sustainability

What Is Going on with the Weather? Reflections on Gaps Between Data and Experience

by HANNAH KNOX, University College London If it’s summer in your part of the world (or even if it’s winter), you’ve probably been feeling the heat. On 5 July, Ouargla, Algeria recorded 51.3°C (124.3°F), the highest temperature ever reported in Africa. A few days later, Areni, Armenia hit a record 42.6°C (108.7°F), and on 17 July, Badufuss in Norway topped its charts at 33.5°C (92.3°F). Perhaps most disturbing were reports of people collapsing in the fields in Japan, where high humidity exacerbated record-breaking temperatures of over 40°C (104°F). Japan declared a natural disaster, a designation normally reserved for earthquakes and tsunamis.1 “Something is going on” – people feel – “but what?” Of course, climate scientists have been beating their drums for decades, pushing out papers, reports, and campaigns about the risks of anthropogenic climate change. But dramatic and even deadly weather events are, it turns out, rather effective at opening opportunities for speaking about climate change across...

Ethnography First! Promoting Sustainable Lifestyles through Locally Meaningful Solutions

by DAN PODJED, University of Ljubljana Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor When we think of technology and innovation responses to global warming, we tend to imagine grand solutions that address the problem on a massive scale. For many ethnographers, designers in industry and other solution seekers, this makes the challenge of sustainability daunting, something we can't imagine pursuing in our day-to-day practice. However, we can make a significant impact with relatively simple solutions, especially if they are tailored to local lifestyles and take into account habits, routines, practices, requirements and expectations of the people. This was the approach of the DriveGreen project, which was launched in 2014. The initial plan for DriveGreen was to prepare a simple and affordable smartphone app for drivers of passenger cars. It was supposed to operate much like Toyota’s iPhone app A Glass of Water, which determines and visually communicates how economical, safe, and environmentally...

Radical Design and Radical Sustainability

by THOMAS WENDT, Surrounding Signifiers Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor “Revolution is not about destroying capitalism, but about refusing to create it.” —John Holloway1 Serious designers must be radicals. If we are truly enraged by the political, ecological, and economic challenges we face, and if design is characterized by the envisioning and actualization of preferable futures, then the only choice in perspective is that of radicalism. Otherwise, we are simply maintaining the status quo. To do this, we need to do more than tinker with a different “approach.” Recently at the IXDA’s annual Interactions conference I presented a critique of human-centered design in commercial design contexts. When practiced in the mostly uncritical realm of corporate power, I argued, HCD is unequipped to come to terms with its own paradoxes—it claims to address political and ethical concerns that capitalism purposefully attempts to circumvent. I concluded that HCD within capitalist...

Place Making and Sustainability

by MICHAEL DONOVAN, Practica Group LLC Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor Place making offers us a largely untraveled pathway to thinking about sustainability. These two relatively high order concepts—'place making' and 'sustainability'—are conventionally located in separate domains of knowledge and ways of knowing. Place making is essentially the fluid filling in of geographic spaces with experience, social value, and meaning. It’s the kind of thing that cultural geographers, anthropologists, and historians are likely to ponder. Sustainability is harder to corral. Leaving questions of perspective and authority aside for a moment, what are “we” trying to sustain? Species? The ecosystems in which such species thrive? Or the natural places—those culturally mediated spaces (forests, rivers, bays, coral reefs)—in which such “systems” are embedded? How about places at further remove from “nature” and the protective eye of naturalists and environmentalists—neighborhoods,...

Navigating Relativism and Globalism in Sustainability

by CAROLINE TURNBULL, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School & Maryland Institute College of Art Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor Sustainability initiatives—social, economic or environmental—can have universal value for stakeholders. But how sustainability is defined, and what successful solutions might look like, can vary dramatically among different communities, or even conflict. One particular interaction a few years ago forced me to re-evaluate my own definition of sustainability, and this experience has affected my approach to the solution-finding process ever since. ⊚ In 2014 I was working for a nonprofit organization that partnered with companies to certify their carpet supply chains as being free of child labor. I was just four years out of college, dizzy with optimism and eager to be working in a field that married my interests in products, ethics and sustainability. The 20-year-old organization I represented was doing incredible work – freeing children from licensed...

A Prairie Home Revival

BRIANNA FARBER University of South Carolina Download PDF PechaKucha—This presentation explores the struggle of natural resource conservation within Iowa industrial agriculture through the issue of water quality. I discuss the politics of scientific information, specifically how different powerful players use science to achieve their goals. Science can both reveal and obscure the history of Iowa’s landscape, and history holds the key to understanding water quality problems. Finally, I describe what people are trying to do to bring industrial agriculture and prairie together to create a better system. Keywords: Natural resource management, political ecology, agriculture Brianna Farber is a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina finishing 14 months of fieldwork in Iowa. Her research interests include human-environment interactions, as well as the role of social science in collaborating with and informing natural science and technology. 2016 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, p. 539, ISSN 1559-8918, https://www.epicpeople.org...

Tutorial: Ethnographic Thinking for Wicked Problems – Framing Systemic Challenges and Catalyzing Change

Tutorial Instructors: JAY HASBROUCK Hasbrouck Research Group CHARLEY SCULL Practica Group Contributor: LISA DICARLO, Brown University SUMMARY In this interactive tutorial, participants explored ways in which ethnographers can have an expanded role in addressing social issues and other wicked problems. In particular, it explored how ethnographic thinking can frame problems and catalyze change. Participants were first provided with a grounding in ways to approach systemic challenges and social entrepreneurship, including discussion of some successful roles ethnographers have played as part of inter-disciplinary teams. Then, instructors introduced three case studies (and frameworks of systems within them) that participants later used as material for exploring how broader applications of ethnographic thinking might work in real world settings. Those included: labor practices in the seafood industry, encouraging energy conservation, and managing the refugee crises. In the second part of the tutorial, participants divided into groups...

Empathy as Faux Ethics

adbusters image with text "me, myself, I"
by THOMAS WENDT, Surrounding Signifiers “The term ‘empathy’ has provided a guiding thread for a whole range of fundamentally mistaken theories concerning man’s [sic] relationship to other human beings and to other beings in general.” —Martin Heidegger Popular design discourse is full of articles, books, and conference presentations on the role of empathy in design. In both commercial and non-commercial settings, most designers argue the same thing: designers should attempt to build empathy for “users” so they can better design for them. But empathy as it’s generally practiced ultimately subverts its own goals. It tends to reinforce “otherness”, promote anthropocentrism, and ignore ecological considerations. Everyday Empathy I recently moved from Manhattan to Queens. My old neighborhood, NoLita (north of Little Italy…thanks, real estate agents), had fully gentrified, with storefronts quickly transforming into cold pressed juice bars ($10/cup) and men’s shaving supply stores ($25 “beard oil”). My...

Sustainability and Ethnography in Business: Identifying Opportunity in Troubled Times

by MIKE YOUNGBLOOD, The Youngblood Group Introduction to the Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor Sustainability—we’re hearing this word a lot these days, even in business (if not, depressingly, in Trump Tower). It’s probably something readers of this post all generally support, and it’s definitely something we’re all connected to in one way or another. Whether we work in tech, consumer goods, education, government, or any other field, it’s pretty easy to see how the products, services, and organizations we serve affect larger social and environmental issues. For most of us in the EPIC community, however, sustainability isn’t in our job descriptions. So how should we understand and act on this issue? What are our perspectives, capabilities, opportunities, and responsibilities with respect to sustainability? Are we actively addressing sustainability in our work, or is it properly “someone else’s job?” This post introduces an EPIC discussion on sustainability. Over...

What is a Sustainable Innovation? Cultural and Contextual Discoveries in the Social Ecology of Cooking in an African Slum

WILLIAM SCHINDHELM GEORG Bridgeable PETER HAYWARD JONES OCAD University This paper investigates how a close understanding of human activity can inform the design of culturally and contextually sustainable innovations for subsistence markets. Building on existing literature related to poverty alleviation initiatives and an ethnographic field study, this project attempted to understand the cultural and contextual challenges to the substitution of unhealthy and unsustainable biomass as cooking fuels by cleaner and competitive cooking alternatives in Kitintale, an urban slum in Kampala, Uganda. We share new research findings and experience from a recent ethnographic study that reveals the incompatibility of modern innovation theory with the realities of the deeply knitted everyday practices in the social ecology of slum life. As the findings of this project suggest, broad claims that disruptive innovation can shift existing practices, change demand and displace market leaders through the creation of new value networks might not fully...

Why the World Needs Anthropologists

by META GORUP (Ghent University) &DAN PODJED (University of Ljubljana) ‘The bad news is that anthropology is never going to solve the global crisis,’ professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen provoked, ‘but the good news is that without us, nobody is going to because our knowledge is a crucial piece of the jigsaw puzzle.’ The EASA Applied Anthropology Network’s symposium ‘Why the world needs anthropologists’ in Ljubljana, Slovenia, was a journey that traversed critical issues from climate change to the refugee crisis, fear of robots, the role of anthropological and ethnographical approaches in a globalized world, social entrepreneurship, and the meaning of nation states, security, and sustainable mobility. Coverage of this vast terrain by keynote speakers Genevieve Bell, Joanna Breidenbach, and Thomas Hylland Eriksen, as well as Lučka Kajfež Bogataj and a moderated panel, had clear common denominators: interdisciplinarity is crucial; anthropologists should make their research more inclusive and their findings widely...

Sustainability Initiatives Succeed with Good Storytelling

by MELEA PRESS, Hanken School of Economics At the recent climate talks in Paris, 195 countries adopted a universal climate deal for the first time ever, key parts of which are legally binding. This is a stunning success and highlights how urgently the world’s nations, backed by their citizens and businesses, are seeking new ways to thrive while also addressing the challenges of climate change. As they strive to reach emissions targets over the next 15 years, organizations will also gradually realize that sustainability is no longer a trendy choice or moral imperative, but a reality in need of focused, persistent attention—and a good roadmap. Organizations must integrate sustainability into every strategic plan and action, yet few know how to turn the global goals of climate change mitigation into the kinds of activities they report to stakeholders. At first, developing a sustainability plan may seem an easy task. There are numerous books and articles about the business case for sustainability, as well as inspirational memoirs,...

Renewing the Corporate Social Responsibility Agenda: What Is in the Corporate Toolkit for Social Change?

by ED LIEBOW, American Anthropological Association & EMILIE HITCH, Rabbit; EPIC2016 Papers Committee, Ethnography/CSR Curators Business interests often claim that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is ‘the right thing to do’ and that acting responsibly is ‘good for business.’ Multinational firms have come together to create international conventions and business associations that establish and abide by audit standards for fair wages, safe working conditions, and they support the development and maintenance of public facilities and services necessitated by the additional local demands created by local operations. Out of an enlightened sense of self-interest, small and medium-size enterprises may also look out for their employees and suppliers, invest in their communities, protect the environment, and pave the way for a sustainable future. Yet many skeptics place firms’ CSR activities in a broader historical and cultural context, and argue that these firms have prospered greatly in lax compliance regimes, where they...

Everyone’s Trash: Recycling in China

MOLLY STEVENSGoogle, Inc. Are we really connected to the steps and act of recycling and reuse? Is the modern American vision for recycling too clean and removed from the reality of our waste? Images are a series of observations about a single example of community, value-based recycling from Shanghai. The images challenge us to reflect on what we can learn from other approaches....

Service Designing the City

NATALIA RADYWYL From cataclysmic recessions to unprecedented climate disasters, our cities seem awash with unintended consequences borne of complex times. While city administrations grapple with developing systemic supports, our infrastructure, communities and individual wellbeing are increasingly succumbing to the strain. This paper examines a practice gaining recent traction for improving our cities’ sustainable resilience: service design. As an inherently user-centered, reflexive and iterative practice, it develops service systems by drawing upon a range of disciplinary roles - from makers to strategists, and ethnographers to technologists. I examine three New York City-based case studies which each attempt to improve the services its residents use and need. While responding to the complex needs of the same city, these case studies illustrate the vastly different possibilities for improving broken civic services through institutional intervention: housing in civic service design, mobility in private sector service design,...