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Integral Endeavours and the Fostering of the Conscious Consumer
Consumerism is bringing many problems to our society. From the point of view of the individual, for instance, consuming too much food may lead to health problems such as diabetes, heart diseases, osteoarthritis. Consumerism also provokes the increase of the gap between rich and poor by deviating resources from the use in basic needs, such as health, education and dwelling, and also by putting some people into difficult debts for buying superfluous products. Regarding the environment, the more goods are demanded, the more natural resources are required for production, the more pollutant emissions. Although provoking these many problems, consumerism is difficult to get rid of. First, because it is a habit and humans tend to be resistant to changes. Second, because the marketing campaigns know how to take advantage of psychological arguments to manipulate consumers to buy. Nevertheless, the internet and new means of communication are allowing consumers to be better informed. Enterprises are understanding they have to be more considerate to their clients to attract and maintain them. Besides, the relation enterprise-consumer is not an isolated fact – it has many causes and consequences that must be taken into account, as a system, to understand the many impacts in medium and long terms. Thus, a new mental model is required. Integral Endeavours are human activities that values not only economic, but also social and environmental sustainability, based on Systemic Design principles. Among these principles are the valorisation of customers and networks, the minimization of hierarchic relations and the coevolution of elements of the system. Positive sustainable relations must be developed within the system itself. This systemic approach, for its relative novelty and complexity, is difficult to communicate and apply and thus must be constructed in practice. Since food is a subject to which each and every individual has close relation and that the groups interested in healthy food are growing, we are developing projects on Urban Agriculture within two types of community in Belo Horizonte: poor communities and design students groups, dealing in practice with the interference of many the factors involved. Using the research action method, the academic approach is being translated to practices that are proving that time is necessary for people to incorporate new concepts and habits. One example is the use of organic waste to fertilize the soil. At first, the technic was taught to the community who did not give much credit to it, willing and expecting to be given the traditional cattle manure by the local authorities. However, when the plants showed the need for fertilization and the donation of cattle manure did not arrive on time, they begun to ask for support to use organic waste, that is a resource available within the community itself. Therefore, to proceed towards actions to solve some problems of our society, we need to offer alternatives to the short sighted specialist approach restricted to a few protagonists to the systemic and inclusive one that, although difficult to begin with, promises broader medium and long term solutions.