Building A More Holistic View of Sustainable

B Cordelia Yu—@thebestsophist


What is within the
scope of UX?

…and what is the designer’s role in fighting
climate change?

What is sustainability?

Racism trumps class. Even middle income African Americans are more likely to live in more polluted neighborhoods.

Dr. Robert Bullard

Those with power put the ugly parts of our world out of sight so they stay out of mind…

…because their wealth depends on our ignorance and our apathy.

The real problem with cars is not that they don’t get enough miles per gallon; it’s that they make it too easy for people to spread out, encouraging forms of development that are inherently wasteful and damaging.…

David Owen

The key is not to make human industries and systems smaller, as efficiency advocates propound, but to design them to get bigger and better in a way that replenishes, restores, and nourishes the rest of the world.

William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Green America promotes social and environmental justice through economic action.

A screenshot of Green America’s Fossil Free Divestment guide

The language of sustainability—as commonly practiced—is in the language of affluence.

Designer is just a fancy word for
“creators of solutions to problems”.

We must understand cultural contexts of our work and the systems we work in and perpetuate, intentionally or otherwise.

What is sustainability?

We design for the problems we know.





Angry Queer Climate Justice Witch of Color

What. Went.

How this affects sustainability work
in UX and tech


Sustainability must care for every community.

…not just the communities that can afford it.

Wherever there is an injustice and wherever people are exploited, the ecosystem as a whole will collapse.

Sarra Tekola

Hire for inclusion

Empower people to speak up.

Make space to listen

Make space for democracy

Design is no longer about designing the thing, you design the conditions for the thing to emerge–the conversation.

Indy Johar—Democratizing Cities

This is hard work

We are the designers of this world.

The first duty of those with privilege is to listen and to understand the issues of those without.

The second is to make space for others and confront how the tools that power our own privileges shackle us to its structure to perpetuate itself.

Privilege is invisible to those who have it.

The global economy has tied all of us to distant lives. Our simplest decisions as consumers affect the living standard of people in distant nations who are involved in the production of products we use. Our daily lives put pressure on the global environment. It is irresponsible to bury our head in the sand, ignoring the many ways in which we influence, every day, the lives of distant people.

Martha Nussbaum

Be diverse in who you are creating for and what you create.

Emily Gorcenski

Malice did not create this world.

Neglect and ignorance did.

It is cognitively easier to blame marginalized groups for their plight than it is to accept that society is
fundamentally unjust.

Sustainability work is social justice work.

…and social justice work hurts.

We can not let our work as technologists working in sustainability become yet another tool of oppression.

Taking care of people is not always profitable.

We can’t change the whole system overnight. But we need to know what we would put in its place, and we can take advantage of the present crisis to begin working to create new models with [those] who have given themselves permission to think differently from the powers-that-be.

Grace Lee Boggs—The Next American Revolution

Unless we actually find a means of change to deal with the complexity we’re in…we’re stuck between the hard choice of centralist populist ideas or actually really investing in democratizing the the capacity for people to change society.

Indy Johar—Democratizing Cities

Social change will not come to us like an avalanche down the mountain. Social change will come to us through seeds in well prepared soil—and it is we, like the earthworms, who prepare the soil.

Ursula Franklin—The Real World of Technology

Thank you

B Cordelia Yu,