The role of creativity in our sustainable development
The world’s population reached 8 billion in 2022. Most of the people are in emerging markets, which are also where there’s still a need to make the most of scarce resources. The role of creativity in this is paramount.
A great example of a contemporary creative talent who helps his country leverage its limited resources is Burkina Faso architect Diébédo Francis Kéré, winner of the world’s most prestigious architecture award, the Pritzker Prize, in 2022. He’s known for using eco-friendly and locally-sourced materials to design buildings engineered to maximize shade and ventilation and minimize heat, rain and power consumption. He believes that a building is like an organism and needs to breathe. This is a relevant philosophy in a country located in the semi-arid Sahel region between the Sahara and the savannah. Other emerging markets could learn a lot from him, which is why the global architectural community has recognized him.
Creativity has the power to save the planet from existential threats such as climate change, food insecurity and the waste management crisis. Nations are finding creative ways to tackle the climate crisis, for instance by recycling used wind turbine blades into a bridge in Cork County, Ireland, and into bike shelters in Aalborg, Denmark. Denmark’s CopenHill is the world’s first clean-energy power plant with a ski slope on its roof. The biophilic design of Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay increases the city’s green cover, minimizes heat, absorbs rainwater, and uses wood and horticultural waste from around Singapore to generate energy.
But once again, arguably the more important innovations are happening in emerging markets, the regions that stand to bear the brunt of climate and environmental dangers. Kencoco is a Kenyan enterprise that collects coconut waste in the form of shells and husks and processes it into charcoal briquettes that can be used for cooking and heating. This prevents deforestation by ensuring that trees do not have to be cut for fuel, and also improves the health of rural Kenyans because their charcoal briquettes burn much more cleanly than firewood, kerosene and wood charcoal. They are lower-cost too. Sierra Leone entrepreneur Alhaji Siraj Bah on the other coast of Africa has been inspired to implement the same technology in his country. Let’s hope for the same in every corner of the emerging world.
While climate change is an existential threat, so is food insecurity. Creativity can help us overcome this too. One of my favorite creative solutions for tackling food insecurity comes from Bangladesh. Local bank United Commercial Bank thought of an ingenious way to help farmers open bank accounts: by using their own food produce as deposits to open bank accounts. Not the food produce they usually sell, but excess food that they would otherwise discard. While opening bank accounts takes the farmers a step closer to escaping their cycle of poverty, the food produce they deposit is also sent to a supermarket where it becomes part of the food sold. This reduces food waste substantially in a country that has a lot of food insecurity, hence working to solve a problem precisely where it’s severe.
Developed markets are not immune to poverty and food insecurity, as the sheer numbers of homeless people in Paris and Portland show us. French supermarket chain Intermarché tackled this creatively a few years ago by repackaging and selling perfectly edible fruits and vegetables that are usually discarded due to their unusual shapes. By marketing the Grotesque Apple, the Ridiculous Potato, the Hideous Orange, the Failed Lemon, the Disfigured Eggplant, the Ugly Carrot and the Unfortunate Clementine, they reduced food waste throughout the country. Once again, let’s hope that this solution does not simply end with one country but is taken around the world, as food insecurity is indeed a global problem.
Yet another global threat we face is the waste management crisis, including but not restricted to plastic waste. Entire social enterprises are emerging whose raison d’etre is waste reduction. Ocean Sole is a Kenyan enterprise that collects tens of thousands of discarded flip-flops from the coast and recycles them into rubber sculptures. The flip-flops are reincarnated as sculptures of elephants, giraffes, bison, alligators, buffalo, blue whales, crabs, frogs, turtles, gorillas, flamingos, and more. Some of them become keychains, doorstops, coasters, bracelets, juggling balls and yoga mats. When all of these are sold, they generate income for local communities, while also keeping beaches and oceans free of rubber that can kill marine life and cripple aquatic ecosystems.
The multinational organization Liter of Light puts discarded plastic bottles to an innovative use. It converts them to solar lamps, house lights, street lights and bottle lights through open source technology that can be replicated by anyone. This provides a reliable off-grid solar light source to communities that have limited or no access to electricity. So far, this has benefited communities in 15 countries from Brazil to Egypt to the Philippines.
This article is an excerpt from the book The Creative Human by Vasanth Seshadri. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
About the author
Vasanth Seshadri runs the Singapore-based creative agency The Sunny Side. He is the author of the sustainability-themed novel The People from Beyond the Mountains.