I think the word sustainability actually has the definition within it; I would define it as the ability to sustain energy, natural resources, and human resources. Sustainable design provides a means to become sustainable. Sustainable design gives us ways to transform our harmful processes and products into something that will either leave no impact or that will actually improve the environment. I believe it was the first day of class that we were asked to define sustainability. At the time I just said something like “reduce, reuse, recycle”, a common mantra seen on the back of cartons and car bumpers. I definitely wasn’t wrong, all of those things are important and a huge part of sustainability, but because of this class I have learned there is more to it than that.
Reduce/Reuse/Recycle works perfectly with clothing and other products but there is also a human component to sustainability that it doesn’t apply to. The human component involves the farmers and factory workers that produce the clothing that we as consumers will eventually be able to reduce/reuse/recycle. One of the first readings we read talked about the high suicide rate amongst Indian cotton farmers due to predatory lending and crop failures. Additionally, some of the chemicals that they use to farm with are not only bad for the environment, but bad for the farmer’s health as well, which greatly shortens the length and quality of their lives. The factory workers face low wages, unsafe working conditions which can include a lack of fire safety, and unfair working conditions which can include blocking the ability to unionize. Another point, that the same pdf mentioned, was that animal welfare is also a part of sustainability. It suggested that we never use fur, obtain our leather from the meat industry and use peace silk. I never previously considered human and animal welfare as a part of sustainability. However, I now see how they can fit because they are being exploited like the environment is, and these kinds of practices can’t last forever.
When I first found out that I had to take this course, and probably throughout the first week as well, I was not interested in learning about sustainability at all. To me being sustainable wasn’t sustainable (financially) because buying organic, free trade etc. isn’t cheap. But, I did my part every now and then, I recycled when I could and reused my plastic grocery bags, but other than that it wasn’t really a concern. However, the learning communities, design slam, and the trivia were interactive and got us to think about how sustainability relates to our own lives. Because on the surface, sustainability can seem like very broad topic and a very difficult thing to achieve, but when made relatable it seems more accessible. This class was set up in a way that made us think critically and required us to learn instead of temporarily memorizing information so that we could spit it out on a test.
Although I don’t yet know how to utilize sustainability in my professional life, I have learned many concepts and techniques that I can use in my everyday life. I’ve already made some changes since starting the course, and it’s interesting looking back on some of those changes through past blog posts. Even though I didn’t always enjoy doing blog posts, I think it is a good way to reflect on the previous week and a way to look back at what we’ve learned at any time. I think the biggest takeaway I got from the course is that I have more power to make a change than I previously thought. I always kind of thought that there were some things that consumers could do to change but, that most of the impact comes from corporations and the government. This may be true but I think that is because they have more people and money so their influence is felt more. There are some things that are out of the average person’s control, such as the fracking in Oklahoma, which the government acknowledges as harmful but continues to do. However, if everyone did their part to help, no matter how insignificant it seems, it adds up. And if corporations see that the people want a change, they will change as well, and that is already happening with some companies. Additionally, if the companies change than I think the government will change! As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, it may seem like I’m taking baby steps, but you need to crawl before you can run. As someone in class mentioned, “would you rather make small changes now or huge changes later”. We kind of talked about it in our last lecture; there is more awareness now but there is less action as well. One of the readings said something like, “if you are informed but don’t act, you can no longer claim ignorance, from that point on you are being irresponsible.” So, my greatest epiphany upon exiting the course is that because I now know about these things, I have a responsibility to make changes and to inform others as well.
There wasn’t really any topic that we didn’t cover that I wished we had because, as I mentioned, I came into the class knowing a very minimal amount about sustainability. However, I expected the course to be more tailored to our individual concentrations but it was a very broad overview of sustainability and was very design focused as well. But, from what I understand the course will be split into modules so future students can choose a topic that interests/relates to them and I think that would be very helpful. I also heard that before the modules will be put into effect the course will just have fewer sustainable design theories. I think this would be good as well, because the amount of information did get a little bit overwhelming at times. On the other hand, looking back it was nice to be exposed to so many different theories, even though the time I didn’t appreciate it so much. There was a quote that I think came from the slide that said, “designing is not a profession, but an attitude”. I agree with this to a certain extent because, a designer’s job is to basically come up with new ideas, and you don’t have to know how to draw or build in order to do that. I know we have also talked in class about the influence a buyer can make because they are the ones that will choose the sustainable clothes to be in a store. However, I am more interested in visual merchandising and styling so it is hard for me to figure out how to make that sustainable.
As we discussed during our last lecture, “sustainability is the most interdisciplinary part of the production process”. I’m not sure if the other colleges require a sustainability course or not but, I think it would be beneficial to many majors. If many of the other colleges don’t offer the course it may even be a good idea to make it a Gen. Ed. Course instead of a DHM one. This way chemistry majors, biology majors, and sociology majors etc. can work together in groups to come up with design solutions and learn from each other’s fields. The course can also keep the same overview kind of style and not really delve too deeply into any one topic but instead just introduce the students to different theories. So just an idea….