Students leading sustainability learning + collaboration at the Royal College of Art
In September 2017, in the second year of my masters program at the Royal College of Art, I co-founded SustainLab RCA with fellow Service Design students Anna Laura Schlimm, Neta Steingart and Libby Landenberg.
Since the covert closure of the college’s SustainRCA department in 2017, our intention was to support and inspire the work of RCA students across all courses who are interested in sustainability and the ethics and responsibility of being a designer in the 21st Century. We aimed to build on the great work of Clare Brass who ran SustainRCA, saving a dedicated space at the college for sustainability thinking/doing that could be shaped by the current students.
This article by George Monbiot resonates with the motivation behind the founding of SustainLab; we considered that it could be the adopted manifesto for the RCA rebels with a cause.
What did we do?
During its first year we hosted a regular Pecha Kucha night, organised a foraging expedition in East London, curated an exhibtion (We are the people we have been waiting for), and attempted to demystify and innovate the waste and recycling at RCA.
The highlight of the year was welcoming ‘renegade’ economist Kate Raworth to share her lecture on ‘Doughnut Economics’ with her first ever audience of artists and designers, followed by a conversation with John Thackara on the role of designers in the 21st Century - the lecture is now available to watch on Youtube.
What’s happened since?
SustainLab is now in its third year and continues to evolve with each new cohort of students. With the public acknowledgement of the climate emergency this year (2019), it is becoming an increasingly important and active space at university.
In particular, it’s exciting to see our theory of change starting to play out, as the impact of fee-paying student activities in SustainLab is starting to shift the institution. In 2018, a year after SustainLab launched, the college decided to re-establish the Sustainability Working Group to look more seriously at the university’s environmental impact and responsibility, which includes representatives from SustainLab and the Student’s Union on its board. Now in 2019, SustainLab is working with the college administration and People & Planet exploring divestment from fossil fuels. I’m excited to follow the next chapters in the SustainLab story!
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