Case Study: Watershed
Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2011 “Making the Case” competition, in which an esteemed jury identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on specific metrics.
Watershed is an eco-art installation created by MSLK to raise awareness of the effects of continued consumption of disposable, single-use bottled water. It consists of 1,500 reclaimed plastic water bottles, the equivalent of one second of U.S consumption, and features informational signs regarding this consumption.
We did initial research to gather statistics about bottled-water consumption in the United States.
Every second, 1,500 bottles of water are consumed in America. Of the 50 billion bottles consumed in a year, 80 percent end up in a landfill, even though recycling programs exist. These statistics are especially stunning considering the availability and high quality of tap water in the United States versus the lack of regulations on bottled water. MSLK sought to exploit these outrageous facts and create an eco-art installation that would make the public reflect on their consumer behavior.
As designers, we feel compelled to challenge ourselves to raise awareness on the environmental issues facing society by creating self-initiated projects. Not only does it put our talents to good use, but it also encourages our clients to think about green alternatives. With this in mind, in 2007 we began art installations that would educate the public about the wasted resources, environmental impacts and health risks caused by disposable plastic goods. Watershed is the second installation in a three part series focusing on one second of U.S. consumption.
In order to visually translate the statistic of 1,500 bottles of water consumed per second, MSLK constructed chains made out of empty bottles collected from the New York City area. The flexible format of the chains allowed for installation in various environments—from industrial loading docks to more natural settings. Throughout the installation, we integrated informational signage featuring facts on how drinking tap water and using a reusable bottle is not only better for you, but also better for your bank account and the environment.
To date, Watershed has reached more than 1 million people in over 63 countries through its installations at the Figment Art Festival, DUMBO Arts Festival and at the global premiere of the film The Age of Stupid. It has been covered in publications such as Inhabitat, GD USA and The Sierra Club, and is the topic of conversation on many popular and influential eco-focused blogs. Watershed was also honored with Second Place in the Sustainable Design category of the 2009 AIGA (Re)Design Award. In February of last year, it was featured in Urban Interventions - Personal Projects in Public Places, a 288-page hardbound book of “thought-proving work in urban environments.” With the dangers of plastic and our water systems being particularly hot topics, MSLK continues to get inquiries about future installations of Watershed.
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.