Using a Japanese repair technology for greater climate protection

forschung leben – the magazine of the University of Stuttgart (March 2022)

One of the aims of the “Greenesto - advance your mindset” project is to use a Japanese repair technology, to raise awareness of climate change among schoolchildren and to search for solutions.
[Photo: Shutterstock]

A loud bang, followed by the sound of breaking pottery – shards of a shattered mug scattered all around. Scarlett Spiegeler Castañeda’s description of what sounds very much like the end of her favorite mug is actually the start of the so-called circular mug method, which plays acentral role in the workshops of the “Greenesto – advance your mindset” project. 

Engineer Spiegeler Castañeda is head of the Design Factory Stuttgart and is breaking new ground with innovative approaches, such as the circular mug method, in the Greenesto project to raise public awareness of climate change and sustainability and to support people in their search for individual solutions. The workshops, which are initially aimed at schoolchildren in Stuttgart, will commence in the spring of 2022.

Greenesto is a collaborative project involving the Arena2036 Design Factory, the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Science (ENI), and the Green Office. It is sponsored by the City of Stuttgart's Climate Innovation Fund and its aim is to develop sustainable mindset changes and climate awareness among the general public.

“Technological developments and policy guidelines,” as the organizers of Greenesto explain, “are not enough to halt climate change in a sustainable manner. What is required is an awareness of sustainability concepts among the community, which has been sensitized to the subject and feels a sense of responsibility for the future of its city.” Workshops are at the core of this concept. The Greenesto team will use an e-van to travel primarily to schools. The eponymous mascot and symbol of Greenesto – a figure representing a muscular brain protectively holding a blue-green globe in its hands – is always present. On the one hand, the project team want to raise awareness of the issue of sustainability among children and young people. On the other, the goal is to jointly develop ideas for how they could behave in a more climate- friendly manner in their everyday lives.

Promoting new ways of thinking and behaving

The experiential circular mug method, which design thinking expert Spiegeler Castañeda and her team have adapted to different target groups for the Greenesto project, plays a key role in this process. This method, which places the same value on the process as on the result, is based on the Japanese repair technique known as Kintsugi and so-called mindset muscle training, the intention of which is to promote new ways of thinking and behaving. Kintsugi translates as “golden joinery”. The process involves gluing ceramic shards together using Urushi lacquer and replacing missing parts with Urushi putty, into which gold powder or some other metal, such as silver or platinum, is sprinkled.

This gold compound clearly highlights the break. “Kintsugi involves the creation of something new in a process that still fulfills the original purpose, but at the same time is completely different,” says Spiegeler Castañeda, explaining the underlying concept.

“Kintsugi involves the creation of something new in a process that still fulfills the original purpose, but at the same time is completely different.”

Scarlett Spiegeler Castañeda
Engineer and design thinking expert: Scarlett Spiegeler Castañeda
Engineer and design thinking expert: Scarlett Spiegeler Castañeda

Initiating change in five steps

1. Breaking the mug

The five-step circular-mug method begins with breaking the mug. “The circular mug method begins with a familiar situation that everyone can relate to, such as dropping their favorite mug,” Spiegeler Castañeda explains. “This unintentional action causes a palpable pain. In terms of sustainability,” she continues, “this pain can present itself in a variety of ways: the piles of trash in the park, water wastage, or simply the frustration of not being able to influence the food served in the refectory.”

2. Shards facilitate a change of perspective

Empathy, visual communication, and metaphors are core elements in Design Thinking; thus, sifting through and tidying up the broken pieces in the second step also symbolizes the gathering of information and research. This could involve some very practical questions from the schoolchildren, such as “how did we end up with piles of trash in the park?” or “why does nobody ever turn off the faucet in the school restroom?”. The purpose of this step is to facilitate a change of perspective and it also plays an important role in terms of the team dynamics within the group. “It's especially important for us to encourage sharing through this format; for the pupils to listen to one another and allow other points of view to be heard,” says Spiegeler Castañeda. “Developing a sense of empathy for the particular concerns and problems of their classmates is crucial.”

“That's the really nice thing about the Japanese idea; I don't have to hide it if I do something different than usual.”

Scarlett Spiegeler Castañeda

3. Allowing new things to emerge

The focus of the third step, in which the shards are put back together, is on the various potential ways in which each individual could make a very practical difference in his or her environment – and there are no limits to creativity. “You have to feel secure in order to want to change behaviors and creatively find new opportunities for change,” Spiegeler Castañeda explains. “So it is important to teach schoolchildren that there is no right or wrong and that everyone is accepted. No one should feel uncomfortable. Even if someone simply doesn't want to talk about their personal concerns.”

GREENESTO uses an eSprinter to conduct mobile workshops in Stuttgart's districts to raise citizens' awareness of climate change and develop solutions together.


4. Making personal decision

The fourth step involves the subsequent individual recombination of the fragments with the help of creative design thinking techniques – and making a decision at the same time. All participants describe what they would like to do differently in the future, which could involve anything from water conservation to getting involved in the local environmental group. The fact that something is changing both with the mug and in real life is primarily shown by the shiny gold that appears on the mug during the exercise: “We want to show that we’re changing something,” explains Spiegeler Castañeda, “because taking care of our environment results in something valuable.”

5. Bluprint for a sustainability dialog

Finally, in the fifth and final step, the new mug is used. “That's the really nice thing about the Japanese idea,” says the engineer. “I don't have to hide it if I do something different than usual or, for example, if I like to wear secondhand clothes.” Teamwork also creates a feeling of being stronger together and being able to influence things. The “Greenesto - advance your mindset” team will start the circular mug method workshops in the spring of 2022. A concept book for coaches and a workbook for pupils are also to be produced at the same time. In the longer term, the project team intends to develop a blueprint for a sustainability dialog, because in addition to technological solutions and political guidelines, the main thing needed in the fight against climate change is a shift in the way the general public thinks.

Editor: Claudia Zöller-Fuß

Scarlett Spiegeler Castañeda ARENA2036 e.V.

Scarlett Spiegeler Castañeda is an engineer and passionate design thinking expert. She leads the Design Factory and ensures that the mindset is also anchored in ARENA2036.




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