15 Mar What Has COVID-19 Taught Us About Sustainability and Ourselves? [Updated]
Ok, so it’s been more than a year since I wrote the article Why Should We Design for Sustainability?, which had received “beyond expectations” appraisal from readers on LinkedIn, Medium and various industrial design groups, some even saying: “the most comprehensive, insightful and structured article on sustainability.”.
Having, recently, experienced a strong epiphany that I need to start writing more, as well as having a couple of carajillos (a hot coffee drink with a bit of liquor), I began writing this post with a bit of a happy face. This time focusing on recent events and dilemmas: the pandemic, people and sustainability.
Past, Present, Future?
Hearing so much about the pandemic, and still noticing that many people are not accepting the changes the world is going through and also hearing other people speak out about sustainability and the state of our society and planet, has led me to begin writing about what we can learn from the latest shitstorm, that we call COVID-19, from a sustainability and introspective point of view.
Why would I want to do that? Because I feel it hasn’t all been said yet.
I have heard in January people saying, you need to focus on the future, forward, don’t look back, go, go, go…blah, blah, blah. Ok, first of all, if your head is just in the future, you forget about the present, and you likely don’t learn from the past and history.
I think this can be easily expressed with the words of Master Oogway (fictional character known for his wisdom):
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called “the present”.
Easier said than done, right? But, it’s ultimately what our society should be thriving towards. It’s actually the mistake of neglecting one part of the equation that we have had to come up with a concept like “sustainability”. We created this monster simply from our ambitions and “looking-forward mentality”. If we were truly in touch with all parts of us, I mean truly integrated with everything, comprehending the past, future and present, respecting each equally, would we still be in these pickle right now?
You may ask why and what I am trying to say here…
Well, it’s very, very important to understand history as much as possible, to be able to understand our fundamental human characteristics, instincts, values and also to learn from the past and what hasn’t worked. I’m not just talking about personal fuck-ups we did a year ago, I’m talking about generational and evolutionary ones. I’m saying looking at thousand years ago how people lived and what made them tick, thrive and live a fulfilling life. Also, things they didn’t do so well and see whether there is something to be learnt or rediscovered within us in the 21st century.
Go beyond, go to the times when the wolf became domesticated by a human (watch the movie Alpha) and changed the way we connect with animals.
Of course, once you start doing that, you might notice that certain things repeat throughout history, but wear a different coat. Like war, hunter gatherer mentality or being “eaten by a tiger” fear.
Anyway, all of this, analysing what has happened, what is happening, who we are, why we do what we do, will help us understand what we need to in the future and then execute it step by step in the present and of course, enjoy the ride while doing so.
But now, let’s get deeper into the problem.
Return to the Fundamentals
No other event in our millennia has shown us our human fundamentals more than the recent pandemic. It has shown us how we are obsessed with making man-made things from man-made materials, squeezing the shit of our natural resources etc.
We are so focused on us humans as being the centre of the universe that we sometimes think that what we do with nature has no consequences and as a result we do things that aren’t good for the environment. I’m not saying everybody is doing that, there are actually a lot of people making a real change in the world, but it may not be sufficient. We all need to follow the change or be the one who drives the change. It’s entirely your choice.
I also don’t think the viruses appearing in the past decades like Covid-19, SARS, Swine-Flu etc. are a product of human manipulation and obsession with control, I think it’s just nature kicking back. And even if there was a person or a group behind it—and there have been plenty conspiracy theories out there—then that’s nature shitting out karma at us, saying eat this with a big giant spoon my friend because I created all of you. It’s known that when you start doing something against your very own nature as a human, it has unfriendly consequences. Everybody knows that right? We have all experienced this. You go against nature, go against your innate values, it will kick back with an equal force. Newton’s third law of motion.
Right now, you may be asking, hey man, but how exactly is this giving me any knowledge about sustainability or myself? Believe me, I’m making a very important point here. Wait with me and keep reading.
Now that you understand, that becoming more aware of the environment from a social, economical and ecological perspective, you can move on to doing something about it. And it starts by understanding ourselves first, our human nature, in order to return to the fundamentals, rediscover and reignite them, and actually do something good for this planet and society.
But how? Knowing what I just said is not enough, we are not dissecting the guts of the problem. In order to change something, we need to understand the core, the pure composition of an element. That’s how you change the world, the system and whatever else that needs a revolutionary makeover or innovation.
How? Well, keep on reading…
Rediscover, Relearn, Reinvent.
The solution to these problems is not that simple to execute, because it’s not enough to just buy less useless stuff, think what you buy, stop using so much toilet paper, etc.
What we first need to do is to understand, truly comprehend our human nature, understand ourselves, introspect on a daily basis, question everything about ourselves like:
- What does it mean to be human?
- What is fear and how does it help me or stop me from doing stuff?
- Why is it or is it not better to live in a community than in complete solitude?
- Why have we come up with the word sustainability in the first place?
- What is the purpose of the human race?
Once you get the different answers to these questions, keep going, keep asking why. Let me give you an example what exercise you should be practicing regularly whenever you are faced with a question:
Question: Why is it better to live in a community than in solitude?
Answer: Because we are social beings. (Now, you don’t stop here and you keep going and keep asking why).
Follow-up Question: Why are we social beings?
Answer: We need love and interaction.
Q: But why?
A: Because it’s better to live together and share feelings, thoughts and ideas.
Q: Yes, but for what?
A: Because only together, we can change this world, and only together we can overcome obstacles and because together we become stronger.
Q: Why do we need to change this world?
A: Because if we don’t, we will eventually destroy this planet, maybe not right away, but make a lot more problems for future generations. We need to think generations ahead. The battle we are fighting needs to be worked on for generations to come, just like the Mayans, Aztecs or Egyptians build pyramids over centuries, that’s generations dedicated to one cause. Each generation did a little, but they were unified.
Q: For what would we actually want to do this at all?
A: Well, to keep the human race alive and thriving.
Q: And why would you want to do that? Hey, I have one life, I’m gonna live it on my own terms.
A: Because it’s your duty.
So you see, it might take a while to get to the core answer, to the core of every question. But if you do that, you will get there every time. You might struggle and the brain might resist and go for the quickest answer, you might have to expand your knowledge, a lot, you might have to do tons of other things that will open your mind to your own brilliance, but you will get there as it is in your human DNA. This is your core value and anybody can achieve this. It’s just a matter of, will you or will you just sit back and do nothing?
Ok, now we know we need to start moving and that we need to evolve and innovate ourselves in order to innovate everything else. Listen to when I say this:
“You cannot innovate a product, a system or a method without innovating yourself first.”
But remember an old phrase, it’s a journey. It’s a life-long journey.
Once we have started working on the inner world, we can start looking at what we can do in the physical world, in the material world, in the business world, whatever. It’s important we approach everything from a holistic point of view.
We can then start approaching the specific physical world solutions with a lot more consciousness and perseverance.
Buying Less Useless Stuff
An obvious one on the list is buying less useless things. Yes, I mean come on. There are “millions” of variations of the same product nowadays, or we are solving problems that don’t need to be solved, or are solving them in the wrong way as we are not looking at the core problem (that leads back to the previous chapter).
Just have a look at a product like soap which is usually accompanied by a plastic container. Fucking hell, don’t make soap boxes more sustainable, just use classic soap. Try to question these things. You can start right here and right now. Next time you go to the supermarket, question whether what you are buying is useless or useful, or whether there is a better alternative.
A perfect example is bottled water, especially in countries and cities where water tastes like piss and contains not so “good for health” ingredients. Just buy a fucking water filter that you connect to a kitchen faucet and you will make a huge amount of difference. Yes, usually these filters are still made of shitty plastic, BUT you buy it once, and have it for years. It’s actually an extreme plastic saving solution. And to have water available when you go for your weekend hike, get yourself one of those Chilly bottles or whatnot, and you are all set. That’s what I mean by buying the useful instead of the useless, but still maintaining functional as a human being.
I mean, yes, it would be nice if we could erase nature-harming systems and materials from one day to the other, however, we can’t do such super drastic changes, otherwise the system would collapse. We have seen a glimpse of what happens when extreme things and changes occur during the lockdowns. We need to slowly and systematically, with a bit of an impulse, make changes to the system and on towards a better sustainable future. Eventually, problems of today will no longer be an issue in the future.
Thinking what you buy
This has become a big one during the pandemic. People losing jobs, businesses closing, people struggling financially, made them question what they are going to buy next with that money they are now receiving. It’s right and then, when people started questioning whether they should buy 3 loafs of bread to have one in reserve, i.e. to throw away later, to just buying one, and when there is none, they buy another. It’s the mindset of buying what you deem necessary and being efficient. It helps everything else.
Going a Step Further and Deep into the Self
The next step is not about designing products for sustainability, but actually looking what products you can live without, and erase them completely from planet earth and your life. It’s about changing yourself. Do you really need a car? If yes, what type? How much luxury do you really need? We have become hungry for material, things, jets, cars, satisfying the materialistic part of ourselves.
The next steps comes in eliminating these things, remove the unnecessary. The pandemic was a sign. I actually believe, it was karma. We were ignoring these things so much, that this happened in order for us to realise all that. To start living more responsibly, question what we need, what we don’t need. We need to go centuries back to go millennials forward.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s Covid, flu, or whatever else. The truth is that we actually started being fully aware of how many people die from flu alone, and started treating it seriously. Over time, jokes were made about the flu throughout the society over the decades, treating it as normality. Let me tell you this, it’s not normal. I have heard and have always been one of the people, who said, hey look at the numbers of people dying from covid, it’s less than the flu, chill. Well, right now, I don’t think that anymore. Not because I got covid and learnt my lesson, but because I realised that we have been exploiting everything, and we are getting back what we put out there.
Covid is just another virus, stronger than flu, that is sending us a message. We should not normalise viruses, we should not normalise flu and be chilled about it, and using the excuse of the flu killing more or less the same amount of people. The way we were is the past, and we were quite ignorant, that is the fact. We were ignorant to the people of dying from flu and to nature getting sick of us exploiting it.
These times are not about Covid at all, it’s about understanding what’s the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing to do on our next journey. Covid is just forcing us to realise certain things, yes, it took a fucking world pandemic and lockdowns to make us question who we are and what we need to work on as humanity.
The change is happening, the system is changing, the world is changing, whether you fucking like it or not. In the same way, internet changed the world, covid is changing it too, and it’s here to stay. Covid is the game-changer in the coronaviruses. I would say he is nature’s innovator. Did we create it? Yes, absolutely, we did: through our prior actions. So don’t fuck with nature, we only have one.
It’s time we take matter into the right hands and start accepting, analysing and putting new systems, products and methods in place. This is the same kind of principle that needs to be applied to every aspect of our lives.
Why do you think the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 happened? We got greedy.
Why do you think Titanic sank? Because our ego got the best of us.
Why do you think global warming is happening? Because we have been letting excessive CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
Why do you think something bad happened to you after you have done something wrong, something against your nature? It could be small, like not paying your electricity bill. What happens next? You will have no light. It could also be more subtle, like being aggressive at someone for no reason, because you can’t handle your own mess. Consequently, you will get an equal amount of shit back, it might not be from the same person you projected it onto, but you will get it back, one way or another. It might also be a bite from your conscience. You know what they say:
“The first punishment for the guilty is their conscience.”
We are talking about the same thing here, it can be applied to the single mind, day to day situations, but also to whole communities and societies, because in the end if we all work together, we actually act as one, i.e. we make something bad to nature, it bites us back with an equal force. It’s the same Newton’s Third Law of Motion principle. This has been put into place by god or whatever you want to call it, to create a balance. It’s all about balance. If something is out of balance, it crashes. So we need to find balance in everything we do, this is the ultimate principle we need to employ.
I mean, this piece of information has been accessible to us since the dawn age, however, we weren’t as conscious of it as we are right now, we didn’t really know what could happen if we don’t. Or maybe we did, who fucking knows. The important point is that we need to start acting right now. Today. In this very moment.
How Can You Take Action Right Now?
What is the next right thing you can do right now? Maybe drink a bit of water, as it will help your body. Don’t and your body will respond. Buy less useless shit next time you go shopping, nature will thank you. It could be as simple as bringing your own bags from home that you have used before, rather than buying new plastic bags. You will start realising that sustainable choices also become economically and environmentally friendly.
Anyway, actions have consequences in absolutely everything we do as individuals, as communities, as a society and as a whole fucking eco system. Maybe even as a whole universe, who knows? We are not that far yet to even comprehend that, we have only just landed a rover on Mars to gather up some evidence of ancient life. Maybe, we do answer to a higher power and whether it’s us on earth, or some giant star millions light years away which has been violent to its surroundings and that’s why it gets eaten by a black hole. I’m really stretching my imagination, but seriously, who knows?
One thing is for sure, we do what we can with the resources and knowledge we have at disposal. Right now, we know we need to integrate ourselves, our minds, our communities, our society and integrate with the whole eco system and apply this philosophy to everything we do. I like to call this, the Genius Society, and it’s what we should be ultimately thriving towards. Aspire towards having and acting with genius in everything we do.
Summary, Discovery, Recovery
Bringing this back to design and sustainability, and summing up what has the pandemic taught us about sustainability and ourselves?
- That we were not accepting responsibility and healing past generational and societal wounds
- We tend to normalise and accept things that happen and live with it, instead of questioning why it happened in the first place.
- Sustainability is a concept to help us understand what to do, however, we need to first look deep in ourselves in order to be able to implement sustainability principles.
- It showed us what we are doing wrong and what we are doing right.
- It showed us the value of socialising and human interaction.
- It has shown us that we are capable of powerful changes.
I hope this article has provided you with value and new knowledge. I had poured my heart and mind into this. It may not be perfect, but it’s authentic. I believe in honesty and authenticity as well as in being yourself. As I like to say:
“Be Yourself or Be Nothing.”
This kind of attitude can help take action and speak your values and I encourage everybody to speak out their truths, as it’s important the world talks openly about problems and solutions.
I have recently heard one influencer on TikTok saying something quite interesting, something on the lines of “nobody really cares that much about what you say, you are not that important, nobody is, so don’t be afraid speak out and be judged or whatnot.”. I believe there is some truth to that.
Being afraid to take action is what’s slowing us from advancing, so more people need to speak the truths and act on it. However, it starts with the self. If you are able to show yourself the truths and express yourself, you can do it anywhere.
So go rediscover yourself and then make something awesome out of it. If you do it right, you will be making this world a better place.
So be it.