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Community-Designed Sustainable Furniture for the Centre for Green Change

Archived Content


Funding Source: Fulbright Canada-RBC Eco-Leadership Grant
Host Institution
: Harvard Law School
Home Institution: York University
Project Location: Toronto, Ontario
Proposed Total Expense: $3,650

This is a grassroots community-university project to design sustainable furniture for the future Centre for Green Change in the Jane-Finch community of Toronto. This new community hub will house the growing environmental education and green employment programs of the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre’s Green Change Project, serving one of Toronto’s most ethnoracially diverse and marginalized communities. The Centre’s furniture will be designed and created by community members with help from York University students and faculty. Using sustainable design principles and recovered or recycled materials, community members will both furnish their new Centre and acquire valuable skills.

To realize this goal, the Green Change Project is partnering with the Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS) at York University, a university-wide hub for research and action on sustainability. IRIS will provide York faculty and students knowledgeable in sustainability and design to organize, publicize and co-host two full-day sustainable furniture design workshops for community members.

Each workshop will empower 40-50 local residents, working with York University students and faculty, to conceive creative solutions to the Centre's custom furniture needs, as identified through an earlier series of community design charrettes. For example, they may design a casual bench for the reception area or a harvest table for the community kitchen. Chosen designs will be turned into 3D models and produced on a temporary shop floor. Both workshops will be free and open to residents of all ages and abilities - from children to seniors.

As a volunteer-based initiative, we will rely heavily on collaboration between academics, community/non-profit partners, professional and student designers, and residents throughout the entire process. York University will draw on its world-renowned expertise in sustainability and design and its large supply of student volunteers, while Green Change will bring to the table over 100 volunteers who have recently completed their environmental leadership training program. As part of the larger community engagement plan for the Centre's construction, Green Change will also have a Community Steering Committee as well as a Youth Crew, who will be able to assist with outreach, workshop facilitation, and documentation.

The overall result of this project will be a collaborative vision of the future Centre for Green Change - designed for the community by the community. More specifically, we aim through the workshops:

  • To raise awareness about the environmental impacts of conventional versus sustainable furniture and the connections between furniture design and environmental health;
  • To build design-thinking and sustainable design/building skills among residents, which can be translated into future volunteer or employment opportunities;
  • To bring new partners together to foster a sustained network of information exchange and environmental action in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood; and
  • To increase the inclusivity of environmental projects in the neighbourhood, while recognizing different understandings of environmentalism and community engagement.

We plan to use salvaged, refurbished, or reused materials for 80%-90% of the furniture construction, and to source the remaining materials locally and/or according to the environmental guidelines generated by the project partners. In this way we will reduce our waste and demand for virgin materials, thereby reducing the Centre’s ecological impacts and financial costs.

From the initial meetings to the final fabrication stage, this project will be documented using photojournalism and digital storytelling, and the stories will be disseminated on partners' websites, blogs, and other social media accounts. Community facilitators and participants will be encouraged to share their experiences in real time through live blogging and tweeting during each workshop. Additional reporting of the process will include articles in faculty newsletters, student projects, and community presentations. A final report will be made available on IRIS's and Green Change's websites.

To celebrate and showcase the community’s achievements, the furniture, working drawings, and models will also be exhibited at the Art Gallery of York University or another public space on campus. After this exhibition, a selection of the pieces will be displayed on a rotating basis at Green Change's community office.