In follow-up to our blog post on Sustainism this morning, Alabama Chanin (AC) held a Facebook chat today with Michiel Schwarz (MS) to explore his manifesto – created with Joost Elffers titled Sustainism Is the New Modernism: A Cultural Manifesto for the Sustainist Era. The text below recaps the questions and answers that surfaced during our hour-long chat.

Like our Facebook page and join our mailing list to take part in future conversations – and feel free to keep this conversation going in the comments section of this post:

Alabama Chanin: Welcome Michiel and thanks for taking the time to be here!

Michiel Schwarz: And thank you. Great to be here. Here is Amsterdam, Holland

AC: You mentioned the other day how Facebook seems to be the manifestation of Sustainism in that you can sit in Amsterdam and me in Florence, Alabama – yet we are linked in this beautiful web.

MS: Yes, that’s the new reality of what I and Joost Elffers call “Sustainist culture” where we can be both locally-rooted and globally connected. It’s no longer one or the other, its both. That’s new and exciting.

Alabama Chanin: I loved this article from Dwell – can you talk a little bit more about the symbols and how we can begin to use them for our everyday lives?

Michiel Schwarz: The symbol that I’m most excited about is our “logo” for LOCAL, which could be locally sourced. We have logos for organic for example, but none for Local. Now local is becoming a valued quality we want to put that explicitly on our products.

AC: I believe that you commented in your talk at Hello Etsy that a local producer could also modify the actual symbol to incorporate their own information about their individual business? (It is a very beautiful symbol, by the way…)

MS: Yes, definitely. Our LOCAL symbol is actually just the red half open hexagon, based on the old citadel and beehive. You can put a geographic name in the middle or a distance indicating the range of where the products are coming from. I can envision restaurants using locally sourced ingredients to put that on their window and menus.

AC: I find that very exciting about the symbol and being to adapt it to all sorts of business/uses but it still have a global meaning/recognition.

AC: I think that we are all a bit overwhelmed with the constant use of the words “sustainable” and “design” in the same sentence. What is the difference between sustainable design and Sustainism?

MS: The symbols Joost Elffers designed also make explicit that it’s all becoming culture — design already is, but now we realize that sustainability is about culture too. How we look at the world and how we want to live, not just something like protecting the environment (though we have to do that too!). If sustainability is about the movement, Sustainist is the mindset, the lifestyle, the culture that makes it possible.

AC: This makes my heart sing. I find it such a refreshing way to look at the issue.


Linda joins the conversation:

LS: I’ll be looking for these symbols! Think I’ll print some cards to include with produce gifts from my garden this year… OK to use your symbols?

MS: ‎@Linda Sure, use them. That’s the idea. All our symbols are available for non-profit use under a Creative Commons license (officially it’s the by-nc-nd Creative Commons license). I’ll get you the link to read about Creative Commons, which is a great idea. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/ The symbols are part of a new Sustainist culture, we hope, they should be used like new words enter our lives.

LS: I love your positive attitude! There are so many problems to tackle, I become overwhelmed. I appreciate ideas that keep me moving forward.

AC: Linda, I LOVE your idea of using the symbols on cards with gifts – would like to do that myself!


And a question from CleanDrinks:

CD: I would like to go back to local for a second: How do you see a company as Zipcar or Airbnb? Is it a local or global concept? Or both?

AC: For me, I see companies like Zipcar and Airbnb local AND global. And to take it further, I see that this local/global form of business will be the way of the future.

MS: @CleanDrinks Zipcar and Airbnb are great example of the new “sharing economy” which is a shift from “ownership” and encourages sharing using the new tools of connectivity. As you say it’s both local — think of it as a neighborhood scheme — whilst embracing global tools and connection. Airbnb and also Couchsurfing is a global movement, which operates locally. Couchsurfing has now 3 million beds worldwide in 80 thousand cities. There are lots more examples. Lisa Gansky calls it The Mesh.


Abigail Doan joins the commentary:

Abigail: Joining you from Sofia, Bulgaria, where I am rooted to local textile and fiber/fashion initiatives but very much connected to my community in NYC and beyond.

AC: Abigail – Do you see a way that these symbols could be used in the textile/fashion industries?

MS: ‎ Abigail – The local symbol is not necessarily limited to non for profit. It would be great if companies that produce in many ways sustainable and locally could use our symbols. We just put the restrictive Creative Commons license on our symbols, because we didn’t want large corporations that are acting counter to sustainist ideas to make profit out of them.

AD: I honestly believe that fashion really needs to make “local” a dynamic and intrinsic part of the sustainable design and textile equation. During the time that I have lived in Eastern Europe, I have really made a point to learn more about the challenges that local designers face in sourcing, producing, and trying to create collections more sustainably, A lot of this dialogue leads one to acknowledge that being “sustainable” is something that is so much more than simply working with eco fabrics per se. Every community has its unique issues and understanding what “local” means as a factor in influencing one’s purchases and devotion to specific designer is an empowerment tool that the consumer should indeed have access to.

AC: What you say FEELS so right to me. There is no one right way to address the issue – all of the pieces and the parts have to work together. This is one of the reasons I find the Sustainism symbols so interesting: there is global, and local, and seasonal, and all of the tools that you need to communicate your commitment. Or at least they give you a place to start to TALK about your commitment visually.

MS: ‎Abigail – That’s exactly it “local” should become an intrinsic part of the sustainable design. That’s the essence of Sustainist approach to design: it’s an idea of sustainability that incorporates those other values such as community, local, fairness and connecting with others.


CD: At a CleanDrinks event in London an associate at Futerra told us about Swishing as well…

AC: Thanks CleanDrinks – That is fantastic – hadn’t heard of Swishing and can’ wait to explore!


Michiel on ethos:

AC: Michiel – In our conversations, you talked about Sustainism being the new ethos for design. What did you mean by that?

MS: Ethos is a Greek idea that refers to the identity of things, a set of principles, but the great thing is that it not just some ethical ideas (that’s what I first thought, because of the ETHos), but then I found out that it is more ground rules, a perspective for action. So if we speak of the Sustainist “principles” such as sharing, connecting, new localism and what I have called the shift “from scale to proportionality” these become design criteria, that we can put in our design briefs or at least our mental picture on what we want to do and make.

AC: We definitely need some ground rules, a perspective for action these days! This feels very important to me: “So if we speak of the Sustainist “principles” such as sharing, connecting, new localism and what I have called the shift “from scale to proportionality” these become design criteria, that we can put in our design briefs or at least our mental picture on what we want to do and make.”

MS: These “Sustainist” principles, unlike modernist directives, become invitation to do things in a different way. We can all give these things meaning in the way we wish, it’s much more open ended. That’s why there’s so much talking about co-design and co-creation these days.

AC: The first time I read your book, I imagined the symbols printed out and posted in offices, on street corners, grade schools, a kind of “bombing” with subversive Sustainist culture. Do you approve?

MS: Yes, definitely. Take the symbols and express that the new Sustainist culture is already here.

AC: Michiel – Do you find that the word “Sustainism” is being embraced?

MS: Yes, it’s very interesting how the word Sustainism has travelled around the world. Piecemeal it has been taken up in different places and networks. In Italy and Spain people have spoken of the new Sostenismo (sounds great, doesn’t it?). What’s exciting is to realize that all these things that are part of Sustainist culture and Sustainist lifestyles are today already actively embraced by at least 100 million people, if not double that, worldwide (if we follow Paul Hawken’s idea of “the greatest movement the world has ever seen”).


CD: I’ve ordered the book online for some business relations, but when is the e-book arriving? I think that would be a Sustainist idea?

MS: CleanDrinks – The e-book is on the way, were working on that. (Meanwhile we’re working on new books and projects relating the Sustainist idea to social innovation, food, new business models).

AC: Get the book here: Sustainism Is the New Modernism

AC:  Download the symbols here: Sustainism: Symbols

AC:  Michiel – THANK YOU so much for taking the time to be here – and for all the work you have done in giving us a visual language to talk about issues that are important to us. I know that you are busy, getting ready for India, and, of course, making the world a better place. Safe travels and stay in touch!

MS: Thank you too! It’s all about connecting and sharing. Let’s do more of it….

Sustainism Is the New Modernism: A Cultural Manifesto for the Sustainist Era, Michiel Schwarz and Joost Elffers D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *