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DIY & Sustainability

Images of the 17 SDGs forming a circle; in its' centre the letters 'DIY'

On this page you will find some general background information on the ideas and topics that were central for the course, the chosen grassroot initiatives and consequently, this blog: 

sustainability, do-it-yourself (DIY) activism
– and more importantly, how they connect to each other!

To begin with, the most commonly used definition of sustainability is:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” – Brundtland Commission, 1987

Even though this definition seems rather vague and leaves quite some room for interpretation, it still provides a basis for the (ongoing) discussion on what sustainability is and how we can achieve it.

In those discussions, ‘sustainability’ is usually understood as something that goes further than green aspects like the use of resources, climate change etc. Instead, it is also about social and economic sustainability. These three aspects are interconnected and all have to be considered when searching for sustainable solutions. 

This is what the United Nations aimed for when they launched their 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, describing 17 issues to work on for the next 15 years for a more sustainable world.

Image consisting of 17 tiles with the logo and a short description of each of the 17 SDGs
Click to read more about the SDGs on the page of the United Nations (opens in new tab)
How to achieve a more sustainable world

Surely, it needs decisions and changes on a high, political level and larger scale. However, it is equally important that everyone tries to make a difference on their individual level. 

There are discussions on the strengths of grassroot initiatives in this endeavour: 

One argument is that because of their civic nature, such initiatives have the power to identify issues that may otherwise remain unseen or even disregarded by institutions. And because grassroot initiatives are less likely to be limited by institutional constraints or disciplinary boundaries, they may also have the potential to find solutions differently, by thinking outside the box. This way, they may ‘generate bottom-up solutions for sustainable developments; solutions that respond to the local situation and the interests and values of the communities involved’. [1]

It seems natural to connect this with the ideas behind do-it-yourself (DIY) movements and projects. DIY can be seen as activities, in which ‘people (…) rely on themselves in order to fill a need, fix a problem, or pursue a goal’ [2]. Some even go so far to claim that a ‘DIY ethic encourages people to think about their position and place in the world, and how their actions (or in-actions) are connected to others, to wider society’ [3]. – This way, DIY would be much more than the bare fact of doing things yourself but could be seen as a statement, a conscious decision and the awareness of one’s own power and abilities.

This forms the background of our ‘DIY-sustainability’ course. As presented here, we chose local grassroot projects that try to create bottom-up solutions to issues they perceive in Helsinki.  When researching potential projects, we considered the SDGs and how the projects respond to those. Click here to see what we found out.

[1] Smith, Adrian, Mariano Fressoli, Dinesh Abrol, Elisa Arond, and Adrian Ely. 2016. Grassroots Innovation Movements. Pathways to Sustainability. London: Routledge, p. 3.
[2] Relles, Stefanie, and Randall Clemens. 2018. ‘Do it yourself’ scholarship: from punk rock to qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 31, no. 4, p. 313.
[3] Griffin, Naomi. 2015. “Understanding DIY Punk as Activism: Realising DIY Ethics through Cultural Production, Community and Everyday Negotiations.” Northumbria University, p. 25.

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