Amanda Costa is a young climate activist and creator from Brazil. Her work is focused on the empowerment of people living in the country’s urban peripheries, starting from her own quebrada, Brasilândia, in the northern outskirts of São Paulo. In only a handful of years, Amanda has racked up an astonishing list of accomplishments, including her role as a UN Youth Counselor and Ambassador, a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum, a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and founder of Instituto Perifa Sustentável (Sustainable Periphery). 

By Lívia Aguiar and Bebel Abreu

To learn more about her approach to climate justice and her plans for 2023 and beyond, our team in Brazil invited Amanda for a live interview which was broadcast on Youtube (in Portuguese). The hour-long conversation was hosted by Bebel Abreu, WDCD’s long-time partner in São Paulo, and also touched on how creatives in Brazil are engaging with issues like circular and regenerative design. Below are a few highlights from the exchange. 

Amanda with fellow activists from Instituto Perifa Sustentável in Brasilândia, São Paulo. Photo by Johnny Miller.

Bebel Abreu: It’s a great joy to promote this live talk about Climate Justice and Circular Design here at What Design Can Do Brazil – especially in the context of a new Brazilian government that has affirmed their commitment to sustainability and the fight against inequality. Amanda, do you agree that we are starting 2023 with light in the horizon?

Amanda Costa: Yes, I agree that now we start to see new possibilities for the future with this government led by Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. I was invited to the inauguration of the President and also of several Ministers, including Marina Silva (Minister of Environment and Climate Change). In her speech, she stated that climate justice and environmental racism will be top priorities, and that the climate agenda will be transversal through all the ministries, instead of sectorial. This means that agriculture, transport, health, all sectors of the public administration will have to act in agreement with the Environment Ministry. 

One of the characteristics of the climate crisis is that the median temperature of the planet will rise, and this means that the most vulnerable people will suffer. Temperatures in urban agglomerations are already about 2ºC higher than in neighbourhoods with more trees and parks. So we start this year with new possibilities for the future, new articulations and more dialogue. But we also start the year facing a very complex challenge: the climate crisis. We know that this crisis will affect everybody, but there is a population that is already suffering the worst impacts of it.

“One of the characteristics of the climate crisis is that the median temperature of the planet will rise, and this means that the most vulnerable people will suffer.” 

Bebel: It’s interesting that you talk about transversality, because it’s where design can come in to help. Designers are trained to have a bird’s eye-view that can help organise what the challenges are, who are the agents that can help, and coordinate the professionals in a way that all can collaborate to find the best solutions.

Amanda speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2021, and the UN Youth Council in 2022.

Transversality is a beautiful word that speaks about collaboration, about how each field can help solve this huge crisis. In this context, what are your top priorities for the Institute Perifa Sustentável for the next semester?

Amanda: We’re still planning our year, but I can already list three new projects that we’ll be working on. One of them is a prize for climate justice and racial equality, that we’ll apply in public schools of Brasilândia, São Paulo. It’s meant to encourage the creation of groups and collectives to find solutions for the climate challenges of their neighbourhoods. It has everything to do with What Design Can Do’s challenges, because they’ll have to prototype ideas to improve how they are living and what they are facing in their realities. 

Another project is a platform for educommunication. We’re planning to create a space for people to speak about themes that we are seeing so constantly in our climate bubble, to communicate and teach this to more people, in order to amplify them for a broader audience. We’ll unite communication and technology to deliver more effective information about sustainability, racism, climate change, etc. 

And three: we prototyped a collaborative mapping last year and will expand it now. We invited community leaders, youth and domestic workers in Brasilândia to understand what are the biggest urgencies in our community. With this, we will build a database to demand the creation of public policies to tackle them. 

When I speak to decision-makers, this is one of their most common complaints: “It’s hard to develop public policies because there is no data.” There wasn’t, but now we are gathering our folks to collect it! If people want to know more, I invite them to check our social media: Instagram, Youtube, Linkedin, Tiktok.

Amanda during the School Strike for Climate in São Paulo in 2022. Photo by Victor Bravo (Greenpeace Brasil).

Bebel: Here we are speaking directly to the creative community, and I’d like to ask you to talk about how the periphery can help these professionals develop systems, products, services and spaces aligned with the necessities of the people from the underlooked portions of the society. 

What Design Can Do is currently focused on finding the best ideas in circular design in the Make It Circular Challenge, in order to help them develop to the next stage. There are 5 categories: including packaging, clothing and building. Can you think of experiences from your community that might be inspiring for designers interested in making our futures more circular?

Amanda: Well… Speaking of packaging, there is the pamonha. Pamonha is a Brazilian kind of green corn paste with salt and sugar cooked in a tight package made of the corn husk itself. When we think about sustainability, I believe that a great part of the solution is to go back to the way we used to make things in the old days. 

Like carbonated sodas, for example. When they were first invented, they came in reusable sturdy glass bottles that we would return to the markets to be washed and refilled. I believe that to think creatively about innovation is to go back to simplicity. To look into our ancestrality. 

There is an African symbol about this, which is called the Sankofa. It depicts a bird whose head is looking back, and there is an egg on top of its hind. The egg symbolises the world. The Sankofa reminds us that we will only be able to build a future if we look into the past and when we work in our community in the present. Thinking in creative and collaborative ways has everything to do with the Sankofa. If we want to build something sustainable, we need to learn from the past and to be in community. Ubuntu, “I am because we are,” I am with my peers. 

“I believe that to think creatively about innovation is to go back to simplicity.
To look into our ancestrality.” 

Communities in favelas and the outskirts of cities, in my view, are very much symbolised by the Sankofa, because we have such a strong sense of community, which is so potent, so special… We can’t romanticise it, of course, because there are many challenges and difficulties that we face. Especially because there’s a lack of public policies. But we also have many teachings that, when we stop to observe them, show that there’s a lot of wealth there too.

Bebel: Thank you so much Amanda for taking the time to talk with us! Do you have any final words?

Amanda: Thank you for inviting me. I’d like to remind everyone that we are part of the transformation. We are part of the change. This means we can stop externalising blame, and put ourselves forward as agents of transformation.

Presented by the Make it Circular Challenge, this article is part of a limited series exploring different perspectives on circularity from around the world. Read more on this topic here.


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