Taking Control of Our Future
Issue 1

The opening project of the MA Service Design programme last year, for which I had just enrolled, was the rather pompous brief to design ‘The Future of Service Design’. I didn’t choose this project, opting for the more applied public policy project with Lambeth Council, but was somewhat envious listening to the speculative outcomes from the other half of the course six weeks later at the final project reviews. The most enlightened takeaway was that despite the common perception of ‘future’ as a distant, predetermined state that we are heading towards, we could also consider that our every action in each moment is constantly producing the future. Contrasted against the more static views shared by certain fields that higher powers are in control, the notion of continuous production of the future right here, right now, is pretty powerful in art and design education, and begs the question: what are we waiting for?

This first lesson of my first term prompted me to set up a new student society over the summer break, serving in part as a litmus test on the student body. On a side note, the Student Union is an amazing platform to test out an idea for establishing a community at RCA. They offer practical tools, easy access to the captive student audience - now split across three campuses - and permission to go do things in an increasingly bureaucratic institution. The newspaper you are now reading is also a product of this framework.

My second year at RCA now dawns, and with it the beginning of SustainLab RCA – the seed that has been germinated by an unrelenting compulsion to explore what sustainability means for artists and designers today, and my frustrations with the corresponding recent neglect of this field by the mother institution. Given the quick two-year student turnover at RCA, it's a little known fact that the RCA funded a department called SustainRCA for six years (2011-17), supporting and championing the work of students and staff in the field of sustainability. Since its silent effacing from college life last year, a small group of us decided we would open up a new student-led platform with the mission of leading sustainability learning and collaboration at RCA. So here we are, taking control of our future in 2017!

It’s now 4 weeks into the new term and over 130 students have signed up to SustainLab. We’ve met many of you already at our Pot Launch party at Kensington, where we gathered your thoughts and ideas for the year ahead including our next events, potential speakers and ideas for external visits. It was also interesting to hear your ideas for change at the RCA. Digging deeper into the sustainability track record of the college we’ve discovered an opportunity for making significant changes, not only for our learning around sustainability but also to the operation of our world-class university, which shockingly sits just off the bottom of the UK University’s Environmental & Ethical league table produced by People & Planet (https://peopleandplanet.org/university-league-2016-tables), accounting for a range of factors from waste management to the financial investments of the college.

We’d like to be clear that we are taking a very open approach to the meaning and application of sustainability, an often overused and misunderstood word. We are essentially questioning what kind of future we want to make both at the RCA and as graduate artists and designers heading out into the world, and we believe in the power of now.

Our next event is a collaboration with the Royal Amateur Expedition Society - a Foraging Expedition to East London at the end of October for 24 students – If you fancy coming along, check out the events section of our website at sustainlabrca.org for more info! There you’ll also find our mailing list, or alternatively you can search for us on all the usual social media places: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Hope to see you soon!

          Becky Miller