This Sustainability course was a very eye-opening experience for me. After finishing this semester, I would now define sustainability as “a way of living that is gentle—or beneficial—for both the environment and the people involved.” Sustainability means looking at what changes need to be made right now in order to protect our planet, but it also involves looking into the future, and being mindful that our actions today will deeply impact generations to come. It requires this type of future thinking as well as deep creativity and empathy. Not all sustainable solutions are immediately obvious—they will require thinking out of the box, and in some cases, rapid departures from the current status quo. Additionally, they require empathy, because life on Earth is a rich mosaic of different experiences, and it can sometimes be difficult for us as Americans to anticipate the needs of people in different countries. I now understand the complexity of the issue of sustainability, and feel I am more sensitized to the issues currently facing our planet. Although my definition of sustainability has essentially remained the same since before I took this course, I now realize the magnitude of what sustainability and sustainable living entails.
At the beginning of the semester, I thought sustainability was mostly about recycling and buying local. I thought that most eco-friendly products tended to be either too expensive for me to consider, or designed poorly. I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to sustainable ways of thinking, and as a student in Oklahoma, I felt that there was very little I could do to reduce my carbon footprint. I also realized that climate change was negatively affecting our planet, but I didn’t realize the full extent of it, or just how dire the consequences would be for society. Throughout the semester, my viewpoints towards all these things changed as I began to be exposed to more facts and ideas about sustainability.
The biggest epiphany I had during this semester was the realization that there are many, many different approaches and ideologies towards sustainable design. I was completely unfamiliar with concepts such as biomimicry, empathic design, industrial ecology, and cradle-to-cradle design. Sustainability is an extremely broad topic, so of course it makes sense that there are many diverse ideologies surrounding it, and I found it fascinating to be exposed to so many of these. The one that resonated with me the most is empathic design. As an apparel design student, I feel very comfortable designing for target markets like me: young women who are interested in fashion. It’s much harder to move away from this mindset and really immerse myself in other’s lifestyles. However, after learning about empathic design, I realize how truly valuable it is for designers to intimately understand their target market—not only does this allow for better product creation, but it also encourages consumers to keep these products for longer, because they feel connected to them.
Moving forward, as I prepare to graduate, I am interested in learning more about the changes I can make to live a more sustainable lifestyle. In two weeks, I am moving permanently to New York, which is a much different culture from Oklahoma. I would like to try and live as sustainable a lifestyle as possible, and focus more on buying locally when I can, so these are two areas where I still think I can expand my knowledge. Overall, I was pleased with what I learned in this course. There isn’t anything I can think of that I wanted to learn about, and didn’t. I’m happy to have this exposure to different sustainability practices and I look forward to taking the knowledge with me as I leave college and prepare for life in New York.