University News

Conference promotes sustainable design

Contributing Writer
Monday, October 1, 2012

Students and professionals flooded in from across the globe this weekend to attend the fifth anniversary of A Better World By Design as the conference sought to promote interactivity and increase participant engagement. The three-day conference, put on by a committee of Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students, aims to facilitate discussion between innovators and attendees through lectures, panels and workshops with the common goal of enhancing communities and sustaining the environment through radical design.
Commonly known as “ABWxD,” the conference was created in an effort to expose students to people and ideas concerning real-world design and planning, said Sharon Langevin ’09, one of the co-founders. Conventional education often teaches students on a very theoretical level, she said, while “missing the practical piece and social impact piece.”
“We strive to have a lot of students and professionals for the best kind of interaction … and that happened this year,” said Raaj Parekh ’13, chair of the conference.
This year, the conference brought seven speakers, eight panels, six events and 18 workshops to College Hill. According to the conference’s official website, speakers included Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Cheryl Heller, founder of Heller Communication Design; DJ Trischler and Jonathan Mansfield, founders of D+J, a brand consulting firm; Lorna Ross, health and health care specialist; Shula Ponet, Brooklyn-based kids designer for education; Noel Wilson, lead designer with Catapult Design; and Timothy Beatley, an internationally recognized sustainable city researcher and author.
While the conference explored various issues such as education, psychology, health and business, it also fostered a communal atmosphere. With both a specific and global focus, the conference promotes “interactivity,” Parekh said.
“Over the years, we have become more and more attendee-driven and really interactive,” said Erin Jones ‘12.5, head of public relations for the conference. “So this year, we have more workshops than ever before, fewer speakers, because we want to encourage speakers to engage with the audiences.”
 With this in mind, committee members added two new components to the weekend schedule: “Hall of Fame” and “Failure in Five.”
“Hall of Fame” highlights the work of five featured innovators and displays it on the conference website. The conference helped Veronika Scott jump-start a humanitarian project called the Empowerment Plan, which helps provide skills for homeless laborers who produce coats for residents of homeless shelters, according to the conference website.
“Failure in Five” is a panel of five-minute presentations by students who started projects and encountered difficulties, said Anna Plumlee ’15.
“I don’t believe in failure,” said Noah Fradin ’15, founder of CherryCard, an initiative to donate to charity every time money changes hands. Fradin said new innovators often face challenges that can lead their ventures in new directions.
These additions to the program broadened the spectrum of discussion and increased student involvement.
The group owes much of its success to its foundation as an organization that is supported via internal fundraising and outside sponsorships, said Hannah Bebbington ’14, financial coordinator of the conference. A Better World By Design aims to “expand as an organization, not just as a conference,” she said.
At the close of the conference, coordinators looked at the bigger picture for the organization as a whole, said Beth Soucy ’13, public relations coordinator. “We are really thinking about what this organization can be year-round, and part of that trying to document and track the ideas that come out of the workshops and trying to figure out if any of them can turn into something viable.”