Last night I attended the first Sustain/Create event at AUT. Sustain/Create is a series of public discussions co-presented by the School of Art + Design and the ST PAUL St Gallery which aim to investigate the role of design in sustainability.

The event was was chaired by Rachel Brown of the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) (@sustbusiness) and there was a stellar line up of speakers including Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy, Dr Stephen Knight-Lenihan, Chris Mulcare and Sir Tamati Reedy.

Each speaker on had only 7 minutes to deliver their message and this made for a really punchy format. They all put forward seriously meaty ideas – it’s impossible for me to do any of the speakers justice but here is a summary of some of the bits that I managed to grab below (apologies if I have misrepresented anything –  apparently the gallery recorded all of it so will add a link when it becomes available).

Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy presented from her research into system innovation for sustainability. She covered a lot in her 7 minutes but key take outs included the need for basing what we do on the science of sustainability, the need to take a systems approach rather than develop isolated solutions (this was a bit of a theme for the evening), the importance of design thinking and what it can offer sustainability and the need for codesign approaches where solutions are developed by the community themselves.

Dr Stephen Knight-Lenihan gave a great overview of the issues that face us in actual embedding any serious change into areas like infrastructure and transport  – explaining how an evidence-based approach isn’t really working. Even though we understand what we need to do to implement significant change (i.e., we have the evidence) recommendations to government on how to do this are diluted through the current process, and what comes out the other end is far from what was originally planned. Another example of the problem being how attempts to seriously cut emissions by 2020 (or whatever the target year is now…) are made redundant by the imperative (for example) to build more roads. All current moves towards sustainability are only marginal until we embed sustainability into our planning. According to Knight-Lenihan an important step is requiring that any new development improve current ecological conditions, not just maintain the status quo.

Chris Mulcare then blew us away a bit with digrams and info graphics pointing out some of the great things that are already happening in NZ with clean tech. Chris’s talk was very hopeful in terms of the opportunity to unlock the extensive potential that already exists in NZ for industrial symbiosis where the waste from one plant or farm becomes a raw material or power source for another. For example what is happening at the Kawerau Mill as well as things like the potential for NZ farms to produce and share their own power based on the waste they generate.

Sir Tamati Reedy (Ngāti Porou) then talked us through some of the key aspects of his research into sustainability as it relates to Maori (and therefore NZ fundamentally). Posing the question: why do some people want to sustain some things native to NZ such as flora and fauna but not sustain the natives themselves….? and (given that culture is always changing) who gets the right to decide what is sustained? In helping us to manage the transition Reedy drews upon Toffler’s Futureshock (1970) to highlight the significance of education (over guns or money) as a means to wield power and effect change as we orientate ourselves towards our new future.

As noted above one of the key themes to come out of the evening was the need for a systems approach – rather than attempting any kind of isolated fixes. This is a central point often overlooked in discussions about sustainability action in my experience. In the discussion that followed the presentation this was picked up in relation to the example of the electric car – while it is touted as step towards sustainable transport – such things are only useful in places where electricity is clean – and at the same time cars = roads & driving which in themselves are not sustainable options or activities. Of course this is just one example of the many complexities involved when you start unravelling what “sustainable” actually means. Importantly these speakers all had some positive suggestions for how to get things moving in the right direction within their presentations.

Apparently the organisers were not sure what the level of interest in the event would be, but it was standing room only so big props to all the speakers and the organisers. Having returned from 10 years away from Auckland and NZ this was a re-introduction to NZ’s design and sustainability scene for me and I was really impressed, looking forward to the next one.



One Comment

  1. Thanks Penny. It is great that AUT is putting on something like this.
    UTS has also moved into this space & now we’ve tried hosting debate in the Library as well. I think BikeTank at u.lab ( moves it beyond talk and debate by applying design thinking and co-design principles in a participatory hour over a sustained period (10 weeks all up).
    More universities should be doing things like this within their communities.

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