Series 7/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.
Mini Series 2/3: Sustainability in Practice – The series researches the values and practices which lead to grass route social innovation.
Changing the way we perceive and understand our responsibilities and impact is a great path towards sustainable development. Applying Human Centred Design throughout the design process can enable us to design smarter cities, working with the communities to ensure strategic planning leads to a more sustainable and equal society. In this journey to develop new ideas and processes how do we ensure the impact spreads beyond the city? The farming industry is the lifeline of the city, yet in many cases farmers struggle to make a living. As the agricultural industry experience new techniques and processes which increase the productivity, the farmers haven’t seen any of the benefits. Instead the farming community has experience increased demands and stress on their systems whilst becoming more dependent on the consumerist industry. The industry is not sustainable with farmland becoming less productive and farmers struggling to get by. How can we change the industry around and support the farming community?
In Thailand the agricultural industry is highly dependent on one player; the farmers rely on supplies and wholesale prices from the same place. This does not just affect the sustainability of the farming community but also reduces the quality of the product. Bryan the founder of Raitong Organics believes he has a solution, and the solution involves going back to basics; we need to change the product. Raitong Organic is encouraging a return to organic farming in South East Asia, working with the farming industry to build up a better quality of life as well as selling higher quality produce. By producing organic products, the farmers are less reliant on the supplies of pesticides and chemicals and can therefore work more independently. The end costumer can then receive seasonal products directly from the producer and support the industry which provides for our urban lifestyle.
As designers we often strive towards advancing practices and building better technologies. This model of development can lead to more harm than good; with technology being introduces which isn’t required, needed or sustainable. This can lead to two outcomes; it increase dependency of the community on outside support in maintaining and purchasing expensive goods and services or the technology is abandoned. Both these outcomes are unsustainable; the only solution is to communicate with the customer to ensure that the product fits within their social, environment and economical context. Raitong Organics is a social enterprise that achieves this, they communicate with farmers to discuss products which can empower the farming community. Organic products do bring their own challenges; the product is seasonal and less visually appealing. The consumer is therefore less likely to purchase organic products.
A return to basic is a great way towards achieving sustainable development. It is quite often the simplest solution which leads to real challenge. A perfect example of this is the Yellow Shoes Project which teaches rural farming communities in Northern Thailand to build bio-sand water filters. An engineer we can constantly innovate and create better and more effective water filtration solutions. Or we can provide a framework for the community to design their own filtration system using the resources to hand. A sand filtration can improve the quality of the water and by built and maintained in remote communities. The challenge in returning to basics is the consumers’ attitude; we have encouraged throw away superficial consumerism. How can we change the consumer attitude and encourage a more sustainable consumer?