Sustainability — the ability to last or continue for a long time or the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level — is a word that often relies on its context for clarity of definition. The concept of sustainability as it relates to human development first appeared in 1987 in the idea of “sustainable development” as follows:

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

—World Commission on Environment and Development’s
(the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

Meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social, economic, and environmental objectives–or needs–when making decisions today. For example, at a broad level, industrial growth might conflict with preserving natural resources. Yet, in the long term, a balanced approach that advocates the responsible use of natural resources now will help ensure that there are resources available for sustained industrial growth far into the future.

sustainability and CO

As applied to policy making, sustainability requires us to question what are the needs of the present? How do we decide whose needs are met? What happens when needs conflict? When there has to be a trade off, whose needs should go first? What gets prioritized?

The decision with respect to which “needs” are most vital and should weigh most heavily in the balance is a subjective exercise and depends critically on immediate hardships, challenges, value structures and expectations. If you did not have access to safe water, and therefore needed wood to boil drinking water so that you and your children would not get sick, would you worry about causing deforestation? Difficulties notwithstanding, the balancing of objectives is vital in the short term – by individuals, communities, cities, countries and groups of countries – if we expect to sustain our development in the long term.

We recently asked our Facebook friends and our Twitter followers what sustainability meant to them in the context of design.

Consistent with the breadth of the concept of sustainability, we got a diverse set of responses. So we built a word cloud around the definitions where the larger the word, the more frequently it was used in a response. Within the diversity, the similarities stand out: “environment”, ‘materials”, “beautiful”, “creating” and “long-lasting”.

The words in the cloud touch on the many facets of sustainability and those used most frequently are consistent with the values in a society with a robust social safety net, access to services, relatively low levels of gender inequality, and where our basic needs are met in terms of subsistence, education and health. And importantly it reflects not only the importance of the responsible use of resources, but also the idea that design can be a driver of sustainability through original ideas and innovation.

The construct of a sustainable balancing act exists.  #COclientsarethebest!

sustainable design word cloud

Fair-trade flowers in February

A few years ago Caroline Boyce came into Galerie CO and presented us with her concept of a local, environmentally friendly flower service. If we paid up front, we could have a bouquet every week all summer created by Caroline using flowers that she grows herself, without pesticides, on a small lot in the Eastern Townships.


She had just started her business, Floralia. Love of flowers aside, we felt a strong connection to Caroline and her business model. She shares CO’s values and cares deeply about the impact that her products have on people and on the planet. We said “yes, please” to the flower service and have been working with her ever since selling her bouquets, hosting workshops, and acting as a distribution point for the subscription service.

Since that first meeting, Caroline’s business has grown steadily and she now provides her gorgeous bouquets all year round. Consistent with her philosophy, she has spent endless hours carefully sourcing the flowers that she will use when she can’t grow them herself during the winter months. She takes great care to understand where the flowers that she works with come from. We are the beneficiaries of all that hard work – now able to enjoy her uniquely striking bouquets all year round!


On Valentine’s Day, The Globe and Mail will identify Floralia as one of the ten coolest florists in the country. We couldn’t agree more.

Where did your love of flowers begin?

Long before I went to art school I was into organic agriculture. I worked on farms growing fruits and vegetables to save for my fine arts education. Even while I was in school, my focus was on environmental issues like consumption, and how its effect on nature. The environment has been a recurring theme in my work. After studying fine arts for several years, I took a break to go back to farming. Continue reading

Galerie CO’s Proust questionnaire: Caroline Ritchie

Corita Rose’s AMOR cushions never lose their appeal. Probably because they are created one at a time; painstakingly silk screened by hand onto plush velvet. Each is an individual.

Amor Cushions

We’re showcasing them at Galerie CO this month – a luxurious Valentine’s offering that you’ll love all year round – so we’d like to introduce you to their creator, designer Caroline Ritchie.

I first met Caroline while wandering through 100% Design in London a few years ago during London Design Week (Festival of Britain). 100% Design is a great show with lots of cool design. But it has its fair share of corporate booths showcasing the latest kitchens. So you can imagine my delight when I rounded a corner to see Corita Rose.

Corita Rose Booth at 100% Design

Caroline’s booth was decked out with cushions and upholstery in her exquisite velvets printed with strong imagery in vivid colours set off against her wonderful large-scale printed curtains (“Fortune Favours the Brave” – I dream about those curtains). Taking it over the top was a life size “boxer” clothed in pieces made using her silk butterfly prints and her “swarm” bee print in silk and in velvet. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. The colours and the textures, her bold designs and her big smile, stopped me in my tracks. And I’m so glad, because we have been working together ever since. I never get tired of her work.

vivid colours and strong imagery will bring an added dimension to any interior, enhancing surroundings with a celebration of life, beauty and inspiration. – See more at: http://www.galerie-co.com/catalog/carpets-and-windows/curtain-panels-velvet-fortune-favours-the-brave#sthash.8bulu3hW.dpuf

Caroline’s designs are a celebration of life, beauty and inspiration so we asked her to take CO’s version of the “Proust Questionnaire” so that you can get to know her a little better and to learn about what inspires her. Here’s what she had to say:

Galerie CO: What does sustainability mean to you?

Caroline:  A happy balance between man and the environment. Continue reading