Friday, November 27, 2020

Sustainability Case Studies Chapter 15: Emerging Social Movements for Sustainability: Understanding and Scaling Up Upcyling in the UK

This is the 15th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

This chapter, Emerging Social Movement for Sustainability:  Understanding and Scaling Up Upcycling in the UK by Kyungeun Sung, Tim Cooper, and Sarah Kettley focuses on the social movement of up cycling and how it can be advanced within the United Kingdom. The chapter starts with a review of upcycling, which is the creation of high value products from lesser value used materials. Upcycling takes many forms. For example, you could make a nice dining room table by repairing and enhancing a used or broken table. Or you could make a nice cooler box from old discarded pallets (as I did). Or, you could make jewelry from discarded watch pieces. The authors note that upcycling is somewhat related to the maker movement which is a movement focused on making new things, invention, and tinkering with existing objects.
Old doors on their way to becoming tables.
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The authors link the upcycling movement with a number of other emerging social movements including the degrowth movement, socially responsible investment, and sustainable food production. Together, they highlight how social movements can effectively help to transform current unsustainable practices. The goal of the case study was to identify different approaches to upcycling and factors that influenced behavior toward upcycling in order to identify any policy interventions that could be deployed for scaling up upcycling. A series of interviews with 23 participants were conducted in the study.

The results show that most engaged with upscaling used wood and textiles and that most upcycled products were used personally and not resold. Many found the benefits were economical. However, respondents also noted that reducing waste and feeling good about their work were also motivators for taking on upcycle projects. Many people who participate in upcycling also had early exposure to arts and crafts. 

A bag made of upcycled fabric. 
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The results indicated that the target population for expanding upcycling in society is people 30 and older and that a key strategies would be to build greater positive attitudes toward upcycled products and build community-based family events for upcycling workshops. In addition, intervention strategies were reviewed in a focus group of experts in sustainability and social change. This group suggested that there needs to be better access to used materials that could be available to those interested in upcycling. There is much more in this chapter that those interested in sustainability and social movements would find interesting. 


Here are some discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on social movements and sustainability, upcycling, or waste.

1. What is upcycling and what do you own that is an upcycled product?

2. Have you ever made anything that you could consider upcycled?

3. How can we use interviews to understand a social movement?

4. What other social movements can you think of that are like the upcycling movement?

5. In this study, the two most upcycled resources were wood and fabric. What other types of waste materials do you think could be used for upcycling?

6. The article notes that there is a need for greater access to used materials for those interested in upcycling. How do you think we could provide greater access to these materials?

7. Economic factors were one of the top motivating factors for people to engage with upcycling. What would motivate you to get involved with upcycling? 

8. How do you think we could educate people about the benefits of purchasing upcycling goods?

Previous posts in this series:

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