Designers have begun to make advances in sustainability over the last several decades, but the road onward will be long and challenging. I feel that sustainability viewed as a mindset rather than a finite goal will yield the most meaningful change in years to come.
Of all the reading and discussions we have had in this course, I feel that paradigms are the most critical element for pursuing sustainability. More people would be motivated to increase sustainable practices if they understood that the natural environment sustains their life, and it is not there for them to exploit. Politicians and leaders in industry make decisions based on what they believe will benefit them in the short and long run; consumers do the same. Sustainability is not the aim now because many people do not fully understand the long-term consequences of not being sustainable. A paradigm shift must take place before widespread change does.
How can we encourage paradigm shifts? How do we convince each other that the impact we have on our world cannot continue in the way it currently does without potentially dire results for the future? Education is key – education about the impact of human activity on the globe. Consumers, industry leaders, and politicians need to fully understand the extent of their everyday choices on the natural environment and on other populations around the world. They need to know how and why it benefits them to make costly decisions to retrofit factories or source their materials in a more ethical way or pass legislation about emission levels or purchase more environmentally friendly products.
A common obstacle that prevents many people from making more sustainable choices is the perceived amount of effort required to change. In reality, little everyday decisions and the formation of new habits are enough to get the ball rolling. In my own life I have avoided change because I thought I would need to form drastically different habits and completely turn around the way I did things, but all it really took was consistently making small changes. I do not believe everyone will be on board for achieving sustainability right away. How often has a person said, “What I do on my own does not make that much of a difference anyway, so why bother?” Some people are more ready than others, and that is to be expected. If people make small changes slowly, it would be more impactful than they might realize.
Most importantly, people need to communicate with each other about sustainability. Reducing our footprint as a society is not simply an accumulation of individual efforts! We need to work together and hold each other accountable on our journey to minimizing our harmful impact. Working together fosters collaboration and reaching solutions that work for multiple parties. Our combined efforts have gotten us to the place we are now, so why is it difficult to imagine that our combined efforts cannot get us to a better place?
As clichéd as it sounds, change does begin with us. We do need to change the way we do things in terms of sustainability, and we can change. Education about sustainability and our impact can in part motivate us to take action. I believe that once we begin to see how more sustainable actions pay off in the long run, more people will be attracted to the idea. It is only a matter of time.