Environmental Conservation and Social Design
“We are all in this together. We are one planet, we are one people.”
23rd October 2017 - Design for Need, Social Design, Environmental Conservation
By Finn Brownbill and Matt McClumpha
With a scroll and click you have made it to the end of Design for Need’s Social Design trinity series, finishing on this very ‘Environmental Conservation’ article. If you haven’t already checked out our other two areas of expertise, you can do so here: ‘WASH’ and ‘Agriculture’. They are worth it, I promise. When Design for Need was originally taking shape our attention was quickly drawn towards ‘WASH’ and ‘Agriculture’, because as established fields of International Development they both compile a vast array of problems which we believe, to this day, social design can fix. Environmental Conservation is somewhat different, at least it is in regard to Social Design. In fact the umbrella term of Environmental Conservation can be incorporated into many different fields of Social Design, including WASH and Agriculture, but also transportation, energy, housing and much more. We consider it to be a crucial and obligatory bond to every social design that is to be made, by ourselves and by others. Our personal definition of Environmental Conservation is this: “The preservation and protection of the natural world we know and love (including humans, wildlife and the environment), thereby ensuring that all work undertaken does not compromise the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs, creating sustainable future for all, at the expense of no one!”. Not quite a ‘Oxford Dictionary’ standard definition, but we like it.
When it comes to pre-existing designs that are rampaging pollutants, incorporate the use of harmful chemicals, damaging local ecosystems or generally consist primarily of non-renewable resources, we are not too happy to say the least. In our opinion Environmental Conservation is an ethos which simply despises the eco-UNfriendly status quo which has made itself at home in many designs, services and practices all over the world. Ignorance, due to a lack of education has caused significant damage on the environment over our history. Most notably since the polluting catalyst that was the industrial revolution, which chose efficiency and progression over protection for all the years that followed. However, even though we now have the knowledge, many chose to turn a blind eye, instead focusing on the existing infrastructure which is solving our short term problems and the expense of generations to come.
According to the World Health Organisation “more than three million children under five die each year from environment-related causes and conditions”. When shocking stats like this arise, how could anyone dare ignore the threat the environment is under right now. Don’t even get me started on climate change deniers. But what is important to remember is, when it comes to Environmental Conservation, we are all in this together. We are one planet, we are one people. We owe it to ourselves and the next generation even moreso. Whether it’s environmental laws implemented by governing bodies, large factories choosing where to dispose of their waste, or a small agricultural town using out of date oil powered machinery, you can inadvertently hurt your neighbour by ignoring Environmental Conservation. Just because it’s not happening right in front of you, it doesn’t mean it’s not having an effect on those suffering elsewhere.
Our decision to create our social designs to fit an Environmental Conservation model was an organic one (excuse the pun). Sustainability is very close to our heart, so when it comes to a healthy sustainable future, Environmental Conservation is the face of it all. We see this contemporary field of design as a challenging, yet extremely exciting one. Additionally, we pride ourselves on our holistic nature. Therefore when you are working with a community to solve a their problem, it is important to think about their future and not just create a quick fix. We also want to inspire others to think the same way and create a positivity surrounding the field. For example, some people are opposed to Environmental Conservation due to a massive misconception that when designing the future you can either think of cheap environmentally UNfriendly methods, or a costly, complicated ‘green’ solution. This is incorrect, economically viable solutions and prosperity can be entirely be down to Environmental Conservation. For example, in a study by Oceana, if EU fisheries take into account environmental consequences of overfishing thus recovering and managing these fisheries, 92,000 additional jobs could be created in the sector.
Another example of how a ‘green solution’ can be more economically viable than other environmentally un-friendly products would be in our own project ‘Pure Water’. Previously Bambui Water Authority (BAWA) was using chlorine to disinfect the water, however this chemical proved to be too costly due to transportation and limited supply. As as result BAWA stopped using chemical disinfection all together, consequently causing water borne diseases to be prevalent in the water. Not only that, but chemical disinfection requires a high level of training use, if used improperly it can cause people to become ill as well as causing catastrophic environmental effects if spilled, after all, chlorine can become a poisonous gas. This is where ‘Pure Water’ comes in, instead of using harmful chemicals to disinfect water it uses solar disinfection (SODIS) and pasteurization, meaning that it only uses the sun. This technology significantly reduces to cost of disinfection as well as providing a sustainable and way for rural communities to easily access disinfected water; a win-win.
As mentioned before, Environmental Conservation can be incorporated into many different fields, therefore it is always on our mind, making sure our designs do not have negative short or long-term effects on the environment. After all, we want future generations to have the same opportunities as we do. I still wonder what the world would be like if previous generations didn’t cause the Dodo to go extinct… I bet it would of tasted delicious. Sarcasm aside, we also need to be considerate on how implementing technologies may directly impact the lives around us. For example in Libitos, a small town in Peru, the local fishermen use a variety of traditional techniques to catch fish, however larger fishing boats and trawlers from other towns have seriously affected the local fish populations, reducing the catches of the Libitean fishermen and their ability to earn a living. As a result, life as a fisherman is tough, this is intensified by the fact the fishermen have no way to preserve or transport the fresh fish once it is landed. This means the fishermen can only sell their fish to the merchants who come with trucks and because options are limited for the fishermen, these merchants are able to buy the fish from them at a very low price and sell it on at a much higher price in other markets. This is threatening their way of life and because of unsustainable practices and inconsiderate use of technologies, this is forcing people to look for other alternatives which are hard to come by. But in cases like this, we truly believe we can design an alternative, a better alternative; a sustainable alternative.
The end... well not quite, this is simply the beginning. This Social Design series was a way to introduce you to the fields we have chosen to specialise in and how Social Design can be incorporated into them. The next step is bringing them to life to and implementing them via projects for communities in need. So stay tuned to see what Social Designs we create and what projects we get up to.
Finn and Matt
Both founders Matt and Finn occasionally join forces to write articles together, like this one. Because two heads are better than one. Enjoy!