A Positive Consumer for a Positive Future

Series 8/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 3/3: Sustainability in Practice – The series researches the values and practices which lead to grass route social innovation.

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One of the drivers behind the industrial revolution was the developments in the farming industry; this enabled labourers to move to the city and work in new jobs which created large scale economic growth moving society away from extreme poverty. The wealth we experience today is largely due to the ability of the farming community to use new techniques and methods to increase the yield of the crops. The development of new agricultural techniques is therefore important in meeting demand. The issue comes from the development of productivity techniques which are unsustainable and exploit the natural resources of the land. Returning to basics is about using a product which sustainably meets the needs of the community. The steps to achieving this simply require us, as consumers, to value and support sustainable commerce. Throughout the trip to South East Asia I met many social enterprises and they all struggled to engage the consumer, there was however once entrepreneur who was building up an impressive campaign to change public attitude.

Anukool Saibejra is a social entrepreneur with a heart for social change and the courage to go against the grain. Anukool believes that food security cannot be achieved by creating the perfect grain of rice. Instead Anukool promotes the return to a variety of grain; through a large variety in product the market will be more resilient to risks. Raised in a farming community, Anukool is well aware of the challenges of modern farming. His parents invested in his future providing him with an education to get him into a stable career. Anukool didn’t just use this opportunity for himself and instead build up a social enterprise going against the grains of society in order to make a positive difference in his community. After creating communities of farmers who believed in his idea Anukool had to work on changing public attitudes in order to change the consumers behaviour; “Behavior and attitudes consumption […] affects the decline or extinction of genetic local rice”. In order to achieve this Anukool set about creating a product design to engage urban communities with the rural environment. Anukool developed a kit in with which you could grow your own mini rice field and find out about the different types of rice and the challenges facing the rural communities.

Anukool challenged my understanding of sustainable development, presented with the same facts I would push for a large scale solution using innovative methods. This challenge grew as I met the different social entrepreneurs; they were not searching for the perfect scalable solution but a solution that would work in their community. These designers are not searching for recognition in their designs instead they pursue a passion to make a difference on a human level. As a designer I often pursue innovation, searching for a solution that brings about real shift in the design process. The difficulty with innovation is as a designer I get lost in the wonders of creative engineering, pursuing innovation instead of impact. Innovation in design is great but we need to ensure that this is led by a passion for people rather than products. Maybe the radical shift in sustainably consumerism needs to be led by the design community and how we express ourselves; we need to genuinely communicate what inspires us, what we are passionate about and what challenges us. This will enable us to better connect with the consumer and design a product led by the principles of Human Centred Design.

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Geography: Defining the Boundaries of Global Challenges

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Photo by cocoparisienne

Google maps is great tool, it provides us with access to a large amount of data for planning any journey by any means of transport. It helps us find the best place to have a meal or stock up on stationery. Google maps presents a load of data referenced to a geographical system. There are plenty of different data maps available; the Environment Agency Maps present the different areas at risk of floods, air pollution and many more different environmental data. What if this could be combined in the same way as the travel data on google maps to present a smarter way of solving problems.

This is the idea of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), it uses data, referenced to geographical coordinates in order to have a greater insight into the geographical aspects of different challenges. GIS has revolutionised the way we see and solve problems. GIS enables us to consider a wider range of parameters and understand the connection in between these parameters. This enables us to solve problems through a more informed process. GIS Missions, offers a great insight into how GIS can help solve practical problems in the planning stage of both small and major projects. It can help identify the impact of flooding in an area, the effectiveness of of renewable energy systems or on a personal note create Property Heat Maps identifying where you can afford to live. GIS is a powerful tool to visualise and understand complex challenges.

The quality of GIS analysis is only as powerful as the data input. This leads to limitation, the data required is often closed down and in varied formats. In order to effectively use GIS to solve global challenges and create smarter communities, smarter cities; we need big data solution. Data needs to be made open licensed, easy to access and in an open format. Open Street Map and Quantum GIS are both initiatives which bring the power of GIS into an open environment.  Open street maps is a map created openly by the community; it gathers local data and knowledge which is shared openly and under open licence. Quantum GIS is an open GIS plateforme, it enables the design of custom user generated functions to better analyse geographical data. We need these open solution in order to understand and overcome the global challenges society faces.

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Civil Engineering: A journey with the UN

Why am I, a civil engineer, going on a journey with the United Nations University for Peace in South East Asia?

“A passion to understand how my vocation can and does make a difference, how civil engineering can be a part of the bigger picture, working together with other disciplines to engineer civilization”

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The Age of Sustainable Development

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Professor Jeffrey Sachs is a passionate economist and visionary. Last year I followed his course on the Age of Sustainable Development  a free course offered through Coursera. The course offered a snapshot of modern economy and how modern civilisations have developed since the industrial revolution. Using this understanding of how the developed and developing world had grown their economies the course then studied the future of underdeveloped countries and the poverty trap they live in. This was achieved through comparing two cases business as usual versus sustainable development.

The course really built up my understanding and respect for economist. It went away from the destructive economy we see in modern banking institutes, led by greed, but instead focus on an economy of opportunity. The course did not see economic development as the single most important change required but instead advocated a prescriptive method based on an in depth analysis of the situation. It studied the role of healthcare, demographics, geography, infrastructure and education on a nation.

Sustainable development is not just a more positive way of looking at our future but a necessary way to move forward. Shell has two outlooks on the future of energy: the first is a blueprint where we work together through revolutionary changes, the second is a scramble for resources where we deal with the consequences latter. Why not join Professor Sachs and participate in the Sustainable Development Solutions Network helping us to work together with a shared vision and blueprint for a sustainable development.

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The Art of Global Challenge

Series 3/3: The Artist and the Engineer – This series reflects on the relationship in between Art and Engineering.

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From climate change to rapid urbanization civilization is facing radical challenges in the way we approach and solve problems. In this vast and growing world how do we understand the personal and intimate nature of these challenges. When there is a constant pressure for economic growth how do we value life and resources. In order to achieve this we must value creativity. Upholding the belief that we can overcome these challenges by working together valuing our different giftings. The answer is not to lose hope and to see borders and countries break down under the pressure for resources. If we value growth more than we value each other we will have lost sense of what it means to be a civilization.

Tipping Point is a project that brings scientist and artists together to study climate change and understand how it effects us. It takes the abstract and overwhelming idea of climate change and breaks it down to a quantifiable and identifiable idea. This is part of a global effort by artists to understand the human aspect of these global challenges. Art enables us to relate to these big ideas and see the different perspectives and outlooks into these challenges. Art can enable us to grow in our understanding of these challenges and our passion to bring about positive change.

Art doesn’t have to have a message or uphold social values. At its core art should remind us of the creativity of humanity. It should encourage us that as a civilisation there are solutions to these challenges. My wife loves searching for patterns in photography and prints. The different work she creates presents varied and complex patterns. This reminds me of the design we find throughout our environment. The challenges society face may be varied and complex but there are underlying patterns throughout, we need to work together to understand these complex patterns and build a better future.

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