I thought it might be interesting to come at this from a different angle. What are the most unsustainable works I can think of from all eras? Taking ‘sustainable’ to mean – low transportation requirements, low energy requirements, low emissions of pollution (air / water / chemical etc). Its a bit of a sketchy idea to consider what sustainability meant prior to the dawn of the global chemistry industry but here goes:
Stonehenge – moving stones across so many hundreds of miles is not using local materials. Clearly no major pollution was created but a lot of trees were cut down to make the rollers for the transport of materials. Perhaps a sustainable production process is not good enough if a lot of damage and pollution is created by visitors to the site. New York & Niagara falls are not art projects but are often advertised as such. With a combined annual visitor toll of approximately 55 million I can imagine that the emissions associated with this ‘show’ is pretty enormous.
Damien Hirst’s Spot art which was sent to Mars on the failed Beagle 2 mission. Requiring a lot of fuel and artificial materials to be created for a piece that ultimately became a new piece of trash on a virgin territory. Perhaps also his diamond skull – since diamonds produce a lot of pollution, use a lot of energy and create social problems.
The Eiffel Tower – with its 7000 tonnes of iron and 3000 tones of concrete is hardly an icon of sustainability. Iron production creates approx 2 tonnes of CO2 / tonne of iron with contemporary production techniques, presumably it was a lot higher in the 1880’s.
Thought summary – if reducing pollution is the key to sustainability then the idea of disposable/short-life (under 10 years) hi-tech gadgets is a key culprit both in terms of the toxicity of production processes and the perpetuation of mass-production of short-life items. The cloud (which for some reason seems to be at the heart of this discussion so far) only works when it is powered by electricity (pollution producing) and viewed on gadgets (short-life & pollution producing).
It seems to me that in the past when pollution was produced it was done at vastly smaller scales and so avoided becoming problem. The enormity of the power-guzzling, mass-producing globally-connected economy makes it pretty impossible to imagine any kind of sustainable hi-tech gadgets unless we welcome a future where everything hi-tech or transport-related is somehow made possible using predominantly natural materials, or else only a tiny elite will possess hi-tech devices and the option to traverse great distances easily.