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
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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

Looking Forwards & Instigating Change @SustainRCA Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credits: Pierre Paslier; SustainRCA

Related links:

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

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

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

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

Related links:

http://ideas.ted.com/2014/08/15/4-gifs-that-show-what-happened-to-the-oceans/

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

 

 

SustainRCA Show and Award 2014 finalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credits: Adam Gray/SWNS.com; SustainRCA

Related links:

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

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

Designs of the Year 2014 @Design Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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