The ultimate materials boy’s challenge to Clerkenwell Design Week

braungart

“Celebrate life, rather than minimise damage”, a perfect rallying cry to kick off Clerkenwell Design Week from Professor Michael Braungart, speaking at the launch of the SCIN Gallery‘s new Green Room.

Clerkenwell is home to more creative businesses and architects per square mile than anywhere else, and as this design week celebrates ever more brands, more product launches and more visitors, the #Being Human talk reminded us that beneath the superlatives, materials are the basis or everything.  As a chemist, and co-author, with William McDonough, of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002), Braungart is perhaps the ultimate materials boy.  Readers of that key sustainability text will know that materials provide the foundation for a “transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design.”

Braungart began by debunking a few eco-design fallacies.  He cautioned us not to romanticise nature, “the most toxic chemicals to us are the most natural chemicals”.  Neither should environmental considerations be presented as the ethical option, abandoned under conditions of stress. Timothy Devinney’s thorough description of “The Careless Consumer” in a recent article for the RSA Journal explained the attitude-behaviour gap “if you are attempting to sell an ethical product you cannot expect individuals to sacrifice any aspect of the other things that matter”, such as price and quality.

Conventional design approaches to environmentalism have focused reducing, reusing and recycling. World Business Council for Sustainable Development coined the term eco-efficiency in Changing Course: A Global Business Perspective on Development and the Environment”, “It is going to be next to impossible for a business to be competitive without also being ‘eco-efficient’ – adding more value to a good or service while using fewer resources and releasing less pollution”. Becoming more eco-efficient has bolstered many businesses’ bottom line, and had a beneficial environmental impact.

However, efficiencies only slow down the rate of depletion or destruction. This is what John Mathers, CEO of the Design Council described as “disjointed incrementalism” (in a recent article, “Design Intervention”), and often leads to perverse outcomes. When the EU banned asbestos from brake pads several major car manufacturers advertised their products as “free-from” asbestos.  But, antimony sulphide, a stronger carcinogen, was substituted for asbestos.  Products designed without their end of life in mind are usually ‘down-cycled’ as contaminants lower the quality of recycled materials. Neither do efficiencies always reveal their full impact. Braungart provided many examples of “products plus” where you get the product you bought, plus additives you did not, such as a polyester shirt containing toxic dyes that leach into your skin when you sweat.

“Less bad” is an underwhelming goal, and not an inspirational brand value. Braungart reminded the designers and architects in the audience that efficiencies rarely make hearts sing. Design for eco-effectiveness, rather than eco-efficiency.
In nature, waste equals food, and so too in the Cradle-to-Cradle design paradigm. Safe materials are disassembled and recycled as technical nutrients or composted as biological nutrients in two distinct, closed-loop systems.  The biosphere contains products for consumption, such as food, books, textiles, that are made of renewable materials that can be safely returned to water or soil without synthetic or toxic contaminants.  Braungart and McDonough’s latest book, “Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance” is one of the first to be printed from materials that could be safely composted or burnt, as this video from the printer, Gugler, explains.

prof-dr-michael-braungart-rsm-erasmus-university-november-30th-2011-28-728-1In contrast, in the technosphere, non-renewable materials are fully recycled into high-quality service products for generations.  For example, Orangebox’s Ara ‘task’ (office) chair uses materials and assembly techniques that make it easy to repair and completely recycle. Desso take back their own carpets, and those of competitors. The yarn and backing are separated into two material streams, the yarn is recycled, and the bitumen backing used as raw material for roofs or roads.

glA point of differentiation with the circular economy framework is Braungart’s emphasis on continuous improvement. Circular economy diagrams illustrate technical materials cascading through loops of maintenance, reuse, refurbish to recycle. At the heart of the Cradle-to-Cradle is the intention to design for environmental health and abundance, “a rich human experience with all that entails—fun, beauty, enjoyment, inspiration and poetry.” In the SCIN Gallery’s Green Room, Trash Surface Bureau’s beautiful and playful glass tiles and slabs reflect this design intention. The products are created from the local collection, processing, and transformation of glass in central London’s Soho.

At the micro, or company level the Cradle-to-Cradle principles are: material health; material reutilization; operations powered by renewable energy; and water stewardship. The fifth principle of social fairness, celebrating all people and natural systems, aspires to macro-level transformation. In the Netherlands, a cross-sectoral network of organisations called Nutrient Platform signed an agreement in 2011 to close the nutrient cycle and end the imports of phosphate fertilisers by 2020. Phosphates are recovered from sewage, sludge and municipal organic waste and manure to be processed into products such as fertilizers. There is less waste, less use of fertilizer and less contamination of surface water. Excess phosphate can be exported, and agriculture has a more secure supply chain. Government has a clear role to play, setting transparent, long-term, stable policies that create a framework for abundant growth. We all have a role to play, defining how we want to live, in five or twenty years time. We need to redesign not just products but systems, through dynamic public policy, cross-sectoral collaboration and transparency of environmental and social impacts. Braungart challenged the Clerkenwell Design Week community to become co-creators in abundance.

Related links:

http://www.cradletocradle.com

http://www.mbdc.com

Image credits: SCIN Gallery; Prof Michael Braungart

Piñatex™, innovative and sustainable textiles from pineapples!

Piñatex-PunackpuckCarmen Hijosa has a well-honed eye for beautiful things having worked with luxury leather goods for more than twenty years.  Her Damascene moment came when a piece of consultancy work took her to a leather tannery in a developing country.  The impact was laid bare, and shocking.  Soon after she was engaged by a Philippine client to upgrade their leather goods for export.  Rather than working with leather (which was imported), Carmen advised looking at local materials readily available in the Philippines.  Over five years of research and development, and a PhD at the Royal College of Art, following culminating in the launch of Piñatex™, a natural and sustainable non-woven textile by Ananas Anam Ltd, backed by the InnovationRCA, and protected by patent.

Piñatex™ is made from fibres of pineapple leaves, which are usually discarded and left to rot when the fruit is harvested.  The fine, flexible fibres are extracted from the leaf through a process called decortication.  Once degummed, the fibres are surprisingly soft to the touch and breathable.  They are processed into a non-woven mesh textile at a local factory in the Philippines, then shipped to a finishing factory near Barcelona, Spain.  The company already has sufficient scale to meet orders of up to 500m of fabric in a variety of colours, finishes and thicknesses.

Piñatex-Ginto02As the Piñatex’ pineapple fibres are a by-product of the fruit harvest, no extra water, fertilizers or pesticides are required to produce them.  The textile, which is renewable, compostable, and tactile is also amazingly versatile as it is mouldable and easily dyed.  It feels like felt, and is suitable for a range of finishes: waxed it looks like leather; embossed it looks like an animal or reptile skin (pictured above); and the metallic finish adds a whole new glamorous edge.  The current water-resistant coating, while technically biodegradable, still contains a tiny amount of petro-chemicals, so Hijosa is working with Bangor University, supported by an innovation voucher from InCrops (specialists in biorenewables and bio-based products) to develop a completely compostable, non-petroleum based coating.

Piñatex-BagaheThe textile has direct appeal to the fashion, accessories and furnishing industries.  Having passed all the technical tests (ISO international standards for: seam rupture, tear resistance, tensile strength, light and colour fastness and abrasion resistance), a number of key brands are now using the textile to develop prototype products.  At around £18 per metre, Pinatex is more economical than leather (typically around £30 per metre), and there is much less waste.  The irregular shape of leather hides leads to significant wastage of around 25%, where as Pinatex is available on 218cm or 150cm wide rolls.

This week sees the first official presentation of Pinatex, the Pine-Apple Show, Imagine everyday through Piñatex™ at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, SW7 2EU from 12th -17th December.  Prototype products made from Piñatex™ designed by Ally Capellino, Camper, Puma, John Jenkings in collaboration with Ulterior Design Upholstery, Patricia Moore, Dagmar Kestner, SmithMatthias and Julia Georgallis will be on show.  The event is supported by the RCA, the Philippine Embassy and the Philippine Trade and Investment Centre in London, underlining the potential for this product to support sustainable livelihoods.

Intended Life CycleHijosa has worked in partnership with an agricultural co-operative in the Philippines to source the material.  The fibres represent only 5% of the leaf, so the remaining biomass, the by-product of decortication, can be converted into organic fertiliser (typically the farmers’ greatest cost) or bio-gas. So Pinatex has the potential to offer the farmers two new revenue streams, from the fibres and the bio-mass.  The process uses tried and tested technologies reducing barriers to scaleability.   Hijosa aims to replicate the production in other geographies, providing sustainable livelihoods for agricultural communities, and perhaps introducing greater variety to the range of finishes and products based on different traditions.  In time, and with the support of the Philippine Textile Research Institute, the existing finishing partners in Barcelona and Hijosa intend to develop the skills and knowledge to finish the textile in the Philippines.

PiñatexTM is more than a versatile non-woven, natural textile with great aesthetic and technical performance; the whole life-cycle of the textile has been designed and developed along Cradle2Cradle principles, in fact, Dr. Michael Braungart, author of “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” is assessing Hijosa’s PhD thesis.  Pinatex is a story of innovation finding beauty and inspiration in the discarded.

 

 

 

 

A day of tear down and design up for the circular economy

Circular-Economy-ConceptAs part of the Disruptive Innovation Festival, SustainRCA, the Royal College of Art’s sustainability hub, hosted two events exploring innovation and the circular economy, practically and conceptually.  The hands on workshop, Business Modelling for a Circular Economy, was the perfect complement to the evening’s panel discussion, Peering into the Next Wave of Innovation. The phrase ‘circular economy’ is increasingly used by business, media and academia as a generic term for an economy that is regenerative by design.  As Ken Webster, Head of Innovation at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, described during the panel discussion, the circular economy is defined by a set of principles: two, separate cycles (pictured left): biological materials, designed to re-enter the biosphere, and technical materials, designed to circulate with minimal loss of quality; diversity provides strength and resilience; the shift towards an economy ultimately powered by renewable energy; embracing systems thinking, to reflect the real-world where systems are non-linear, feedback-rich, and interdependent; and thinking of cascades, as products are repaired, reused, remanufactured and recycled realising more value, and managing resources with less waste.

The conventional, linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model has relied on large quantities of easily accessible resources and energy.  We live in a diffiernt paradigm, bound by legacy systems and resource constraints.  Input prices, which declined for most of the 20th century, are rising and increasingly volatile, driven by physical, and, as Mark Shayler, director of agencies, Ape, and TicketyBoo, noted, by political access.  Rapid consumption patterns are losing a lot of value to landfill:  around $2.7trillion of the $3.2 trillion created by the FMCG industry each year, according to Jamie Butterworth, Ellen MacArthur Foundation speaking at another DIF event.  With 3 billion more middle class consumers by 2030 and a finite planet, we have to do things differently.  Not just more efficiently, but more effectively.

Hugo Spowers of Riversimple began the panel discussion with a complete circular economy vision for car use, from ownership to mobility, a redesign of the car, business model and corporate governance.  Citing Joanna Macy, Spowers called for a simultaneous shift in method, methodology and mindset.  A service dominant logic places the user at its centre, as in We All Design‘s Circular Business Board which was presented by founder Rob Maslin, as a framework for the business modelling workshop.  At its heart are the ‘User Profile’, and the ‘Function’ (the problem or user need such as washing, rather than the machine), and ‘Solution’, how can we effectively, or optimally, meet the need. bm1

Against this backdrop, our first enquiry was a product ‘tear down’.  We huddled round an Apple MacBook with tiny screw drivers.  ‘Tear down’ suggests a heady abandonment, this was a more precise and forensic exercise.  Carefully teasing the tiny screws passed battery, RAM, circuit boards, and disk-drive, (its intricacy perhaps a clue to their redundancy) until ultimately a mucky keyboard.  Well-versed in product design, my colleagues were focused on the device’s limitations for repair and disassembly.  Many of the environmental challenges device manufacturers face are around resource scarcity and price volatility, yet these challenges are often missing from the designer’s brief, says Shayler.  The post-mortem revealed death by latte on keyboard, so our method imagined a keyboard that could be readily replaced, repaired or personalised.

We sketched out a tiered service (methodology) and pricing plan.  A confident and engaged user would buy their device outright, and any parts for repair or upgrade from the manufacturer or a reseller such as iFixit.or Restart Project.  A second profile, a fashion-conscious, brand-lover, desiring the latest device would pay a premium to customise their keyboard, laser-etch the case, and be one of the first 1000 automatic upgrades for new releases.  A third user profile, someone for whom their laptop is a service platform, predominantly for email and the internet.  This user would own their device for longer, and buy a service contract without either the confidence or inclination to tinker themselves.  This service-based model minimises the environmental, social and governance issues in the supply chain (using less raw materials); remodels delivery logistics to provide for the return of the physical asset; provides a tiered service plan, where the level of engagement or contract matched their service need. Barry Waddilove, Home Product Design, and team designed a network of technology clubs in charity shops for kids and young adults, making use of the ‘waste’ electronics they are given to create educational workshops and with an electronics brand as strategic partner, others kettles, hairdryers and other small electronics.Hugo-new
In leasing or buy-back model, product recovery is key to retaining valuable material resources.  The opportunities are greatest for durables.  The manufacturer has every incentive to design for product disassembly and material recovery, rather than obsolescence.   If Riversimple‘s car design is revolutionary, emitting only a tiny amount of water, and more than the equivalent of 200 mpg., then its business service model is even more so.  Based around a subscription, with a fixed element, and a variable element reflecting usage, Riversimple aims to maximise life-cycle profitability.  The user buys an ongoing service where the product is refurbished, upgraded and replaced as required, made from higher quality materials.

The potential scope is much greater than decoupling product design from raw materials.   As we are five years away from losing key skills into retirement, Shayler argues, there are compelling reasons to boost innovation and engineering enterprise in the UK.  There are barriers, but the mindset is shifting, with a Government report, arguing there are, “potentially billions of pounds of benefits for UK businesses in becoming more resource efficient.”, and calling for producer responsibility regulations and lower VAT on recycled goods.  Spowers called for a more sustainable financial system, and also on the podium, Andy James, Founder and Managing Director of Six Degree People, described the need for greater collabbm2oration and advisory boards to support CEOs embarking on disruptive innovation strategies.  A few days later Andy’s comments were echoed by Professor Vlatka Hlupic at the launch of her new book, The Management Shift.  Her research demonstrates that a collaborative culture is central to developing organisations that are more resilient, more innovative and generate better returns for all stakeholders.  Innovation is joyful!

Image credits: Ellen MacArthur Foundation; Riversimple

Joining the Dots in the supply chain

pp_1The first talk of the SustainRCA 2014/15 year, Joining the Dots, drew quite a crowd.  Held in collaboration with the People’s Parliament the event was held in a House of Commons committee room.  A fitting location as transparency, accountability and human rights are at the heart of the push to join the dots on the supply chain.  Baroness Lola Young introduced the speakers, and the evening, in the context of the Modern Slavery Bill.  The Bill, due for its second reading in the House of Lords on 17th November 2014, will compel large companies to annually disclose what they have done to ensure their supply chains are “slavery free”.  As well as regulatory pressure, customers increasingly expect businesses to delivery great products and services responsibly.  The demand for greater transparency is matched with growing interest in the narrative behind products, a desire for authenticity, the result of a centrifugal force driving remote, homogenous, global brands at one extreme, and a revival of artisan, heritage and craft at the other.

logo@2Celebrating materials, maker and method gives meaning to a product, in fact the object derives greater meaning from the sum of these stories, and here lies the rationale for Provenance, a new online retail proposition from RCA graduate Jess Baker.  Every product has a story in its supply chain, and “not all products are created equal”.  Baker felt that retail experiences where look and price are the only metrics available are missing something and she suggested customers would pay up to 70% more if they knew that the benefits were going to the local community.  Observation made, Baker, with a PhD in computer science, is optimistic that technology can help us be better citizens, redressing the informational asymmetry that currently defines the retail experience.  Provenance tells the story of the people, places, processes and materials behind products.  Oh joy to discover I live a stone’s throw away from where Prestat, chocolate purveyor to H.M. The Queen is making dark salted caramel truffles!  The Provenance  API offers makers a host of smart perks, such as the ability to serve stories on other sites, but essentially it is the products’ stories that provide the marketing clout.
The second speaker, Leah Borromeo took us to the other end of the spectrum with the trailer for her documentary, “The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold”.  The film shines a light on the cotton industry in India, where around 300,000 cotton farmers have committed suicide to escape debt.  The political, social, cultural and economic context is such that 28.5% of the Indian population (343.5mn) are destitute and the estimated net worth of the top ten was $102.1 bn, around 5.5% of GDP in 2013.  The plight of cotton farmers is part of a web of relationships and pressures more complex than can be tackled in this film, but it poses some tough questions.
Cotton is just one commodity at the base of complex, dynamic, global supply chains increasingly under scrutiny.  Tim Wilson, Historic Futures, works with a range of multinational firms to map the value-chains (a term Wilson prefers to supply chain) from where raw materials are sourced to the retail distribution of products in a format that can be rapidly updated.  80% of social and environmental impact is in the value chain, and typically organisations have limited tools to measure this accurately.  We know deforestation, climate change and biodiversity loss are increasingly cause for concern, and that the rates of change of going up.  Yet lack of accurate, complete information undermines an organisation’s ability to make informed and reliable sourcing decisions.  Without the ability to convey their best practice to management or buyers, participants in the value chain can not differentiate themselves from less responsible competitors, and justify what may be a higher cost or investment.
We should not underestimate the complexity of these relationships.  For example, working with Marks & Spencer, Historic Futures, mapped 12.5 million items over 15 months, from more than 700 third party suppliers, and more than 6,500 retail points of sale.  It can be done with accuracy and precision.  Historic Future’s String 3 is working on a platform that is verifiable but does not reveal the suppliers, so enabling companies to share information, and preserve their competitive advantage.
Demand for this data is growing.  Earlier this year, PricewaterhouseCoopers bought Geo-Traceability, a company that uses GPS mapping, Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and mobile phone and bar coding systems to track products from origin to shop floor.   GeoTraceability has collected data from 113,000 small holder farmers in developing countries and is developing new approaches to trace conflict minerals, and monitor of key biodiversity indicators. Ian Powell, Chairman and Senior Partner, said: “Resource scarcity and supply chain management are significant issues for our clients. The acquisition of GeoTraceability is another example of how we are investing in innovative technologies and services that enable our clients to make better business decisions, establish trust and reduce their risk.”  For the smallholders the platform provides information to help improve their production, farming practices and build a more sustainable livelihood.
6114_pcThe final speaker, Bruno Pieters, designer and founder of Honest by, is striving to be the first company in the world to offer customers price transparency.  Pieters is an entrepreneur, fashion designer and art director well-known for his sharp tailoring developed while working with designers such as Martin Margiela, Thimister and Christian Lacroix.  Pieters returned from a sabbatical in India, with a deep-seated concern for the environment, and wider impact of fashion industry.  His vision brings radical transparency to the entire supply chain.  Click on an item that catches your eye and, in addition, to conventional information about the garment’s size and care, scroll down for details of the material, manufacture, carbon footprint, and price calculation: with 0.5 euros of thread, and the retail mark-up.  What a fascinating exercise!
Many of these ESG (environmental, social and governance) impacts materialise in the medium or longer term, beyond the horizons of quarterly returns or short-term profitability.  Momentum supporting a culture of long-termism, transparency and accountability in business, and the finance industry, is developing on several fronts.  Following the Kay Review of UK Equity Markets and Long–Term Decision Making, the recent establishment of the Investor Forum, is the latest in a series of initiatives that will drive demand for integrated analysis incorporating ESG factors into standard financial valuations.  These developments reflect a wider discussion about the role of business, and banks, as corporate citizens, such as the Blueprint for Better Business, Aviva’s Roadmap for sustainable capital markets and the Banking Standards Review.  In a survey of 30,000 consumers across twenty countries in five continents carried out by the UN Global Compact-Accenture Study on Sustainability, in collaboration with Havas Media, found “72% of people globally say business is failing to take care of the planet and society as a whole”.
Joining the dots on the supply chain is only the first part of a linear model of manufacture and consumption, characterised by “take, make, consume and throw away”.  Measuring and valuing resources reveals the real business benefits opportunities of using them more efficiently, and effectively.  The Disruptive Innovation Festival, was a virtual festival ideas from leading thinkers, entrepreneurs and businesses sharing knowledge about the circular economy, an economic model that is restorative by design.  Environmental scientists have long urged us to recognised that we live in a closed system or biosphere.  Mapping impacts is the beginning of better decisions, to borrow the words of Maya Angelou, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
P.S. Andrew Hill will interview Honest By Founder & CEO Bruno Pieters at 12pm GMT on Day 2 of the FT Innovate 2014 conference in London, ” The Digital Big Bang, how digital technologies and practices are transforming the way companies innovate and do business.”
Related links:
 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/253457/bis-12-1188-equity-markets-support-growth-response-to-kay-review.pdf

Tent London 2014 favourites

logoA pitstop at Nude Espresso on Hanbury Street set me buzzing for my favourite London Design Festival destination, Tent London.  The more established SuperBrands and international zones on the ground floor soon merge into the fresh, fun and less formal stands typically from younger or emerging designers.hyde  My first rendez vous was not with an exhibitor, but with potter and designer Isatu Hyde. I bought some of her medium-sized stoneware bowls, inspired by those from a monastery in Harrogate, at the New Designers show earlier in the year.  The bowls are in demand, so much so that Isatu asked to borrow mine for Design-Nation Presents at the Southbank Centre Terrace Shop.  Tickets are still available for the Meet the Maker evening on Tuesday 7th October, but you can see the work on show until 31st October. Unburdened, I was free to roam.  The understated elegance of Mater immediately caught my eye.  Founded in 2006, Mater (Latin for mother) is a high-end Danish furniture and lighting brand with a philosophy based on design, craftsmanship and ethicsTD1.  Contemporary design is combined with support for local craftsmen, their traditions and careful material selection.  A member of the UN Global Compact, and supporter of local sustainable business projects, Mater strive to minimize negative impacts, creating durable and desirable products that they home their customers will cherish. Pictured are the Luiz pendant lamp, made from natural FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) cork, suspended above the Bowl Table.  The table top is made mango wood, felled once the tree has reached the end of its productive life, and another planted.  The top is hand-turned on a lathe by craftsmen from the Kharadi community.  The top is finished with a lead-free, water-based polyurethane lacquer.  The hollow steel legs can be removed for more efficient packing and transport.  Mater products are stocked by Skandium in the UK. td3Exploring the story of the object, Second Sitters upholstery installation workshop was a chance to appreciate the skills, techniques and materials of upholstery up close, and hands-on as you could delve into boxes of horsehair, hessian and more.  Furniture Magpies revive furniture in a different way.td2  Literally deconstructing unloved pieces and reconfiguring them to more contemporary tastes while retaining their character and story.  The coffee table made of cross-sections of banister spindles was particularly striking. Upstairs were two of my favourite makers, both launching new collections. Galvin Brothers were presenting their new Cross Lap collection.  A clean and contemporary collection of tables, benches, consoles and stools in native steamed beech and American black walnut, and finished in water-based lacquers.tl5  Described as “modern rustic”, and in colours close to Carefully Curated’s own palette, how could I not be a fan?  Here is Matthew Galvin, just completing a piece to camera for Casafina’s round up of Tent London, which also features, Sebastian Cox. London Design Festival was a busy week for Sebastian Cox with the Wish List (and workshop) at the V&A, scorching and swilling pieces for the New Craftsmen, on Radio 4 with Sir Terence Conran, and the nominations for the Wood Awards, and Elle Decoration’s Best British Sustainable Designtl6 In the midst of this exciting flurry, Cox’s stand had an air of calm, matching the quiet serenity of the newly launched Underwood Collection, all made from hand-coppiced Kentish hazel and well-managed British ash.  The collection is called ‘Underwood’ as the pieces use coppiced hazel ‘in the round’, that is usually considered waste. In the foreground are pictured the ‘Hewn’ tea table (£195), bench (£300), and trestle (£170 each).  The Mop stick ladder (£210), shelves (£790) and Peg hooks (£55) are in the background.  A true celebration of British hardwoods. tl8Nearby, Daniel Heath launched his Art Deco collection.  The geometric motifs are etched onto reclaimed Welsh roof slates transforming the discarded into decorative interior surface materials.  The geometric shapes of Tracey Tubb’s wallpapers are inspired by origami.  Each sheet is hand-folded from a single roll of paper.  Tracey assures me the paper does not attract dust. The pattern’s on Seascape CuriositiesSealace wallpaper are by their nature more fluid.  Handtl9-drawn illustrations inspired by our beautiful underwater landscapes.  Using FSC approved and 100% recycled papers, Sara cuts intricate floating marine forms by hand creating three-dimensional wallpapers.  The works drew particular attention from Chinese, Japanese and Korean visitors, whose cultures have established traditions of paper-art forms. tl10Paper pulp from old newspapers is the fodder for Crea-Re’s ‘Copermicus’ lighting collection.  100% recycled, the paper mulch is mixed with ochre, or left grey, shaped, and left to dry.  The irregular, cracked shape with small holes or craters, means when the “Luna” light is turned on, the light creates a unique, mottled shadow. tl15While I missed the visual impact of the Material Council’s display of material cubes from 2013, this year, ‘Nooks, Niches and Cranniesʼ, featured Trash Glass from Diana Simpson, the first in a series of products developed using reclaimed waste as raw ingredients. tl12With my Welsh connections, I was delighted to catch up with Blodwen‘s founder Denise Lewis.  All Blodwen’s new blankets are woven at a 180 year old mill in the Teifi Valley, west Wales, not far from the National Woollen Museum.  The Heritage Blanket Collection (£345 each), inspired by a weaver’s pattern book datitl14ng from the 1700’s, are woven on the original 1930’s Dobcross looms.  The striking patterns caught the eye of recent fashion graduate, Sarah Hellen.  Inspired by the traditional skills of Welsh artisans, Hellen used some of Blodwen’s Heritage geometric ‘Hiraeth’ pattern for her menswear collection.  From baskets to traditional Welsh clogs, Blodwen is committed to the preserving and reviving the rural crafts and skills of Wales. A last word on some accessories.  The beautiful A-Z of edible flowers, A Matter of Taste, from Charlotte Day, which pique interest in some overlooked varieties and remind us of nature’s beauty tl16and bounty. I shall have to invest in one of Mary Goodman‘s Seating Spheres, a large wool covered exercise ball, described as a “sculptural addition to contemporary interiors” for use as a footrest, or seat.  I have used an exercise ball as my office chair for years.  The subtle instability stops any slump at the computer, and rolling around helps keep the blood flowing.  All the yarns are ethically sourced, with hard-wearing British wools such as Herdwick, Swalewick, Jacob and Axminster rug wool used for the spheres.  Mary Goodman will be showing her work as part of Campaign for Wool Interiors Collection at Southwark Cathedral, 5th -12th October. London Design Festival ended on a high note at Tent London!

Related link:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2013/08/20/welsh-blankets/

Looking Forwards & Instigating Change @SustainRCA Awards

RCA.SustainThe SustainRCA Show & Awards 2014 preview was at the heart of my London Design Festival.  The event celebrates the work of some of the brightest of this year’s graduates from the Royal College of Art, addressing the big social and environmental challenges of our day.  This year is the strongest yet, with more than 100 applicants, 60 students shortlisted and 35 selected as finalists from across all RCA.  This was the first opportunity to see all the finalists together in a curated show, and together they present a powerful body of work charged with potential.  There are projects that take an innovative look at waste, water and other resources, but collectively the works show that sustainability is about more than efficiencies or climate science.  Rather sustainability is about our values and relationships with one another, and the environment, in its broadest sense.  In fact many of the tangible things we associate with sustainability are the symptoms or representations of imbalanced relationships that are at odds with values that many of us identify with.

srca1An independent, expert judging panel had spent the day deliberating over who to crown in each of four categories under the broad theme, “Looking Forwards“.  The theme suggests purpose and action.  The first category, Moving Minds confronts head-on the apathy that mention of ‘sustainability’ often generates. Works in this category might present the viewer with some uncomfortable realities or challenge the viewer to think about things we often do not.  As I walked into the Show, having criss-crossed London on my bike that day, I immediately connected with Tino Seubert’s The Colour of Air which filters Particulate Matter (PM) from car exhausts to produce lead for pencils, ink, or, as exhibited, dyes an outdoor sports outfit, PM_DYE.  The smog produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels polluting the air we breathe becomes tangible, even wearable, to those who inhale it everyday.  Wiping my ‘glowing’ brow, my handkerchief collects enough PM to make a contribution to Tino’s next piece, and a reminder that London’s record on air pollution is dire.

Nearby, another warning, this time of the often unseen impact of our relationship with so-called disposable plastics.    Alice Dunseath’s, Plastic Shores, are three stop-motion animations from bits of plastic found washed up on shores in Britain and Hawaii.  A simple, colourful story that reveals the impact of a throw ‘away’ culture in our closed, connected eco-system.rusak

Runner-up or Honourable Mention was given to Peter Shenai’s Change Ringing.  The haunting dissonance of six bronze bells cast in shapes mathematically derived from temperature data over the twentieth century sound the imbalance of our changing climate. Winner, Marcin Rusak’Flowering Transition explores the significant impact of flowers cultivated for the global cut-flower industry. with intensive use of fossil fuels, pesticides, water and genetic redesign.  The final chapter of Rusak’s design research project presents Flower Monster, the 3D-printed model  flowering chimera of commercial virtues.  Beware the monster we create in the search for the superlative colour, scent, shipping tolerant bloom.

4989ef0484eda1bc9d82d25501f719ebInspired Products emerge as a response to category one: once you have captured people’s attention, you need to offer them something they can do, otherwise a sense of impotence floods in.  Dunseath’s Plastic Shores animations were commissioned for a feature length documentary of the same name.  In 2011 global plastic production reached 300 million tonnes, over a third was for the disposable packaging industry.  An estimated 6 million tonnes of litter enters rivers and oceans every year.  As well as litter, every ton of PET produced for plastic bottles creates around three tonnes of CO2.  By way of response, Pierre Paslier, Guillaume Couche, Rodrigo García González’s Ooho!, winner of this category, and of the Lexus Design Award 2014, is an alternative way of packaging water inspired by nature’s use of membranes.  Ooho! uses brown algae, calcium chloride and the surface tension of the water to create a double gelatinous membrane; a process known as “spherification”.  A simple, cheap, biodegradable (even edible) alternative to disposable plastic bottles and as it is currently developed under Creative Commons license you can DIY at home!

fe3312e06ca52c99d4e956741d2612bfSolutions for Society is about scaling up interventions from products to systems and services that facilitate a fairer, more ethical and sustainable society.  The winner, with double honours, was Pierre Paslier‘s Advanced Activism, an open-source toolkit to inspire activists and campaigner.  Inspired by street art, the irreverent and playful tools include a remote-controlled drone (pictured right) to flyer hard to reach places, literally finding new platforms for alternative voices.  The instructions are available on streettoolbox, a collaborative platform for activists underpinned by the knowledge that debate and plurality are fundamental to healthy democracy.

nbennettVisionary Processes are new collaborations to facilitate Solutions for Society by stimulating innovation, or making production better.  Runner up in this category was Nell Bennett’s Coral3whose sacrificial alkaline structures are designed to be deposited by divers around coral reefs to help neutralise ocean acidification, one of the causes of coral reef degradation. Designed as part of a conservation programme that provides education, and sustainable livelihoods for the local communities, the sacrificial sculptures are the centrepiece of a system that engages and empowers a wide network of stakeholders.

mitsuiWinner Hana Mitsui’s New Value of Waste, transforms fabrics using a technique derived from a traditional Japanese process, ‘sakori’ to extended the life of worn fabrics.  Waste fabrics are shredded into thin strips and then woven over a fresh warp creating new luxurious clothes with distinct textures and patterns.  This tale of rags to riches highlights the value that is lost when we are so quick to dispose, and that can be restored with ingenuity and creativity.

Reflecting on the breadth work at SustainRCA, judge John Thackara said: ‘Products are the results of systems and processes, and we have to look at the systems from which the bad things came if we’re going to refashion systems so that good things come. There’s a whole vision of looking, thinking, solving, mobilising and empowering here.’

There is much at SustainRCA Show & Awards to challenge, provoke and inspire, the great joy of the show is that the work also offers positive and creative steps to move forwards.  Visit the show, and the momentum will be infectious.

The SustainRCA Show and Awards runs from 18 September–3 October, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU.

Image credits: Pierre Paslier; SustainRCA

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/07/23/sustainrca-show-and-award-2014-finalists/

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-04/01/ooho-plastic-bottle

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/09/01/celebrating-and-sustaining-the-beauty-of-our-oceans/

SustainRCA Show and Award 2014 finalists

RCA.SustainSustainability appeared in many guises at this year’s ShowRCA 2014, so it is not surprising that SustainRCA received a record number of applicants.  Almost 100 graduates from across the Royal College of Art, including the new programmes Interior Design, Service Design and Information Experience Design, applied to join the SustainRCA’s  dedicated programme of tutorials, talks, workshops, specialist resources and access to a professional sustainability network. As I scoured the Show, several of the SustainRCA graduates spoke warmly of the inspiration, mentoring and support that they have received from SustainRCA.  The freedom to explore many meanings of sustainability is reflected in the variety of work.  From new materials and processes to community projects and designs for a fairer, more transparent economy, the 36 SustainRCA Show finalists provide innovative responses to scarcity.  Beauty is a powerful motivator of behavioural change. larson

The declining health of coral reefs has been widely reported recently, with a WWF campaign to prevent dumping in the Great Barrier Reef, and growing concern about ocean acidification, which makes it harder for corals to absorb the calcium carbonate needed to make skeletons.  The delicate beauty of Monette Larson’s Aspiring Nature, certainly captures people’s attention.  The series of filigree glass installations made of small glass spheres fused together in the kiln to create larger organic structures inspired by corals.  Shimmering in the light, the delicate tonal turquoises and blues transport you to a marine landscape, the glass a metaphor for the fragility of marine eco-systems, where coral reefs are necessary to an estimated 25 per cent of all marine life.  nbennett

If Larson’s work excites an appreciation for the sheer beauty of coral, Nell Bennett’s project, Coral3, directly tackles ocean acidification, and provides a potential income for local communities.  Bennett created alkaline substrate structures to be placed up current from coral reefs. Over time, the water dissolves the alkaline structure, making the water surrounding the reef less acidic.  The coral reef is strengthened, enhancing local biodiversity, providing greater coastal protection and an opportunity for well-managed tourism.  The project is envisioned as a large scale social enterprise involving many stakeholders from subsistence fishermen to dive tourists, but offers potential for significant economic and environmental benefits. melchiorri

Julian Melchiorri‘s Silk Leaf & Exhale is another prototype, a biomaterial derived from silk protein and chloroplasts. It is an artificial leaf that absorbs carbon dioxide and emits oxygen and biomass via the photosynthesis of stabilised chloroplasts in the silk protein.  Silk Leaf can generate more oxygen and biomass than a normal leaf, depending on the number of chloroplasts embedded in the silk.  Silk Leaf could be used for a variety of applications from interiors products, such as the lights pictured right, to architectural surfaces that provide air purification.  Green buildings in more ways than one!

Marcin RusakMarcin_Rusak_Monster_Flower_6‘s Flowering Transition is a conceptual project that explores the commoditisation of flowers cultivated for the global cut-flower industry. These mass-produced flowers are often highly-engineered to accentuate their longevity, scent, colour or other commercial virtues.  In consequence, some flowers have lost their scent, sense of local connection and ritual.  This work is divided into five chapters: fragrance; a perishable vase made from waste flowers; a textile printed with waste flowers in gorgeous purple, pink and lilac hues; and then two chapters devoted to Flower Monster which speculates where further genetic engineering of flowers, to suit a commercial wish list, will lead.  rusakRusak collaborated with geneticists, post harvesting specialists, engineers and floral artists to combine existing flower species, each with a different virtue.  The model was 3D scanned, and after some software alchemy printed in 3D.  Beware the monster created by the search for perfection.

Max Danger.Queen bee pinThe cultivated flower industry relies on the services of the humble bee, as do up to 90% of all wild plants, and 70 of the 100 staple crops that provide 90% of world’s food.  Max Danger‘s witty Let it Bee! graphics, drawings and jewellery speculate on the future of bees to stunning effect.  God save the Queen, is a beautiful pin made of 18 ct gold and diamonds.  Gabriele Dini‘s Swarm’s Scale, a large installation of honeycomb provides another perspective from which to appreciate the complexity of bee’s behaviour, as it is derived from swarm data.  Our appreciation needs to be for more than aesthetic.  Bees numbers are in drastic decline due to factors such as diseases and parasites, climate change and wider industrial agricultural practices, including loss of wildflower meadows and deadly insecticides. Julia Johnson_Plan Bee_RCA_2014_007 Julia Johnson’s Plan Bee is a self-monitoring beehive that detects unusual activity in the bee breeding patterns and could help to detect disease or infestations.  In a Plan Bee hive, a scanner captures images of the brood daily, which are then digitally analysed for any unusual patterns, and the beekeeper is alerted to any unusual symptoms.  Perfect for the 99% of beekeepers registered as hobbyists that inspect their hive, on average once a fortnight.

mitsuiIf the many of the projects remind us that nature’s bounty is fragile and precious, others provide ways to make better use of raw materials and rescue the value that is often lost to waste.  With New Value Of The Waste, Hana Mitsui developed a weaving process that revitalises discarded cloth into new, luxurious materials.  Mitsui’s original yarns created from textile waste can be used for industrial and hand-weaving looms.  Mitsui creates rich woven patterns inspired by traditional ikat fabrics.  ladNeha Lad‘s Beauty In The Discarded literally shimmers as Lad’s experiments combine precious and up-cycled materials with traditional handicraft techniques.

Timothy Sadler‘s VIBE is a computer interface that uses vibration to transfer information to a digital output, without electrical circuit board. This streamlined product vastly reduces the amounts of critical raw materials used, and so their waste streams.  Two projects envision a circular economy model for consumer electronics.  Paul Stawenow‘s Project PHOENIX, supports design for disassembly and material recovery to tackle the a small percentage of small electronic appliances are currently recycled. PHOENIX products would be designed so the user can separate the electronic parts from the casing in a delightful way. Parts would either be put in domestic recycling or returned to the manufacturer in a pre-addressed envelope.  In many portable devices, raw materials are hard to recover as components are stuck together to achieve a sleeker look and feel.  Andreas Bilicki’s, eGlu is a reversible adhesive for electronic components that would enable easier bonding and separating of components, making it easier to replace a broken screen or recycle a smart phone.

2e893105-3860-42aa-a709-93cc4a89bc7c-620x413With festival season in full swing, Sol Lee‘s Smart Festivals is a rental system for camping equipment with a colourful intelligent wrist band.  No more lugging sleeping bags, tents and other gear to the site for festival goers.  The aftermath of Glastonbury 2014 (pictured left) is typical of desolate post-festival fields littered with tents abandoned after a single use.  With an average 10kg rubbish per person, much of it textile waste, the scheme would reduce the great clean up for organisers.  The system would also enable intelligent affiliate partnerships, with further development.  Festival goes in 2015 can travel light, travel far for their summer rites.

ShenaiChange Ringing is a collaborative artwork by artist Peter Shenai and composer Laurence Osborn that would chime perfectly with Glastonbury as it combines music, sculpture, and performance to literally convey the sound of climate change.  The six bronze bells have been cast in shapes mathematically derived from graphic statistical representations of summer temperatures at seventeen-year intervals over the course of the twentieth century.  Arranged, and struck in order the bells ring out a sombre, inharmonious warning.  It simply does not ring true.  What a wonderful example of Information Experience Design, making the intangible data of climate change intuitively comprehensible.

degarmoFinally, a super, simple gadget.  Ashley de Garmo and Federico Trucchia’s Mag-Cook uses a series of spinning magnets to create induction heat to cook your supper without gas or electricity.  It is manually operated, so could be used anywhere you have space to pull the cord!

As Head of SustainRCA, Clare Brass said: ‘The diversity, depth and quantity of graduate work this year is unprecedented. There’s growing awareness that sustainability – environmental and social equality and justice – really underpins the fabric of our future.”

The winners across four categories, Moving Minds, Visionary Process, Inspired Product and Solutions for Society, will be selected from the 36 finalists, and announced at a private view on 17 September.  Each receive a bursary of £5,000 to support their ongoing work in sustainability.  The SustainRCA Show and Awards will then run from 18 September–3 October, supported by the Genesys Foundation and Climate-Kic.  I hope to catch up with a few of the finalists before the show to tell their story in fuller form, so watch this space!

Image credits: Adam Gray/SWNS.com; SustainRCA

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/06/25/show-rca-ringing-the-changes/

http://www.scin.co.uk/blog/2014/7/10/endlessly-creative-at-the-end-of-year

Abundance of blooms at New Designers Part 1

holmesAesthetic beauty was blooming at New Designers Part 1, the first chapter of an exhibition that shows work from over 3000 UK graduate designers over two weeks.  Part 1 showcased textiles, fashion, contemporary applied arts (including ceramics and glass), jewellery and metalwork.

Fauna and particularly flora (Laura Holmes pictured left) provided a deep well of inspiration for many of this year’s graduates, with bold, outsized, colourful prints of flowers greeting you as soon as you walked. Flashes of tropical colour from Sophie Painter,  Loughborough University, who garnered a “John Lewis Loves” label sat alongside, the ethereal, wintry prints from Robyn Dark.  Amy Malcolmson, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, also won a “John Lewis Loves” label for her clean, crisp spring and autumn floral series.  Her hand-painted wallpaper samples echo the fresh, vibrant, if whimsical florals of Dame Elizabeth Blackadder.

cravenLayering images to depth and structure to floral was a popular technique.  Ellie-rose McFall‘s handprinted textiles, which overlay wildflowers on cracked surfaces, are inspired by the Garden Bridge, planned for London in 2016.  Sophie Tattersall, De Montford University, Leicester, uses layered photographs to create delicate floral patterns.  Sophie Thompson, Nottingham Trent University, builds up layers of detail taking inspiration from nature, enhancing hand drawn imagery with digital techniques.  I was drawn to “In the Undergrowth”, with a mix of birds, bugs and silhouettes.  Charlotte Raven‘s wallpaper (pictured right) is a like of snapshot of a summer garden in bloom.  Malin-Charlotte Ødemark work draws on landscapes creating a subtle, earthy palette that worked to great effect as upholstery on Ercol’s classic sofa.

buchanan

Natural beauty went more than skin deep for Emily Buchanan, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.  Her work, Living+Dying displays the wonderful array of colours accessible from nature using traditional craft methods.  Red cabbage, red onion, eucalyptus, and other plants dyes, two mordants, time and a couple of serendipitous accidents were used to dye peace silk a rich spectrum of soothing tones.  buchanan2Peace silk allows the silkworm to emerge from their cocoons. The silk is degummed and spun like other fibre, instead of being reeled.  Conventional silk is made by boiling the intact cocoons, which kills the silk worms.  Emily is a passionate advocate of the joys, and beauty, of natural dyes.  She continues to run workshops with schools and interested groups.  There were a couple of interested parties at the show.

From the natural, to the utterly fabricated, Laura Holmes makes fantastical floral displays from recycled plastics.  Laura works with milk bottles, coke bottles, offcuts of acetates, sequin film and all manner of plastics.  They are cut, painted and flocked inspired by colours from the aquarium.  The result is almost fantastical.

healy2Karoline Healy‘s Domestic Mining is also an ethos that makes good use of the things that we find in our homes.  Karoline was first inspired by reading0 Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.  A visit to India and encounters with street vendors and road-side workshops prompted Karoline to design a kiosk.  The kiosk is constructed from household objects, an old shredder, file, bicycle chain. Discarded plastic bottles are shredded, moulded, marked with the appropriate recycle sign and then a watch assembled from the flat pack kit.  No glues, nails, paints, or varnishes are used, so the watch can be readily repaired or recycled.

rosakSophie Rosak’s table lamp with a shade of naturally-tanned leather, and copper, is simply constructed and so easily dissembled at its end of life. Its industrial style is softened by the warm tones of the leather and copper.  priceA simple aesthetic defines Rebecca Price’s work.  Scouted by the Design Council’s ‘One to Watch’, her food storage jars (pictured left) are covetable for any contemporary kitchen.  The lid of each vessel is also a portion measure.  What is more the vessels nestle snuggly together saving precious space on your worktop.

More covetable vessels were on display as part of One Year On, which showcases the work of 50 emerging designers in their first year of business. I was delighted to catch up with Isatu Hyde, who I met at New Designers 2013.  hydeAfter a stint with Kilner to develop her foraging project, Isatu is now an apprentice with Marches Pottery in Ludlow.  Isatu has worked with terracotta for the first time to throw distinctive coffee drippers, carafes, cups, and milk jugs, as well as continuing to develop her own distinct style.  I fell in love with these bowls, inspired by those used by Medieval monks.

boonsNext door was Sofie Boons, the Alchemical Jeweller, a graduate of the RCA, 2013.  Available as a recipe book and kit, with an elegant silver pin, I was lucky enough to experience Sofie’s solid perfume.  Grapefruit zest, TicTacs, mint, cardamon, coconut and salt were put in small pouch and pinned as a brooch to my chest. My daughters thought it smelt good enough to eat.  I was reminded of Lauren Davies Alchemists Design Table, encouraging a transparency and honesty about what we put on our skin.

The show was a feast for the senses.  Appreciation of the environment was visually evident, but scrabble around in the undergrowth and the homage rarely has the opportunity to go deeper.  There was a desire to design textiles and surfaces that take their appreciation of the natural world to a more tangible level, constrained by cost, college facilities, and a sense that demand is limited.  As the exhibition for emerging design it would be great to see more innovative and sustainable textiles on show as they begin to be adopted more widely, especially by contract clients.

New Designers Part 2 will be at the Business Design Centre in Islington from 2nd until 5th July.

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2013/07/08/new-designers-2013-2/

Designs of the Year 2014 @Design Museum

DM1The Designs of the Year, now in its seventh year at London’s Design Museum, capture the desires, concerns and needs of the moment.  This year’s exhibition of the most innovative international design projects of the last 12 months across seven categories: architecture, product, fashion, furniture, graphics, digital and transport is stimulating, as ever.  Whether through materials, technology, or design, the projects and products simply help make life better.

PETlampThe themes: Connect; Thought; Delight; Care; and Situation provide rough clusters of projects, with Care for the environment influencing many of the designers.  Two projects tackle the huge amount of discarded plastic blighting landscapes and harming eco-systems.  The PET Lamps (which caught my eye at Decorex 2013) are made from plastic bottles washed up along the Amazon river to make joyful pendant lights.

clevercapsEqually colourful, and playful, Clever Caps are bottle tops that can be used as building blocks.  Bottle tops can be thrown into the toy box rather than the rubbish bin.  A redesign that adds fun to function, and can be played with forever.

RippletableThe red Ripple Table, designed by Benjamin Hubert, is made out of corrugated birch plywood.  Ply is corrugated through pressure lamination, a new process developed by Benjamin in collaboration with Corelam. The corrugated ply is topped with a flat sheet and sits on A-frame legs.  The 2.5m table weighs only 9kg, and uses roughly 70% less material than a normal timber table.  Lightweight and easy to transport in flat-pack form, providing further economies of energy and materials.

LuffaMauricio Affonso’s final year project from the RCA Design Products programme, Luffa Lab, provides a Cinderella transformation of our humble bathroom friend, the luffa.  Luffa is antimicrobial, biodegradable, lightweight, breathable, strong and highly absorbent.  These natural virtues lend the material to surprising applications such as a low-cost splint made by compression-moulding and a water-based thermoset binder.  Mauricio’s acoustictile_detailLuffa Acoustic Tiles caught my eye at the Show RCA last summer, and then at the SustainRCA Awards 2013, where Mauricio won the Visionary Processes category.  The tiles get their distinctive tonal colour from soaking up toxic indigo dyes out of the wastewater from denim production, preventing the harmful dyes being discharged.  Once finished the tiles act as sound insulation, with a soothing aesthetic.

alchemiststableThe Alchemist’s Dressing Table is a set of elegant utensils and vessels to explore the cosmetic properties of flowers, herbs and minerals.  Lauren Davies, a fellow graduate of the RCA’s Design Products programme, and finalist at the SustainRCA Awards 2013, used traditional materials such as copper and cork to craft a most understated, but luxurious, kit for DIY organic skin care.  The work is intended as a dialogue about nature and materials.  It lays bare what we use on our skin with beautiful transparency.

Transparency is the theme of two technology exhibits.  Phonebloks has just been announced the winner of the social vote.  As the name suggests Phonebloks have a vision of consumer electronics that are modular so that products are easy to repair, easy to upgrade and long lasting.  Starting with mobile phones, Phonebloks want to change product development and production to end planned obsolescence and reduce electronic waste-streams.  Demand for these increasingly scarce resources is driving the ethical and environmental tensions that are the focus of Friends of the Earth‘s Make it Better campaign.  Phonebloks have reached 380million people on social media, so they have sparked a lot of interest, and caught the industry’s attention.  Phonebloks have just announced a partnership with another Design of the Year exhibitor, Fairphone.

frontThe Fairphone, from a social enterprise funded on Kickstarter, is a a smartphone where every aspect of its lifecycle is open and ethical.  From conflict-free materials to safe manufacturing conditions, fair wages and worker representation to repair guides with iFixit, Fairphone wants to change the way products are made, so we tread lightly, and with awareness.  You can order yours now.

A2BAfter ‘T” for transparency, it is “U” for the urban commute made easier with two bicycles. The Obree electric bicycle runs on a removable lithium ion battery that is 80% charged in two hours.  The bike can reach around 15m.p.h, run for 62 miles and propel from a standing start or just give you a boost uphill.  It looks like a grown-up BMX, so you can arrive looking sporty, but cool, in more ways than one.  IFmoveThe ‘IF’ in IFmove Bicycle stands for integrated folding.  At 10kg, it is lightweight and can be wheeled rather than carried.  The covered chain keeps grease and grime off those business casual cloths.  The addition of a retractable Plume Mudguard will keep the spray off your suit on a rainy day too.  For the full fit out you could get a pair of the appropriately named reflector “Geek” bike shoes from Tracey tneulsNeuls.  The shoes contain a small piece of reflective material, for safe cycling (or walking) at night.  The whole shoe has been designed with cycling in mind, and now the ‘Fern‘ is a heel that you can cycle in.  Smart, simple, and calling to my inner geek, and I don’t know if I can wait until Christmas for these shoes.

HERO_XL1_1For the (sub)urban commuter there are two cars on show.  Super sleek curves, and light-weight carbon fibre frame and seats boost the aerodynamics of Volkswagen’s XL1 Concept car, winner of the Transport category  Coupled with a highly engineered dual diesel-electric engine, the XL1 can travel 100km on just 1 litre of diesel, or 313 mpg on the combined cycle while emitting 24 g/km of CO2. It accelerates from 0 to 70kmph in just under 12 seconds and has a top speed of 99mph.  Speedy as well as stylish, it sets the bar in conventional car design very high, and who can resist a gull wing door?

toyota-2013-news-concept-me-we-urban-sharp-3col_tcm280-1226075The ME.WE Concept car, designed by Jean-Marie Massaud and Toyota ED2, is intended as a new concept in personal travel, “a car that reflects the values of forward-thinking individuals, rather than simply reflecting their social status”.  Made of expanded polypropylene panels (100% recyclable) on a tubular aluminium chassis, it is 20% lighter (hence more energy efficient) than many similar size cars.  The interior is bamboo (a fast-growing, natural material) and while not ‘roomy’ the car can be reconfigured to create more space. The back seat can fold under the front, and the tailgate can drop down like a pick-up truck.  It is a playful (switching from 2 to 4-wheel drive) dialogue with many of the conventions of the automotive industry.  Massaud aims to maximise pleasure, rather than status, balancing ME (individual freedom) with WE (responsibility for society).

The CC’s edit is only a tiny sample of the fascinating and fantastic exhibits that demonstrate how our everyday lives are shaped by and experienced through design.   The show asks the viewer “what is good design?”, the public voted for Phonebloks, not just a product, but a vision of a circular economy for that most ubiquitous of modern aids, the mobile.

Image Credit:  Fairphone; Luffa Lab, Toyota ME.WE, Volkswagen XL1

 

 

Virtuous circles of conscious consumption

UnknownIn the midst of exhibitors proudly displaying their new wares at May Design Series, Stephen Gee, Director of Resource hosted a discussion on the circular economy with Sophie Thomas, Co-Director of Design, RSA, Mark Shayler, Managing Director of Ticketyboo, and James Bell, Environmental Consultant at FIRA.

Our industrial economy can be described as a series of massive conveyor belts (“Remaking the industrial economy“, McKinsey Quarterly, Feb 2014), sucking in raw materials and resources at one end, channelling them through manufacturing and production processes, often located in different geographies, pushing products into retail networks, where they are consumed, then discarded and replaced with surprising rapidity.  90% of all products are waste within 6 months of purchase.

Resources are increasingly limited, and ever more in demand, so their prices are rising, and volatile.  As well as increasing costs of supply, demands for resources are growing with three billion more middle-class consumers forecast  by 2030 (from a presentation by Dr Markus Zils, CEO Returnity Partners).  The linear, one-way production model is under increasing under strain.

A circular economy aims to recover and restore products and materials, eradicating waste.  This is not simply recycling,  when large amounts of embedded energy and value are lost, or efficient manufacturing processes, but systemic redesign to create a continuous flow of products and components.

Circular-Economy-Concept“The circular economy is a generic term for an economy that is regenerative by design. Materials flows are of two types, biological materials, designed to reenter the biosphere, and technical materials, designed to circulate with minimal loss of quality, in turn entraining the shift towards an economy ultimately powered by renewable energy.” The Ellen McArthur Foundation

The system diagram (pictured above, from the Ellen McArthur Foundation) illustrates the necessarily distinct paths of biological and technical components or nutrients.  Biological nutrients can easily return to the biosphere without depositing synthetic materials or toxins. Technical nutrients can continuously circulate in closed loop industrial cycles.  We have some way to go.  At the moment, in the fast-moving consumer goods industry roughly 80% of the $3.2 trillion worth of materials used each year is not recovered.

sthomas1To illustrate what that means, the toothbrush, that humble, innocuous aid to our daily routine uses 1.5 kg of material in its manufacture (see the slide from Sophie’s presentation, left). We replace our toothbrush every few months, so that is 6kg per person, per annum, just on toothbrushes.  Sophie Thomas, designer, co-founder of the Great Recovery, is on a mission to create more circular systems through good product design.  “Waste really is a design flaw” (Kate Krebbs, ANRC), quotes Sophie, and a Design Council report notes that about 80% of environmental costs are pre-determined during the product conception an design stage.

cc09a86259a7649b0ce694a3d5ac4650The Great Recovery project has sketched out four design models for a circular economy, represented by the multicoloured loops at the top of the page.  The inner loop is ‘design for longevity’.  Designing products that can be repaired or upgraded.,  Products that are well made and reliable so users have a strong emotional attachment, like your favourite pair of jeans.  If they are Nudie Jeans then you can get them repaired for free at Nudie Jeans Stores, or they can send you a repair kit free of charge.  If beyond the point of repair, then Nudie reuse them (and gives you 20% off a new pair), or recycle them.

20140531_WBP003_0The second (orange) loop is ‘design for leasing or service’.  Companies are constantly trying to deepen their relationship with us, urging us to register accounts, and sign up for newsletters. They might even speak of compelling customer service, but often still conceived as a linear consumption pattern.  But it is services, rather than the products themselves that we use, so voice calls, videos, hot water, and clean clothes rather than phones, tablets, boilers, and washing machines.  A service-based model changes the relationship.  The manufacturer owns the products, and materials (increasingly valuable assets), so keeping the value in the system.  Think Zip Car or Google’s vision for its driverless car,  Leasing products could allow for higher design specification.

1399989163490A02_ADEN_LargeThe third (yellow) loop is ‘design for re-use in manufacture’ where products are returned to the manufacturer for upgrade or new components.  These products are designed for disassembly via a reverse supply chain.  Two recent winners of the Furniture Makers’ Sustainability Award have taken responsibility for their products’ end of life to the heart of their businesses.  Senator International (2013 winners) and Orangebox (2012 winners, Aden chair pictured left), both suppliers to commercial clients, have their own dedicated recycling plants, and both target zero landfill.  Sometimes simple things, such as marking parts with a material identifier, means they can be recycled properly, other interventions require a more thorough design appraisal.  Good design means less material, more durable products, and less manufacturing time, easier to dissemble, repair and update.   What if legislation required producers to have responsibility for the end of life of their products?  When they don’t it is a cost to us all, directly, and indirectly to deal with the waste.

umbrellaThe outer (green) loop is fast-flowing products, such as packaging, that can be reprocessed (recycled) into new materials.  Designing with this in mind increases the value and ease of material recovery by reducing contamination.  For example a spray dispensing bottle made sole out of one type of plastic is easier to recycle than a bottle with multiple types of plastic and metal components.  Trying to recycle my child’s broken umbrella illustrates the challenge of mixed materials!

UnknownImprovements in technology and efficiency are central to more sustainable lifestyles, but there are other parts of the puzzle.  Mark Shayler challenges us think about our relationship with consumption.  Currently, around 80% of products are discarded after a single-use.  ‘Disposable’ products are a myth.  As Michael Braungart and  William McDonough, authors of “Cradle to Cradle: Re-Making the Way we Make Things, note the “away” in throw away does not really exist.  What is more, in spite of the fact that, we consume twice as much as we did in 1974, but we are not as happy.

206Shayler describes a transition from unconscious consumption to conscious consumption to conscious unconsumption, urging us to “buy right, buy once”.  For a revealing illustration of consumption in contemporary society visit the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the Prix Pictet, the global award in photography and sustainability.  I was captivated by Hong Hao’s My Things (pictured left), the result of daily scanning his consumed objects.

There is much to be said for moderation in all things.  This chimes with the first design model of longevity, through physical and emotional longevity, and the second loop of re-envisioned service-based business models.  There is value in the customer relationship.  What is more there are opportunities for companies to be champions through editing customer choice (removing unsustainable products), influencing customer choice through marketing messaging that reiterates a brand’s value, and production innovation.  Average, or ‘a bit less bad’ is not really an aspirational brand value.

And now I’m off to try and to upgrade and repair my laptop!

Image credit: Google, Hong Hao, Nudie Jeans, Orangebox

Related links:

Will Google’s self-driving pods spell the end of the road for car ownership? from the Guardian

Driverless cars: In the self-driving seat from The Economist