What a conference! Top keynote speakers, such as Lester Brown, Van Jones, and Peter Senge with more than 400 presenters from across the disciplines in a wonderful positive atmosphere.
Imagine this, you are sharing the room with close to 2,000 people and ALL are working on one thing: saving our planet. Now that might sound somewhat pathetic, but in essence this is how it was. All attendees with no exception, and I am sure I can say this, understand the urgency of the need to change the way we live. If we keep exhausting non-renewable resources, wasting valuable materials in landfills, polluting through buildings and transportation, manufacturing and food production, to just name a few, we will be able to watch the world go down during our life-time and we won’t be able to stop it if WE DON’T START IMMIDIATELY!! Which means now!
According to Lester Brown: “Saving Civilization is not a spectator sport”. He says we have until 2020 to cut carbon emissions by 80% or we are at the point of no return, 2050 is too late “game over”. This may sound scary and impossible to solve, but if we look back on history and use the Great Depression as an example and how the production of war equipment resulted in a major increase of employment and economic prosperity, we actually should feel quite empowered (please don’t misunderstand, I am not pro war, we need to find a different way!). Lester Brown used this example to show that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel, that we can do it if we work together. Agreed, the latter might be the part that will be the hardest to accomplish. The technology for change has been developed, but how do we change people’s mindsets, how do we shift the old paradigm, how do we get people to understand that each and everybody will have to contribute?
In my Design for Sustainability class the students and I discuss that our worst enemy is CONVENIENCE and the fact that people do not want to have the feeling that they are stepping down, loosing their precious post-materialistic wealth, as we saw recently, actually only exists in form of credit cards, non-existent virtual and imaginative buying power that is haunting the entire world right now. What we are trying to do is to use people’s habits for our advantage, not reducing their right for convenience and changing the invisible system, not the –to me inexplicable– need for abundance of choices and disposable products, buildings and environments. Until people see the positive in good old mugs, refillable pens, ceramic dishes, bicycles and trains, and houses build from brick, until then, we will have to encounter these aspects into our designs and developments and make them work for us not against us, and when I say us I mean nature, the environment, human beings, animals, flora and fauna all of us who are living on this planet with this planet.
Linda Robson, from the Case Western Reserve University made a great point in her talk on ‘Our Words Create Worlds’, there is no ‘us’ or ‘them’, there is only us! Which means that we are all in it together and that we will have to work on it from all directions using a positive language. Sustainability is about the future, as Peter Senge puts it and don’t we all want to be part of it? He also points out that we are NOT in the information age, not at all, considering all that we produce, never before in the history of time did we e.g. produce as much steel as we currently do. No, we are still in the industrial age, who would have thought.
The new interdisciplinary M.A. and UG Minor Design for Sustainability, I presented at the AASHE conference, developed and wrote for the most part was embraced with much interest. The project my students from the IDUS 384 Design for Sustainability course were working on, the JC Penney re-design for their re-usable shopping bag, received a big round of applause. Not because they won, actually they didn’t, but because they came up with a true sustainable system that many people in the room thought was excellent and agreed made them the true winners.
Coming back to the classroom I told these students about the conference’s 93% of waste material reuse and their Material Recovery Stations, which I thought were brilliant. Four bins one for compost, one for recycling, one for mixed papers and one for LANDFILL! Doesn’t that make you think and feel bad when you throw something away? Doesn’t that draw a picture of what will happen with the materials thrown out? The students in above mentioned class immediately started printing ‘landfill’ signs to put on our regular garbage bins next to our recycling bins.
As it says on my re-usable water bottle, ‘reducing my carbon footprint one step at a time’. We might have a bumpy and difficult obstacle course ahead of us, but I believe it is definitely worth walking, don’t you?