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Friday, June 9 • 2:00pm - 2:20pm
Material World: Design for a Healthful and Equitable Future

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To view slides: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/17uWM2ehLMwMyNK4gPSO-jzMuimcyYlK6jpapxsFPCpc/edit Environmental justice is a topic that has received increasing attention as the public comes to realize that issues such as pollution and climate change are intimately tied up with race, gender, and socioeconomic class. Temporary, traveling, and pop-up exhibitions are often made to last a few weeks to months, and then sent to landfills at the end of their public-facing lives. Additionally, they likely contain long-lasting materials that are harmful to human and environmental health. For example, most plywood and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) materials are bound with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen that causes irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and airways (“Formaldehyde and Your Health”). The fenceline communities near plants that manufacture such unhealthy chemicals and products are more likely to be low-income or people of color (Johnston and Cushing 2). Traditional design and construction practices have implicit intersectional harms. My project reimagines built environments by creating an informational pop-up exhibition that is, itself, made of sustainable materials. In doing so, it advances two main goals: first and foremost, to educate on the impacts of environmentally and socially sustainable design methods and materials; and second, to establish a proof-of-concept for holistic sustainable design that considers the exhibition’s entire life cycle and impact.

The framework established for the project relies on published sources, as well as a commitment to radical transparency regarding successes and roadblocks in the design process. As an evaluation standard, I use ExhibitSEED’s Green Exhibit Checklist, published by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, with the goal of achieving a platinum certification. Results of evaluations are shared openly. I follow the Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides” to establish definitions of terms such as “compostable,” as well as to evaluate manufacturers’ sustainability claims. The project reflects upon and shares resources that address both conceptual and technical issues, including: definitions of sustainability; the intersection of sustainability with human rights; ethical design practices; and material choices. To establish a framework for design and material selection that encompasses both the environment and human rights, I rely on the five pillars of sustainable exhibition design put forth by the American Alliance of Museums: human health, social health and equity, ecosystem health, climate health, and the circular economy (Flandro and Moritz 4). All materials in the exhibit are considered within this framework and fit into one or more of the following categories: locally sourced from within a fifty mile radius of Storrs, Connecticut, reclaimed, reusable, and/or compostable in a non-industrial setting. Additionally, I endeavor to reduce or eliminate the use of petroleum-based plastics. For instance, I am sourcing lumber, a material at risk for having child labor in its supply chain, locally from the UConn Forest (“Forestry”). Not only does doing so uphold the social health and equity pillar by avoiding contributing to social harms such as child labor, but it also upholds the ecosystem and climate health pillars since the wood is dried in a solar powered kiln and is not associated with large carbon shipping footprints. As another example, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified organic cotton canvas used for banners in the exhibit upholds the human health, social health and equity, and ecosystem health pillars since GOTS certification requires textile manufacturers to adhere to environmental and social responsibility standards throughout their supply chains.
The final stage of the project involves creating a digital version of the exhibition so that it can continue to serve as an educational tool without the environmental footprint associated with shipping it long distances. Once the digital version is developed, I will implement end-of-life plans for the exhibition by biodegrading, repurposing, and reusing materials as determined during the research phase of the project. For example, any fabric used as wall cladding can be repurposed into tote bags, while mycelium panels can be composted.

Given that this project is as much about the design process — from research, through concept development, material sourcing, and construction, all the way to end-of-life treatment — as it is about the end product, this presentation will guide attendees through a discussion of sustainable design processes using the exhibit as an example. It will focus in particular on ethical material sourcing in creative and design fields in the context of the five aforementioned sustainable design pillars set out by the American Alliance of Museums. It will also discuss ongoing life cycle research, such as end-of-life plans and digital versions of the exhibit. In the presentation, I will be transparent regarding successes as well as shortcomings of the exhibit as a tool for accountability as well as for reflection on the part of myself and attendees. Sustainability is not a one-and-done activity, but rather a process of continual changes. How can we improve our practices to persistently work towards sustainability and equity?
As we continue to face greater challenges due to climate change, it is increasingly important to engage in knowledge-sharing and critical discussions in order to transform traditional design practices to promote social and environmental justice.


Cameron Slocum

University of Connecticut

Friday June 9, 2023 2:00pm - 2:20pm EDT
Steuben 408 (Design Center)