“Sustainability begins with the mind”

A new workshop format encourages people to question their own thinking about sustainability and thus initiate change. Let's take a closer look!

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In early September 2021, the first Sustainability Thinking Workshop was held at the Ars Electronica Center by Ars Electronica Solutions in cooperation with Michael Friedmann (ICT Impact GmbH). Sustainability Thinking, that means among other things by a method mix from the areas of Art and Design Thinking to stimulate the own thinking in relation to sustainability and thus to cause a new way of thinking. “Sustainability starts in the head” is Michael Friedmann’s conviction.

“We think it starts with the inner attitude, with our values, our mindset, our culture! We are convinced that the requirement for a holistic view is even more crucial for the topic of sustainability than it is for digitalization, for example. And we believe that effective new approaches to solutions will be based on connectedness and cooperation.”

Michael Friedmann, ICT Impact GmbH

Companies and organizations face the additional challenge that change can only occur through a shared understanding of the necessity and impact of sustainability processes. This is exactly what the Sustainability Thinking Workshop aims to initiate.

Sustainability Thinking builds on the Art Thinking concept developed by Ars Electronica, borrows classic approaches from Design Thinking and thus becomes a new creative method for arriving at, for example, a new personal as well as corporate strategy with regard to sustainability. Art Thinking tries to find the essential questions for the future with creative approaches. Design Thinking succeeds in developing new, user-centered solutions to existing questions.
For Ars Electronica Solutions itself and ICT Impact, this first workshop also served as a prototype for future work in this area. And for BDO, an internationally active auditing firm that participated in this workshop, it represented the kick-off event for the development of its own sustainability strategy.

Eighteen participants had traveled from Vienna for the event to curiously spend two days at the Ars Electronica Center. They were met by trainers Michael Friedmann, ICT Impact GmbH, Michael Mondria, Managing Director / of Ars Electronica Solutions and Chris Bruckmayr, Head of Products & Events / Ars Electronica Solutions.

“We think that empathy for fellow human beings, fellow creatures and the biosphere is not at odds with the economic development of a society. On the contrary, empathic, compassionate holistic risk assessment of new trends, innovations and economic structural change processes in their impact on human and non-human societies, only creates the basis for making forward-looking sustainable decisions.”

Chris Bruckmayr, Ars Electronica Solutions

Day 1 – What does sustainability mean to us?

The program began with a leisurely check-in, familiarization with the premises, with Deep Space 8K, as well as a joint onboarding and a preview of what to expect in the coming hours and days.

Let’s do it! credit: Ars Electronica Solutions / My Trinh Müller-Gardiner

The first highlight was soon to come: Philipp Blom – writer, historian, journalist – had traveled especially to deliver the keynote address on “Climate Change and a Necessary New Image of Man” with his charismatic manner (he is also an excellent speaker), thus atmospherically heralding the coming time.

Afterwards, a fishbowl discussion – several people discuss in the middle while the others act as observers on the outside – gave the participants the opportunity to get involved themselves.

The next part of the “impulse phase” of the workshop consisted of artistic input, presented by Chris Bruckmayr.

Among other things, the award-winning computer animation “Walking City” by Universal Everything was shown, as an artistic metaphor for a society marked by increasing complexity, which leads to development-disturbing ossification tendencies and only through “creative self-destruction” becomes capable of action and future-oriented again.

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We would also like to refer to this article on the subject of solastalgia. What does solastalgia mean? When our home changes due to environmental degradation, we suffer an emotional pain comparable to the feeling of homesickness – solastalgia.

“This silent psychological suffering of our societies, still largely ignored in social discussion, shows the serious consequences for future generations of a refusal to devote ourselves to sustainable strategies and will continue to have a significant impact on the productivity of a society in the future.”

Chris Bruckmayr, Ars Electronica Solutions

The day ended by defining the four core topics that are relevant to BDO in terms of sustainability. In this case, these are Social Sustainability (How can we anchor and implement social sustainability in BDO?), Role Modeling & Risk Taking (What goals do we set for ourselves?), Complexity, Culture & Recognition (How do we ensure that we live sustainability sustainably and actively?), Customers & Responsibility (How can we find customers who want to follow a sustainable path with us?). In addition, 109 individual implementation ideas were generated.

Main Questions, credit: Ars Electroncia Solutions / My Trinh Müller-Gardiner

Day 2 – Into the creative process

On the second day, we went right into the working and creative process. Divided into four teams, metaphorical prototypes were designed for the core questions developed on the previous day, which serve as emotional vehicles for anchoring these very topics. They, i.e. the prototypes, have resonant names such as “Our social values”, “Our sustainable foundation”, “The Protective Mantle Madonna” and “The Wave of the Willing”.

Ideas were rolled out, thought through, discarded and rethought.

credit: Ars Electroncia Solutions / My Trinh Müller-Gardiner

In between, a guided tour of the Global Shift and Understanding AI exhibitions at the Ars Electronica Center was also on the agenda – to air out the minds working at full speed, but also to get new input from the world of art and science.

Ars Electronica Center – Understanding AI exhibition, credit: Ars Electroncia Solutions / My Trinh Müller-Gardiner

Afterwards, the projects were brought into the implementation phase at full speed. All kinds of materials were used – from magazines and painting utensils to plasticine and Styrofoam balls – everything was allowed to make the ideas come to life.

credit: Ars Electroncia Solutions / My Trinh Müller-Gardiner

In the end, there were four completely different projects from four groups, each of which had approached the topic with different questions. They were presented to the colleagues in final presentations and discussed together.

The first Sustainability Thinking Workshop organized by the ICT Institute for Clean Technology and Ars Electronica Solutions came to an end with many new thoughts, suggestions and plans in its luggage. You can see what the participants think about sustainability and get an impression of what the workshop changed in them in this video.

After this initial test run, the Sustainability Thinking Workshop is available for booking by companies of all sizes as well as public organizations involved in developing sustainability strategies and innovations. If you want to read even more about the workshop and the process, you can do so here at ICT’s blog.