I personally am very passionate about the environment, so I want to ensure that we create a product that will be sustainable every step of the way.  I’m not the most talented when it comes to designing products, however, research and planning is my forte.  My design process would essentially revolve around everything outside of the product. The outside forces such as materials, collection, transportation, and distribution.  With our plastics project, I would love to focus more on the ways in which we can sell the products locally and work with the women to ensure that everything is running smoothly for them. I’ve talked about this before in other posts, but keeping our projects environmental impact in mind is extremely important when dealing with this project.  Doing this in a sustainable manner is extremely important to me, and taking into account the cultural impact we will have is major in this process.

I feel as if our project concept is fairly straightforward when it comes to assessing validation.  Reducing the number of plastics put into the environment and re-using them by creating different products from them is always a plus.  The impact that this project will have on the local women in the Philippines will be tremendous as well.  Allowing them to earn their own income and providing them with financial freedom is a liberating thing for some women in developing countries.  One criticism I can see maybe appearing out of this project is the argument that we aren’t truly doing anything to eliminate these plastics from the planet.  If pollution is our problem on this finite planet, shouldn’t we just stop using them all together?  Stop producing plastic products if that’s our problem!  But, we are simply taking the plastics that have already been produced by consumers and re-using them hopefully so more plastic won’t be created for those products we are planning on creating.  It’s difficult to get rid of such important material within any society.  I know in some places plastic bags or straws have already been banned, which is a step in the right direction, but you won’t see a nation or a town turn around and ban all plastic.

Being able to engage with everyone involved with this project is essential to the success of it.  We cannot simply think solely about the product and the product design.  We have to think about who is going to be using it and the impact it is going to have on the community as a whole.  If we create a plastic cup made out of recycled materials and sell it in a shop next to another plastic cup, what’s going to make the consumer buy our cup over theirs?  We have to take into account the design, the size, the price point, and where we are going to sell these products in the first place.  Even if our intentions behind producing the cup are good, that doesn’t immediately mean that someone is going to buy it.  We have to be in tune with the current market and understand what is in high demand and what is going to best help support these women.  Working within the community and talking to our partners may help us with this process, as we can get a sense of what is really needed and what will draw people in.  If we make larger products we might have to start thinking about marketing strategies.  Aspirational marketing is one great way to help sell a product.  You want to make and advertise something  that people aspire to be.  Something that is ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’.

We can look to nature for so many solutions to our everyday problems as we learned in Janine Benyus’ TED Talk.  When it comes to our plastics project in the Philippines, we should try to not only look to nature when thinking about ways in which we can re-use these plastics but understand how we will also affect nature in the process.  The creation of plastics is already harmful to the environment, from the chemicals that are used to create the product to the actual manufacturing process.  Even before plastic products are placed on the market, they are affecting the environment in so many negative ways.  If one of the purposes of us re-using this plastic is to get the products out of the environment, we should repurpose them in a way that would require as little excess environmental damage as possible.  Our environmental impact with this project doesn’t stop when it comes to re-purposing the plastics and removing them from the environment.  We have to take into account our solutions entire carbon footprint in order to consider this a truly sustainable venture.  The distance these products will travel from its original source, to where we re-purpose them, to their final destination however far that may be.  These all need to be taken into account.  We should think about the environmental impact of the ways in which we will alter these plastics– will they be melted, cut, or smashed?  What kind of waste will be produced and what would we do with that waste?  Thinking even further ahead, what is going to happen once the end user is done with this product?  Will it end up in the landfill once more?

Depending on what we decide to make with these various plastic products, our designers could potentially use biomimicry to ensure that they are strong and durable products like Benyus discussed in her TED Talk.  It’s important that we make sure that whatever we produce that its high quality and extremely sustainable.  It wouldn’t be ethical of us to introduce this repurposed product to a developing community that doesn’t last as long as whatever the regular product would.  I personally don’t know much about this part of the project since I’m not an engineer, but that would definitely be something that the engineers and designers in this group would have to consider.

Life’s five principles reminded me about so many things about life on earth, but the one that resonated with me the most that actually connects to this project was the fourth principle.  “Life inhabits the same space where it synthesizes, uses, and disposes of chemicals or toxins.”  Everything we do on this planet, everything we create, everything we dispose of, remains on the planet.  Even if it is something that is out of sight, out of mind, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.  With our plastics project, we can help bring light to this (even though it isn’t a new phenomenon) and maybe get people to think more about sustainability in developing countries like the Philipines.  It may only start with our final product and whoever the final consumers are, or it may begin when we start outreach and asking for funding.  No matter what, what we are doing will begin a dialogue and remind people that it’s important to look at the products we use every day.

Research Week!

This past week we were asked to research more information regarding woman’s cooperatives in developing countries, so Bridget and I decided to tackle that part of the coursework.  From our research, we dug up a lot of interesting information about cooperatives primarily in Africa.  I thought it was really interesting the amount of support that co-ops provide for women in a variety of cultures.  I love the sense of community that the co-ops provide for the women, which in many developing country cultures, a community is important for many women.  It also provides a sense of economic security for these women who may not have a steady source of their own income.  These co-ops often promote furthering a woman’s education so that they can contribute to society at large.

However, through our research, we also discovered some barriers that many of these women face when it comes to operating and participating in these independent cooperatives. In many cases, cultural norms prevent many women from being able to work outside of the home.  There is a heavy patriarchal system established in many developing countries, where woman are expected to control the household while the men go out and work.  This leaves the women involved in co-ops with mountains of housework to balance once they get home.  Because of these cultural norms, it can be difficult for the women running the co-ops to receive state funding so they heavily rely on outside donors.

Going forward with this project, we need to be aware of where the funding for this project is coming from or if there is none we need to find reliable funding for these women.  Depending on the cultural norms of the Philipines, will the government be willing to donate money to this cooperative? And are the women running their households as well when they get home?  Gaining a cultural perspective when it comes to initiating projects such as this one is very important to take into consideration.  We have to ensure that we aren’t organizing a system that would either go against the cultural norms of the community or create any extra stressors in the women’s lives.  It’s difficult to do this research in such early stages of the program, especially since we aren’t on the ground interacting with the women we will be supporting.

Another source of funding we could look to consider would be funding directly from the United Nations.  In the past, they have been known to support a variety of cooperatives in developing nations.  We would obviously have to be farther along with a project proposal before moving on with a step as large as that.