When one locality changes the requirements for a product sold locally, it can have far-reaching effects on the global market. The California legislation doesn't expressly forbid vending food at schools, just the high-calorie ones. Is this going to result in major manufacturers changing their recipes to accomodate California? More importantly, is it easier for them to make one version of healthier snack, or will they make a "California" version and a "49 states" version?
Because of of emissions standards in California, Auto makers do this already, building one version of car that puts out less smog, to be sold in California, and a dirtier one for the rest of America. Auto makers are dealing with a production model that makes it relatively easy to interrupt the assembly process to add or subtract options, but food manufacturing may be different. If an alternate version of a manufacturer's popular food item has to be made, packaging printed separately, and extra stock numbers managed, will this be more trouble than it's worth?
One industry that has been changing globally is furniture. Ikea has been cutting out PVC from all of its products in response to political pressure in Europe. Originally, European firefighters were petitioning for a ban on PVC in building materials, because it saturated burning buildings with toxic gases. This was brought to American's attention on September 11, when the fires from the burning World Trade Center sent a plume of toxic smoke billowing over Manhattan. Even though there hasn't been any major legislation in the States yet against PVC, Americans can see some effects of European laws when they go to buy furnishings.
In 1999 the EU placed a temporary ban on certain additives - phthalates - in PVC toys for young children. Again the US declined to join in on the ban, but toymakers voluntarily removed the chemical. Regardless of whether toymakers were acting altruistically or defensively, the European ban again had far-reaching effects.
The reverse of this is the race to the bottom seen in many third-world countries. Any place with an economy that's constantly trying to keep up will be more willing to let other countries build dirty factories, or relax worker's rights. With cheap global transportation, this means that a designer in any country has access to cheap labor, even if they're in Germany or the US. Even if the US passes laws to protect worker's rights or the environment within its borders, it probably won't affect what you buy in the store. The result of all of this is products with the highest degree of workmanship, safety, and creativity in all of history, yet they are produced in dreadful work conditions and represent a whole lot of back-end pollution.
Will the negative effects of globalization be resolved? That's a question that's still being worked out, and will be a mix of solutions from economists, activists, , designers, corporations, and other motivated individuals. It's doubtful that even the most well-meaning of developed countries can change worker's conditions in say, China, by sheer force of legislation
Designers have a lot of power to make cultural changes in the world. The effects of your design will propagate in quite a few places around the world, which is both a thrill and a responsibility.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team