Celebrating the Inglorious at Designs of the Year 2015

inglourious_fruits3To whet my appetite for this year’s London Design Festival, I headed to the Design Museum to see see the Designs of the Year 2015.  This year’s awards focus on designs that deliver change, enable access, reflect current trends, and extend the boundaries of design practice.  Sustainability, and consideration of environmental impacts, is rising up designer’s priority list: it is not just about product form, but also life-cycle function.  Designing for the Sixth Extinction, by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg for the Science Gallery, Dublin, set an apocalyptic tone exploring how synthetic biology could replace natural species or protect against pollution, disease and biodiversity loss.

After the sombre start, Inglorious Fruits could not fail to crack a smile.  To reduce annual food waste of 300 million tonnes (57% of which is due solely to appearance), Intermarché, the 3rd largest supermarket chain in France, decided to sell imperfect fruit and vegetables at a 30% discount.  The ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables’ campaign, designed by Marcel, reached 21 million people in a month creating a new business line for Intermarché, providing the customer with the same quality food for less and paying growers for produce previously wasted.  A welcome nudge that reminds beauty is found within.

One effective way to create positive behaviour change is to capture young hearts and minds.  To that end, some inspiring educational projects are among the nominees.  ext001_aerial_©xia zhiThe Garden School, designed by OPEN Architecture, for the Changyang Government, Fangshan District, Beijing, aims to become the first triple green star rated school in China.  The architects designed multiple levels above and below ground in a branch-like shapes creating undulating landscapes that allow more light into classrooms, and open spaces.  The roof of the upper building is an organic farm, with each of 36 classes having their own plot.

320 million people on the African continent lack access to clean drinking water, and yet the majority live in regions where it rains more than 600mm per annum.  Waterbank Campus at Endana Secondary School in Kenya, designed by PITCHAfrica for the Annenburg Foundation, is a working model for rain-harvesting school for semi-arid regions.    Seven ‘Waterbank’ buildings are designed to harvest, store and filter high volumes of water using low-cost materials to provide drinking water and irrigation.  Four acres, of the ten acre site, are devoted to irrigated conservation farming. At the centre of the campus is a rain-water harvesting football and volleyball stadium, with the aspiration that football will be catalyst for environmental education, and reduced ethnic tension.  The school may even make use of the BRCK, a robust, portable, mobile WiFi device developed by Ushahidi, in Nairobi.  Cloud-managed, the BRCK will automatically search and reset to a stronger signal, and the eight-hour battery life means a steady connection even when there is a power surge or cut.  With an built-in global SIM the BRCK could be deployed in disaster response situations.

With a throw back to the beginnings of Carefully Curated, Marjan van Aubel (a 2013 nominee with James Shaw for the Well-Proven Stool) has again been nominated this year for her Current Table designed with Solaronix.  The elegant table is made of glass-topped, copper-toned dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC), an efficient form of photo-voltaic cells.  The dye absorbs light, even when diffuse indoors, and creates energy through photosynthesis.  The table has two USB charging points, and a battery to store the energy.  The only snag is whether the people round the table will be able to turn their attention from device to dinner.

Field Experiments Indonesia, a design collective exploring often overlooked aspects of sustainability, those of culture and authenticity.  Souvenirs are often ‘made in China’ and disconnected from the destination. I recently saw ‘Aboriginal’ Australian sculptures, made in China, for sale in a service station on the M6.  Field Experiments provides an antidote of more than 100 objects made by designers and traditional craftspeople sharing knowledge, culture and materials over a three month period in a nomadic studio in a farming community outside Ubud.

The drum-roll is reserved for Ocean Clean-Up, Digital Design of the Year Winner, and at the time of my visit, the runaway winner in the People’s Vote.  There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic trash in the world’s oceans, and each year, 8 million tons of plastic are added to the count, according to a report from the Ocean Conservancy.  This bold project is leveraging the power of digital communications to gather funding and know-how for large scale clean-up projects of our seas. Ocean Clean-Up’s feasibility work suggests using a single 100 km cleanup array, deployed for 10 years, will passively remove 42% of the great pacific garbage patch.  As tabloids predict chaos at the arrival of a 5p charge for single-use plastic bags in England, perhaps this long overdue nudge will prompt people to realise there is no away in ‘throw-away’.

And finally, my personal post script, the Double O bicycle light, designed by Paul Cocksedge, solves a personal pain-point.  The two lights snap together magnetically and the circular hole in their middle means you can slip them on to a D-lock. The LED light is designed not to dazzle other road users too. Simple, and safe.

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The Great Acceleration and the race for a new deal for nature

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.56.37The latest issue of the Green Alliance’s publication Inside Track, “The Great Acceleration: What should the UK do to protect natural systems” opened with a powerful infographic illustrating the link between human activity and the structure and functioning of the Earth System.  The Great Acceleration refers to the massive increase in nearly every sphere of human activity since 1950: population; transport (particularly international travel); resource use (with rural to urban migration driving consumption); communication and so on, from low or virtually non-existent bases.  Across the globe, natural ecosystems have been converted to human-dominated landscapes (1) as we pushing back nature and sublimate it to our wants.  The rate and scale of the change, is unprecedented, leading Professor Will Steffen to observe, “for the first time in human history, our own planetary life support system is being destabilised at a rapid rate and at a global scale.”

Each graph is startling, together the visual impact is even greater.  While there is the possibility of a legally-binding and universal climate agreement in Paris, the graphs remind us that carbon is one facet of a complex system.  Climate change is a massive, global challenge, but one that is simple to articulate: reduce aggregate emissions by switching to low carbon energy to limit global warming to two degrees.  For the natural environment locality matters: managing impacts on soil, water, air, nutrient cycles and biodiversity requires managing competing interests across sectors, and state boundaries.

Nature is the foundation of our production system, vital to our present well-being, and future prosperity.  Of the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals, more than half are directly linked to the conservation of natural resources.  Yet nature’s services are often missing from financial and economic analysis because they are delivered for free, and mistakenly assumed to have no value.  Ignoring these ‘externalities’ actually leads to outcomes that are less economically efficient, and short-sighted.

51MeUzEvTLL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Discussing, his latest book, “Natural Capital – Valuing the Planet”, Dieter Helm, chair of the Natural Capital Committee (the independent advisory body advising the Government on the sustainable use of England’s natural capital), referred to the Brundtland Commission‘s definition of sustainable development that,”seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future“, as an anchor for the concept of maintaining our aggregate natural capital assets.

974f41f0-2062-11e5-aa5a-398b2169cf79.imgOur balance sheet is not being maintained, the 2011 National Ecosystem Assessment found that over 30% of the services provided by our natural environment are in decline.  In the same week, I heard Helm speak, the shortlist for the Prix Pictet, the global award in photography and sustainability, and Douglas Coupland’s piece, Trashed” (pictured left) on beauty, toxicity, and the deadly contents of our cleaning cupboard provided visual reminders of the consequence of our actions.  Images of dystopia often provoke a woeful, “what can be done”?

Refreshingly, Helm offers an answer.  Helm divides the assets given to us by nature, into two categories: those that are renewable, provided for free, in perpetuity, if maintained above a certain threshold, such as fish stocks; and those that are effectively non-renewable, such as fossil fuels.  The categorisation prioritises efforts on renewables that are struggling to regenerate, in the face of overfishing, for example. If non-renewables are consumed, then the economic rents should be reinvested in a sovereign wealth fund to provide other forms of natural capital for future generations, and so maintain the aggregate. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, established in 1996, has assets of around $900bn, owned by a population of 5.5 million. In contrast, future UK generations will receive little benefit from the one-off, windfall boon of North Sea Oil.

Compensation payments for damage, central to property rights elsewhere, to pay for restoration, or replacement would reveal the true cost of controversial developments.  The use of green taxes and removal of perverse subsidies to price externalities, to ensure the polluter pays will change the incentives industry works towards.  A carbon tax is readily understood, so why not an equivalent for nitrates or pesticides? With a £9bn contribution to economic output, of which £3bn is direct subsidy, and additional subsidies, such as fuel, Helm “struggles to think of how [fiscal support for agriculture] could be worse”.  Helm is not criticising farmers, but the perverse incentives they work towards.

The aggregate natural capital approach offers growth, and improved economic efficiency without straining the public purse.  Policy makers, politicians, and businesses are well-versed in the costs of environmental measures, however a natural capital fund from economic rents, compensation payments, green taxes and the removal of perverse subsidies would dwarf amounts currently spent on nature.  Amber Rudd, secretary of state for energy, writing in the Sunday Times (09.08.15), set out the government’s shale gas policy, alongside commitments to create a shale sovereign wealth fund and compensation payments for communities around shale developments. Will we see the framework rippling through to other areas of government policy, particularly when environmental investments involve costs and benefits across departmental boundaries?

The Natural Capital Committee’s presented a series of compelling environmental investments that offer strong economic returns.  Green spaces in cities, provide physical and mental health benefits that would reduce health treatment costs (estimated £2.1 billion) and improve labour productivity.  Similarly, the benefits of woodland planting are magnified when they are located near towns and cities.
Companies, responsible for much natural capital, are increasingly aware of the business risks from its degradation.  A report in the Financial Times noted, “Water scarcity is starting to hit the balance sheets of multinationals, who have spent more than $84bn managing their water usage in the last three years.” Businesses have a key role to play in integrated plans. NEF’s (New Economics Foundation) recent report, Blue New Dealexplores the symbiotic relationships between sustainable fisheries and tourism, “Acknowledging the multiple benefits of protecting and better managing the natural environment can help deliver conservation measures more effectively and build more cohesive communities”.   
Nature and economic development are not conflicting interests.  They may compete in a particular location but there are new, pragmatic approaches emerging that offer great opportunity, and better alternatives.  The detail is undoubtably challenging, but the vision is one where we collaborate as stewards for nature, acting in our own, enlightened, best-interests.  To quote Helm’s thoughts on the vex question of the development on the Green Belt, “imagine a Green belt with lots of natural capital, a much more environmentally benign agriculture, much greater public access, woodlands located next to people so it could fulfil not only the original purpose of limiting the sprawl but also provide the lungs of the cities, the fresh air for children to play in, and the recreational benefits which are crucial to health and well being.”
  1. MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) (2005Ecosystems and human well-being:synthesis (Island PressWashington, DC)
  2. Hibbard  K. A.Crutzen  P. J.Lambin  E. F.Liverman  D.Mantua  N. J.McNeill  J. R.Messerli  B.Steffen  W. (2006) in Integrated history and future of people on EarthDecadal interactions of humans and the environment, eds Costanza  R.Graumlich  L.Steffen  W. (MIT PressBoston, MA), pp 341375Dahlem Workshop Report 96.

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Urban plunge

IMG_5313As I near the end of a trip to Australia, I have taken every opportunity to leap into the water – whether off a jetty or in a creek.  With temperatures at nearly 40C the water was immediately, and intensely reviving, and crystal clear.  Sydney, itself, has plenty of harbour and ocean bathing spots, from the iconic Icebergs in Bondi to the rolling surf beyond.  I love the sense of weightlessness, freedom, and peace when swimming, literally disconnected from the bleeps and pings that crowd our days.  Under, or in, the water the outside world is muffled.  As each breath lengthens, so does each stroke, gliding through the water, creating space to reflect.  Swimming outdoors heightens the senses further, and provides a unique perspective on our surroundings.

For so long the lifeblood of our urban settlements, water is vital to our daily life.  Cities were founded alongside rivers and the coast for pragmatic reasons, providing access to trade, transport, defense, agriculture, and essential access to fresh water.  In the West, water gushes from the faucet, clean, bountiful, fresh and clean.  A couple of days bush camping as a family of four with a long-drop toilet and rainwater is a stark reminder of how casual our relationship with water has become.  The average person in the UK uses 150 litres of water a day.  Boiling rainwater to wash the dishes and rationing water to prioritise drinking water provoked lots of questions from our daughters.  Disconnected from water, we neglect it.

In London, the Thames was at the heart of urban life for centuries from Tudor pageants on the Royal Barge to Victorian floating “bath palaces” such as the 135ft x 25ft structure at Charing Cross.  Caitlin Davies, author of the forthcoming book, “Downstream: a history and celebration of swimming the River Thames” describes, “by the 1930s, the Thames was a resort for families.  There were beaches near the Tower of London and downriver at Greenwich”.  This fascinating history of swimming in London forms the introduction to Urban Plunge: new designs for natural swimming in our cities, an exhibition at Roca London Gallery. Yet, by the 1960s the Thames was declared biologically dead, as the curator of Urban Plunge, Jane Withers, observes “We settled by rivers, we turned them into sewers”.  Increasing river traffic and pollution led to a decline in swimming.  When artist Amy Sharrocks invited 50 people to swim across London from Tooting Bec Lido to Hampstead Heath Ponds for Swim in 2007, the only part they did not swim was the Thames.  However this is beginning to change.

StudioOctopi’s Thames Baths proposal is for a floating freshwater pool at TemThames-Bath-Project-by-Studio-Octopi_dezeen_8ple Stairs off the Victoria Embankment.  The original scheme was predicated on the Thames Water upgrade of the sewer system, but a more recent proposal uses unchlorinated rain or tap water.  Prompted by interest in river swimming, the Mayor’s Office has commissioned a feasibility study into tides, river traffic and possibilities for filtration.

design-image-01If cleaning the whole river is too distant a goal, PlayLab‘s +Pool in New York plans are for a river water-filtering floating swimming pool.  The pool is designed to echo the shape of the cities’ intersections, creating four pools in one: Kid’s, Sports, Lap and Lounge pools.  The Float Lab filtration system is currently being tested in the Hudson River, and anybody will be able to access realtime water quality data via a Dashboard supported by Google Drive.  Crowd-funded “tile by tile” you too can buy one and reserve a first dip in the pool some time in 2016.

The King’s Cross Pond Club, due to open in spring 2015, will be a temporary oasis in the midst of a brownfield construction site.  The bare landscape striped just as beaches and rivers strip us of our layers, observes Pfannes.  Designed by architects Ooze (Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg) and artist Marjetica Potrč, the 40 metre long pond will be entirely chemical free, with water purified through a natural, closed-loop process process using wetland and submerged water plants.  Surrounded by wild flowers and grasses, the whole experience will change with the seasons.   The number of swimmers admitted each day will be limited by the capacity of the plants to clean the water, “a symbolic act for the balance of living in a sustainable city” explains Potrč.

house-of-water-appCopenhagen’s five harbour baths offer a vision of the future.  The first harbour bath opened in 2002 after modernising the sewer system and diverting local rainwater to reach safe swimming standards.  The baths are vibrant public spaces linking the city with the water.  Now a new island is planned in the harbour, the House of Water, dedicated to water pursuits and education to inspire local and global audiences to invest in sustainable water solutions to create liveable cities.

The schemes exhibited at Urban Plunge are not only exciting natural swimming venues, but invite us to re-engage with our cities and our water.  The schemes challenge us to think about sustainable living in cities, and our shared use of this most precious of resources.  You might just be persuaded to dive in this summer, if not before.

Image credits: Studio Octopi; +Pool; Ooze & Potrč; State of Green

Related links: http://www.rocalondongallery.com/en/activities/detail/129 http://www.museumofwater.co.uk http://www.wildswimming.co.uk http://www.dezeen.com/2014/01/13/swimming-pools-river-thames-london-studio-octopi

Here Today. Gone Tomorrow?

logoIn conversation recently, Edward Wilson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, reminded us we are stewards, not owners of the biosphere.  Wilson is a primary authority in the disciplines of sociobiology and biodiversity whose career spans more than sixty years, and it is from this vantage point that he cautions “the attack on biodiversity, in an attack on ourselves”. Wilson was in the UK to promote his latest book, The Meaning of Human Existence, and launch the MEMO (Mass Extinction Monitoring Observatory) Project.  MEMO’s mission to inform, to educate, and inspire action to protect biodiversity. The monumental stone building spiralling out of the ancient Jurassic Coast will embody images of species lost to extinction in recent times.  Species extinction rates are more than a 1,000 times the background rate, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that more than 22,000 of the 73,600 assessed species, are threatened with extinction.  Assessed species represent only a fraction of the 1,889,587 described species. Without assessment we can not know the full extent of the damage, but we do know biodiversity ensures resilience.

The main threats to species are from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss and degradation, introduction of alien species, over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution and climate change.  Awareness of the fragility of our ecosystems, is growing, but action is lagging.

ApsaraLast week as part of Sustainability Week @theHospitalClub, a private members club in London, the Marine Foundation launched a short film celebrating   Apsara, Spirits of the Sea, a living sculpture in the sea, inspired by ancient, beautiful, dancing Hindu spirits.  9am was early for a private view, but the audience were drawn by tales of mermaids and sea nymphs.  Celia Gregory, founder of the Marine Foundation and artist, knows we are visual creatures.  Images trigger an emotional response and can shift a mindset in a way that statistical lists can provoke scepticism.

The sea nymphs’ freedom and beauty belies their threatened habitat.  Coral reefs are among nature’s most diverse, breathtaking and critically endangered eco-systems, with 33% of reef building coral threatened.  Often damage to the oceans is unseen, hidden from view below the surface, or lost in its great scale.  Reef balls, eco-stars and coral nurseries are some of the techniques that have been used to rehabilitate reefs damaged by storms or human interventions.

unnamedEchoing another quote attributed Wilson, “You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involve me, I understand”, the Marine Foundation works at sites with where the coral reefs has been damaged, but there is eco-tourism potential, and crucially, the local community is involved. Ongoing management and marine spatial planning (removing predators, transplanting corals, controlling anchoring, establishing fishing restrictions, and opportunities for guardianship) are vital for restoration to be effective  Fishing restrictions around the reef create safe breeding grounds for fish and improve the catch nearby.  Sharing knowledge and information from the nearby Karang Lestari Biorock Coral Reef and Fisheries Restoration Project in Pemuteran, winner of the UN Equator Award for Community-Based Development and the Special UN Development Programme Award for Oceans and Coastal Zone Management in 2012, engaged the fishing community, who arranged for a blessing ceremony for Apsara (pictured above) and helped sink the sculpture.

Opening the same day, Here Today, curated by Artwise, celebrates the 50th Anniversary of The IUCN Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species, and supported by Baku Magazine.  Works of world famous artists such as Tracey Emin, Andy Warhol, Gavin Turk, Peter Blake, United Visual Artists, Douglas Gordon, and Julian Opie are interspersed with those of newer talents, all implicitly asking whether our endangered species will be gone tomorrow.

The first chapter entitled Human Footprint brings us face to face with some of our impacts.  Ocean plastic pollution is a relatively new problem, but vast: the UNEP Year Book 2014, states, “plastic waste causes financial damage of US$13billion to marine ecosystems each year”; the largest of four giant gyres (whirlpools of water trapping rubbish) is estimated to be the size of Texas, and contain 3.2million tonnes of plastic; 44% of all documented seabird species are found with plastic in their stomachs.  The Midway film shows the painful death throes of young marine birds fed plastics.  Alice Dunseath’s Plastic Shores Animations, (seeht3n at the SustainRCA Show) reminds us that these same micro plastics are entering our food chain.  Leyla Aliyeva’s experience Life, places a beating heart in the centre of a monochrome room of trees.  It is immersive and invites contemplation.  Chris Jordan and Rebecca Clark’s Silent Spring depicts 183,000 birds, the estimated number of birds that die in the United States every day from exposure to agricultural pesticides.  As with the 888,246 ceramic poppies planted for the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation the representation of an inconceivably large number is powerful.
ht1Stephanie Quayle‘s Congress, gathers clay sculptures of one of our closest, and most intelligent relatives, orang-utans in casual human poses, but bound for a gallery in shipping crates: for us to marvel, or because their habitat has been destroyed? The chapter Unsustainable Sea and Changing Landscapes explores the pressure that humanity is putting on nature with poignant works inspired by the disappearance and death of the Caspian and Aral Seas. ht2 Sayyora Muin’s Listen to the Silence of the Lost Sea, is a circle of women silently biding farewell to the Aral Sea, and their way of life  The world’s fourth largest saline lake until the 1960s when two rivers that fed it were diverted for agricultural use, and the sea has slowly desiccated since.
ht4The final chapter, Here for the Future, shares the six key policy solutions outlined in the WWF Climate Solutions Report,  next to Alicja Patanowksa‘s Plantation, an installation made of ceramics and discarded glasses,a n urban garden accessible to us all.  Plantation is one of the innovative, engaging responses from recent graduates of the Royal College of Art curated by Julian Melchiorri. melchiorriMelchiorri’s Silk Leaf made of a biological material made of silk protein and chloroplasts. Silk Leaf absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen and organic compounds through photosynthesis. Melchiorri envisages building clad in photosynthetic facade breathing life into our cities.  Other works revive materials turning ‘waste’ into luxurious textiles (Neha Lad), or human poo to clean fuel (Shruti Grover).  The works are too numerous to mention, but Here Today, is at The Old Sorting Office, 21-31 New Oxford Street, WC1, until 17th December, so go be inspired!
“The next millennium, if we are to avoid catastrophe, must be the green millennium…And the best,  most dramatic  and most reliable motivator of human behavioural change is beauty”, Elizabeth Farrelly.
Image credits: IUCN; The Marine Foundation

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Fable & Base – fabrics celebrating their story

WoodlandEarlier this month, I met with Francesca Baur, founder of Fable & Base, to hear more about the story that sits behind Fable & Base, a new studio producing carefully sourced, hand-printed, stunning textiles.  I was won over by Francesca’s pitch at a recent RSA Engage event, where Fellows of the Royal Society of Arts have a chance to pitch their ideas and offer the chance to get involved.  A sort of gentle Dragon’s Den, though just as nerve-wracking on the podium. While trooping round various design  events during London Design Festival, I was often drawn to fresh, botanical prints, either a contemporary twist on florals or channelling a cool, contemporay Scandi look.  However, ask about the materials and inks and often the link with the environment is swiftly severed.  Fable & Base has its firmly roots in the Kent countryside, where Francesca is based.

The story begins with Francesca’s grandfather moving to London from Munich in 1930, where he had been an agent for Spitzenhaus (a lace house) Klauber.   Her grandfather set up a lingerie textile business in London’s Regent Street and Great Sutton Street, which he ran successfully until the late 70s when textile production began moving overseas.  The family then moved to Kent, with her father swapping his role as barrister for the good life, setting up an organic farm that pioneered an organic vegetable box scheme in the 1980s.  Francesca trained as a printed textile designer at Middlesex University. With over twenty years experience of designing and teaching, Francesca wanted to combine her love of textiles with the ethos of the “Slowfood Movement” that she grew up with.
Fable & Base is the culmination of these two passions.  Fable, as it is a story with a moral, and base as the base cloth or blank canvas to tell that story.  Our clothes and other textile products rarely share the story behind them: the toxins and pesticides in the production process and working conditions on the farm or in the factories are hidden from view.  With Fable & Base, Francesca’s “aim is to creative a narrative upon the cloth.  By telling the whole story of the fabric, right from its origins with the farmers and weavers, I hope to provide complete transparency from seed to finished product”.  Stories grow stronger when they are shared, and Fable & Base will share their story through workshops that engage the community.
Courgette Flower The brand was launched with two collections at this year’s Makegood Festival for culture, creativity & entrepreneurship.  The first collection, Edible Flowers, harks back to her childhood on the farm, and more recent inspiration from the fields around her Kent home.  The second collection, Fable, reflects Francesca’s love of clean, crisp Scandinavian inspired-design.  Francesca’s current favourite is Woodland from Fable collection (pictured above).  I love the bright, zesty Courgette Flowers from the Edible Flowers collection (pictured right).  Francesca will launch a new design each year to grow the collection.
The designs are screen-printed by hand using Soil Association approved water-based inks onto sustainable fabrics made of hemp, linen, and organic cotton.   For the moment, the organic cotton is sourced from India and Turkey, and the lighter weight hemp-organic cotton blend fabric is sourced from China.  Francesca is looking to organic linen from Belgium.  Francesca would also like to experiment with natural dyes, perhaps a theme for a collection next year.  You can buy the printed fabrics by the metre (£50-£75 depending on the fabric).  Products, such as cushions, soft-furnishings and fashion accessories are made to order to minimise waste.
81760d0c109b55bff8799f5dabae7d27_largeFable & Base is about to launch a campaign on Kickstarter, supported by the RSA, on 31st October.  Francesca aims to raise £7,500 for her micro-business to set up a workshop space and buy essential equipment to scale up her operations, print repeat lengths of fabric, grow the workshop programme and develop DIY kits.  You can pledge your support in exchange for a reward, whether a tea towel, fabric, or even a print party.  As the calls for greater supply chain transparency grow louder, here is wonderful example of how small can be beautiful, in every sense.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Kering Group, owner of Gucci, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and other luxury brands has placed sustainability at the heart of luxury, their business, and their reporting.  Just this week, Kering Group announced a five-year partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), at London College of Fashion (LCF), to support sustainable practices and innovation in the fashion industry.
You can next see Fable & Base at the Selvedge Winter Fair at Chelsea Old Town Hall, 31st October and 1st November 2014, so why not pop down and pick up a few Christmas gifts early.  Francesca’s fabrics and products are always available online at www.fableandbase.co.uk, and at select fairs.
Image credits: Fable & Base
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Celebrating and sustaining the beauty of our oceans

mission_blue_gif1_256_99_0_600“No ocean; no life. No ocean; no us” is the stark warning from Dr Sylvia Earle, 2009 TED prize winner, legendary oceanographer in the trailer to her new documentary, Mission Blue.  Earle has led more than 100 expeditions worldwide involving more than 7,000 hours underwater.  After decades at the forefront of ocean exploration, Earle is a passionate advocate for the world’s oceans.  Mission Blue is a rallying call to adapt our behaviour, and start to protect the oceans as we do land, with a goal of 20% protection by 2020.

A week after the release of Mission Blue on Netflix (on August 15th) a team of Southern Cross University biogeochemists published a research paper concluding that the rate of acidification in coral reef ecosystems is more than three times faster than in the open ocean”.  Ocean acidification, or the lowering of the ocean pH due to anthropogenic (caused by humans) inputs of carbon dioxide, is well documented. The change in chemistry significantly reduces the ability of corals, and other shell-forming organisms, to build their skeletons.  We have seen a 40% loss of corals around the globe in the last 30 years.  Coral reefs are incredibly diverse eco-systems, supporting many other species. and essential breeding grounds for viable fisheries.

SUSTAIN STUFF6For the roughly 500 million people worldwide who rely on coral reefs for food, tourism income and coastal protection, healthy coral reefs are a vital part of resource management.  Diving is a passion for Nell Bennett, recent RCA graduate, and SustainRCAFinalist.  While working as a conservation volunteer with blue ventures in Madagascar, she experienced at first hand the importance of community involvement in conservation initiatives.  Bennett designed t-shirts and comic strips to inspire and share messages about sustainable fishing practices, and alternative sources of income from aquaculture (farming sea-cucumbers).

nbennettMindful of this backdrop, Nell Bennett‘s final year project for her MA in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art, Coral3, is a scheme to increase the pH of water passing through a coral reef using large alkaline structures placed upstream or within a reef.  These sacrificial structures, made of waste calcium carbonate and an organic binder, slowly dissolve, increasing the pH of the water.  The huge sculptural shapes could form a fantastical and unique underwater dive attraction for an eco-tourism project, bringing in revenue as well as restoration of a reef.

Designing the sculptures requires complex modelling of surface areas, densities, material properties, currents and water acidity to regulate the dissolution rate.  For example, you could design a form with a constant surface area, as it dissolved, or explore different densities of calcium carbonate within the composite.  Bennett talked with D-Shape, a pioneering robotic building system similar to a mega-scale 3D-printer.  D-Shape can print any feature that can fit within a 6metre cube.  They used 3D CAD software to design giant sculptural forms that would provide constant dissolution rates in water.

D-Shape’s technology works similarly to a large scape 3D printer.  Working from the structure’s foundation binder is strained onto a layer of sand (in this instance calcium carbonate).  The solidification process starts and a new layer is added, in 5-10mm layers with material that is not in contact with the binder buttressing the structure until it has solidified.  Once the solidified, any surplus material is released, and hey presto, the structure or sculpture is revealed.  My daughter’s glitter project ambitions could soon reach new dimensions!

As well as using binders, Bennett also explored the work of biomineralogist Damian Palin, a fellow RCA alumnus.  While at the RCA, Palin developed a casting process using bacteria as a low-energy catalyst to create artefacts.  More recently, Palin is developing a process that uses bacteria to biologically “mine” minerals from brine water that is residual to saltwater desalination.

Designing, constructing and delivering sculptures on a large scale would require infrastructure and funds from sponsoring partners.  The Coral3 framework, developed with guidance from the Bertarelli Foundation and blue ventures, describes a social enterprise to provide the host community with sustainable livelihoods.  The construction and delivery of sculptures on such a scale would require infrastructure and funds from sponsoring partners including local dive centres, resort hotels, a shipping company, and marine conservation charity.  The more modest sculptures exhibited at Bennett’s degree show were made by hacking a 3D printer, their delicate, ethereal forms reminiscent of the corals themselves.  These or even more simple, economical brick forms that could be replaced easily at regularly intervals may form the basis of a pilot project.

2014.8_Florida_nurseryBennett’s work may be included in a major exhibition at the Natural History MuseumCoral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea, opening in March 2015.  The exhibition promises stunning seascapes drawn from the Catlin Seaview Survey, which is sponsored by the exhibition partners, the Catlin Group, a global specialty property insurer and reinsurer.  The Catlin Seaview Survey is creating a baseline record of the world’s coral reefs, in high-resolution 360-degree panoramic vision.  The project started in September 2012, surveying the Great Barrier Reef.  In total 150km of 32 reefs along the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef and out into the Coral Sea were surveyed.  105,000, GPS located, panoramic images are being analysed by marine scientists around the world, and can be viewed on the free, publicly accessible online database, the Catlin Global Reef Record.  Everyone from reef managers to international decision makers will be able to see the current state of reef ecosystems, and monitor changes over time at the local, regional or global level.  It gives an unprecedented and common view of the health of these fragile ecosystems, a vital aid to management.

The sheer wonder I felt the first time I saw a healthy reef in the Red Sea was captivating.  The beautiful technicolor images are fresh in my mind more than twenty years later, I only hope the reef is still as brilliantly pristine today.  Soon, I will be able to check, revisiting the reef, virtually this time, thanks to the Catlin Seaview Survey!  A joy of digital and location-based technology that reveals the beauty of our oceans, and provides essential data to conserve and protect their vital eco-systems.

Coral3 has been selected as a SustainRCA Show and Award 2014 finalist, and will be on display at the RCA from 18th September – 3rd October 2014.

Image credits: Catlin Seaview Survey; Mission Blue; Nell Bennett/Sustain

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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

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Maps of fantasyland with the House of Fairy Tales

Claire_Brewster_small_largeFollowing the SustainRCA discussion about the “Rights of Nature and the nature of value”, my antenna has been alert to the role of artists as protagonists in defence of nature. So I was drawn to the latest portfolio, Cartography, from the House of Fairy Tales (with support from TAG Fine Arts) that is currently on show at the House of Barnabas, a charity helping the homeless back into work, supported by a members club in Soho.

I have a love of maps. They speak of adventure, romance, fairytales, and tell the story of power. Often what is left out, says more than what is left in.  Cartography encapsulates these wonders.  The portfolio consists of 12 screen prints and lithographs on the theme of the ‘lay of the land’ from whole continents, and wildernesses, to more familiar, but perhaps equally foreign inner world.  Sir Peter Blake and Rob Ryan are among the distinguished role call of artists.

Of the portfolio, I was drawn immediately to Claire Brewster’s ‘Sweet Dreams’ (pictured above).  The mix of collage and painting on a 1965 map of Aldabra Island in the Seychelles creates an exotic landscape for an imagined journey. The birds, flowers and insects cross over boundaries with ease, immune to the clinical lines of the map. A dual metaphor depicting the contrast between a cartographer’s precision and the vibrant, unruly real world, as well as showing the limits of man’s efforts to tame and contain nature. The piece is typical of Claire Brewster’s work with obsolete maps to create beautiful paper cuts. Retrieving the discarded and celebrating the unwanted.

Red Road Butterfly 3Susan Stockwell’s work also finds hidden treasure in waste, recycling everyday materials to comment on issues of ecology, geo-politics, and global commerce. Maps allow her to illustrate society’s networks of power and communication. The Red Road Butterfly screen print (pictured right) portrays a city’s life-blood as its road network with flows of goods and people in and out. Butterflies are a popular motif of transformation. Their fragility, transience, and beautiful.

These works, and others, ask us to pause, and prompt inquiry into our relationship with the world around us. They tell a story that is the beginning of a conversation about community, society and environment.

Sales from the Cartography Portfolio support of the work of the House of Fairy Tales, an artist-led charity that champions creative play for all, including the disadvantaged and marginalised. Established in 2006 by artists Deborah Curtis and Gavin Turk, House of Fairy Tales combines artists, educationalists, performers and scientists to create events and materials that coax individuals and communities to explore a love of curiosity, learning and doing. In the pipeline for later this year is the HOFT Examiner, a children’s online player creating a new mythology of forests in conjunction with the Forestry Commission.

The exhibition runs until the end of June and is available to view by appointment at the House of Barnabas and Home House.  So find a moment to enjoy this fantastical world of Cartography while you can.  TAG Fine Arts will exhibiting other works by some of the artists at stand 37 of the London Print Fair opening on Thursday 24th April at the Royal Academy of Arts.

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Picture credits: The artists courtesy of TAG Fine Arts

And the birds

parkMy window looks out over a park, and as the view becomes steadily more verdant, so the birds find fuller voice. I am far from an ornithologist, but as I ran around the park this morning, I saw a robin, blue tit, thrush, goldfinch, blackbird, magpie, a couple of alien parakeets and the ubiquitous pigeon.  The bird song is simply uplifting, a spring chorus for us all to savour.  It is nesting season, as March to August is the main breeding season for nesting birds, so no wonder they are in full voice.

With the knowledge that the Lawton review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network, published by DEFRA in 2010, noted declines of more than 80% of farmland birds since the 1960s, including tree sparrows, corn buntings and turtle doves, I turned my attention to what I can do in my patch.  Over the last 20 years we have lost half to three-quarters of insect-eating birds.  Some of this is due to loss of their homes.  Lots of hedgerows have disappeared from farmland, and fences and walls are the norm in cities.

Growing a hedge with native and trees and shrubs provides food, shelter and somewhere to nest all in one.  At this time of year, the RSPB recommend that you avoid cutting hedges and trees.  It is actually an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use, or being built.  The RSPB website has free guides to growing a hedge and making it a home for birds.

In the last 12 years, 53% of swifts have disappeared from the South East of England, according to Swift Conservation.  Swifts, with their long, scythe-like wings and a short, forked tail, form a familiar silhouette in our summer skies when they arrive to breed.    As they nest under eaves and gables, renovations and new buildings have disturbed many of their nesting sites, particularly as swifts often nest in the same holes and crevices for years.  Swifts are easily disturbed, so try to avoid doing any roof repairs or other work during the nesting season from May to August.

The best place to install a swift box is under the eaves of your roof, or a similar overhang, as this will provide some protection from the weather, in a shaded area. It should be at least 5 metres off the ground and away from climbers or nearby trees, so it is less accessible to predators such as crows, magpies, squirrels and cats.  Once installed, you do not need to clean out the boxes.  Swift Conservation have a number of D.I.Y. designs for swift boxes and information on swift bricks and NHBS sell a large range of bird boxes suitable for swifts and other birds.
bbA Bird Brick House is a permanent home for swifts, sparrows, and many other small to medium sized UK birds.  The box can be included as a new build, or retro-fited without cutting bricks.  The boxes are suitable for render, brick work or weather-boarding, for residential and commercial buildings.  The back box is made from 100% recycled plastic and the removable front with a fascia of real brick can blend the surrounding wall.  Bird Brick House make a range of boxes to suit the nesting habits of a variety of birds and bats.  Prices start from £70 +VAT.

If space is not such premium and you could make your own sparrows nest box to attach to a wall or tree.  The RSPB offers a free DIY guide to building a nest for house sparrows that takes about 3-4 hours.  If you do not have a tree, you substitute with a “Branch” bird feeder handmade in Cornwall from solid English Ash from Green and Blue,  priced at £35.

BLOGr&rLN25AOr follow this fun and thifty suggestion from LoveBessie to reuse a milk or soup carton as a home for our feathered friends, reproduced here by kind permission.  The reduce and recycle projects are on the backs of cards from LoveBessie’s Lolita Nolita collection.  ‘No lita’, get it? The playful designs share Love-ly messages. Simply wash out your old carton thoroughly; draw a window on each of the sides 60mm up from the base; cut out the windows; punch a hole in the top to loop the string and tie with a secure knot; fill the base with birdseed; and voila enjoy the spectacle.

For those not so confident of their DIY skills, I love the colours of this bird house (pictured below) from Traidcraft, that has been woven from rope made from twisted, recycled, misprinted sweet wrappers (priced at £10).31086

Bird food is widely available from supermarkets, garden centres, and of course the RSPB (all profits support their work).  Many household scraps are also a suitable and inexpensive way of feeding birds, but while suet, dried fruits and rice are popular, there are a few don’ts, such as milk or fat from cooked meat. The RSPB provides a comprehensive round up of what to feed, to whom, how and when!

So if you have a few spare moments this long Easter weekend, create a home for some real eggs to hatch.

Photo credits: LoveBessie, Traidcraft

Defending the rights of nature

RIGHTS-OF-NATURE_web_LOW-06_905 ‘The Rights of Nature and the Nature of Value’ was the last SustainRCA event of the season.  The speakers, chaired by Paul De Zylva from Friends of the Earth, framed a vital debate exploring the complexities of how and why we value and protect the natural environment.  The IPCC has just published its latest report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” asserting that  “Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts”. Climate change, in conjunction with changing habitats, over-exploitation, pollution and invasive species mean that a significant proportion of land and freshwater species “faces increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century.”   As for our marine species, climate change and loss of biodiversity will “challenge the sustained provision of fisheries productivity and other ecosystem services”   As the warnings become ever more stark, the debate becomes even more critical.

justwoodtablePippa Murray, designer and maker, was the first of four speakers at the SustainRCA event.  Pippa presented ‘Just Wood’ her final year project for her MA Design Products at the RCA.  For nine months Pippa was based in a 45 acre Cumbrian woodland, consisting mainly of British hardwoods, as an apprentice at Danny Frost Timber.  Pippa developed an adhesive free method for moulding greenwood shavings in an affordable batch process.  The greenwood shavings are a by-product of pruning the hardwood trees.  Pruning, or coppicing, is a traditional form of woodland management.  In contrast to mono crop woods that are clear-felled in twenty year cycles, hardwood trees play many different roles in their lifetime.  Writing about Britain’s ancient woodlands recently in the Financial Times, Matthew Wilson, managing director of Clifton Nurseries, noted that a single mature oak can host up to 25,000 individual animals.  Pippa hopes her process offers the potential to make good use of the 649,000 hectares of unmanaged woodland in England today. While pruning and reshaping the trees, Pippa was mindful that the impact of her actions will be revealed in 100 or 200 years time.  On a greater scale, Pippa’s reflections remind us that our interactions with nature have repercussions far beyond our own lifetime.  In closing, Pippa asked, “What is our generation leaving for the future?” 

Hopefully not the sound of the chainsaw that filled the theatre as Andrew Simms (author, nef Fellow, Global Witness) played a short cartoon highlighting financial ties between Arnold Schwarzenegger, former governor and climate champion, and tropical forestry companies, a number of whom were implicated in illegal logging.  It is a lighthearted look at a serious issue, not Schwarznegger’s reputation, but the impact of industrial logging, and the role of investment vehicles as intermediaries.  There has been much written about valuing nature’s resources and services, but this presents a paradox, Andrew reminds.  While something is invisible to the system unless it has a price, if you do price it, then it becomes vulnerable to the vagaries of short-term markets.  Nature becomes commoditized and its value reduced to its monetary price.  Yet, Andrew went on, orthodox pricing models fail as you can not put a price on civilisation.  What price for that last barrel of oil?  If monetary values are reductive, even to a Western model, then what alternatives are available for decision-making?

TJ Demos, UCL, while calling for full natural capital accounting as a means to end unsustainable resource exploitation, swiftly challenged us to look at the politics of ecology.  TJ presented works from a number of artists exploring the growing conflicts around ecology and climate change.  Red Ant Dream, directed by Sanjay Kak, and The Sovereign Forest, by Amar Kanwar, look at the impact of mining on the landscape and communities of Odisha (formerly Orissa), India.  Here the artists are protagonists and inquisitors challenging our socio-economic and political culture and its concept of value.

nef first published the Happy Planet Index in 2006.  The HPI measures which countries offer long, happy, sustainable lives for their people.  Small and island states perform best (the UK is ranked 41 out of 151 states).  While economic growth and development is often viewed in a vacuum, devoid of social, cultural, ecological or spiritual values, for many communities nature is central to their heritage.   Earth Law recognises that the Earth is the source of laws which govern life, something that many indigenous peoples and local communities have been practicing for centuries.  Earth law, earth jurisprudence, or wild law recognises the rights of nature , its right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.  In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to adopt Rights of Nature in its constitution.  This changes nature from an asset (that you can put a price on and offset) to an entity than can assume agency in a legal situation.


Recognising the rights of nature changes our understanding of nature and the purpose of law and governance, from property-owner to trustee.  In this context, it is much harder to put a price on significant harm, as the final speaker, Polly Higgins,  environmental lawyer and author of Eradicating Ecocideargued so eloquently.  As Polly noted, we do not ask what price to put on child abuse, domestic violence or theft.  They are simply crimes.  Ecocide is, “the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.”  It is not a radical, dark green manifesto, it was included in the UN’s draft Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind and examined for 11 years as the fifth Crime Against Peace in the Rome Statute before being mysteriously shelved at the last minute in 1996.  Wish20 – Eradicating Ecocide is the global citizens campaign to create a global duty of care and end Ecocide by 2020.

A more holistic approach towards nature, environmental ethics and governance, is one of stewardship, where nature is not an asset to own, where the value of something is greater and more complex than its present monetary price tag.  In the context of SustainRCA, artists, designers and makers have a powerful role to play in envisioning a better world, challenging the status quo, and mediating a more sustainable social, cultural, environmental and economic compact.  Andrew ended with John Ruskin’s quote, “There is no wealth but life”, I shall add, Ai Weiwei, “Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be.”

Image credit: Eradicating Ecocide, Pippa Murray, SustainRCA