Sustainability Project Proposal


Most consumers today care about issues like the environment, human rights, fair trade and animal welfare but when it comes to putting our beliefs into action it becomes harder to follow through. Research shows that there is a large gap between ethical purchase intentions and their actual buying behaviour of ethically minded consumers. Recently, I have realised that I am a typical example of this perception. (1)

In John Thackara’s essay Make Sense, Not Stuff he explains it that sustainability is no longer about messages, it’s about activity and getting people to rethink the impact they have on the environment. Designers have an important role in the push for sustainability as they have the ability to shape the relationship between people and objects/ environments. While issues of less waste and more efficiency come into play, our appetite for resources and want of new things is our biggest problem. How can we overcome this? Thackara suggests we need to change our behaviour and take action.

My initial idea was to explore and design a range of shopping bags that educate and influence the people who carry them as well as the people who see them. However, when I re-read Make Sense, Not Stuff, I realised I had fallen into the same trap as most design schools, trying to push a message rather than helping people to change their everyday behaviour. Not really wanting to change my idea (as I think I have something to add) I thought about how I can make this bag stand out from all the rest on the market? How can I help people make a change? Hmm.. I guess it will come down to my quality of message and how it relates and impacts on the individual.

Originally, I was thinking about using the typical “shopping bag” (see post: Proposal draft) but now I am considering branching off into designing for a woman’s handbag instead. My reasoning for this is that most ladies never leave the house without a handbag or bag of some description, therefore, a bag of this type would travel a lot more than just to the grocery store. Also, as mentioned during the last project meeting some people do tend to forget about using their shopping bags or they have so many they don’t know what to do with them all. So, I had a think about it and ideally I need to create a strong connection between the user and the bag to make it unforgettable. The shopping bag doesn’t really fit this bill, even a really attractive one.


Background and Context

The topics that have informed this proposal are quite large scale issues and it has been through personal experience, since starting this project, that I have aimed to narrow the subject down to an idea I might be able to realise in the time frame given. The issues that I have been interested in but haven’t had the time to full comprehend are food waste, food security and ethical consumerism.

As mentioned in previous posts, it hadn’t really crossed my mind that if I care about sustainability then there are ways I make a difference. Individuals, like me, don’t have to try and save the world, we just need to do what we can as no matter how small, every action makes an impact. We might think that one person cannot make a difference so why bother, but then think about a whole community making conscious choices on every day purchasing, the combined result creates change.

Over recent years, consumers have become more aware (and therefore feel responsible) for the positive and negative impacts on the environment and society through consumption and purchasing. One term which sums it up well is “Conscious Consumption”.

Conscious Consuming is a social movement that based around increased awareness of the impact of purchasing decisions on the environment and the consumers health and life in general. (2)

However, constraints on consumers make ethically buying behaviour hard to follow through even though their beliefs and intentions are to make the right choice. The main constrains are cost and convenience but also I believe there is a lack of awareness also. How does the average consumer know one product is more sustainable than the other? People don’t have time to read the fine print on labels and even if they do what should they be looking for? I believe having easy access to information about the environmental impacts of our food choices would help us make more informed decisions. And if consumers were able to make better ethical purchases that would reduce and prevent food waste, let us live more sustainably and create awareness of food security.

Further information about food security can be found on one of my previous posts here as well as my thoughts on food waste here and lastly some interesting links I have come across on both these topics here.

During my research so far, I stumbled across two websites that I found the easiest to understand and not too overwhelming with their amount of information. I was able to be well informed with the option to delve further deeper at a later stage, which is my intention to do throughout this project.

The first website is Think.Eat.Save which I found as a great resource on food waste, food security, has a number of infographics, sustainable and fair eating habits and a lot more but I won’t list them all as you can head on over an see for yourself. I guess the main reason I am flagging this website for my project is their use of infographics, some examples below.

Images from

My plan is for the design/message on the bags is to be based on facts about food waste and ethical consumption. But rather than then general worldwide facts or ones on the USA or Europe (as above), facts relative to Australia and hopefully even more localised to the Canberra region. The idea of using local data would be that consumers could see the local and/or national impact their simple decision could have. The second part of the project would, also relevant to the Think.Eat.Save website, is that somewhere on the bag, hopefully easily recognisable, there would be a logo or link that would point people to look it up on their smart phones a website/blog. This Website/ blog would be a source of infomation where they can learn more about that particular fact on the bag they just spotted and how they as an individual can do their part to live a more sustainable way of life.

From experience in coaching sport you can probably only keep someone’s attention for about 20 seconds before they start to think of something else. And even less so for stranger just walking pass each other, so whatever message I am trying to get across needs to be done quickly, effectively and with an impact to influence people into action.

The second website was Local Harvest. The appeal of this website was the ability to localise the information. I was able to search and find local famers, organic shops and business, learn about the benefits of buying locally as well as tips and tricks to help you live sustainably. The ability to connect with the local community is kind of like a support group and I believe makes the possibly of changing habits easier as you can already see the results of others in similar situations.


Addressing the Brief

I guess my project isn’t quite what you would expect to come out of a digital design subject. I have the sustainability issue covered with wanting to research food waste, food security and ethical consumerism but the digital part isn’t as strong. Of course the ways to create the bag and the designs/ messages on the bags will be done digitally but in terms of any high tech features they will have none. But maybe that’s the beauty of it. Keep in simple and low key to emphasis the natural/ raw nature of the message I’m trying to get across. I will also be establishing a website or blog that will house more detailed information on the individual bag messages. The idea is that when people see the bag and want to find out more, they can easily access this information and either totally ignore the data presented or choose to make a change.



The development methodology I plan to use is based on John Thackara’s three step plan he refers to in Make Sense, Not Stuff – map assests, connect locally and use new language. Below are how I plan on addressing these three themes.

1. Map Assets – In addressing this theme I started to look locally and find out what assets and resources are within the Canberra region. The website Local Harvest was an excellent source of information for this as it shows the “hard” (eg materials, resources) and “soft” (eg knowledge, people, organisations) around my area. I had planned on create a visual map of local sustainable communities and gardens, but lucky for me Local Harvest has already mapped it out. Shopping locally and buying fresh is just one of the small steps consumers can do to help with food waste and I would like that one if the graphics for my project will be able to represent that a local alternative is closer than you think and the health and social benefits of choosing to shop there.

2. Connect Locally – Thackara says: “don’t start a new organisation. Find a well-organised project with good local roots, and join it.” (5) I’m not sure who I will connect locally in the way Thackara suggests but I do intent on visiting as many local and organic food business, gardens, farmers markets etc to educate and familiarise myself with local food sustainability community and to eat better as well. As suggested by my tutor, I plan on contacting researcher from the Food Sustainability research cluster at the University to maybe get a bit more information relative to Australia and Canberra to help inform my project. She might have some suggestions on how I might be able to connect into the locally networks.

3. Use new language – My aim is to go with short and simple words or graphics or a combination of both. Rather than trying to overload the audience with lots of big scary words like “sustainable” or “ethical” I want to bring them back to smaller issues that they can relate to, and are able act upon right at that moment. If the issue is too massive to comprehend consumers will tend to ignore doing the “right thing” as it’s hard to see how one individual make a difference. Being able to show and reinforce that one person can make a difference and how to change behaviour will result in action.

Thackara also raises the issue that we should be designing to new principle of low-carbon emission, resource efficient and creates zero waste – a tough concept. As my project does involve creating an object it will require using natural resources, but I intend to research and choose the most sustainable option possible. I would be interested to map out the overall production process to see exactly what it takes to make my bag compared to other objects, kind of like the bag’s life cycle. In regards to comparing waste I found the below infographics interesting as they compare food waste to the water waste. Everyone acknowledges that water is a huge issue but food on the other hand isn’t as well known. So comparing them to each other lets people make the connection and therefore understand quite quickly that maybe they should rethink ordering the large burger meal if theyknow they will not be able to finish it.  

 Water_infozz  bread


Ideally, by the end of the semester I hope to have designed a series of bags and accompanying website that will influence users and those who view them into changing their consumption behaviour to match their ethically minded perceptions. With this being week 5 and the project due Week 13, I have 7 weeks to realise my project. With that being the case a possible timeline could be as follow. I have a lot of work to do so better get to it.

  • Week 5: Contact researcher at the Food Sustainability research cluster. Check out the Southside Farmers Markets at CIT Woden. Research the ethical bag options (eg Lute)
  • Week 6: Source sample bags. Research ethical paint and/or printed supplies. Work on ideas for bags designs. Head to the Farmers markets at Epic. Visit other organic business across Canberra. Try and connect with some local gardens communities.
  • Week 7: Work on ideas for bag designs. Set up website or blog for information on bags, include a way of tracking stats.
  • Week 8: Work on ideas for bag designs. Work on website or blog for information on bags.
  • Week 9: Mock up bag designs.  Work on website or blog for information on bags.
  • Week 10: Finalise bag designs.  Work on website or blog for information on bags.
  • Week 11: Distribute bags to friends and ask them on monitor their behaviour and those around them. Finalise website or blog for information on bags.
  • Week 12: Collate information received from website and users of the bags.
  • Week 13: Present project.








One comment

  1. Pingback: Final reflective post | Short Ramblings

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