Sustainable, Beautiful: Designs for our Children

The 5th of our 6 children, John, is about to graduate from high school. His discussions with friends about their future plans are similar to those his older siblings had at this point in life, with one exception.

They include “solve environmental problems” as a given.  Their life plan checklist goes something like this:

College, job, graduate school, love, fix the environment.

John and his friends don’t debate whether problems exist. They just accept that they will have to fix the damage to our planet caused by former generations, and plan to educate themselves accordingly.

These young people don’t otherwise look or act like “environmentalists” either; they’re a relatively mainstream group whose interests tend toward sports, music, video games and the opposite sex.

My hunch is that most teens in the northern suburbs think similarly. Years of “Planet Earth” episodes, scouting programs and environmental education in school curriculum at every grade level have fostered this view of their future—not to mention the recent Japanese and Gulf of Mexico catastrophes.

This makes me a little sad; I prefer to pass onto my children a better world than the one I inherited, not vice versa.  But, it also gives me hope; Mother Earth will flourish after all.

So how do 18-year-olds prepare to fix the environment in their future plans?  John and his buddies recently developed a strategy.

“I’m majoring in Natural Resources.”

“We’re majoring in business.”

“We’ll start a company to fix the problems.”

If only it could be so simple!

Fortunately, the Nature Conservancy has brought “Design for a Living World” exhibits to Chicago this spring, which will further inform and inspire their thinking. A photo essay exhibit opened at the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park in April. An exhibition featuring elegant items made from sustainable materials by design icons and other visionaries opens at the Field Museum on May 13. This exhibit also demonstrates processes used to create consumer products with an emphasis on the impact to global and local communities.

Isaac Mizrahi, Paulina Reyes for Kate Spade and others created the beautiful products on display, using natural resources, ethically grown and harvested.

The sophisticated thinking and emphasis on excellence in this exhibition should further inspire our youth and inform their future plans.  Hopefully, this will also inspire their parents and grandparents to live and consume more thoughtfully too.   Then maybe we won’t be passing on such a damaged world to our children after all.

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