Archive for the 'sustainability' Category

Continuity in disruptive times

October 27, 2012

After some time of silence at this blog, I am back with the first in a series of posts I am planning to write this month. So far 2012 has brought many challenging, changing and exciting moments for me and I want to share with you the highlights of my stories via this platform. I could blame my silence on multiple difficulties I encountered to write blogs on an iPad whilst on the move. But lets be honest and admit that in times the flow of life counts may interruptions, its easier to jump into the action than to document the story.

The previous post was written whilst preparing the challenge to cycle from Land’s End to John o’Groats. The tour took about 30 days and as you probably can see from the pictures, I’ve got a few stories to tell about what happened in between. I’ll keep this for the next post.

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Lands’s End 13th April 2012

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John o’Groats 23rd May 2012

In my previous post I also mentioned briefly that I took a course at Schumacher College. For over 20 years the college has been a place for transformative courses on sustainability. Back in 2008 I took a course in designing for sustainability which at that time gave me a leap in my professional development. The course I followed this time was titled “Cultivating an Ecoliterate Worldview: Person, Place and Practice”. The two week-residential was an experience that changed my values and reconnected me with the ecosystems we are part of. The course is still ongoing via a global study circle. Although I see the whole experience more as personal development, I might write a post about “design and innovation versus emergence and transition for sustainability”.

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Dr Stephan Harding explaining 1 meter will represent 1 million years

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During the 4.5km walk references are made to the 4.5 billion years geological and biological evolution of the earth

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Last 20 centimetres introduces the human species on earth, last 2 millimetres the industrial revolution

Other personal development experiences since my last post included a ten-day Vipassana meditation course and volunteering on a later course. Vipassana is a meditation technique where, by experiencing the impermanence, you learn to eradicate yourself form misery by controlling deep behavioural patterns of craving and aversion. I would recommend everyone to try a course! An unexpected outcome of a course that only caters vegan meals is that I have overcome my phobia about eating fish.

In July I went to Italy to attend a summer school in designing the semi public space. Izmo associations, the organiser of the summer school, are a dynamic bunch of people somewhere between architects, researchers, design activist and just very nice Italians. I was particularly interested to attend because of the participatory design workshop and the realisation of community based design interventions. As you can see from the pictures there is a lot to tell about this experience, too much for this blogpost.

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Participatory design workshop

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design team and installation

After the summer school I began actively seeking work, i.e. job-hunting. In hunting terms I can say the climate is changing and this season isn’t going to bring an easy catch, a good time to master some survival skills! How I approach my hunt will be for a next post. What I can tell you for now is that I want to make sustainability happen via design and for this I am looking into three possible types of meaningful work:

  • eradicate poverty by designing products, services or systems in third world countries
  • supporting meaningful and good design by providing qualitative research services to any type of ‘sustainable designers’
  • creating systems change by bringing design-led approaches to policy development/delivery

Another challenge was, and still is, the ambiguity of me being an expatriate versus native. I haven’t relocated yet and have been hopping between the UK and Belgium finding a space to work anywhere with wifi or 3G. It’s an organisational and legal challenge and sometimes creates interpersonal difficulties. I can now say I have an temporary operating base in my hometown, Poperinge, Belgium. This situation not only taught me to travel light, but also to live light. It has also been a time of (re)connecting with friends, family and masters two languages simultaneously.

So the last half year brought adventure, professional development, personal mastering, hunting experience and a nomadic lifestyle. I am keen to use this blog to go into more detail on a few aspects of this transitional period, starting with a long post on the big cycle tour. Leave a reply below if you are interested in a particular story. You can also follow me on twitter for instant updates.

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Cycling the UK

April 8, 2012

At the end of last year, I made a decision to leave my job at the Ecodesign Centre in Cardiff and to look out for other adventures. When I made the decision, I came to the realisation I have been living on the island for about half of my adult life. I am not sure yet where my next adventure will bring me, elsewhere in the UK or maybe somewhere totally else on this continent or planet. In any case, I would like to see, explore, experience and get to know the good sides of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). And as a keen cyclist wanting to get closer connected to the real world, I made a plan to cycle the four regions of the UK.

The big tour will go from Land’s End to John o’ Groats via Ireland. Gordon will be my companion along the way and we aim to start on Wednesday morning. I have commitments in Belgium on the 27th of May so that sets the deadline for the challenge.

My weapons of choice are a decent bicycle with trailer, decent camping gear and an iPad. I am not sure yet if the last one will bring me closer to the real world. At least it will help me to navigate and keep you updated on this blog.

I left Cardiff behind me two weeks ago for a warming up tour to Schumacher College in Devon. I left too late to get on time for my course at the college, so I cheated a little by taking the train from Bristol to Exeter. The main learning, from that was I that had too much stuff with me

It will be a cycle tour, not a race so there will be time along the way to reflect, explore, enjoy and to build on a plan for the next adventure after this challenge.

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Last night in Wales

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Crossing the bridge between Wales and England

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Taking a bridleway as alternative for missing cyclepath leading to crossing river near Newton Abbot.

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Spectators whilst cooking lunch in Devon.

British Values

August 12, 2011

A week ago I was chatting with my good friend Jon who used to live in London, but moved back to the New York. We were talking about the different types of stress we noticed on both sides of the pond since we last saw each other. This is a little extract from our conversation:

me: here it’s not about ego

its about liability

Jonathan: ?

22:16 me: there is a lot of stress because the system is going to get stuck soon

22:17 and everyone tries to be according to the system so they can’t be blamed if something will go wrong

Jonathan: how will it get stuck?

22:18 me: the UK is still a mediaeval country

Jonathan: like with knights and horses?

me: the rules just emerged

like everyone made them up gradually

22:19 not like the French, they had Napoleon to clean it all up

and the German had their dark side of history where they thought they could all clean it up

UK never had a revolution

except the industrial one

22:20 so the rules of the country are still mediaeval

Jonathan: hm

me: but that is also good, because it allows people to stay creative


22:29 Jonathan: you’ll have to tell me more about this systemic UK thing later

i gotta go to a beisbol game

Well now we are one week further, we still have food and games but the world has made a significant change again for the forth time or so this year.

Despite I can get very annoyed with the UK (especially when liability takes over common sense), I also like this nation because it gives space and freedom to innovation. I use the following slides sometimes in work-presentations to explain innovation and to illustrate the good and bad sides of innovation.

This brings me to the following scene from Network 1976 and the London basmati looter 2011 (see below).

I haven’t seen the whole movie and I don’t know the context of this looting so my apology if I jump into conclusions here.

People got mad in England the last week and what they are saying is “I am a human being goddamit, my life got value”. Unfortunately innovations in this country have reduced or skewed the understanding of value towards the concept of Tesco Value. Tesco provides value because it’s cheap, but the downfalls are that its not of high quality, you always get more than you need, it creates a lot of waste and it destroys communities. The Brits (with the English on top) love this concept.

The problem in the current British society is that they put young people in a Tesco-value box without looking to the real value inside. We are creating an enormous mess behind us, we are facing an aging population, credit crunches and massive environmental problems. And now we are treating our young people as cheap forces. The question on how to deal with the problems we created will be their problem to solve.

The reason behind my argument about cheap forces is that one of the main innovations in the UK, the 24/7 consumption society, is based on favouring big companies who are not in need of skilful people. Traditional entrepreneurship, by small business where people build up skills, are doomed to fail in this model.

This basmati looter is as mad as hell and he can’t take it any more! In my economic view, what he is saying here is that he can get more value out of a bag of low quality rice than what he would gain from his time within a free society. In my sociological view, what he is saying is that he doesn’t respect Tesco value and he rather go to prison (by being recognisable on the picture) than to put his time in creating value in this society turning around cheapness.

Now Mr. Cameron wants to put some young people in the box of “Parts of our society are not broken but sick” I am not totally clear on how he sees the difference between broken and sick, but I think Mr. Cameron should look further than a few parts of the society.

I would put the looters in the box of skilled people with high potentials for the future society. They have the skills to create social change, be entrepreneurial with a very limited amount of resources (just a mobile phone) and being able to influence communities.

And I would like to finish this post with some good old British humour. What we need is nurturing our kids, not giving the little boy a little scare Mr Cameron.

Apparently I am a post positivist

January 11, 2011

Yesterday, @sharprendeville from the Ecodesign Centre organised an internal meeting on research methods. We had an philosophical discussion on different approaches to science. Apparently I am a post positivist. This is my view on science:

Traditional science tried to explain what makes something common, modern science tries to explain what makes things or us diverse. I think there are huge opportunities for a new field of science by trying to explain what or evolution is. In this, I mean not evolution in terms of biology, but what is the evolution of society? How do we change our ways of thinking? How do we change or artefacts? How do the societal structures change? How do individuals change their behaviour and how does that influence societal change? How does technology influence society and vice versa? How do demographics change and what challenges and opportunities flow from this? How do different cultures understand change? I think I made a point, change is more than “climate change” and “change, yes we can”.

Why is the human brain so big?

January 9, 2011

Why is the human brain so big? Biologists are struggling with this question for ages. Darwin’s theory shows evolution happens gradually. However, a sudden disruption in the brain size appeared about 200.000 years ago. Recently a new theory emerged: A mutation of the brain could have doubled the brain size. This could be the explanation why everyone’s genes are pointing to one ‘earth mother’.

I see design as a process that enables humans and other animals to change their behaviour without having to change their genes. Without design we need to become new species (and evolve) to do new things.
I think the current “genes” of the man made systems are facing a giant mutation. We are facing global warming, a massive decline in biodiversity, massive changes in demographics, digitalisation of the way we think,…

But is this mutation a threat, or does it provide opportunities for humankind to make a giant leap towards something beautiful? Please don’t understand me wrong, I want to point out that the mutation itself is not beautiful, but the reaction could be.

What if the earth was is the middle of its life, are we humans at the top of our capabilities?

YES, we do live in times of prosperity, but NO, this does not mean everything is perfect, far from I would rather say! Why is it so difficult to make plans two years ahead? What if we want to design the society in 10.000 years? How would this look like? Impossible you would say? Look at the start of agriculture. Even though these first farmers were just experimenting, their results defined how our ancestors, we and our children live.

Indeed, this is an impossible question, but what I want to point out is that we need to redistribute our capabilities and be more flexible to change even if the change does not seem to be beneficial at first sight. What is our non-biological evolution? Or do you think evolution does not exist?


Building Views on Sustainable Development in Innovation and Design Education

October 2, 2010

Last week I presented and facilitated a short discussion on a paper I wrote for a RCUK funded summer school at Harbin Engineering University in China. It would be great to keep the discussion going. Here is the paper. Leave a comment bellow or email me!

China visit (part 1)

September 21, 2010

Hi everybody,

This post comes straight from Harbin in China! You probably never heard about this city, however, some facts are impressive! With almost 10 million people it’s bigger than any European city. Taking a taxi at night brings you straight into a Chinese version of Las Vegas. It’s covered with skyscrapers and a kind of Eiffel tower, which is taller than the original one. There is no tube nor is there proper traffic control, here the car with the loudest horn is road lord!

Harbin skyline

Situated in northeast China, at the edge of Siberia, the temperature ranges from +40C in summer to -40C in winter. Visited Beijing last week, I could say China has already an incredible public infrastructure. However, the extreme conditions in Harbin create massive challenges for establishing and maintaining these infrastructures. You can see the imperfectness of the city everywhere, but I think this is a small price to pay and to be fair, I don’t see any western country establishing a mega city as this in similar conditions.

Beijing infrastructure ready to take more cars

Harbin Engineering University central heating system

The only problems I face here with fulfilling my needs are; publicly available toilet paper, having access to drinking water (no fizzy drinks) at the right moments and having decent internet access. The first two are easy to overcome by good forward planning. I could say internet access is a fundamental need for me. I am here for a summer school in sustainable design and the internet facilitates me in providing understanding and creation of own knowledge. Besides the great Chinese firewall, which blocks or seriously slows down all social networking sites, I experience resistance for a visitor to accessing the internet where it is available. Despite there is internet in my room and wireless on campus, the only place I can access internet is in the coffee bar. Luckily, Google translate is widely implemented and utilised.

green milk coffee

the joys of goolge translate (thanks to Hugh McCann for pictures)

Conference poster

June 4, 2010

A poster explaining a research I did during my masters in Cranfield University was displayed at the University of Limerick (Ireland) last week. The poster showcase was part of the conference Regen 2010 with theme “Education as a Catalyst for Regeneration”. You can find a Copy of the poster below (click on it to enlarge).

If sustainability is your religion, what would you pray for?

April 28, 2010

First of all, sustainability is not a religion because it doesn’t focus on a past life of an individual, but on the future of all people to draw norms and values upon. But in both cases there are believers and non-believers. But what if sustainability would be your religion, how would it “dictate” to live your life?

  • Do you want everyone to pursue strict rules to avoid catastrophe and pray every night the end of days wouldn’t come soon?
  • Do you just want to wait for the prophet to come in the form of a magic technology, whilst keeping business as usual?
  • Do you want to fight against everyone who doesn’t totally follow your ideals?
  • Do you want to isolate yourself from the global society and go and live within an ancient tribe?
  • Do you want do live a good life so a next life can be lived better?

I don’t want to “pray for sustainability” because than you’re approaching life very passively. Buckminster Fuller once said “Faith is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking.” But if we have to put sustainability in a religious kind of context, I would like to preach, preach there are opportunities that everyone can live a good life as long as we actively reincarnate our stuff and good moods, over and over again.