Engaging people in issues of sustainability in meaningful ways

Arlene Birt is a visual storyteller, artist and information designer and was Medea’s artist-in-residence in 2010. In this post, Birt describes a project that started in Malmö and travelled to Minneapolis.

This post was originally published in the Medea publication Prototyping Futures.

By: Arlene Birt

In the coming 10 years, social and environmental issues such as water scarcity, climate change and inequality will increasingly challenge the world’s population and politics. As individuals it’s often difficult to see how our own seemingly small daily actions play a role when faced with these global challenges. Through my work, I try to connect individuals to the impact of their daily actions and purchases by putting these seemingly small details of life into larger contexts.

The most important question to my work right now is: How can we engage people in issues of social and ecological sustainability in meaningful ways that inspire action?

Building on some of the creative work I had the opportunity to develop during my 2010 artist residency at Medea, this summer I installed a bicycle counter in Minneapolis, Minnesota (US). ‘Bicycling Counts’ tallies passing bicycles and, in real-time, visualises each cyclist in terms of individual and collective financial savings as an animated infographic. Inspired to celebrate the collective impact of cyclists, this project shows how individual actions can contribute to a healthier environment and result in significant financial savings to society.

This project was mobile and installed on several different bike paths throughout Minneapolis during the city’s Bike-Walk Week 2012. Sponsored by Center for Energy and Environment, additional time and equipment was donated by numerous partners.

Bicycling Counts - Arlene Birt - Used with permission

Above: Each passing cyclist is counted in terms of individual financial savings, and savings to society – based on clean air and healthcare savings.

Bicycling Counts - Arlene Birt - Used with permission

Above: The installation moved throughout the city during the city’s annual ‘Bike-Walk Week’.

Bicycling Counts - Arlene Birt - Used with permission

Above and below: An animated infographic displays real-time results of financial savings to both the individual and society, and gallons of gasoline saved.

Bicycling Counts - Arlene Birt - Used with permission

Bicycling Counts - Arlene Birt - Used with permission

Above: Infographic of the results of the one-week, mobile installation.

Related posts
Watch Arlene Birt’s Medea Talk Visualizing Sustainability.