Interview with May East : "The reductions in ecological footprints are possible in ways that are easily achievable'

May East

Gaia Education and the UOC jointly launch the post graduate Design for Sustainability, the only one offered online in Spain. The programme director of the organisation May East, presents the most relevant features of the post graduate programme.


What distinguishes this graduate from others already developed along these lines?

This postgraduate course is based on the Design for Sustainability Curriculum also known worldwide as EDE, which draws from the experience and expertise of a network of some of the most successful ecovillages and community projects across the Earth. The EDE has been successfully taught in 23 countries in the most different stages of development and both urban and rural contexts. Therefore the body of knowledge of this programme springs from the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry of ecovillages acting as laboratories of sustainable living. As laboratories of sustainable living, ecovillages offer widely applicable insights for the planning and reorganisation of our organisations, institutions, neighbourhoods, cities, towns and societies.

What societal needs are to be covered?

We live in a rapidly changing world that is transforming before our very eyes. A multitude of deep and pressing concerns such a global inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, unrestrained urbanization and growth are calling for our immediate attention. All of these problems are quite real and, currently well-documented; but gaining awareness of the extent of the problems is only half the project of becoming educated these days. The other half is about practical tools, analytic abilities and philosophical depth to redesign the human presence in the world.

In this context we launch the post graduate GEDS offering an online education where a thorough and objective assessment of the state of the planet is followed by regional, organizational, community and local solutions; an education that empowers individuals and organizations with the knowledge for shaping their worlds and becoming more self-reliant; an education where investigating theory is followed by practical application.

What real-life application will have lessons learned in the course?

For instance, students will learn to apply green building in the built environment, to design a whole water system and recycling networks, to develop bioregional and local food production systems, to calculate and manage carbon footprints, to compare technical differences between renewable energy sources and to create deep connection with natural systems through personal experience.

Otherwise, we will prepare students to improve their communication skills and communicate in a more compassionate way or to use consensus to make decisions that everybody can accept, to deal with conflict and diversity… to design sustainable, resilient local economies, to bring economic life into alignment with ecological values, to understand the dominant pattern and activate leverage points for change within today’s globalised economy and much more!

As you can see the programme is multifaceted and extremely relevant as it addresses in a systemic way the quest for sustainability of our times.

The postgraduate students will prepare a final draft. Can they see it exposed?

As an essential part of their training, students will work together to design a real life case study. The objective of the case study- final project- is to practice the application of GEDS principles and develop design skills. It also facilitates the grounding and expression of course material. The case study serves as an integrative exercise where participants explore the relationships between personal, social, ecological and economic sustainability. As an incentive for their work, an award for spending a whole week in a state-of-the-art ecovillage will be given to the best case study.

Will students learn firsthand the operation of the ecovillage?

Today ecovillage-led initiatives are developing concrete models that have been proven to work and that hold an important key in our transition towards more sustainable societies. For instance, the Findhorn Ecovillage in the Northeast of Scotland where I have lived for the last 19 years has half of the ecological footprint of Britain. Students will be guided by some ecovillage based tutors and will be exposed to community case studies, which give us the growing evidence that substantial reductions in footprints are possible in ways that are easily achievable, and that will improve our quality of life.

Some people believe that ecodesign is entirely involved in the recycling of materials, but it is much more. What is design for sustainability?

Ecodesign is indeed about the integration of the systems by which we provision ourselves with food, energy, water, materials and livelihood, and by which we handle our wastes. But design for sustainability is also about distributing wealth fairly within and between generations. It is about new social agreements and ways to decide. It is about the relation between inner values and outer institutions. The post graduate Design for Sustainability programme will offer a ‘holistic’ approach to ecodesign – meaning that it will present the many-faceted social, economic, ecological and worldview spectrum of sustainability design considerations as a comprehensive and interdependent whole.

Are the younger generations the most receptive to innovation and creativity for sustainability?

We see today innovation, creativity and transformation happening with the strength of spring floods in the world. Worldwide we see both young and adult learners awakening to the sustainability concept and wanting to acquire practical tools and the conceptual framework to advance the agenda in their particular contexts while reversing the current trends of an unsustainable world. I see students of all ages doing what Buckminster Fuller once said "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

The worldwide trend is committed to building with cleaner and less polluting processes, but these are usually more expensive. Is this an impediment in implementing sustainable design?

Current economic structures and incentives make it generally less profitable to produce on a small scale for local needs using local raw materials – exactly the kind of production systems required if we are to live within the Earth’s carrying capacity. Until those structures and incentives begin to change, our behaviour needs to be strongly informed by values-based choices. From a short-term perspective today it is more expensive to build ecologically. However, if we look at sustainability from a strategic and long-term perspective the hidden ecological costs to build a house with materials that are brought from another region of the planet are much higher. Design for Sustainability does not stop just because budgets are getting tight. In fact the opposite: it is embedded in long-term strategic planning, and now more than ever in these transformational times we live in.

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