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

Advertisements

Where are nature’s stewards?

Post_TNC_PineTreeWe instinctively have a sense of the value of nature, whether the sound of the ocean or the warmth of winter sun.  Signs of the strains on our relationship with nature confront us almost daily: an article in the Financial Times described the Ganges, India’s holy river, as deadly, after “pollution has turned the sacred waters into a lethal cocktail of industrial and human waste.” Species extinction rates are more than a 1,000 times the background rate, driven primarily by our over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution and climate change.  Today, China’s premier Li Keqiang announced new targets to use of coal and chronic air pollution levels.  In recent days investors, commentators and journalists have speculated on the impact of ‘Under the Dome‘, a Chinese-made documentary charting the impact of air pollution on citizens, viewed over 160 million times since its release last weekend.  With praise from government ministers and state media, the documentary is causing a surge in public awareness of the impact of pursuit of economic growth above all else.

At the Intelligence Squared debate, “Money can grow on trees chaired by Matthew Taylor, the auditorium was packed to the rafters for the discussion of whether nature and business have a competitive or collaborative relationship.  In his opening remarks, Peter Karieva, Chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, made a compelling business case for nature: “in the long run business doesn’t stand a chance without nature”. The “long run” is important, as Karieva notes, the greatest tension between nature and business is their incompatible time horizons.

The primacy of quarterly profit reporting, and management incentives aligned to short-term key performance indicators, means that benefits which are not swiftly evidenced, such as avoiding environmental damage, are overlooked.  Policy makers grapple with similar tensions. Green Alliance’s report, “Green liberalism: Reforming the Treasury for long term policy” described the tension between HM Treasury’s dual responsibilities for the nation’s finances and economic growth.  It is standard practice to assume costs or benefits experienced now are worth more than those expected in the future, and to discount accordingly.  The higher level of “discount rate”,  the greater the future benefits have to be.  This matters for environmental policies which often come with short term costs, and pay-offs long in the future.  HM Treasury uses a higher discount rate for future impacts than some of its European peers, so it is comparatively more difficult to make the case of environmental investments in the UK. The Green Alliance report asks, “Do we want to keep £100 in our pockets today at the expense of, for instance, more than £1,000 cost in damage to the natural environment that our grandchildren would inherit?”  A challenge for campaigners is that climate change, while vital, is for many intangible, with impacts occurring in the seemingly distant future, or distant geographies.

These horizons no longer seem so far away.  Weather events closer to home, such as flooding in the UK, are changing public perceptions of climate risk.  After decades of campaigning, Tony Juniper, called on the environmental movement to show the financial risk of not acting.  This approach has gone mainstream with the fossil fuel divestment movement and discussion of stranded assets (i.e. assets that have suffered from unanticipated or premature write-downs, devaluations, or conversion to liabilities as a result of risks such as changing social norms, regulation, emergence of clean technology).  Other ecosystems, such as water and soil, are providing feedback within five years, time frames that sit comfortably in a business planning framework.  Since 2011 companies have spent more than $84bn worldwide to improve the way they conserve, manage or obtain water, according to sources reported in the FT in July 2014.

UnknownThe myopia is not just temporal, as Juniper noted, “we see environmental problems as environmental, when they are economic failures”.  Business has long enjoyed the benefits of ecosystem services for free, or at least far below their true cost.  Juniper’s new book, “What Nature Does For Britain” describes the clean water and secure food we take for granted on the back of nature’s capital, estimated by the O.N.S.to be worth £1.5 trillion in the UK.  Quantifying nature’s contribution to the bottom line in cash terms, is not easy, but B & Q, Marks & Spencer, and Unilever are among the small-group of pioneers beginning to recognise, measure and account for the value of nature to their businesses.

Jeremy Oppenhiem, leader of McKinsey’s global practice on Sustainability and Resource Productivity, was adamant about the importance of pricing nature, and incorporating its spiritual and aesthetic benefits into valuation.  Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 21.04.10A great deal of work is being undertaken in this area, by the Nature Conservancy, Trucost and others.  For example, the Smith School of the Enterprise and the Environment published a short discussion paper on the development of a new asset framework for protected areas.  The image drawn from the paper illustrates the different forms of value that PAs generate.  The intention is to demonstrate the value generated by PAs in ways that are meaningful for different stakeholders in a rapidly changing world, where funding is constrained.  Understanding the value of protected areas enables enhanced risk management, and can attract new investment.

A more accurate reflection of the value of the ecosystem services that nature provides bring externalities back into the cost of doing business, slowly eroding the false dichotomy between business doing good and doing good business.  Perhaps even ultimately blurring the lines between mainstream investing and social impact investing.  As Oppenheim commented only by moving at scale will we be able to do what is required, and the US$90 trillion worth of new infrastructure investment expected over the next 15 years presents an opportunity take a responsible view of impacts.

As Programme Director of the New Climate Economy, Oppenheim drew on the conclusions of their recent report to emphasis the “opportunities for self-interested national action” at the national, and sub-national level.  “Better Growth, Better Climate”, The report provides a ten-point global action plan for governments and business to support better growth in a low-carbon economy through strong political leadership, and credible, consistent policies.

B9w13EqIQAAVWCW.png-largeDoes the climate change compact signed by the three major party leaders represent the beginning of a shared, non-partisan approach to a low-carbon economy?  Few observers expect the general election in May to deliver an outright majority, so in the absence of strong political leadership, where are nature’s stewards?  Does the civil service have a role to play as custodians of nature, particularly for future generations?

Tony Juniper urged us all to echo The Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB’s calls for a Nature and Wellbeing Act for England to support significant improvements in the health and wellbeing of people, society and the economy.  Well-being may sound ambiguous, but the O.N.S. began measuring national well-being in 2012 to try and capture some of the complex impacts of policy, and address the limitations of economic models.  For example, the Green Alliance reports that while the fourth carbon budget includes the financial costs of environmental policies, it misses the benefits such as improvements to health from better air quality, lower congestion, accelerated innovation or reduced risk to future UK growth from climate change.

Lucy Siegle, journalist at The Guardian, and Nick Dearden, Director of the World Development Movement, were both sceptical of businesses’ ability to manage their rapacious appetites for nature’s resources without significant pressure.  However social media and technology are making it easier for consumers and campaigners to be the conscience of policy makers and business.  Brands are susceptible to pressure from civil society.  We must demand more of all those who act on our behalf to reshape the norms of business and politics.

In the meantime, experience nature, it will give you the energy to do something about it, urged Karieva.  Ultimately, we protect what we love, and then act in enlightened self-interest!

Related links:

http://www.intelligencesquared.com/podcast/

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/dadfae24-b23e-11e4-b380-00144feab7de.html#slide0

http://green-alliance.org.uk/resources/Green%20liberalism_reforming%20the%20treasury.pdf

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

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.

 

 

 

 

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

Related links:

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

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

Nesta’s CIO on nurturing impact investment

Nesta_Impact_Investments_WHITE_bg_RGB_v2In London’s heartland of private equity a group of finance’s bright young things gathered for a glass of wine and reflections on impact investing from Nesta’s CIO, Matt Mead, at one of a series of Happy Hours organised by Finance Matters, a community of finance professionals in London with a strong interest in helping the financial industry drive social change, and put sustainability at the heart of their careers (a version of this article was originally published in the Finance Matters Weekly).

Matt gave us a brief history of his career from chartered accountancy, by way of corporate recovery and a life time of lessons in dealing with owner-managed businesses to leading 3i‘s technology practice through the turbulence that followed the dot-com bubble. From 2007, 3i focused its business on private equity and growth capital, and, after managing the disposal of the early stage portfolio, Matt joined Nesta in 2010.
Nesta, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, was formed in 1998 as an innovation agency.  Shortly after Matt joined, Nesta was reformed as a charitable foundation, funded by a £350mn trust and its activities include grant making (through the Innovation Lab) and the investments business.  Matt and his colleague Joe Ludlow began talking to a series of wealth managers and angel investors to better understand perceptions of social investment (now know as social impact investment) as an asset class.  When Big Society Capital (BSC) was set up in 2012, Matt and Joe saw the opportunity to combine Nesta’s expertise in grant-making and early stage investment and create Nesta Investment Management LLP (NIM is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nesta) to raise a social impact investment fund.  The fund was closed in December 2012., with £18mn: £8mn from Nesta matched by £8mn from Big Society Capital, and the Omidyar Network providing £2mn.  The fund targets ventures addressing major social needs in the UK, around three broad themes: the needs of an ageing population; the learning and employability needs of younger people; and efficient use of resources by households and communities, each of which has four impact goals attached to them.
Social investment used to mean loans to a charitable organisation, but NIM are neutral on the legal form of organisation they invest in.  Matt is clear that to broaden social impact sector, it is important to enable companies limited by shares to deliver impact.  There are constraints, for example, NIM look very closely at organisations’ object clause, dividends and remuneration policy.
Out of the roughly 600 projects that came across Matt and Joe’s desks over these years, 7 made it through to investment so far, not an unusual ratio.  These investments, currently all in companies limited by shares, are a mix of equity and debt, typically around £0.5 m ticket.
Investment decisions are impact first, and organisations must have a theory of change addressing one of NIM’s target outcomes that is clear, measurable and at the core of its business.  The investment criteria include “scalable approach; delivering impact and public benefit in the UK by providing products or services that are inclusive, accessible and affordable; with strong business models that are able to generate reasonable, sustainable returns on capital”.  One of the most talked about of NIM’s investments is in Oomph!Wellness Ltd which runs exercise classes in around 500 residential care homes.  The founder wanted to shift to a “train the trainer” model training care homes’ activities co-ordinator and providing mushome_graphicic, materials and equipment.  Oomph’s theory of change is based on exercise improving physical and mental health, reducing accident rates, and enabling care homes to provide a better quality of service addressed NIM’s ageing outcome.  Oomph and NIM worked together to develop an impact evaluation plan around targets to develop evidence proving a correlation between Oomph’s growth and the target outcome.  This is typical of NIM’s involvement, coupled with board support.
Alongside their own impact evaluation framework, NIM is keeping a close eye on measurement frameworks emerging within the industry.  The debate around measurement is lively, and far-reaching.  Calls for the adoption of standard metrics around corporate social responsibility are growing, with Mark Wilson, CEO Aviva commenting: “There is a clear need for a global mandate and a globally coordinated approach to corporate sustainability reporting, which is clearly understood and consistently applied” referring to a recent report showing that only three per cent of the world’s largest listed companies report on all basic sustainability metrics.
When talking about the differences between running an impact investment fund and a conventional venture fund, Matt candidly confessed “It is harder“.  The financial returns have to be matched with impact measurement.  The two are not always in close alignment in periods of difficult trading.  If an organisation seeks to scale back its impact, NIM, as an equity investor could be left with an equity investment that is no longer delivering on its proscribed outcome.
As always, the FM audience participants had quite a few questions, including around target financial returns. Along with a measurable impact, there is the expectation of a “reasonable, sustainable return on capital” with a net target rate and an envisaged range around it, depending on the investment and its structure.
NIM is charting new territory.  Interest in impact investing is growing in age of growing societal challenges, and government austerity.  Ronald Cohen, chair of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce, writes, “It harnesses the forces of entrepreneurship, innovation and capital and the power of markets to do good. One might with justification say that it brings the invisible heart of markets to guide their invisible hand.”
An enjoyable evening and a unique opportunity to gain invaluable insights from a pioneer of the social impact investing space in the UK.

New Craftsmen celebrating the art of swilling

ls1

While working in Manchester, Lorna Singleton  yearned to return home to South Cumbria to do something practical, creative and to spend more time outdoors. WWoof-ing’ confirmed her desire to reconnect with the landscape of her childhood.  ‘WWOOF’ stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and while on the farm, Lorna was introduced to greenwood crafts.  Today she is one of only a handful of remaining swillers in the country.

Lorna began an apprenticeship with the Bill Hogarth (MBE) Memorial Apprenticeship Trust for three years of intensive tuition in coppicing and greenwood crafts.  Bill Hogarth started working with wood in mid-1940s, aged 14, dressing and tying hazel for ships fenders.  As traditional markets for coppiced hazel dried up, Hogarth was the last coppice merchant in the Lake District by the 1980s.  He dedicated himself to sharing his skills, stories and knowledge of woodland management.  In 2000, a trust was set up to continue sharing knowledge of traditional coppice woodland management.

Coppicing, a traditional form of woodland management, is the practice of cutting young tree stems close to ground level.  New shoots emerge, and, after a few years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.  Opening the canopy and increasing light to the woodland floor allows plants to thrive, and as sections of woodland, or coups, are coppiced in rotation the practice creates a variety of habitats.

Lorna’s passion for weaving oak swills, traditional baskets unique to the Lakeland grew.  Willow, a more familiar basket material does not thrive in the bracing climate and rugged terrain of Cumbria, so the population had to work with the materials they had to hand, oak.  The oak is hand-coppiced when it is about twenty-five years, much later than other woods are coppiced, but early in the life of oak.

ls_4Lorna cleaves, or splits, the green wood, along its grain into strips.  The strips, or spells, are boiled overnight and soaked in water until they becomes supple (see right).  Splitting the wood along its grain, keepls_5s the fibres together retaining the strength of the tree.  Pieces of hazel are steamed over the boiling oak, and bent into the frame of the basket. Once softened, the cleft wood is riven into even thinner strips, around 2-3mm, before it is hand-woven into baskets. A single swill basket takes about a day to weave.  The strong, hard-wearing swill baskets were often used to collect potatoes and other crops, but their uses are not limited to the garden, making fine washing baskets, storage for root vegetables and carrots in a larder, logs, newspapers, or toys.
Through working with the coppiced wood, Lorna has become intimately familiar the material’s properties and limitations.  She describes how, in time, the craft becomes a familiar, almost meditative, ritual, with the tools feeling an extension of the hand, and the craftsman’s body moving unconsciously to make and mold the material.2014-09-17 17.41.02
I caught up with Lorna during the London Design Festival where she was maker-in-residence at the New Craftsmen gallery, surrounded by new pieces from a collaboration with Sebastian Cox.  The two met at a National Coppicing Federation workshop.  Sebastian’s experience of re-interpreting traditional crafts and products, and with a contemporary twist provided invaluable insights for Lorna as she grows her retail offering.  In turn, Lorna introduced Sebastian to the practice of swilling, and a collaboration was born.
 swill-lights-sebastian-cox-the-new-craftsmen-004-646x646
The resulting ‘Swill’ ceiling lights, made of oak swill skilfully woven into cylinders cast a cross-hatch light when illuminated.  The lights can be clustered into groups of three, five or seven, priced from £195 for the trio (9cm (w) x 9cm (d) x 12cm (h)).
The ‘Swill’ bench and stools pair silver grey swilled oak spells with a glue-less ash frame on fine, tapered legs for an elegant, strong seat.  The bench, £595, and the stool, £355 are both available from the New Craftsmen (pictured above in situ).  The seat of each bench or stool has a unique pattern reflecting the texture, colour and width of the individual spells.
swill-shelves-sebastian-cox-the-new-craftsmen-003-418x646The ‘Swill Hanging Shelves’ also combine ash and oak swill in a harmonious pair  (priced from £75 for a small shelf, 10cm (w) x 30cm (d) x 2cm (h)).  Lengths of swill are spilt, wrapped through an ash shelf and pinned with copper rivets. The shelves are exceptionally lightweight and strong and can be hung in tessellation or alone.  The shelves do equire a slight DIY intervention, as you have to soak the swill coil in water for 15 minutes, then hang the shelf on the rail with some books to weigh it down, to ensure the swill dries straight.  What better introduction to this timeless craft.
Image credits: New Craftsmen Gallery where not my own.

 

 

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
Related links: