Plastic; significant effect on the environment



For those of us that are students, it is not unusual to have one or two meals a day as take-outs. At lunch time, we may end up taking hot food packed in a styrofoam box with plastic cutlery back to university. A continuation of this every day, can lead to us creating lots of plastic rubbish which, at the time may seem convenient, but the reality is that this synthetic material leaves harmful imprints on the environment. Plastics are very long-lived products that could potentially be used over decades, and yet our main use of these materials are as single-use items that are disposed of within minutes, where they'll persist for centuries. This careless disposable attitude is a significant problem as plastic is a non-biodegradable substance and one of the major toxic pollutants of our time.

As plastics grow in volume tackling its problems means addressing its sustainability and in turn changing society's attitudes to eradicate this ''throwaway'' (McDonough and Braungart, 2009: 97) culture that we've adopted. The answer to climate change is not to simply cease plastic usage, but instead to look at disposable plastic as a prime example of our everyday disposable nature, which we feel needs to be addressed, if we are to have a significant effect on the environment.

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This report sets out to outline our environmental position with regards to our enthusiasm and passion in the creating of affective architecture. In the first section of the report, we will elaborate how media and architecture conform to immaterial labour as understood by Michael Hardt, to generate sustainable affects. Second, we will demonstrate how climate change can be approached from a global and local level. Thirdly, we will provide various examples of affective architectural projects that work to help out the community and the environment. And finally, we will define our ethical position as a combination of ecocentrism and technocentrism, a change which incorporates soft technology, but most importantly requires self-reliance.

Media Architecture as an Affect

How do we abolish the normality of throwaway products?

We believe that to begin answering the above question, we need to focus on our power to affect the world around us, through both the design field and media field. As Baruch Spinoza explains, affects can be passions, determined by external causes or actions, determined by internal causes.1 We as designers need to provide the external stimuli to provoke such passions and simultaneously, make a constant effort to transform these passions into sustainable actions.

We have undergone a post-industrial shift into a new economic paradigm which is based on providing services and manipulating information. The labour involved in this paradigm is one that results in non-material goods, therefore products can not be touched and are not physical, as outlined by Michael Hardt. Hardt later goes on to define this as ''immaterial labour'' (1999: 95). The media today embodies trends found in immaterial labour, where ''images attract affective engagements that fall in line with capatalist productive strategies'' (Wissinger, 2007: 250).

Cultural production has begun to carry out greenwashing methods, using the products of immaterial labour to capitalise and profit from new investments in green technology. This situation has formed a sustainable culture, which heavily features the corporate sector and their ecobranding efforts. The productive force of sustainability culture comes from how it generates economic value, as McDonough and Braungart assert. Corporations such as Beyond Petroleum, BP (formerly British Petroleum)2 exploit sustainability culture to target a wider market, concurrently promoting a new sustainable corporate image (Figure 1). They employ immaterial labour techniques to produce affects in the rising popularity of socially responsible consumption, in order to maximize their profits.3

How if used in a non-profitable way can cultural production be affective?

If we look at cultural production from a sustainable perspective, it is clear that ''culture not only promotes social awareness of environmental issues; as a practice it has the power to also put sustainable living to work'' (Parr, 2009: 5). We feel that if used to demonstrate actual ''principles of equality, stewardship, compassion, renewal and sustenance'' (Parr, 2009: 5), then it can help to form the foundations of a healthy community.

Michael Hardt develops the idea of immaterial labour through his discussion of its three specific tendencies, which are, the informatization of production (via computerization),4 the increase of 'symbolic -analytical services' (problem-solving and routine symbol manipulation),5 and affective labour, which requires virtual or actual human contact and proximity, for the creation and manipulation of affects.6 Sustainable media strategies can emerge, specifically from the latter. Imagery can work to stimulate interest and attention by shaping the publics perception of the importance of climate change (Figure 2). By doing this, affective images are produced, that tune into a felt sense of awareness, responsibility or achievability. This in turn arouses people's affective energy, which leads to immediate and decisive action. A shift in media's functioning from ''selling products to manipulating affect'' (Clough, forthcoming) can be exploited to supply and regulate affect for productive sustainable results.

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Advances in technology can speed up the delivery and increase the viewing frequency of affective media images, resulting in dramatic and profitable image bombardment. Images can be accessed via televisions, movie screens, phones, ipods and computers, forming a digital realm of affective exposure.

Can this affective exposure be applied physically?

Architecture, buildings and space already actively employ similar concepts through physical dimensions, as well as corroborating Hardt's description of immaterial labour in several ways. Architecture itself is a medium. It not only conveys, processes and saves reality and its meaning, but also produces it. We can look at architecture as media, symbols and embodiments of particular ideas and values that affect our mind and bodily experience of an environment. Our environment shapes the way we think and behave, what we learn, and how we learn it. Thus, David Orr asserts "architectural design is unavoidably a kind of crystallized pedagogy7 that instructs in powerful but subtle ways" (Orr, 2002: 137). The answer to the above question is therefore yes. We feel that architecture has an affective responsibility to encourage and inform the public of sustainable behaviour and living. For such built environments to effectively crystallize a sustainable pedagogy, they must both embody sustainable ideals and integrate the modes of teaching.8 As a result, these environments need to be designed with consideration to the functioning of the building after it has served the end uses of its occupants. The inclusion of the individual into the functioning of the built environment enables a persons learning ability to develop. Erik Bonnett and Victor Olgyay indicate that ''rather than learning about external systems or relationships, occupants begin learning about themselves, their behavioural tendencies, and their relationships to the social and biological world'' (2009: 4).

One example of a built environment that acts as a medium in delivering affect is the IslandWood School, Washington, which teaches and influences sustainable behaviour primarily through physical and cultural stimulus (Figure 3). These stimuli involve numerous sustainability strategies ranging from daylighting and natural ventilation to composting toilets and photovoltaic arrays. Many strategies are highlighted and explained with signage. It is the integration of sustainability strategies into a comprehensive learning environment, located within the temperate rainforest, that has the most affect, greatly impacting occupant learning. At IslandWood, lessons in ecology or the relationship of humans to the natural environment may involve activities in the greenhouse or living machine, which figure 4 highlights.

Architecture has been and can be used intentionally and unintentionally to influence human behaviour, in a similar manner to the way that media manipulates affect. Therefore, affective design can not only offer the opportunity to use spaces, buildings and cities to teach lessons about sustainability, but also through changing societies attitudes, eradicate, this adopted ''throwaway'' culture (McDonough and Braungart, 2009: 97). We feel that the role of the architect has to change and adapt, to consider both socio-political and environmental issues in achieving a greater power to affect, leading to a greater power to act.


  1. See Spinoza, 1985.
  2. Until 2004, BP was called British Petroleum. Today, the giant energy company continues to take most of its profits from oil. BP says that it is investing $1.5bn (£980,000) a year in "alternative energy". This may be true, but it turns out that BP's alternative energy division includes not just wind and solar and biofuels but also natural gas-fired power stations. Natural gas may be less polluting than coal and oil, but at the end of the day it's a fossil fuel filling the atmosphere with CO2.
  3. See Parr, 2009.
  4. See Castells, 1996.
  5. See Reich, 1992.
  6. See Hardt, 1999.
  7. Orr coined the term "crystallized pedagogy" to describe the ability of the built environment, such as green buildings, to capture an educational curriculum in the design of a physical environment. For example, at the Adam Joseph Lewis Centre for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, students are able to observe and participate as wastewater from their campus building is purified by living machinery incorporated into the building design.
  8. See Bonnett and Olgyay, 2009.

Figure Notes

  • Figure 1: In 1999, now departed chief executive Lord Browne, (who was applauded for his green credentials) pulled BP out of its involvement with developing Canadian tar sands - an energy-intensive process with a carbon footprint several times that of conventional oil. Last year, BP bought its way back into Canadian tar sands.
  • Figure 2: This impressive media campaign for WWF, inspires us to get rid of our apathy towards issues like global warming and climate change. These images portray how people, who are in an emergency mission, waste their time, ignoring the seriousness of the mission. But, the campaign is not targeted at any particular group, it aims at all of us, it aims at our insensitive attitude. This is an example of an affective way to instigate affect and passions within society.
  • Figure 3: The IslandWood School is a learning environment crafted to facilitate learning through demonstration, experience, and involvement.
  • Figure 4: During a lesson, a child experiences a bird's perspective on the forest's canopy while inside a tree house.
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