About Me

My Photo
Currently the Director of Operations for Design for America (DFA) and a lecturer at the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University, I am a San Francisco native and passionate about the intersection of design education and local/social impact. My studio, students' projects, and DFA have been discussed in publications and blogs such as Fast Company, Chicago Tribune, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Core77 and more. I have been fortunate enough to have spoken and given workshops at TEDx, the NE IDSA Conference, Better Word by Design Conferences, Fulbright Seminar, and given workshops at college campuses across the country. I earned my BFA in industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design where I received RISD’s Community Service Award and the Rachel Carson Award upon graduation. I am currently working on a masters in learning and organizational change at Northwestern University. At the start, I founded and taught the advanced studio, Design for Social Entrepreneurship at RISD, Design Futures at Pratt and worked with nonprofits such as Design that Matters and GreenBlue.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Friend from CNN

Recently, a long-lost friend from high school contacted me after seeing my involvement with the Grain collaborative. To my surprise, she is now a reporter for CNN and was interested to hear more about my work and my thoughts about the Sustainability Movement as a whole. Below was my response to her question:

“While I like a lot of what Blu Homes is doing, I think there's a bigger message here. Would you say that this push for sustainable growth is something that is more recent or has it been around a while? Secondly, is there primarily a youth push for this?”

There have been several cycles of the environmental movement, but since the Industrial Revolution, the one before this one occurred in the sixties with a big push from Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. That generation had a great deal of passion, relying heavily on protests to convey their point, but seemed to focus more on actions like recycling to save the world; which is great, but a lot more is needed. This time around, yes, you often see a younger generation pushing for change, but with a new form of activism- through the free market. People are starting to make change from within the inside of the “bad guy,”- the corporate, business world. We see that government is slow to change, but by channeling citizens’ purchasing power we can create a supply and demand that is more sustainable.

This explains the influx of designers, business people, and corporations like Wal-Mart jumping on the bandwagon. This however does not come without its limitations and challenges. We have experienced thousands of cases of “green-washing,” where companies see an opportunity for their brand to fulfill this niche, but with very little real attempt. As TerraChoice Environmental Marketing documents in their, “6 Sins of Greewashing” report, 99% of “green” or “eco” claims are actually false. But we are just now starting to move beyond this, slowly. Worldchanging recently posted an article about, “What Comes After Green,” discussing ways in which we need to innovate to really change our ecological footprint, moving beyond simply recycled materials and the like, and discovering what we might just be able to do without.

while I like a lot of what Blu Homes is doing, I think there's a bigger message here

Thanks to Al Gore, people are starting to make the connection between their actions and Global Warming, and recognizing there needs to be some serious changes, which is fantastic and absolutely necessary. I believe we, as designers and as a society, will eventually get to the point where we not only focus on the environmental as inherent to good design, but also the social component of the Sustainability Movement and recognize the interconnectedness of the systems. This is starting to happen as we see with projects such as the Sustainable South Bronx and Project H is making some great steps to greater recognizing the human side of Sustainability.


She's still working on the article, so stay tuned!

IDSA Interview


In hearing the news about my new Design for Social Entrepreneurship Course at RISD this Fall, friend and colleague, Tino Chow has posted a recent interview:

Tino Chow:
I know that you are a recent graduate from RISD and have been passionate about using your skill to benefit the less fortunate. How did this passion come about? Was it in school that you found this passion?


Sami Nerenberg: Growing up in San Francisco, California, being environmentally aware comes with the territory. With limitations on resources such as energy and water, I was raised with a heightened awareness about conservation. My mother and I used to make up games to see who could be more efficient around the house, they were silly and fun, but got the job done. And in San Francisco, you come across every single type of person, which exposed me to many ways of life and cultures, making me more socially aware. When I was fifteen, I watched a dance performance entitled, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” outlining the conditioned social dynamics from over a hundred years ago during slavery and how racism still persists in our society. This had a profound impact on me in visualizing the entire system of racism, and still plays a large role in my outlook on our society today. The two issues of environment and societal ills lead me to my current focus on sustainability. which I pursued while at RISD, and continue to work on today.


TC: How would you sum up your experience working in Design that Matters? What do you think you did so far made an impact?


SN: Working at Design that Matters was fantastic. I got to see first-hand and up-close, products that are addressing real needs in the developing world, as well as the issues surrounding them. Design that Matters looks not only to the base of the financial pyramid, but also the bottom of our hierarchy of needs for design opportunity, greatly increasing the quality of life for those who come in contact with the products. Getting to see the inside of a nonprofit broadened my understanding of how a company operates and what tools are necessary for a successful business. My role within the company as Brand Coordinator, was to create a coherent identity for the organization; to transform their image from a nonprofit to a design company. I was able to do this with a series of collateral I developed for both individual and foundation outreach; setting up the organizational infrastructure for the company to run efficiently and effectively.


TC: Would you say that being in your line of work, it have became more of a lifestyle than just simple a job? (How much time out side of work do you “work” or are involve in discussions?)

SN: Working in the field of Sustainable Design is certainly more than just a 9-5 job. It pervades nearly every thought and action. I always try to stay on top of what is going on in the field, as it is rapidly progressing, by maintaining my blog, www.imassami.blogspot.com, reading books (right now it’s Common Wealth by Jeffrey Sachs, and Out of Poverty by Paul Polak), putting into practice some sustainable lifestyle choices- small things such as buying used as oppose to always new products, and encouraging dialog among other designers and artists to create a culture of awareness, which is the first step to action.


TC: What is one thing that you would like to see changed differently in the field of humanitarian design?

SN: Well, first, I don’t like to separate out Humanitarian Design. Although it is overused, I find “Sustainable Design” to be the most fitting of terms because it encompasses both humanitarian and environmental issues. The two go hand in hand, so we cannot bring them apart, but rather, I would like them to more greatly come together. Within product design, environmental awareness is steadily increasing, and becoming inherent to good design. Designing for social impact is indeed another issue, but in order for design to be truly sustainable, both must be addressed, this is the the Triple Bottom Line- People, Planet, Profit. As I was speaking to Jocelyn Wyatt today, who leads IDEO’s “design for social impact” initiatives, we discussed how all design addresses “social issues” because it is human-centered; however, in referring to social impact, we imply a target market of those with the greatest needs, and the most under-served communities. We not only can design products for this market, but also consider the social impacts of how are designs are produced; are the factory workers treated and paid fairly, do they get health benefits, does the factory account for its pollution to the surrounding community which in turn affects their health? This is also design for social impact, and as time progresses, I believe designers will become more empowered to determine these decisions.

Thanks Tino! See the original post here.