Integrating Sustainability Perspectives in Ethnographic Work

INSTRUCTOR: Mike Youngblood (Youngblood Group)

Schedule: This tutorial has one required session. Timing is ideal for attendees in the Americas, E+SE Asia, AU, NZ:
Tues, Oct 20, 3–6:00 pm San Francisco = 7:00 pm São Paulo = Wed, Oct 21, 9:00 am Melbourne / convert time zone

*Registration is closed


This tutorial examines ways that ethnography is uniquely positioned to contribute to the design and innovation of environmentally sustainable (or even better than merely sustainable) products and services. We’ll take a look at several emerging design perspectives—such as circular design, regenerative design, systems-oriented design, and value-centered design—and collaboratively explore ways that ethnographers in industry can put these to work in their own practice and organizations to build sustainability considerations into their work. This tutorial will be valuable for those who are relatively new to sustainability as well as those with deeper experience who are interested in expanding our collective impact toward more planet-friendly industries. 

The tutorial will cover:

  • Opportunity costs of doing design research “as usual”
  • Key perspectives and approaches for sustainable design and innovation
  • Baking sustainability perspectives into research
  • Ethnographic/anthropological theories and methods that can support a sustainability perspective in research (including semiotic analysis, object ethnography, and garbology)
  • Making the case for sustainability perspectives to stakeholders

Participants will be expected to complete a short exercise prior to the tutorial, reflecting on the structure, assumptions, and objectives of their past research projects. This will enhance discussion and collaboration during the tutorial. When we convene, we’ll discuss approaches, theories, and methods before breaking into small teams to imagine ways to put sustainability perspectives into practice in our work.

Participants will take away a toolkit of approaches and methods that will help them practice and advocate for a sustainability perspective in their work. For participants who are interested, this will also be an opportunity to make new connections with like-minded colleagues.


  • Complete a short reflection exercise prior to the tutorial (emailed to participants in advance)
  • Bring digital file or printout of mock RFP (emailed to participants in advance)
  • Bring paper and pen or pencil


Mike Youngblood, PhD, is a cultural anthropologist working at the nexus of social science and human-centered design. He has worked with for-profit and not-for-profit clients around the world in a wide range of industries, including financial services, transportation, telecommunications, food and nutrition, education, healthcare, and social services. Mike has taught at the School for International Training, Maryland Institute College of Art, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, and Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. His recent books are Cultivating Community: Interest, Identity, and Ambiguity in an Indian Social Mobilization and Rethinking Users: The Design Guide to User Ecosystem Thinking. He is also editor of the Sustainability and Ethnography in Business Series on the EPIC blog Perspectives (and is eagerly seeking new contributors).