At the beginning of the semester, when asked to define sustainability, I probably would have talked about recycling because that’s really all I knew. I had heard of a “carbon footprint,” but I didn’t really know what it meant. And I’m sure that I assumed it was based solely upon recycling and pollution. Now that we have talked about a variety of theories focusing on sustainability throughout the semester, my understanding of sustainability is completely different. If asked to define sustainability now, I would say that it means a variety of things that are hard to express in just one sentence. In general, I think sustainability means leaving the world as good or better than when you entered it. It means learning what it is that consumers really want so that they are not throwing out new goods after only one month of use. It means using materials sparingly and not depleting natural resources. It means not using in excess and understating how much energy you are using. Most importantly, it means working in harmony with nature instead of trying to dominate nature.
During the first couple of weeks of class, we read about Easter Island. To me, this was a good way to grab my attention at the beginning of the semester. I had this huge epiphany that no matter how great our society is right now, we are self-destructing. We can only continue to deplete our resources at a high rate for so long before we literally have nothing left. It was really eye opening to see that other societies that have been heralded as advanced, complex people have still been naive enough to self-destruct. This epiphany got me excited for what I was to learn throughout the rest of the semester because I realized that it was important to learn what our options are to help fix the environmental problems that we’ve started.
Another epiphany that I had during the beginning of the semester was that we have got to start being honest about the situation at hand. Just because we have all of these resources available doesn’t mean that they always will be. And just because we are an advanced society, doesn’t mean that we don’t have things to improve on. I realized that part of our issue is that we tend to sugar coat things and not be honest about how bad certain situations are. One of the articles talked about self-narratives and how we tend to spin issues in a positive light, causing others to think that there is not a real issue. In reality, we need to start being more honest so that we can educate others about what should be done instead.
One epiphany that I had that I don’t think happened in just one week was that sustainability is not all about science. It’s not just about recycling or CO2 emissions. It’s about finding out what customers want so that products will be kept for a long time. It’s about adding that emotional attachment to products. It’s about realizing what is a need versus what is just a want. There are so many empathic theories that impact sustainability that I feel like a lot of people don’t think about.
I think the biggest takeaway that I have from this class is that sustainability has so many different facets that there is no one solution to fixing the problems we have created. In order to get to where we need to be, we are going to have to educate others about the issues we are facing and combine a variety of theories/techniques instead of just focusing on one thing.
I think everything that we learned this semester has relevance in both my future career and my day-to-day life. For me, this has been one of the most applicable courses I have taken at OSU. I have learned a lot in many of my classes in my four years in school, but I truly feel like the things I learned in this class are things that I know how to apply in the real world. I think the empathic techniques that we learned about are something that as a future interior designer, I will strive to implement in my designs. Hopefully I will be able to provide clients with the best space possible for their needs, which will cause them to not have to renovate more often than is truly necessary. I also think that many of the principles of industrial ecology are things that I will try to apply in my career as a designer. Specifying local materials, making energy efficient buildings, and not designing in excess are just a few ways to do this.
For me, I think that I learned more in this course than I ever anticipated. I think that I learned a lot about current issues in sustainability, how to address those issues, and current industry applications. I would, however, like to learn more about why sustainable design is more of a niche market and not in as high demand as it should be. I think a lot of times people use money as their main reason, but that is not always an issue. I would like to know other reasons, besides revenue, that designers are not practicing sustainable design in their day-to-day lives.