This week in Sustainable Practices we learned where unsustainability came from by looking at before and after the Industrial Revolutions and how they helped shape the way we work and consume things today. We also learned about the aim to take things from a linear economy to one that is more of a circle and reduces consumption and waste.
We first discussed what sustainability meant. Sustainability can mean things to do with:
- reducing waste
- ethical sourcing
However it can mean a lot more than just those things and so we learned that sustainability is a huge subject that has many branches and ideas.
Then we learned about how we arrived at the problems we are currently facing. Although there is a lot of debate facing this issue, some people argue it started during the first and second industrial revolutions where things started to be mass produced to meet the needs of all people. This was the starting point for our consumer national identity and arrived at a linear economy.
The linear economy is this model where we take resources from the world e.g. oil, makes a product and then often that product is thrown away.
One of the main goals of sustainability is to make this linear economical model into a closed or looped one where products have a much longer lifespan.
It is projected that in order to sustain everyone in the world at the current level of consumption by people in the UK, we would need four planets worth of resources which is a bit worrying and in some ways causes a few ethical issues.
Trying to lower consumption is meet with opposition from manufacturers and retailers because they feel they would lose out on profit.
However, as someone who is interested in objects, there is a lot that can be done. 80% of the environmental impact of a product can be stopped at the design stage.
This is where we had a little bit of a history lesson and learned about industrialisation though the ages.
First there was pre-industrialisation
- subsistence based economy
- local scale production
- no intensive production
- harmonious with nature
Then there was The Enlightenment which was an intellectual movement in the late 17th and 18th centuries in which people started finding things out for themselves.
There was also Proto-industrialisation in which the 1689 Bill of Rights was written and in 1694 the Bank of England was established. Around this time new trade routes started to emerge and colonisation started.
During Early Industrialisation a man called Jethro Tull created a machine to more efficiently sew seeds.
Adam Smith established the Laws of Self Interest and Competition which are considered the founding principles of the market economy and capitalism.
- The Law of Self Interest: Profit should be the first priority, the product comes second.
- The Law of Competition: This acted as a self regulation so that standards of products remained high whilst prices low.
After this was the First Industrial Revolution which saw the move from handmade goods to mass production. The major energy source for this was coal. There were people around this time that were concerned about the environment, however there was no understanding that the environment was all connected in one big bubble rather than lots of little ones.
Then came the Second Industrial Revolution where mass production started to create products for consumers, not just capital goods. This introduced the idea that more consumption led to cheaper goods which made people more profit.
And that’s roughly how we got to where we are now.
The question to answer this week was how is an understanding of the birth of the industrial and economic paradigms important to my practice?
My studio practice at the moment is all concerning things to do with pollution which is something that was mostly kickstarted by the First Industrial Revolution. I think by learning this I am better equipped to try and solve the problems that are being caused by it and how contemporary society has arrived this expectation of ‘instant consumption’.
To me learning about this stuff makes me think that we almost want to try and deindustrialise things or try to take things to a lower scale and to do that, we need to curb consumption. This relates to my practice because as someone who is interested in objects, I realised that I can choose wether to make people want to consume or not. By that I mean I can create something that I know that people will tire of in a year and then create something new for people to do the same or I can make something that people will keep for longer.