The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global roadmap for creating a more peaceful and just world by 2030. These goals unite all UN member states in addressing pressing challenges, blending poverty reduction and sustainable development into a single, comprehensive agenda.
But often, the SDGs are viewed as being too abstract and theoretical. It’s not the shortage of knowledge that poses a threat to sustainable development; instead, it’s the shortfall in taking meaningful actions.
The “Open Your Eyes” festival aims to portray each SDG in a way that is understandable to the public while creating a sense of urgency and action. The exhibition comprises 17 “theme islands” – one for each SDG. For each island, one to three photographers present their work corresponding to the issue addressed by the SDG. For example, SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) features the series “Plastic Predicament” by Randy Olson. Plastic waste, once convenient, now overwhelms the planet, with humans ingesting microplastics equivalent to a credit card’s size each week. Randy’s photographs were taken in developing countries such as Bangladesh, where mismanaged plastic waste reaches 80 percent and people are often forced to live on a plastic layer.
The role of ETH Zürich
While the photographs are meant to capture and move the audience, their task isn’t to provide guidance for action. ETH Zürich was selected as scientific partner of the exhibition to provide concrete action-oriented examples of research, projects, initiatives, and spin-offs that are contributing towards the SDG. In the example of SDG 6, the spin-off Oxyle is portrayed, a universal treatment for removing micropollutants from water. As project team members involved in the preparations of the very first Open Your Eyes exhibition, we have diligently endeavored to ignite the flame of hope and to illuminate the pathways toward potential progress. We have also strived to elucidate the tools at our disposal, enabling us to achieve our aspirations related with the SDGs. ETH Zürich is therefore providing tangible solutions that strive to overcome obstacles in the way of sustainable development.
The visitor experience
Working at the General-Guisan-Quai visitor center, we have a unique opportunity to connect with visitors. Many are both captivated and troubled by the pressing challenges our world faces, often feeling overwhelmed by the images they encounter. The contrast between Gerd Ludwig’s work The Long Shadow of Chernobyl” and Jérôme Gence’s “I Love a Hologram”, both exhibitions are located next to the center, amplifies the global spectrum of human realities and leaves an especially deep mark and a certain confusion on many. Let us draw motivation from our growing awareness of the world’s challenges, dedicating our professional and personal resources and time to address these immense issues. We each constitute a vital part within the intricate machinery of our society, contributing our part to the solution. This thought-provoking exhibition echoes its motto: Stop. Think. Feel. Act.