Single-use Plastics Research (SUPR)


DESIS Emily Carr is questioning our relationship with single-use plastics. We speculate that deep inquiry into our personal relationship(s) with single-use plastics would lead to insights about how social innovation could support the cultural shift from dependency on single-use plastics.


The SUPR team is a group of faculty members and graduate student researchers that meet regularly to guide the activities of the research lab. This team is complemented by expertise from Zero Waste Canada and Nada Grocery, Vancouver’s first no-packaging grocery store.


ACTIONS are different methods for inquiring into everyday relationships with single use plastics. These can include caring, belonging, presencing, conversation, everyday life and journaling. Each SUPR team member has their own method to explore their relationship with plastic.


We commit as a community to an ongoing caring relationship with these single-use-plastic artifacts. Keeping them close to us, we nurture them. We are encouraging an ethos of care that can generate both a situated and relational response. Caring in this context is about being attuned and having the foresight to intervene as needed.


By repositioning single-use-plastics as our belongings we are questioning typical behaviours and seeking new actions. A belonging is not so easily tossed off or disregarded. New actions can include care, repair, preserving and keeping. And if we do discard plastic belongings, might there be affect?

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye points out the brevity of our relationship with single use plastics. By bringing awareness to the act of disposal, we become more mindful of where we part ways with the ones we inevitably encounter. We began to document how the plastic became our belonging, why they became our belonging and where we said goodbye, along with a quick drawing of the item.


The Buddhist approach embraces plastic as a presence with which we are interdependent (we inter-are). Breathing mindfully and remembering to be non-judgmental about the material provides new observations and insights.


Being mindful of our everyday plastics, we started engaging in an intimate conversation with them through our daily journal. This includes educating ourselves about what actions these plastics play in our daily life and how is our response to those. Every day a letter to one of our plastics provides a time for self-reflective moments.


Public conversations around avoiding single use plastic (such as asking for a product that is not packaged in plastic) can lead to “social frictions”, which are a normal part of social change. This in turn leads to inspiration for how social innovation can support change in the way that members of a household, the public, service staff and members of a community rely on single-use-plastics.

SUPR Network

Unmaking workshop

The Unmaking workshop engages students in the unmaking of technology by taking it apart to its simplest form. Objects and tools are provided with one goal: To deconstruct, disassemble and or reduce the object as far as the tools will take you. This workshop takes a constructivist approach in which learners, when facilitated in a group setting connects and overlaps with several conceptual frameworks that relate to how we learn and absorb information.
The research goal of this workshop is exploratory and experiential, a component of learning in this context that Stephen Sterling argues for as essential for sustainable education (Sterling, 2001, p. 38). A diversity of experiences and, exterior and interior cognitive influences, help shape our understandings of the world and the skills we acquire.

This workshop provides an opportunity for students to actively engage in an activity that might universally relevant to their future learning (designed consumer based technologies and products) but also facilitates an exploration of the insides of these objects and provide and opportunity to question its purpose, construction and philosophical place in the world. The learning that happens within this workshop is emergent and it is this collaborative act of unmaking that can be understood as a “community of practice” that require an active and critical engagement with the process.

Furthermore through this workshop this contextual collaborative exercise, a value based practise might be initiated by having a active discussion with each other in relation to sustainability, materiality, purpose and disposal before even engaging in the act of design. This inquiry based hands-on material practice sparks curiosity  and curiosity as a vehicle for learning leads to discovery.

Students are engaged with ideas that support the realities of undoing what has been done and this work might enable them to better understand and situate themselves within the problem space relative to the ecological issues associated with these artifacts. This process might then reveal the role design might need to play in that process and how they might see themselves in that potential future and and, they may become empowered and they may now situate themselves, may know their capacity relative to the ecological issues associated with these artifacts.

The NeighbourHub: Community Resilience

Nestled between the ocean and the mountains on Canada’s west coast, beautiful Vancouver sits on the meeting point of two tectonic plates, which means we face a one in five chance of experiencing a serious crustal or megathrust earthquake in the next 50 years (Wagstaffe, 2016).

Our team of five set out to explore themes of resilience, natural disaster preparedness, and community building. We defined resilience as a population’s ability to develop regenerative solutions to challenges, being both structurally adaptable and socially responsive (Nirupama, Popper & Quirke, 2015). Through the DESIS community we hosted a Resilience walk. This earthquake (workshop) would take place outdoors, rain or shine. During the walk, we came together to share stories as we walked along the liquefaction zone of Surrounding neighbourhood of Emily Carr. We discussed the potential shocks that Vancouver could experience and had participants question what our real survival tools will be post natural disaster.

Each place that we visited along our walk held significance to us as members of the Emily Carr University Community. As we discussed the implications of each space, we framed the conversation it in two different scenarios: the present and the future.

We also set up a secret location check point at our neighbourhood Disaster Support Hub, one of 25 community centres designated by the City of Vancouver be the site of information and resource-sharing during an emergency. Here, participants engaged with maps of Disaster Support Hubs in their own neighbourhood and outlined the people they would want to contact if there was an emergency.

Participants composed messages to friends, family and neighbours that explained their newly developed plan and outlined where they could be found if an earthquake did shake the coast. They asked their friends and family to respond with their own plan and forward the conversation onto others. This simple message helped us to better understand people’s perceptions of emergencies and what preparation means to them. Through DESIS, we were able to start a dialogue about the diverse definition of resilience. These responses are meant to help facilitate the next steps in our project.

Follow up: This design process has led to the design of NeighbourHubs, a disaster backup system that provides essential resources like drinking water, light, power, and radio communications in green spaces across the city. This central organizing unit could inspire residents to collect rainwater and monitor water levels, peddle on the bikes for exercise while generating localized power, interact with neighbours, and form disaster plans with others. The NeighbourHub is a model for how to facilitate conversations around social connections, civic engagement, and preparedness for citizens to overcome diverse threats such as social isolation, climate change, drought, and earthquakes, that affect us today and tomorrow.

Emily Carr DESIS Lab Assembly meeting March 30, 2016

Interesting people having interesting conversations….



The DESIS Lab meeting this March hosted four DESIS format presentations. Topics were Transition Town Collaborations, Who is Social (Post-human design), and DESIS goes to Milano. This was followed by a lively discussion, with emerging themes of:

  • Can DESIS provide for alternative learning models, such as projects that integrate graduate students with undergraduate, and allow for courses that are initiated by students?
  • The presentations began a process of reflection. We’d like to continue to look at the work of DESIS as a body of work, and then evolve the conversation about DESIS: what are the larger themes and meanings we can draw from this?
  • There is an excitement about the possibility of collaborating with DESIS labs internationally…. Starting of course, with our presence at the Triennale in Milano this summer!


Connection Means: Action Together

Emily Carr DESIS lab at the 2016 Triennale

The Emily Carr DESIS Lab is bringing action and connection to the 2016 Triennale in Milano. Through a series of facilitated activities and events, we will research the physicality of collaborative making as a method for creating new social relationships.

Featured as part of Emily Carr University’s Liminal Lab popup studio and exhibition, the Emily Carr DESIS lab will offer serial collective actions that investigate how making common things (books. hats. poems. bread. ropes. clothes pegs. pizza. . .) together fosters meaningful ties. Participants will actively make artifacts in collaboration in order to draw out embodied knowledge in our hands, feet, shoulders, and elbows. Does this foster new social relationships? Allow us to generate new value laden collectives?

All projects will be documented physically through the immediate means of polaroid photography and posted regularly at the Liminal Labs exhibit.

First Emily Carr DESIS meeting of 2016

This widely attended meeting brought forward a discussion about a number of questions. Students wished to know how they could initiate DESIS projects. Students also brought up questions about experiments in new ways of living that they were conducting in their own lives; how could this be formalized as DESIS research? Faculty raised questions about societal change related to policy: how does DESIS embrace policy work? Eminent Professor Emeritus from the U of A, Jorge Frascara reminded those present to look for projects and initiatives that are small scale, local, and attainable; success builds positive momentum and energy for DESIS work.

Ezio Manzini Skype lecture at Emily Carr

Ezio Manzini spoke by Skype to a large audience of faculty and students at Emily Carr on February 03, 2016. His informative talk highlighted key qualities of DESIS projects. Special thanks to Thanks to Guille Noel and her “Design for Social Change Studio” course for initiating this talk.


DESIS Discussion Group


Social media as enabling or interrupting engagement with the natural


Discussion Poster web

Emily Carr University’s DESIS group will be hosting a discussion group Mar 23, 2015.

In this hour long critical debate, we will endeavor to understand undergraduate design student’s perception around indirect engagement with nature through technology. Technology does act as a barrier to the real but also enables access to the natural without disturbing the environment.

If you have any questions about this event please contact discussion lead Lisa Boulton: