Patiently Problem Solving

Sustainability, to me, is the practice of living mindfully and responsibly. It means that you take what is needed and nothing more. It’s avoiding depletion of essential natural resources and finding alternatives to harmful practices. It also involves/affect’s the three p’s: profit, people and planet. The fight to implement sustainable practices into people’s everyday life has become a wicked problem. A wicked problem is a problem that cannot be understood unless one knows it’s context. Generally, the wicked problem itself is a byproduct of another problem. The problem depends on the ideas of the one solving it and there typically is no end to the problem. More often than not there are consequences to the solution that will carry on for years to come and there is never one immediate or ultimate solution. This is different from a tame problem because tame problems almost always have a sequential solving order to them, have a common enemy and more people are on board with the solutions. 

Although there aren’t any “classes” or “families” of wicked problems, there are six characteristics of wicked problems. They include: vague problem definitions, variable solutions, solutions that have no endpoint, solutions that pose irreversible effects, solutions that require unique approaches and a sense of urgency. Out of all six, one specific characteristic stood out to me, that was the “solutions that pose irreversible effects”. This makes it hard for planners to get everyone on board and happy with the outcome. I can imagine that it is also very discouraging to those solving the problem because no matter what solution they come up with, there will always be an irreversible, negative effect.

I know that fast fashion is a wicked problem socially and environmentally in my field of study. Fast fashion is so cheap and accessible which makes it hard to combat. Most people don’t have the means to buy from sustainable brands because they are expensive. It is almost impossible to find the perfect balance of sustainable practices and affordability in the fashion industry at this time. To get an idea of how big of a problem this is, in 2018 alone the fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tons of carbon. Furthermore, on average, 79 billion cubic meters of water is used to produce clothing items each year. There are some alternatives to fast fashion, like thrifting for example, but it doesn’t always meet the needs of shoppers who are more focused on the current trends and can be unreliable. Overall, it is very apparent that we have a problem with adopting sustainable practices and because of that we are left to deal with a plethora of wicked problems. Unfortunately, this means any solutions we come up with will be temporary because there is never one singular, solid solution. I think it is important that people are educated on the issues at hand and are informed on what they can do to do help. If everyone does their part, or even makes one small change in their day to day life that benefits the future, I believe wicked problems can become easier to solve. 

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