I grew up in a subculture where being a steward of the land was embedded, and that meant being aware of how you treated animals, how you feed/cultivated the soil, how you cared for water, and how you conserved things so you always had it. I realize “being a steward to the earth” is a term used in the Bible, so it has always floored me since I live in a largely Christian nation, why this concept translated into, “the earth provides solely for humans, we are stewarding it for our purposes alone”. This is what the actions are saying with the chemicalization and degradation and social inequality we have going on. Is this because when God resides off the earth in the heavens and the religious goal is to get there? That somehow it means that we don’t need to take care of the earth we live on now? I recognize that not all people that believe this religious model are bad stewards. I’m saying that there seems to be a connection philosophically, perhaps unconsciously, and I have heard people say, “Why should I care, I’m only passing through.” “Why should I steward this place, God isn’t here and I won’t be either!”
Who teaches us about stewardship? What does it mean anymore? I mention the religious stuff because, like it or not these ideas permeate our culture and affect decisions, unconsciously at the very least.
Changing minds / behavior change is rough work especially in sustainability, attachment theory, addiction, it’s psychological, it’s the work of time, pressure, inspiration, and stumbling or hitting bottom and having no other choice. It’s important to look at underlining assumptions, bias, and deeply rooted habits that many people, organizations, cultures have and have been taught to have. In my opinion, it is largely about a feeling of safety in an identity, belonging to a group that does these things a certain way and if you do them in that way too, you belong. “Groupism” is incredibly dangerous, especially if the whole human species group doesn’t see its connection to the rest of the aliveness on this planet. I don’t mean to sound preachy, but what I notice is that people identify with the group, role, or power they are allotted and have a difficult time cracking out of that to think differently, to see a problem or themselves differently, or do something new. To open would be a blow to self concept or identity.
This is why I love the creative design process, especially with visuals that speak to the unconscious, because it uses various techniques such as facilitation and mediation skills to get to the hidden unity found in people’s values. Working at the unconscious, emotional, and intellectual level using a process that gets egos out of the way moves us closer to working together so we can problem solve using the collective intelligence that will meld together even with multifaceted philosophical adherences.
The beauty and the curse of visioning a new future together are that we bring our imagination (hopefully still intact) and baggage to the table. It’s a true skill to allow a process that opens one up but checks the other at the door. Acknowledging, being heard, having empathy for ourselves and others, and being vulnerable enough to know when it’s our ego/identity we are protecting or when it’s a sharing of our past experience that raises concerns. Self-awareness and reflective facilitation during problem-solving help immensely to deter from common barriers and open deeper into innovation and creativity that is beyond perceived limitations.
Remember when you are an expert, you are an expert of the past. No one can be an expert of the present moment or the future. That’s a powerful thought for equality, inclusivism, and creativity. Knowing where we came from or what cultural fish bowl we are in is deeply important to know why we are where we are. Designing your life/work/projects to be what you want them to be is wide open if you can step into an identity-less version of yourself / culture, out of ingrained beliefs and into wonder. It's not easy, but something to strive for and be aware of.
I love tents and I love responding to situations where I see a possible fix to some aspect of it. So when hearing about the refugee crisis I put together the knowledge of the tremendous amount of vinyl waste from outdoor advertising with simple shelter designs. This idea would divert “free” material from the landfill upcycle it into tents and ship it to people that need them. This is a simple design and one that I hope gets people thinking about what is going to the landfill that could be helpful. There are millions or displaced people now and possibly more to come. I'd love for everyone to have an apartment, but continuing to think about fast and resilient shelter design is important. Maybe even ones that integrate water collection and heat from the sun.
Like food waste, we have a distribution problem and an interaction or behavioral problem (wastefulness) to attend to. One aspect of a perspective issue, especially within the refugee communities, is the idea of temporary. Often these temporary situations become permanent. Is it possible to plan for that reality? Could the temporary or disaster relief supplies be designed to become components of more permanent structures?
Take the simple designs on Tentility.com for the refugee scenarios. The tents are essentially billboards or vinyl sheeting that could become a vapor barrier for a more permanent structure. The PVC tubes that hold the tent together could be connected to become pipes for moving water. These are simple examples that I hope inspire people to see that in reality the climate is changing ecologically, politically, and socially. In my opinion, we need to design for resilience and possibilities of permanent nomadism, disaster communities becoming permanent, and design for a restructuring of what we typically believe to be normal. This might be a new level of self-reliance in an arrangement that creates the social and psychological healing and resilience needed to survive and care for each other, and the land base that will have to support us all.
I work part time with an environmental art organization dedicated to waste reduction. Part of my work with them is to curate materials that people would like to donate to artists. Metro government has a reuse line (503 234 3000) that allows Portland people to call in and get help on where to take their stuff they would like to recycle. Occasionally, there are pieces that are perfect for artists to use such as old instruments or dental office teeth molds. If this is the case, people call me to have help to connect to artists. Talking to people about their unique waste streams is interesting because they legitimately want to give items away to people that will reuse them, but they don't want to have the human to human contact that reuse can require. For example, if an item would be better reused on Craigslist, they typically don't want to post it there because of all the fear around the type of people that would show up for their stuff. They are fine having an artist call them to make arrangements, however. The take home here is that if you are looking to reuse items donated on craigslist you might call yourself an artist, and there are huge psychological barriers and stigma attached to reuse, recycling, and recapturing waste.
Waste pickers around the world suffer these social labels when the services they are providing is so needed and valuable. When I modeled high couture fashion made from trash I loved the mental flossing that provided. Here was a group of beautiful ladies wearing refused trash reimagined into amazing creations. We watched as people had to face their conditioned stigmas.
The social marketing needed for the circular economy and waste to product economy to thrive is educational and a marketing (destigmatizing) challenge on the outside as much as it is a systems design challenge on the inside. In your area of influence remember to see the reverence in the recyclers, the scarab people, remember that you can quell the fears people towards the "type" of people that reuse, remake, fix. Somewhere being resourceful and waste conscious was co-opted by wasteful capitalism and the consumption economy and we have to reclaim that ethos as sane, common sensical, ecological, and creative.
What does closing the loop mean? Currently we take, make, waste - a linear use of material goods that is wasteful and unsustainable. To close the loop, one must design in terms of the full cycle of materials. It really means creating systems or relationships that interconnect the processes of where things come from, how will it be used, and where is it going after use. For example, if you make silk clothing and you want to close the loop and have a thriving business. You would consider every aspect of how you do business. You'd want to support the overall environment of the silk producers so that you ensure you have silk and you know where it’s coming from. You could support the silk weavers by buying from them individually or with a silk buyers club to get bulk shipping rates. Then as a part of your sales and marketing you offer a percentage of sales to go to reforestation or water sanitation for the area of where your silk comes from to support the ecology and the people that live there while ensuring their practices are environmentally and socially just. This could happen through direct relationships or through a nonprofit partnership, which is also beneficial to your marketing legitamacy. Your choice of using silk in the first place is a material that is designed for decomposition - it will decompose to dust safely. So you must think about the design of the product itself. Moreover, a buy back or credit program that allows customers to trade in their old clothes for a credit or coupon could enhance long term sales and customer loyalty. All this while the returned silk items could be shredded or refashioned into another product or material you sell to a business. The fact that your business is thoughtful, efficient, and proactive in strategic partnerships will attract customers that will support your work.
This is a quick example of how system or program design in your business or organization closes the loop through relationships, conscious business practices, and system designs that respect for where materials come from and where they will go after typical use. Join the circular economy by having programs that close the loop and make you shine from all angles.