Written by Emily Gunning
Photos by Anastasia Georgiou
Thursday the 10th of March 2011 saw the first ever Designers Accord Town Hall meeting held at the University of Brighton. The student run event was created in order to raise awareness of the Designers Accord, generate conversation and build stronger links in the community. Students and staff from the University of Brighton, a large range of practicing designers, and academics from other parts of the UK attended the event.
The question that brought everyone together for the evening was "What actions can we take to design a more sustainable future?"
The evening started off with Zoe Olivia John, a student on the MA Sustainable Design course at the UoB, and the facilitator for the event. Zoe explained that this was a very exciting moment since this was the first UK held Designers Accord Town Hall. This was followed by a short introduction about the Designers Accord and current initiatives, which included a 'shout out' to Chicago, US, where another town hall was being held on the same evening, albeit in different time zones.
The presentations began with Peter Bentley who described himself as an Ecological Designer/Thinker and Earthling! Peter is also a former UoB MA Sustainable Design student. Peter spoke about Ethics, space and mobility, and "Enabling the materialisation of an as yet unobtainable present." He showed images of various situations around the world, including sweatshops, mass unemployment and the rich vs. the poor. He asked, "Why don't we do something about it?" And proceeded to show images from the recent uprising in Egypt as an example of people doing things for themselves. He stated that we are "Educated in the existing paradigm" - we as people have "separated the whole" which connects with denial, perhaps as an evolutionary tool to protect ourselves. "We need to work on ourselves to enable horizons" and designers as thinkers need to create a system and work together. Peter used the example of a flock of Starlings, a common site in Brighton, working together and at the same time creating something beautiful. Second to last he referred to the permaculture principles and how we must share with others, bringing the human back to the centre, and finally mentioning his new project, 'Vital Reality' for which the website is currently in development. Watch this space...
Next up was Gabriel Wulff, an Ecologist, Community Gardener and Activist, currently studying on the MA Sustainable Design course at Brighton. Gabriel began by introducing the audience to "Creative Disobedience", innovation, and rebellion. Quoting Heraclius, "You can't step into the same river twice." Gabriel reminded us that nothing is permanent, and the Earth is constantly changing. Gabriel insisted that the community and urban ecosystem needed to be combined, creating a paradigm shift and using disobedience as a catalyst for change. The question is, "How can we positively disobey?" The answer was, "creatively". It is not about Civil disobedience, which challenges laws etc, but Creative Disobedience, as we are fighting against "beliefs, habits and systems". Gabriel stated that this is a "hands-on movement, and to believe in obsolescence of disobedience is to believe that the world is perfect" which of course, it is far from. He left the audience with a quote from Oscar Wilde: "...it is through disobedience... that progress has been made."
Professor Sandy Black was the third presenter. She is the Professor of Fashion & Textiles Design Technology and Director for the Centre for Fashion Science both at the London College of Fashion. Sandy began by making it clear that she was not going to defend, or attack fashion, and that it is full of contradictions, for example, couture and fast fashion. Fashion is economically important, and very complex. It relies heavily on craft, and can sometimes be hard to track how environmental things really are, from textile to fashion. There are of course, high levels of waste but Sandy claims that Design Thinking could sort this. It is not about relying on the consumer, but about designers becoming more empowered and influencing things from the inside. It is hard to be Sustainable when it comes to fashion, and unlike in the product design world, the idea of sustainable fashion is relatively new. However, approaches towards sustainable fashion are becoming more and more apparent. Examples she used included Vintage clothing and "Smarter clothes". Sandy pointed out that one of the biggest problems with fashion and the environmental impact that it can have on the planet is in washing and the great amounts of energy this uses. How can designers cope with this? Sandy went on to discuss the past, and how as a society, we used to mend and re-make. She feels that the re-use of pre-consumer waste is highly important and rounded her presentation off with a selection of pictures showing examples of "ethical fashion", including garments by Katharine Hamnett.
The next speaker was Karen Blincoe, the Director of Danish Designers in Copenhagen and ex-Director of the Schumacher College in Devon. She has been working in business and education of Sustainability for many years and has just begun her PhD at UoB exploring the notion of 'Utopia'. Unlike the last three presenters, Karen began by answering the question, 'What actions can we take to design a more sustainable future?' The answer? Simply to "Get on with it!"
Karen has been working within the Sustainability sector since the 1980s, and was the senior graphic designer at The Body Shop. She described Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, as a "visionary" who "got on with it". For Anita it was all about "simplicity, good ingredients and to be punchy". Karen discussed how so often she hears excuses for "not getting on with it".
She went on to explain, "we have one planet, we have to save resources and we must minimise and recycle." People need to think more about the future; at the rate we're going, resources will be incredibly expensive and we must continue to try and save resources, whether we make mistakes along the way or not. She told the audience that "We must not take no for an answer!" We are too attached to our daily habits and this needs to change. In the past, Utopias were designed and created, however, Karen explains that this was a different social context, "We need the dream", she went on, "We need to create the Utopia", to design it and to achieve it, or aim to. Karen stated that you couldn't create anything until you have a dream, and once you have a dream you can make it happen. All we are focusing on at the moment is 2012 and 'doom and gloom'. "Where is the vision?" she asks. Artists and designers can and must help to create the vision for the future.
Our final presentation was from Professor Marie Harder, the Sustainable Development facilitator for the University of Brighton. She also leads a group in sustainable development research. Marie had an interesting and different lens to the previous speakers, as she is a scientist! She began by explaining how "black and white" scientists are in comparison to designers who "like to talk in generalities". Marie discussed that what we need is "definite answers". She claims that we need to agree, define the problem, and create a solution. She goes on to say that she could have answered the topic question by saying something like "we could use less petrol", but this will not get us far enough. Points of views need to change. "Will people buy things if they're made from recycled materials?" We all nag each other to recycle - friends, parents, housemates; we know the facts, but like Peter had said earlier in the evening, Marie asked "Why aren't we doing something about this?" She talked about Columbia, South America, and how the people have forgotten how to compost. 80% of their waste is organic and 20 years ago it wasn't a problem but now they do not know what to do with it! However, who are we to tell them what to do?
Next, Marie mentioned China and her work with a water catchment system in Shanghai. The people there are not acting on it. When she asked why this is so, they explained that, "The people are like grains of sand. They have no connection with each other." This is the same in the UK. Marie talked of projects trying to get people to recycle, trying to create incentives for people to do it. She finished off her presentation by talking about the We Value research project. We value asks 'what is important to you?' in order to begin to measure individual 'values'. Creating a framework which, of course, was interpreted differently all over the world. "Everyone has something to say, but who is listening? The future is about co-design... we must encourage independent critical thinking and listening and group thinking... we must find value by getting people to react."
After a short break the attendees were split in to break out groups to talk about the ideas and proposals that had been presented. Topics discussed included: Guerrilla Gardening, the journey rather than the destination towards 100% green/sustainable, value not just being measured in economic terms, need verses wants, creating bridges of inheritance between 'us' and the future.
The end of the evening bought all of the groups back together to share the actions and ideas that had been brainstormed. Building different types of communities, and getting closer to each other and our surrounding environments seemed to be the key thread that strung all of the groups together.
The last few moments of the evening were spent in silence. Everyone was asked to take a minute to think about what they will take away from this evening and to write or draw this on the cards they had been given when they arrived.
Overall, it was a fantastic event with thoughtful debates. The organizers extended a warm thank you to everyone who attended.