Aalto Sustainability MAYDAY

Reflections on the inaugural event of Aalto Sustainability Hub. 

The Sustainability Day brought together experts, practitioners, students and citizens to share knowledge and experience on tackling complex sustainability challenges. The day included a host of activities including an exhibition of sustainability related student projects, panel discussions, guided tours and seminars.

To kick-off the event heard keynote speeches from five inspiring sustainability practitioners; Minna Halme, Director of Aalto Sustainability Hub and professor of Sustainability Management at Aalto University, Dr. Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment, Ilkka Herlin, Chairman of Cargotec corporation, Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of the European Parliament and EP rapporteur for circular economy and Peter Lund, Professor of New Energy Technologies at Aalto University.

Minna Halme began by reminding us of the core sustainability challenges.

“We are loosing what we want to keep and by-producing things we do not want”

Fresh water, forest, diversity of plant and animal species are in decline. Pollution, waste and levels carbon dioxide are increasing. Minna used the analogy of a high-blood pressure situation whereby the pressure being put on the environment by human intervention is reaching a critical point.

If we do not act we are heading for a heart attack which we may not recover from.

In order to address the multiple complex challenges facing the world today, from climate change to increasing inequality, knowledge and actionable solutions are not enough. Disruptive innovations combined with systemic solutions that draw on co-creative methods is essential for creating the paradigm shift required for achieving social and environmental sustainability. Human well being must be at the centre.  

In the evening, the Test Site for Practical Sustainability was launched.

The Test Site is a student initiative to create an exploratory outdoor space for testing sustainable projects. At the moment a permaculture garden, solar panel, tomato juice bar and ‘gas cow’ are under construction. In the coming academic year I look forward to being responsible for external communications for the site.

Aalto Sustainability Hub is committed to building a sustainable society driven by innovation and entrepreneurship. The strategic ideas that guide their work centre on themes of circular economy, co-creation and the campus as a living lab, where sustainability research can be tested in the immediate surroundings of the University. 

 

Every Object is Political

The story of a pair of Primark cargo trousers, made in Bangladesh 2013.

At first it might seem that there is nothing significant about this pair of trousers. They are mass-manufactured, cheap and common place. They are made of machine stitched cotton twill with plastic buttons and steel zip. They were manufactured by New Wave Bottoms in Dhaka, Bangladesh and were sold in Primark stores across the UK in 2013/14. 

They are part of ‘fast fashion’, a system developed by large retailers and supermarkets for rapidly producing low-priced, trend-based clothing. 

If you were around in 2013 you might have even bought a pair but by now they are likely to have ended up in the bin or in a charity shop having worn out or become unfashionable.

You might wonder why such a pair of seemingly insignificant trousers is currently on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum of decorative art and design in London. The reason lies in what these trousers represent. They were produced in the Rana Plaza garment factory, a building which housed production for many well known high street brands including Primark, Mango, Matalan and Benetton.

On the 24th of April 2013, garment workers in Rana Plaza were ordered to return to work despite rising concern about the safety of the building which had visible cracks in the walls. Tragically, hours later the building collapsed, killing 1,130 people. Most of whom were young women.

The incident, which remains the most deadly industrial disaster in recent history, symbolises the inherent flaw in the fast fashion system.

Short runs and aggressive pricing strategies have led to increased demands on productivity throughout the supply chain with the people at the bottom feeling the most pressure to produce more for less. Ultimately it is those who are the most vulnerable who pay the true cost for our clothes. 

The trousers reveal a broader story about the dark side of global supply chains.

They are not an example of exquisite craftsmanship or timeless design but what they represent forces us to question inner workings of the current fashion industry. They symbolise our detachment from production and the shift of focus away from respect for quality, craftsmanship and longevity. As consumer’s it is important to know the wider political context of the clothes we buy which is why I think these trousers deserve a place in one of the largest and most prestigious collections of decorative arts and design in the world. 

I hope that soon fast fashion will become a part of our history. An artefact to be regarded with sorrow and a story not to be forgotten.

The trousers are part of the V&A’s Rapid Response Collection. Objects are collected in timely response to major moments in history that touch the world of design and manufacturing. Each acquisition raises different questions about globalisation, popular culture, political and social change, demographics, technology, regulation or the law.

This ongoing display, which changes each time a new object is collected, shows how design reflects and defines how we live together today.

Loved Clothes Last

The more I repair the things I own, the more I treasure them.

Why do we know more about the brands who sell our clothes than the people who make them?

The qualities that clothing was once principally judged, such as quality, durability and personal meaning have been replaced by trends which rotate on an almost monthly basis, brand obsession and prices that justify a quick and easy turnover of goods. Globalisation and free- market capitalism has pushed prices lower and production further away from the eye of the consumer.

Along the way, we have lost the tradition of making and repairing our own clothes and have forgotten the patience and skills required to do so. This loss of knowledge combined with provision of mass-produced cheap goods has eroded our understanding of the long-lasting value of clothes and tragically the people who make them. But we do not have to be passive to these changes.

Start a fashion revolution in your own wardrobe.

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Repair Cafe at Remakery Frome, 2017.

In my opinion, the best way to show respect to the clothes you own (and the people who made them) is to repair them. Repair is a great way to build a lasting relationship with the things we own and helps to rekindle the use of our hands. You don’t have to be an expert and often the most obvious fixes are the most beautiful. Below are a few fixes I have made on my favourite garments.

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I got these jeans second-hand three years ago and have lived in them. They are slightly stretchy so great for cycling. I have repaired the crotch more times than I can remember and have also mended many small holes that I got when climbing over a barbed wire fence. Last September I re-dyed them blue to give them a new lease of life. As the repaired patches begin to break again, I think it is soon time to say good bye to them as jeans but perhaps I will turn them into something else.

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This is a Toast dress I bought in 2014. I like to buy Toast clothing every now and then. The quality is good so I see them as investments. I love wearing this dress in any season, during the winter I wear it with long sleeves underneath. It is great for traveling because creases disguise well in the pattern. Two years ago I took it on a hiking trip. It was a perfect for when I wanted to dress up.  You might not be able to see from the photograph but I repaired a rip in the sleeve with some interfacing and a zigzag stitch.

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This jumper was given to me by a good friend, I think it used to belong to her uncle. It is a Ratia jumper made from pure wool. I love to wear it camping and on my bike in the cold because the wool is so warm and breathable. This winter it got a moth hole in the front so I decided to fix it with some visible mending. I added extra flowers so it blends in. This is a work in progress, I think I will add more details over time.

Earth Day

A time to remember the planet wasn’t made just for us.

“Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity,” Prof David Macdonald, Oxford University.

The installation ‘Natural Deselection’ by Tim Simpson illustrates ease by which human beings exercise power over the natural world. Three flowers are allowed to grow in artificial setting until the tallest plant reaches a height sensor. The sensor then triggers the death of the two smaller plants. The installation demonstrates with brutal efficiency the concept of ‘the survival of the fittest’.

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Illustration of Tim Simpson’s ‘Natural Deselection’. AG

The theory of Natural Selection devised by Charles Darwin, explains how specimens which are best adapted to their environment outcompete weaker species. The process enables the reproductive and genetic continuance of the best biological traits. While natural selection is an important part of ecosystem development, we see the same process being artificially replicated in human behaviour on countless occasions with damaging results. In food production for example plants are continuously modified to suit human production and consumption.

A carrot should be X shade of orange, X shape and X length. It should take X numbers of days to grow. Any carrot that does not fit our criteria is removed and it’s existence is deemed unworthy. This mentality goes beyond food production, it also dictates our landscapes and our experience of the natural world.

In many aspects, human behaviour imposes strict parameters on the growth and development of nature.

The ‘selections’ we make not only influence our perception of the world or our idea of what a carrot should look like, it affects biodiversity and nature’s resilience to change. Biodiversity is made up of ecosystem diversity, species diversity and genetic diversity which together effect the chemical and biological flows of the planet. Biodiversity increases resilience to climate change and underlies the stability of all life on earth. Our obsession with ‘natural’ selection has led us to the sixth mass extinction of species. The current rate of extinction is 100x higher than normal. Within several human lifetimes, three quarters of animal species could be lost.[1]

When will we learn that nature is not ours to control?

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Vallis, Frome. AG

“Teach your children
what we have taught our children-
that the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
If men spit upon the ground,
they spit upon themselves.”

Chief Seattle

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Slad Valley. AG

[1] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/150623-sixth-extinction-kolbert-animals-conservation-science-world/ 

Link here to view ‘Natural Deselection’ by Tim Simpson

 

Remakery Frome, one year on.

The Remakery Frome is now in with the chance of winning £38K! Please vote to help the workshop provide community led craft events for another year.

This time last year I had just moved to Frome, a small town in Eastern Somerset with a big heart and an independent mind. It was the perfect setting to start a course that promised to teach me how to create a social enterprise hands-on.

At the beginning of April I met the diverse individuals whom I would work with for the next 10 weeks. We came from different backgrounds with a rich variety of life experience and expertise. Our brief was to create an enterprise that tackled throwaway culture and encouraged repair and a Do It Yourself attitude in Frome.

 

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Getting stuck into the theme

In our first week we met with Cara the Resilience Officer from Frome Town council and began mapping our first ideas. The weeks that followed involved many hours of brainstorming, interviews, physical labour and trips to the woods for downtime and inspiration. I learnt about ideation, business planning, teamwork and so much more.

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The Remakery team during a day of reflection in Vallis

Ten weeks later, we launched Remakery Fromea space for doers, fixers, makers and breakers. The purpose of the Remakery was to create a place where all members of the community would feel comfortable. As a result we equipped the space with the materials and tools necessary for all kinds of fixing and making from textiles to woodwork.

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A sketch of the Remakery launch party by Sarah Godsill

A year later and the Remakery has become the home for many interesting projects including: spoon carving, leather craft, basket weaving, ceramics, gardening and Edventure: MAKE courses. Amongst other things the Remakery also hosts the Mens Shed where people over 55 can socialise, make things and work on projects for the benefit of the community and Open Story Tellers Frome events where people with learning difficulties can create together.

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Deciding on a logo

Recently the Remakery was selected as one of ITV and the Big Lottery’s Peoples Project, an initiative which promises to fund 5 community enterprises. The Remakery is in with a chance of wining £38K which would enable them to offer another 113 community activity days in the workshop. But we need your help to make this a reality.

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Working on the Remakery with Edventure built my capabilities and confidence in entrepreneurship in a live setting with a tangible social and environmental goal. Winning the People’s Project would allow Edventure to offer more great opportunities like this to young people looking to make a difference to their own and others lives.

If you live in the UK please VOTE for Remakery Frome!

The Remakery Team celebrating after the launch in Monkton Wyld 2017

 

 

Design for Government; The Systems Perspective

Looking at the future of Finland’s Hiking Areas: New Uses, Users and Identity in the second phase of the Design for Government course.

“Nature doesn’t need us, we need nature” Per-Erik Skagerlid – Swedish Nature Conservationist.

This spring I started a new project-based course titled ‘Design for Government’.  The course aims teach to us how to apply design thinking to complex challenges in the government and public sector. At the beginning of term we were divided into multidisciplinary teams and given the task by the Finnish Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture to come up with ‘new uses, users and identity’ for Finland’s State Hiking Areas. For the purpose of this project we will focus on Evo Hiking Area, which is the largest continuous piece of forest and only State Hiking Area in Southern Finland.

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Evo Hiking Area. Illustration: Abigail Garbett

In the first part of the course we focused on the ‘Human Perspective’ where we became familiar with the task at hand. This involved meeting members of the Ministry and Metsähallitus who manage the Hiking Areas, interviewing various people involved from Scout groups to the international tourists, carrying out desktop research and finally conducting a field trip to Evo (You can read more about the first phase here).

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First impressions of Evo Hiking Area from the ‘human perspective’. Layout: Andreas Sode, Illustrations: Abigail Garbett

For the second phase we have been focusing on the ‘Systems Perspective’. For this section we built on the data collected thus far to form a more holistic view of the brief and the problem we would like to address. We began this process by expanding on our initial affinity diagram (where we mapped our key findings from the desktop research on a post-it note wall) to include key quotes and insights from our interviews. In the picture below you can see how our understanding has grown from week 2 to week 6.

After we felt satisfied that all our data was represented on the affinity diagram, we began to structure our points into categories and visualised the relationships between different stakeholders. Through this process we identified education, human well-being and ecosystem health as being important leverage points for us. We used systems mapping to illustrate the problems and needs of our stakeholders and with Mengxiao’s excellent illustrator skills our post-it notes were transformed into a complex systems map.

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Systems Map of needs and problems. By Mengxiao Li

Evo Hiking Area has a unique history as the home of Finnish forestry education and currently includes a teaching forest managed by HAMK University and nature reserves. The area is frequently used by the nearby Lammi Biological Station and Scout groups who have a unique educational agenda. We also discovered that local primary and secondary school teachers would like to use the area more to teach children about nature. Andreas helped us to understand the relationships between these educational institutions via a second systems map.

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Education Activities in Evo Systems Map. By Andreas Sode
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Local School Teacher Perspective. Illustration by Abigail Garbett

We also identified that these activities are only possible if the native ecosystem is properly looked after and respected. We spoke with biologists and a conservationist working in the field to better understand the ecosystem perspective. On the one hand the extinction of plant and animal species is happening at faster rate than ever before and one the other we are loosing our knowledge about the natural world.

“The ‘collective memory’ is not maintained and there is a lack knowledge of what once grew” Annette Sode – Biologist.

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From Guardian Article: ‘Have Children Lost Touch with Nature? Illustration by Abigail Garbett

In the context of Finnish Hiking Areas it is essential education and respect for nature is promoted. 

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Looking at Hiking Areas from an Ecosystem perspective. Illustration by Abigail Garbett
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A ‘Rich Picture’ of Evo’s Ecosystem. Illustration by Abigail Garbett

We used Peter Checkland’s ‘rich picture’ technique to illustrate the ecosystem’s complex role in providing education, work and leisure time in Evo.

Looking forward, we will focus on two key research questions for the final ‘intervention’ phase of the project. We aim to consider the potential for Hiking Areas, in particular Evo Hiking Area to provide meaningful nature experiences which raise awareness for the natural ecosystems on which we all rely.

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Graphic by Andreas Sode

Our team is made up of Andreas Sode from New Media, Ming Unn and Mengxiao Li from Collaborative and Industrial Design, Riina Ruus-Prato from Product and Spacial Design and me from Creative Sustainability.

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The Team! Illustration by Abigail Garbett

 

Design for Government; the Human Perspective

The Future of Finland’s Hiking Areas: New Uses, Users and Identity

This spring I started a new project-based course titled ‘Design for Government’.  The course aims teach to us how to apply design thinking to complex challenges in the government and public sector. At the beginning of term we were divided into multidisciplinary teams and given a brief by the Finnish Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture.  We will spend the next three months working on a solution to the brief which we will present on the 22nd of May. For the first phase we have been focusing on the ‘Human Perspective’ by building a picture of the current situation and learning about the needs of different stakeholders.
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Design and Government

At first design and government might seem like an unlikely pair. What does design have to do with making legislation? However, the movement towards design for government acknowledges the ability for designers to drive innovation and create more participatory and citizen-centric governance. Designers in Government can transform policy, civil servant work and citizen services. The role of design in the public sector is rapidly expanding in Europe and Finland in particular. In 2016, Anne Stenros was appointed by the Government as the ‘Chief Design Officer’ (or ‘Chief Disruption Officer’ as she prefers to think of herself) for the City of Helsinki. We met Anne in our first class and learnt that ‘disruption’ is a mandatory requirement for any designer wishing to pursue a career in the narrow confines of Government silos.

The Brief : The Future of Finland’s Hiking Areas: New Uses, Users and Identity

This year’s brief was written by the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture in collaboration with Metsähallitus, a state owned company in charge of managing Hiking Areas. In a nutshell the brief asks us to first, create a distinct brand image for Hiking Areas, and second to find new and innovative ways of increasing tourism there. It raises wider questions about the trend for eco-tourism and the impact of man on nature. In an increasingly urbanised world, the need for accessible nature experiences in rising and must be examined from both an environmental and social perspective.

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Photography: Ming Unn

The Human Perspective

The first stage of the project is about ‘taking the human perspective as a starting point of design’. So far we have met with stakeholders from the Ministry and Metsähallitus and have begun researching our test site, which is Evo National Park. We took a trip there and have begun collaborating with local users and visitors in the area. We are also in the process of interviewing potential new users and experts within the field.

Evo stakeholder map

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Photography: Ming Unn

Our team is made up of Andreas Sode from New Media, Ming Unn and Mengxiao Li from Collaborative and Industrial Design, Riina Ruus-Prato from Product and Spacial Design and me from Creative Sustainability!