The Sustainable Future
This week saw the first Designscape online networking and seminar event looking at the future of design across the hospitality, residential and retail sectors. We were particularly interested in ’The Future of Sustainability’ discussion looking at how we can take a lead from our environment to create a circular economy in design and the key pillars of responsibility that those in the industry should be keeping at the forefront of their design ethos. The key messages we took away from this were:
Sustainability needs to be a holistic approach
Designers should be looking at the effects of their design ethos in three areas - environmental, social and economic in equal importance. Traditionally the economic considerations have taken precedence, but this should not be the case. The RIBA Sustainable Outcome guide echoes the UN Sustainable Development Goals and is very useful to identify the targets for a sustainable future. Whenever sustainability is mentioned, most people automatically think of carbon emissions but it is so much more than this - good health and wellbeing, a sustainable water cycle, sustainable land use and ecology, sustainable economic growth and affordable clean energy.
Luxury and sustainability are not mutually exclusive
It’s great to see that more designers are embracing these two elements and creating truly beautiful products and spaces. Jennifer Manners, a luxury rug designer, has spent a lot of her time researching how to make her designs as ethical and environmentally friendly as possible and has recently launched a range made of recycled plastic, which are almost indistinguishable from wool. The design involved identifying issues within the whole production process - how the materials are broken down and reformed and the effects this has on the local community in Nepal and India. Conditions are monitored closely both internally and externally by regulatory bodies in local areas guaranteeing that no child labour is used, and the workers are able to raise concerns of improper practice safely.
It’s an area that is still in need of demystifying, so ask questions of all the products and suppliers you may decide to buy from or work with. It’s vital that everyone starts to do this in order to raise awareness of the issues and for it to become more normalised in everyday thinking. Check out the credentials of those you employ or buy from - and ask for evidence. If something is bespoke, find out what materials and finishes are being used and if they are sustainable or ecologically friendly, not only to the environment but for you, the end user. We need greater transparency of the provenances and processes involved in turning anything from a raw material to an end product.
Make a shift to sustainable practice
It’s not just the designers and product suppliers that can make this happen. Everyone can. We all know to take our own reusable bags to supermarkets, and not to leave the taps running when brushing our teeth, but you can use the power of your purchases to demand that retailers and suppliers take these issues to heart too. If you research how your online purchases are wrapped and delivered for example - avoid those that deliver in plastic bags, or excessive packaging for a small item. Take delight in recycling or repurposing things past their original lifecycle.
A number of the panel guests had unknowingly taken their eco conscious quest home with them from work - becoming vegan and changing suppliers to greener products and services. If it’s something you’re passionate and know more about, it will become easier to make those changes.
The next big things in sustainable design
The circular economy, in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible before regenerating or recycling them after their natural end of service life is becoming increasingly important. Many industries want to move away from the fast consumer culture that has prevailed in recent decades that are depleting precious resources.
Following this years pandemic, there is so much more awareness of the air that we breathe every day and indoor air quality has become so much more important. Many industries will be looking at how we can reduce indoor toxins that are found on transport, in products, in our homes and offices, and how this is monitored. There needs to be greater feedback on the design of spaces and how air quality affects use.
Nature has always been evident in design, but we will see bigger connections to nature coming. We can learn so much from the processes, shapes and forms found in the natural world and utilise it within design.
We will muse more on these thoughts over the coming months and look in more detail at our own processes and question what impact our actions and designs have within this context. We look forward to continuing the dialogue with our clients and consultants over the coming years.