Coming into this class in my senior year, I have had some experience already with talking about sustainability as related to interior design. However, I have never had the opportunity to deeply discuss sustainability issues, especially ones that are considered wicked problems. Before learning more about sustainability through other DHM classes, my impression was that sustainability had more to do with individuals making lifestyle changes, like reduce, reuse, and recycle. But what I’ve learned more recently is that sustainability is really a group effort, and it is important to hold big businesses and government responsible for sustainable practices because we rely on them for so much. Sustainability has become a buzzword which is good because more people are becoming aware of those issues, but people still don’t always have the chance to really learn how sustainability can and should work.
One aspect of sustainable design that many people have not heard of are what we call wicked problems. A wicked problem is a large-scale issue that is causing serious harm to the Earth and everything living on Earth, but the issue does not have a clear solution in sight. These problems are wicked because they are very difficult to solve. Even if a possible solution is identified, the outcome is still unknown. The six characteristics of a wicked problem are: vague problem definitions, vague solutions, solutions have no end point, solutions pose irreversible effects, solutions require unique approaches, and they are urgent. A huge issue especially in the west is the culture of consumerism. Our society is built on materialism, which can contribute to wicked problems like pollution and ocean plastic.
Andrew Dent spoke in his TED talk about the idea of thrifting to produce lest waste. Many individuals use the thrifting concept already, reusing small every day items and attempting to reduce household waste, which is great, but for a real effect it is important for big companies to take up the idea of thrifting too. Dent talks about future prospects that could include the ideas of thrifting, and he focuses briefly on the harmful waste created by the architecture and construction industry. This is an important topic to me as an interior design student because I don’t want to contribute to the huge waste created by the industry. I am hopeful that the industry will continue following the current trend of making a more sustainable world. A wicked problem that I am interested in exploring more is waste in the hospitality industry. Construction and material waste is a huge issue in the hospitality industry because it is an industry that is constantly changing. Hotels are remodeled much more frequently than other building types. The focus in hospitality design is almost always comfort and luxury, not sustainability. Not only are non- sustainable practices used for design and new construction, demolition creates a huge amount of waste, which is especially problematic because many of the materials are still new and are only being replaced for a new look
In the TED talk, Dent mentioned his grandmother as a person who naturally lived in a thrifty way because she saved and reused as much as she could. She was raised during a time where reducing and reusing was normal, so it stayed second nature to her through her life. Most of us these days have been raised in a completely different world where we haven’t needed to reduce and reuse, causing us to be wasteful. People from other cultures may have different perspective on nature than us though, affecting the way they handle and create waste. Native Americans have lived in harmony with the land for a long time, and that connection to nature caused them to lived more sustainable lives. Native American culture is based on the land, so they tend to have a respect for the Earth that most Americans do not have. As sustainability becomes more and more widespread and important, hopefully our perspectives can change to better match the view Native Americans have had for centuries. It is also important to look to people from the past to learn more about how we can live today. Native American history can teach us a lot about respecting nature, and so can the story of the people of Easter Island.
The history of Easter Island is fascinating and slightly haunting because it is in a way a reflection of how humans live and treat their environments. The people who lived on the island long ago once had a large, thriving civilization, but that civilization completely fell apart over the years because they depleted all of their natural resources. We should take the story of Easter Island as a lesson and learn to live in a harmonious way with our environment, because if we keep living the wasteful was we currently do, we will deplete all of our resources and we may as a whole have a similar fate as the people of Easter Island.
Figuring out my personal carbon footprint was eye opening because it showed me how everything I use can turn into an addition of CO2. I hope that this class will force me to think more about how I personally live my life and how my choices affect the environment. As we talked about in class, sustainability has to start with individuals, with personal connections and narratives. Even though it is a big fight that will require the cooperation of everyone, a more sustainable world has to start with individual choices that can eventually spread to shift the paradigm and way of thinking for the whole nation.