Interview Sigrid

Sigrid Bürstmayr talks about sustainability and design

Michael Forster,

Sigrid Bürstmayr works as a university lecturer at the FH JOANNEUM. Her areas of expertise are social & sustainable design and exhibition design, which she teaches in the bachelor’s and master’s programs at the institute.

When did you discover that you are passionate about sustainability?

Sigrid Bürstmayr: Since I can remember my family’s birthday presents have been wrapped in the same used wrapping paper. To this day in my parents’ house there are boxes full of used zippers and buttons which have been removed from old clothes. And I still remember that I used to sort the buttons by colour and size. During my childhood I thought that this way of living was normal. I didn’t realize that this was sustainable, and a step towards the avoidance of waste. To be honest I was annoyed by having to wear the used clothes of my siblings and cousins, and eat potatoes, cabbage and apples all winter long because they grew on our farm and it was their season. However, all of these experiences have shaped my life from the very beginning. The influence of my upbringing is one of the reasons for where I am now ‒ my position in life, my attitude, the issues that I am dedicated to and that inspire me in my work, and also in my private life. Today I try to consume as little as possible and produce as little waste as possible. When I really need something new I try to buy Fair Trade and organic products, as well as packaging-free, seasonal, local and directly from the producer.

Why do you think these topics are so important right now?

These topics have always been important. At this point in time however, problems such as climate change, overpopulation and scarcity of resources can no longer be ignored. The way in which most of us live, how we produce and consume is simply not future‒oriented. Initiatives and trends such as the Sharing Economy, Minimalism, Fair Trade, Open Bookshelves, Fair Dividers, etc. are becoming increasingly important. Design Activism is directed at marginal groups in our society, against human rights violations, as well as against climate change and the right way to deal with fake news. It strives for a positive social, ecological and economic change in all aspects of our daily lives.

How did you come to work at the FH JOANNEUM and what did you do before that?

Before my studies I worked abroad for a year, and then studied Design and Product Management at the FH Salzburg, as well as in Sweden. An internship in a packaging design company provided the topic for my diploma thesis. Then I had a job in an app development startup, where I was responsible for marketing, graphic design and exhibition stand design. I completed my Exhibition Design studies at the FH JOANNEUM, with a master’s thesis on Upcycling. I have dealt with materials over the course of all of these career steps, as well as during most of my projects. My master’s thesis in particular gave rise to follow-up projects at the FH JOANNEUM, and my focus on social and sustainable design has become ever stronger.

What are your goals / visions for the future?

My many journeys, visits to partner universities and participation at conferences, as well as the related meetings with impressive, motivated and inspiring people constantly help me develop. Through this exchange of experiences I come across new ideas from different industries and cultures. And finally it’s all about interdisciplinary work and assuming joint responsibility ‒ politics and science, business and designers, activists and the population. Designers often act as a link between manufacturers and the target group. Although we are involved in product development right from the start, and influence the choice of materials and the manufacturing process, the responsibility does not lie with designers alone. Because in the end it is up to us as consumers to decide which products we need and which we buy. And this influences the economy, and ultimately forces companies to change.