Sylwia Ulicka

Sylwia Ulicka starts with a short introduction of herself. She’s a designer, researcher and a professor with a focus on design and sustainability. 

Afterwards she directly dives into the first chapter of her lecture, sustainable development. First, she assumes that we all agree, that as humans and citizens we all desire to achieve sustainable development and that it’s of course not a new topic and I couldn’t agree more. Secondly, she quotes the first official definition of sustainable development from 1987 which said: 

„Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.“ 

However this definition was not the beginning of the discussion – it was a result of various publications which raised awareness for the fragility of our eco system. Here she mentions for example Silent Spring by Rachel Carson or Limits to Growth by Club of Rome. 

Furthermore she explains the Agenda 21 by the United Nations, which is a plan of actions to be taken globally which was determined in 1992. She goes on with the Millennium Goals from 2000 and the SDGs from 2015 and the fact that none of these goals actually were accomplished. 

In the 90s the most influential idea of sustainability was defined – the idea that there is a balance of three different aspects: The ecological, the social and the economical aspect. This idea formed the well known Triangle of Sustainable Development and the rise of the  concept of Eco-Efficiency. 

Eco-Efficiency is the second chapter of her talk. She quotes:

„The eco-efficiency approach adds more value to goods and services by reducing the use of resources and decreasing the level of environmental pollution.“

The concept of eco-efficiency developed around the turn of the millennium. She also says that the idea of producing more with less, in order to satisfy the needs of everyone without exploiting too many natural resources became a paradigm. Furthermore, reducing, reusing and recycling through new technologies and inventions are the core of this concept. 

The idea of course has been supported by the business world and designers because obviously producing more with less sounds pretty great. Here she says: „We’ve trusted and relied on the premise that technological development will make the idea of sustainable development come true.“ 

However, I think we all know that, the concept has not delivered the expected results. Consumption trumped technological inventions and eco-efficiency. Here she lists some alarming facts about the evolution of our environment and points out that we are consuming the resources of 1,5 planets every year, with tendency to rise. 

Furthermore, I really liked the following point she makes: The concept of eco-efficiency maybe does not work because we didn’t question the idea of endless economic growth. It just doesn’t make sense that we aim endless economic growth on a planet with finite resources. 

After her third chapter, values of material culture, she goes on with „Objects of discomfort“, which is the name of a project Sylwia and her students worked on in the last years. „Objects of discomfort“ because the results of the project were artifacts which dealt with uncomfortable facts and statistics. She describes the objects as radical, provocative, critical, speculative, design-based, Mexican and of course uncomfortable. 

Afterwards she presents some of the objects and shares their website, which I highly recommend to have a look at!  

I have to say that I liked Sylwia’s talk the most. Her lecture was really interesting and I was very impressed by the work of her students.