Approachable Sustainability

Sustainability has always seemed a little out of reach for me. I used to think of it as a practice reserved for industry and development rather than as simple everyday habits within my reach. Although industrialization clearly has the most dominant effect on the environment, it’s become more and more evident to me that sustainability is able to take on a much more practical and intentional form. At a broader level, sustainability may be considered a wicked problem, or rather a proposed solution to a wicked problem, because of its evolving definition. 

A problem is considered wicked when its definition or solution may seem unclear. Wicked problems typically meet six basic characteristics: 

1.) vague definition

2.) variable solutions

3.) solutions have no endpoint

4.) solutions pose irreversible effects; there is no way to test a solution, only to implement them 

5.) solutions require unique approaches; they cannot be studied through trial and error

6.) urgency 

Each of these characteristics is extremely notable and important to understand. They all play a key role in describing and formulating solutions for wicked problems. One characteristic that stands out for me personally is that wicked problems have no endpoint. Understanding that these issues are ever-evolving is so vital to proposing solutions because these proposals must be able to evolve alongside the problems they are seeking to solve. 

This past week, we had the opportunity to watch the beginning of a documentary that dives deeply into this concept of wicked problems and evolving proposals. “The 11th Hour” seemed an extremely fitting title considering the urgency with which many of the issues discussed were considered. Documentaries like this often feel slightly overwhelming and tend to give a lot of information with small amounts of practical applicability, but this is much more important than we often realize, and it’s so important to take in every piece of information possible. Allowing ourselves to absorb as much as possible about these issues puts our minds in a state of greater urgency than we might feel otherwise. This urgency, in turn, influences many of the decisions we make on a regular basis. Without the knowledge I now have regarding sustainability and the wicked problems related to it, my lifestyle would have never seen the changes it has. This documentary addresses a series of important topics and many of the ways we’ve approached the world harmfully. It discusses so many mindsets that have been developed in our pursuit of economic growth and the ways that these have directly affected the planet. This emphasis on paradigm is so necessary when approaching wicked problems because it truly centers on perspective. Rather than maintaining a spirit of dominion over the planet, this documentary proposes that we develop a sense of responsibility and inclusivity with the world. This will influence selfish behaviors and allow them to become sustainable and mindful of generations to come. Our current patterns and behaviors show a greedy and capitalistic approach to a world that shouldn’t have been expected to keep up with our demand in the first place. Everything that exists on this planet exists with respect for what’s around it- taking only as much as it needs and returning what it is able to. We have thought ourselves into a position above this dynamic- refusing to take responsibility for the damage we’ve caused- and it will only become more and more evident as generations pass.  

The reading we were able to discuss this week also brought up several points regarding the difficulty of solving problems with the pluralistic ideals our society is consistently approaching them with. Rittel-Webber discusses how necessary a shift in paradigm is for wicked problems, and how our frame of mind regarding them should evolve just as quickly as they do.

I know personally my frame of mind around sustainability is constantly developing as I am introduced to new information about it- my carbon footprint being one of them. My carbon footprint only ended up being 17.81, but that’s only because I couldn’t calculate my household usage. I’m honestly quite surprised that it’s not higher simply because sustainability only became an intentional practice of mine within the last few years but I think it goes to show just how easy it can be to live a life that only consumes what is necessary. I’ve always been more of a minimalist, and I’ve always kind of prided myself on my ability to stay away from fast fashion and trends that fade so quickly. I’m sure this played a role in my score. But, obviously, just as it’s essential t to acknowledge one’s impact, it’s equally as important to minimize this as much as possible. Though what I can do now seems minuscule, I know that as my architectural practice develops and as I continue to grow in design sustainability will be something that has a huge influence on it. I want to design spaces that take as little as possible from the environment around them- especially considering that buildings account for almost 40% of the world’s energy usage. I want my daily and professional practices to reflect all of the mindful and respectful applications I’ve learned throughout my time in school. 

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