Trojan Horse: Re-framing sustainable practices as “design support” to attract new practitioners

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Sustainability is a trending subject, but many practices and discussions tend to stay within dedicated communities instead of reaching out to the majority. The research focus of this thesis is to explore whether re-framing practices like up-cycling as “making” or “designing” can attract new practitioners. Furthermore, the thesis explores whether hosting these practices at a bar terrace can support reaching out to the mainstream. Underlying these questions is the assumption that gaining confidence in “making” objects yourself can be a valuable asset for developing a more sustainable lifestyle. The first part of the theoretical framework takes into account studies on how an increased eudaimonic well being - i.e. confidence, openness, and autonomy - may relate to a decrease in consumption patterns. Completing the framework, communities of practice (CoP) as a way to facilitate learning experiences, are studied. Next, CoPs working on “design interventions” and “social support” were examined via a desk survey and another survey with 6 selected cases. Here, a hybrid area called “design support” was proposed. Consequently, building the practical part of this research, 6 events named “Afterwork Maker Sessions” took place at the terrace of a bar in Teurastamo, the former meat packing district of Helsinki. Each time, manuals, tools and leftover material were provided for the “making” topic of the day. Over the course of 10 weeks it was examined which audiences participated and how often they joined. Furthermore, it was studied whether their image of sustainability changed. The analysis was based on the results of a questionnaire, which 32 out of the total 40 participants had filled in. This, together with qualitative data helped to develop the case study further. The sessions did manage to attract a variety of audiences, which did not feel dedicated to a sustainable lifestyle previously. Furthermore, passers-by got interested and the ones who joined, overcame their initial insecurity regarding their ability to “make”. However, this only happened after more co-facilitators had joined the team. They were focusing either on talking to the passersby or on making individual designs of their own, thus creating a seemingly contagious, proactive atmosphere. While people did see a connection between sustainability and confidence in making, the workshops did not profoundly change their image of sustainability. Finally, the participants rarely joined the next workshops, although they had left the sessions happily and were determined to come again. Based on these findings, it can be concluded, that re-framing and increasing the visibility of sustainable practices can indeed attract new practitioners. Furthermore, the chosen setting seemed to ease the move from sparking an interest to actual participation. However, both literature and action research indicate that the major task for attracting new practitioners to sustainable practices will be finding suitable long-term commitment strategies. Finally, to fully explore the potential of such workshops, a permanent location would be necessary, bringing along difficult questions regarding the sustainable business model of such a place and the acquisition of materials on a larger scale.
Jalas, Mikko
Thesis advisor
Luke, Alastair
design activism, design support, re-framing sustainable practices, eudaimonic well being, facilitating learning experiences, community of practice, attracting new practitioners
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