Almada Urban Garden

Highlights from week 2 of the Climate-KIC Journey 2018

The second week of the Climate-KIC Journey was spent forming teams and choosing a climate challenge to work on. This week we stayed at Nova University campus in Almada which is a district across the river from central Lisbon. For me the highlight was visiting Almada’s urban agriculture project with Nuno Lopes, an environmental planner from the local municipality.

The project was conceived as a nature based solution to multiple climate related risks including flooding, soil erosion and food production as well as being a place to foster community. The area is made up of allotments, fruit trees, compost huts and park benches. It is surrounded by a shallow basin which serves as a water store during flash floods.


The allotments were first allocated based on income and then proximity to the site. The priority being those with the least income such as the elderly and unemployed. All members are encouraged to grow organically and receive training on natural growing strategies. Currently all plots are filled and the waiting list includes over 200 people.

The project has been praised for its role in bringing around 70 families together.

When we visited the site we saw many people- young and old- working on their land. Nuno told us of its special importance for those who are unemployed and the sense of purpose it gives to some people.


One elderly man proudly showed me a bag full of vegetables which he was able to harvest every day during the summer. He told me it is important to take care of what you eat and that he believes he spend less money on medicine as a result of eating his own organic produce.


Besides producing food, urban gardens contribute to climate mitigation and adaption through a range of ecosystem services.

They provide habitat for wildlife, foster biodiversity, contribute to water regulation through unsealed soils and improved air circulation and cooling.


Beautiful People Eat Ugly Fruit

Highlights from week 1 of the Climate-KIC Journey 2018

The first week of the Climate-KIC Journey was spent getting a deeper understanding of climate change, innovation and entrepreneurship. We visited various businesses in and around Lisbon who work with climate change mitigation and adaption in diverse ways. Most inspiring for me was a cooperative called Fruta Feia, which means Ugly Fruit in Portuguese.

In Europe, currently 30% of the fruit and vegetables produced are thrown away due to aesthetic reasons.

Despite being of good quality and taste, carrots with 3 legs, wonky cucumbers and discoloured tomatoes are all discarded before they reach the consumer because of supermarket standards on appearance. Not only does this create waste, it also means the produce we are sold does not reflect the diversity of nature.

©Gonçalo Fonseca Fruta Feia

The Fruta Feia Cooperative has created an alternative market for these so-called ugly fruit and vegetables, which they sell to people who judge on taste and quality rather than appearance.

Working directly with farmers, Fruta Feia collects produce that supermarkets refuse to buy and sells them at pickup points in community centres across their network. At the pickup points the fruit and vegetables are divided into boxes, ready for the costumer to collect. This is done on the same day to ensure the freshness.

Fruta Feia has 3700 associated consumers, supports 150 farmers and saves around 10 tons of food waste every week.

©Gonçalo Fonseca Fruta Feia

What impressed me most about the cooperative was their commitment to fairness. Externally, they ensure that the farmers receive a good wage for their produce and that the consumers pay a fair price – which is lower than the supermarket. Internally there is no hierarchy and all members take it in turns to manage the pick up and deliver the goods. They keep costs to a minimum by using community buildings to distribute their veg boxes and rely on volunteers to help with assembly.

©Gonçalo Fonseca Fruta Feia

Despite the huge demand for their service (they currently have 7,000 people on their waiting list!) Fruta Feia is committed to sustainable growth and only opens a new delivery points if all elements of their supply chain are ready. Community is important and at the pickup points, people can meet and get to know Fruta Feia face to face. As the cooperative grows it is important this connection between the consumers and producers is not lost.

©Gonçalo Fonseca Fruta Feia

Preparations for the 2018 Climate-KIC Journey

A short introduction to Climate-KIC and the journey I will be embarking on over the next five weeks. Plus my first assignment!

Climate-KIC is the European Union’s largest public private partnership addressing climate change. The initiative brings together academic, business and public partners to tackle climate change through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Their mission is to empower and inspire a diverse community to build a zero-carbon economy.

One of the steps they have taken to achieve this, is via the Climate-KIC Journey: a summer school which combines climate knowledge and hands-on business experience.

The Journey summer school provides participants with climate change knowledge combined with entrepreneurship skills, to create a business model which will help our environment.

This summer there are a several journeys taking place across Europe involving over 400 participants from all over the world. I have been selected to take part in Journey 5 and will be traveling to Lisbon, Valencia and Wroclaw.

Together we will learn about climate change adaption and mitigation strategies and form groups around specific themes. In these smaller groups we will work on a sustainable business plan in our area of interest to present at the end of the Journey.

In preparation for the start of the Journey I would like to share our first assignment: to create a simple poster to explain who we are by answering the following questions. See my answers below (or on the poster above).

What inspires you to tackle climate change?

I have always been inspired by the view from my childhood bedroom window. At this time of year, I can see the rolling Slad Valley in a sea of every shade of green imaginable. Every time I return to this view I am amazed by the vitality and life within. The beauty of nature and the desire to protect it inspires me most to tackle climate change.

What are you proud of?

One thing I am proud of is my part in setting up a DIY community make and repair space last year. The project, called Remakery Frome was the first time I had been involved in a social enterprise. Today it is used for a range of community projects including hosting the Mens Shed (and recently the Women’s Shed!), craft classes and repair cafes.

How are you trying to live more sustainably?

There are many small ways I try to live more sustainably, these include: cycling to school, repairing and caring for my clothes and belongings, following a vegetarian diet and shopping ethically where possible.

What can we learn from you?

Visual problem solving

If things had turned out differently you might have been……?

At 18 I was deliberating between becoming a philosopher or a fashion designer. In the end I decided I could be designer first and a philosopher later.

What one thing might show you as different from everyone else?

My background in fashion design

A moral you live your life by?

I try live by the phrase ‘Let your life speak’ from Quaker Advice and Queries.

A quote that you love or that inspires you?

‘Do small things with great love’ Mother Teresa

A surprising secret!

I was once featured on the side of a milk cartoon, although I wasn’t missing!

How will we know when you are out of your comfort zone – and what is it that you are likely to be doing?

I would be out of my comfort zone singing karoke, being surrounded by moths or trying to do complicated maths. You will know because I will be blushing (and probably screaming if moths are involved).

Tell us something interesting about your work experience so far.

In 2016-17 I worked for Antiform, a bristol based design studio making clothes from reclaimed materials and utilising zero-waste pattern cutting methods.

If you are interested in learning more about the Climate-KIC and the journey, please follow my blog! I am planning to keep it up to date during the coming weeks.

Design for Government; The Final Result

Introducing ‘Exploration Areas’ a new identity for Finland’s Hiking Areas in the third and final phase of Aalto’s Design for Government course 2018.

14 weeks ago I started a project-based course entitled Design for Government.  The course aims to teach students 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 Agriculture and Forestry and Metsähallitus (a state managed enterprise that takes care of all state-owned land and water in Finland) to come up with ‘new uses, users and identity’ for Finland’s National Hiking Areas. Our team was made up Andreas Sode from New Media, Ming Unn Andersen and Mengxiao Li from Collaborative and Industrial Design, Riina Ruus-Prato from Product and Spacial Design and myself from Creative Sustainability.

Final final pres2

Over the past 14 weeks we have worked closely with our commissioners: The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Metsähallitus and local stakeholders, to find a solution which addresses the unique potential of each Hiking area, alongside wider concerns regarding our current relationship to nature and biodiversity loss.

Last week we presented our final concept to an audience including members from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, design consultants, civil servants and Aalto alumni at the House of Estates in Helsinki.

Final final pres68

Framing the problem

There are currently five Hiking Areas in Finland that specialise in activity-based tourism. They are distinct from both National Parks and commercially owned forests, but incorporate elements of both commerce and conservation in their activities. The areas are used for a wide range of activities including nature-based events, local business services and forestry. However, the breadth of the activities on offer in Hiking Areas make them difficult to define and in recent years visitor numbers have not increased. We used Evo Hiking Area, located in the South of Finland as a base for our research.

The Ecosystem Perspective

One aspect which we felt was missing from the brief was the ecosystem perspective. All activities within Hiking Areas rely on the health and diversity of the ecosystem, yet their needs are not always taken into consideration. Visitors are rarely informed about the importance of respecting the natural environment and some activities are planned at times of the year which conflict with the natural breeding cycles of native animals.

midterm27-e1527692566339.jpgAccording to Johan Rockström, we have entered the sixth period of mass extinction (2015). The earth has suffered a 60 percent ecosystem decline and both common and rare animal and plant species have been lost as a result of human overpopulation, overconsumption and pollution. In addition, a recent study by Cambridge University reveals our knowledge and experience of nature is also in decline (Macfarlane, 2017).

Today children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than real animals and plants (Macfarlane, 2017).

Concept Development

The development of our project was largely informed by insights gained through interviews and two workshops with Hiking Area stakeholders. We found many engaged individuals working towards improvements in our test site, Evo and their input has been the driving force behind this project. In total, we interviewed over 30 people, conducted one ideation workshop in collaboration with the other two student groups and one evaluation workshop at Lammi biological station.

Introducing Exploration Areas

Our concept, Exploration Areas provides a new identity for National Hiking Areas with a unique educational focal point. The concept addresses rising concerns regarding children’s declining knowledge and experience of nature and aims to attract new and mindful visitors through a rich educational programme.

Exploration Areas would provide informal learning experiences for visitors ranging from 1 hour activities to 1 week study camps. The curriculum will focus on sustainable Use, Experience and Knowledge of nature and would be provided by engaged local stakeholders. Self directed learning opportunities in the form of themed walks and interactive information brochures would be available alongside group learning activities at Exploration

The Exploration Hub is the physical extension of the Exploration Area’s curriculum. Not only does it offer food, accommodation and information about the area, the Hub also offers additional tools for the visitor to further explore the curriculum of the area. This is done by hosting workshops and conferences as well as by offering learning materials like activity booklets and renting out equipment for learning activities for instance simple biological research tools like a butterfly net or soil testing equipment. The Exploration Hub also provides a calendar that gathers together all the activities that take place in the area.

In contrast with National Parks, we see the flexibility of use in Hiking Areas perfectly suited for an activity based learning programme. In the short-term we aim to create a voluntary working group, compile ‘self-study’ learning material and create a calendar of events. Our long-term goal is to acquire a currently disused premises in Evo to launch the first Exploration Hub where a wide range of learning activities would take place.

If you would like to know more about our project you can access our full report and watch our final presentation.

Fashioned from Nature at the V&A

A look inside the V&A’s latest exhibition exploring fashion’s complex relationship to nature from 1600 to the present day. 

The exhibition follows the diverse ways nature has been used as both a source inspiration and a resource to be exploited over the past four centuries.

The display takes the viewer chronologically through fashion history, from a muslim day dress embroidered with beetles wings from the 1860s to Emma Watson’s MET Gala 2016 Calvin Klein dress made from recycled plastic bottles. The exhibition reflects fashion’s evolving relationship to nature and documents the emergence of sustainable fashion in the mainstream.

According to the curator Edwina Ehrman, ‘We’re asking two questions: What can we learn from the past? And how can we design a more sustainable future?’

The first section dives into the V&A’s historic archive to showcase the evolving use of natural materials in clothing between 1600 and 1900. During this time, the expansion of global trade and more efficient manufacturing methods saw the introduction of exotic materials and an upscale in production.

It was shocking to see materials rarely used today such as exotic bird feathers, ivory, wale bone, seal fur and tortoise shell on mainly British-owned clothes and accessories. A map illustrating the trade routes between Britain and the locations of various precious materials such as North American furs, Peruvian precious metals and Middle Eastern silks revealed the extent of anthropocentric and imperialist thinking. While admiring a waist coat intricately embroidered with macaque monkeys it was hard not to be reminded of the price paid by nature for the human pursuit of beauty.

Plants, animals and people have long been viewed as resources to be used and exploited.

The birth of mass manufacture and the impact of increasingly intensive farming methods was documented. By displaying finished garments next to the raw materials they are made from, the exhibition emphasised the natural origins of many garments; a fact which can be so easily forgotten when production is geographically distant from the end consumer.

The final section showcased the various ways designers in the last few decades have addressed growing concerns over resource scarcity and unsustainable production practices.

Fashion activism in the form of a ‘Who Made My Clothes’ campaign placards and Vivienne Westwood slogan dresses revealed the need for designers to take responsibility for their supply chains as well as the importance of consumer led action.

Innovative material use from Stella McCartney and novel production methods in garments such as GStar RAW’s first cradle to cradle certified pair of jeans looked to the future and the role of science and technology in finding sustainable alternatives to current practices. In contrast, upcycled garments by Katie Jones looked to what already exists and the potential of make do and mend.

The importance of transparency and traceability could also be seen in a Bruno Pieters suit from his Honest By label, which incorporates information about the fabric and origin into its design. Even fast fashion was represented in the form of an H&M conscious collection dress made from ocean plastic.

While not all garments were convincingly sustainable, the overall message was overwhelmingly positive. It seems hopeful that in the future fashion will have a more respectful relationship with nature. As one of the top five most polluting industries in the world this is essential.

FILM REVIEW: NaturePlay, Take Childhood Back

Written by Aimie Stilling and co-directed with Daniel Stilling, the award-winning documentary NaturePlay tracks the movements of the latest ‘endangered species in the wild today- our children’.

From America to Denmark, Norway and Sweden the film tells the story of two very different childhoods. In America, we see empty playgrounds and children as young as six and seven studying for standardised performance exams. By contrast, in Scandinavia children of the same age are making mud pies, climbing trees and carving with knives.

The film portrays the importance of nature play for child development and the lessons to be learnt from the Scandinavian philosophy of friluftsliv (which translates to ‘free air life’).

©NaturePlay – Take Childhood Back

Friluftsliv refers to ‘a lifestyle based on experiences of freedom in nature and spiritual connectedness with the landscape’ and is deeply rooted in the identity of Scandinavian people (Gelter, 2000).

At the core of this philosophy is the belief that the ‘reward for connectedness with the landscape is … a new level of consciousness and a spiritual wholeness’ (Gelter, 2000), in other words experience of nature for its own sake is of utmost importance for human physical and mental wellbeing.

NaturePlay beautifully captures the values of friluftsliv in the outdoor-centred learning approach of schools and kindergartens across Scandinavia. One quote from the film that stayed with me was ‘nature doesn’t steal time, it amplifies it’. The natural world inspires creativity and imagination and in pure and diverse environments children find privacy and freedom to explore. In Denmark, the objective of Udeskole (‘outdoor school’) is simple, to spend as much time learning outdoors and from real experience as possible.

play-nature-1 (1)
©NaturePlay – Take Childhood Back

The Nordic Outdoor Model of Education (N.O.M.E) promotes learning through the combination of doing and playing. The understanding that ‘play is the work of childhood’ is central. At a Skovbørnehave (forest Kindergarten) in Denmark, children play outside all year round and are exposed to small dangers as part of their daily routine.

©NaturePlay – Take Childhood Back

Allowing children to work with bonfires, climb trees, use knives and even experience cold weather may seem fool hardy to some, but in this context they are viewed as learning experiences where children can test their physical boundaries within a safe space.

These hands-on life lessons are viewed as tools to help children on their way to independence. In comparison to the more long-term health risks of children spending too much time indoors, such as obesity and even depression, falling out of a tree once in while doesn’t sound too bad. What’s more, according to one outdoor kindergarten teacher the children hardly ever get sick.

©NaturePlay – Take Childhood Back

By focusing on the needs of the child rather than a test score, nature-based education methods seek to teach life skills like creative problem solving which go beyond conventional schooling.

In the words of one educator, common sense is better than rules. Life does not fit into the pages of a book and narrow channels of learning do not maximise human talent or encourage the flourishing of curiosity and creativity in children.

What’s more, ‘connection to nature is a strong predictor of children’s interest in environmentally friendly practices’ in later life (Cheng and Monroe, 2012). In light of the increasingly fragile state of the world’s ecosystems the need for children who know and understand the inherent value of nature is greater than ever.

NaturePlay beautifully captures the joy of children learning through play and puts forward an irrefutable case for benefits of experiential education and a childhood spent outdoors. You can watch the trailer here and if you’re interested, you can organise a screening of Nature Play for your community. I can highly recommend it!

©NaturePlay – Take Childhood Back
Gelter, H. (2000). Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life. Canadian Journal of Environmenal Education, 5, 77–90.
Cheng, J. C.-H., & Monroe, M. C. (2012). Connection to Nature: Children’s Affective Attitude Toward Nature. Environment and Behavior, 44(1), 31–49.

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.