Paper or plastic bag?


Some people spread their passion and ideas effortlessly, telling their stories in the most effective way. We believe Leyla Acaroglu is one of those people. With a clear speech and a deep and surprisingly positive message for these days, she presents her opinion about the complex world of sustainability. She is a designer by trade and she is convinced that design can change many of the environmental problems we face. After this introduction we are inevitably dragged by her enthusiasm. We are sharing an interesting TED talk (scroll down to see the video) she did some years ago which seems very appropriate in these times of environmental and climatic uncertainty. She tells us at the beginning:

“everything at some point comes from nature, and it’s how you use the material that dictates the environmental impact”

The title seems very attractive to us: Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore. As quite frequently, our commitment to the environment is limited to these types of decisions: plastic or paper bag? That way she begins to tell us about what she calls environmental folklore, as those popular beliefs about environmental impact that lead us to make decisions when we use or buy things, namely the myths about being green. The subject is quite complex so she asks:

“But how do we know if we’re actually reducing the net environmental impacts that our actions as individuals and as professionals and as a society are actually having on the natural environment?”

L. Acaroglu TED Talk

Acaroglu is proposing an approach to the problem of sustainability for the planet from a broader perspective than we usually do; and in order to do that, she studies the systems involved in this complicated and entangled world we live in, so we can find real, innovative and more holistic ideas and solutions. Since everything is connected, she cuts down all those systems to three: Social systems (people), Industrial systems (products, material goods), and the Ecosystem (the planet), and leaves us thoughts like this:

“And you see, the choices that we make as an individual, but the choices that we make in every single job that we have, no matter how high or low you are in the pecking order, has an impact on all of these systems”

L. Acaroglu TED Talk

She explains the Life Cycle of all the products created by humans, that means literally anything we use. The consumer goods production cycle – from the extraction of raw materials, to manufacturing, packaging and transportation, use, and end of life – is generating waste and consuming resources at every one of these stages. She demonstrates that idea very well by talking about everyday products that we all use, such as mobile phones, lettuces, and refrigerators. Then we see that a simple everyday object can have a huge impact on the ecosystem and in a way that we would not have expected in advance. She reflects on how design could really help:

L. Acaroglu TED Talk

“So imagine if we actually really started to identify these problems and use that as the foundation for finding innovative and elegant design solutions that will solve those problems. This is design-led system change, design dictating the way in which the system can be far more sustainable. Forty percent food waste is a major problem. Imagine if we designed fridges that halved that.”




After watching the talk we have reflected on several things. First of all we remembered the terrific Netflix show  The Good Place. If you watched this one you will recall the dilemma they faced with the point system, that is exactly this idea of making the right choice as consumers. If you have not seen it yet, this is a good excuse to do so, although I am afraid that you will have to watch until season 3 at least to understand it.

Then we got to what truly connects us with what we do in kasamakura: children and young people and how we pass on all of this to them right now. Only if they are aware of the problems upfront, will they make better decisions for a more sustainable future.  She tells us in the end:

“ I hate to break it to you all: consumption is the biggest problem. But design is one of the best solutions”

L. Acaroglu TED Talk

That sentence sums up one of our biggest challenges with young people: being able to find creative and innovative solutions to solve important problems. And knowledge is certainly a powerful tool and source for changing things. In order to make important decisions it is essential to have a broad knowledge about what we are going to do. When you know something and you really understand it, you can start acting convinced of what you do. We think it is necessary to work with young people and start teaching them in a serious and organized way the importance of the decisions we make with the items we consume, and how using the design and knowing all the systems that interact with these products we can find innovative solutions and change the future. When we start to seriously change our consumption habits as a society, at some point it will become second nature to them to consume in a sustainable way, and eventually they will not allow any behavior that could damage the planet. Perhaps it is too late, but we choose to follow the path of optimism and think that we can still do something about it. Obviously we all have to change and really get involved in this problem, but young people are the ones who will make the decisions later, and the future begins to be built now.

We really hope that when geniuses in the future come together to design say, the vehicles moving us around to travel in this wonderful world we share, it is natural for them to keep in mind that what they design must be sustainable for life on the planet; and that they can’t even imagine it any other way. They would probably be surprised when they find out how complicated it was for us at the beginning of the 21st century, and how we endangered life on this planet on the road to that future. If we change now, this dream we imagine may be possible.