collaborate, but it's also a huge problem that the sustainability movement in general is so insular.
Autodesk makes some tools like a program for architects that will allow them to make changes to buildings when they're still in early modeling stage, using their language to show the result of their actions. But here's the reality of some of their clients, which Danby saw first-hand when she worked in Windsor, Ontario. She shows us an image of what it's like there: A vast skyline of factories spewing puffy white who-knows-what and a working class population that relies on that industry. Working there she got a very different perspective: Those people could care less about what Danby and her team were saying about sustainability.
It's a problem for designers to talk to people like this because they aren't so used to communicating with an audience that's not like them. Learning the language of the very people they're designing for is sometime really difficult. In fact, at a CAD convention in Vegas, a mechanical engineer stomped up to Danby and told her he thought sustainability was a Communist plot. So she's working on trying to define sustainability in a way that would help her to talk to people like the Communist Plot Man, and empowering people in a way that would not alienate them. "We need to get rid of our special-ness," she says, "and invite people in."