Consumer behaviour is at the core of the solutions for the urgent problem of climate change, we learned at Day 2 of WDCD Live São Paulo.
Writing on the message Babette Porcelijn shared with us on Day 2 of WDCD on Black Friday is an irony that could fill one with despair. This relatively new high mass of consumerism is a big thing here in Brazil and broadly promoted in the media. All the stuff people are lured in to buy on this day hugely influence their impact on the environment, as Porcelijn showed the audience one day earlier. Are we ever going to win this battle?
We have to stay optimistic though, Bebel Abreu, WDCD’s director in Brazil told the audience at the start of the day. ‘It is hard to be an optimist here in Brazil and especially under the current economic and political crisis here,’ she said. ‘But that’s exactly why it is so important to have this conference here today.’
Bebel Abreu / photo José de Holanda
And maybe there are some bright spots. On Day 1 the question whether the media is our ally was the topic of a discussion on stage. And while this is certainly not the case when we look at the intense promotion for this retail-invented Black Friday party – the name is well chosen –, the flipside is that Porcelijn was embraced by media here and made it to national TV.
Babette Porcelijn in dialogue with the audience / photo José de Holanda
Porcelijn’s thorough investigation into the impact of our daily behaviour seems to land well in Brazil, maybe also because of the severe crisis the country is experiencing right now. And certainly, because she tells a positive story. All the products we buy and the things we do carry an hidden environmental impact with them, caused during production and transport, which counts up to 80 % of the product’s total impact. That sounds worrying, but actually offers big opportunities. Because, as Porcelijn said, ‘if you do include hidden impact in the design process, it means that you will be five times more effective’ in making your design environmentally sound.
And that is very much needed. In the rich western countries people live a lifestyle as if we had 3,6 planets and in Brazil 1,8 planets. The solution for this must be multifaceted, Porcelijn said. ‘We need family planning to stop population growth, we must restore nature, change the way we produce and change the way we consume. Consumers, industry and governments all have a role to play in this context, but as consumers we have the last vote, because we chose which products we buy and which governments we want.’ By making the right choices we can make our behaviour eco-neutral or even eco-positive when we restore more than we take from the earth.
Ana Toni / photo José de Holanda
We need a dream
Such a message is music in the ears of Ana Toni, director of Instituto Clima e Sociedade in Rio de Janeiro, and previously chair of the international board of Greenpeace. Toni shared with WDCD her belief that it is time to get out of the ‘climate bubble’, as she calls it, and start acting all together. ‘We have to solve this together,’ she said. ‘We have enough proof that climate change is a most urgent issue. Designers can help us to make a difference, because we have to change consumer habits as fast as possible. We don’t have time. I often refer to Martin Luther King, who never talked of a nightmare. He had a dream. When it comes to climate change we have to build a dream too.’
Guto Requena, who we had seen on stage the day before, returned to join the discussion on the topic Community is key. In his short introduction, he showed the importance of a movement in Brazil that strives for the closure of streets for cars on Sundays. This idea started in São Paulo, where the weekly closure of the central Avenida Paulista developed into a major event and an example that is followed in 16 other places. The closures help people to make contact and enjoy the moment. The events eventually must lead to more space for pedestrians and cyclists permanently. Because, says Requena, ‘we shouldn’t allow cars to occupy 80% of the city.’
Inka Pieter / photo José de Holanda
In many ways Toni and Requena had a much easier story to tell than Inka Pieter, who is heading KLM’s sustainability strategy. Even if KLM is on top of the list of most sustainable airlines, Pieter couldn’t deny that air traffic has an enormous impact on the climate. Still, people want to travel and the best an airline can do to minimize the impact is investing in a modern fleet, work on operational efficiency, use biofuels and otherwise compensate CO2 emissions. In doing so the airline reduced its emissions with 430,000 tons in 2016.
The two environmental activist in the hall, Ana Toni and Nicole Oliveira, did appreciate these efforts, but also were very clear in their opinion that strong governmental regulation and taxation are needed. ‘We need to be radical, we can’t accept halfway solutions,’ Oliveira said.
Adopting to a rising sea
In the afternoon session Kristian Koreman, co-founder of ZUS Architects, shared six solutions for adaptation to expected sea level rises. All were taken from his own practice. One of these is a long-term project in the polders in the Netherlands, where ZUS was able to convince a private party and the local government to accept an unconventional solution for a new housing area. Instead of building the traditional suburb-like area behind the existing dike, they proposed to turn the area into an artificial dune landscape. This way the houses stand above sea level, while the inhabitants of the area experience every day a kind of beach life.
Another approach is an integral solution ZUS co-designed with several other parties for the meadowlands area just outside the city of New York. Their proposal was one of the winning projects in the Rebuild by Design competition that asked for resilient solutions after hurricane Sandy had struck the American east coast. Koreman explained how they succeeded to get the plans accepted by local communities and governments by organizing several gatherings with mayors and other groups involved.
Closing the day, and with that the entire conference, was Naresh Ramchandani, partner of Pentagram and co-founder of Do The Green Thing. This non-profit organization asks creatives to share their time to make sustainable behaviour as appealing as all the harming stuff that is made so alluring, for instance on a day like this.
Top image: Babette Porcelijn / photo José de Holanda