LDF19: How environmentally sustainable can design truly be?

During LDF, 100% Design hosted a number of talks on a variety of topics. One talk that stood out was – Beyond Sustainability: Future of Waste in Design. The speakers included students, young designers and co-founders that were committed to promoting sustainable design.

Panellists include Tammi from Tÿ Syml; material designer Clémence Grouin-Rigaux; and Johannes Kiniger, co-founder at High Society. The talk was chaired by design director Atticus Durnell.

Full of passion to make an impactful change, each panellist had their own way of combating the waste problem. For Atticus Durnell, the Founder of That’s Caffeine, his chosen ‘waste’ was unsurprisingly caffeine. He explained to the crowd that we drink over half a million cups of coffee a day, which in turn produces two million tonnes of carbon into our atmosphere. Atticus grinds down the raw materials and makes it into household items. Caffeine was his chosen material due to it being lightweight, sustainable and biodegradable, in addition to this, it is also heat and water-resistant, making it a perfect alternative to plastic.

In 2019 Atticus Durnell received Design Guild Mark Award in 2D Category for his ongoing project That’s Caffeine.

Next was Clemence Grouin-Rigaux, a recently graduated material designer who looks at the effects of waste in the meat industry. The process of slaughtering cattle for meat sees 60% of the animal (bones, trimmings and skin) go to landfill. Overall, 60 billion animals are slaughtered globally, with 10 million in the UK alone. Through intensive research and trial and error, Clemence has created a process that consists of boiling down animal offal to produce a fine powder that can be used to make a leather/resin type material. Using this method, she has been working to create furniture as well as beauty tools that are biodegradable and recyclable.

The third speaker Johannes Kiniger is the co-founder of High Society – a sustainable design start-up based in Italy. Through looking at the trade industry, they found that the abundance of left-over tobacco stalk (Italy is the 10th largest tobacco producer in the world), hemp and pomace (made using solid remains of wine production) could be utilised rather than thrown away. High Society innovatively makes three variations of ceiling lights, and due to the materials used, every single design is unique.

Speaking last was a representative from Ty Syml, a Welsh company that looks at using wood chips and seaweed to create pendant lighting. They have noticed that though they have a big consumer market in Germany, there was less interest in the UK. Due to the components used, their products are extremely lightweight, making it cheaper and easier to transport.

During the discussion, a point was made that as a society we focus on the impact of fashion and food on climate change, but design and interiors are left behind. However, it was made clear that we choose our household items, furniture and white goods to be durable, to ‘last forever’, which they do but in dumps around the world.

The impact of our consumption for all things new is causing the planet to run out of water, petrol, sand and precious materials, all which will have a detrimental effect on technology, concrete and plastic. It is evident that our habits need to change, but does price impact what we buy? The majority of the speakers believed more funding needed to come from the government to help smaller companies create sustainable products, and in turn, make them more affordable.

Shamefully, the UK is one of the lowest countries for recycling in the western world. However, the problem of waste can be helped by simply having more public bins that are divided so that food waste, recyclable and non-recyclable products have their own slots. There could also be an introduction of more drinking fountains in public areas, which would influence the amount of single-use plastic water bottles we buy. Most importantly, children need to be taught the importance of recycling at school and the effects that mindless waste can have on the planet.

Larger companies need to also do their bit. The masses of waste they produce can be donated to smaller start-ups who are working with it to create forward-thinking products. It is a simple matter of waste to one can be valuable to another. Bigger brands like Ikea need to lead the way to create more of a desire for a sustainable way of living that appeals and can be afforded by all. In relation to this, Clemence quite rightly stated that “design should not be elitist”.

Sustainable products are still niche, but people are willing to change. My hope is that in a few years sustainable design will be mainstream”.

Atticus Durnell, Founder of That's Caffeine

During the Q&A part of the talk, one annoyed audience pointed out the fault in the design industry. She pointed out that “we need to disregard trends like millennial pink and marble and have eco-friendly or sustainable instead. We need trends that benefit us globally, because soon it won’t matter what the colour of the year is”.

With the average age of the audience and speakers ranging from 25 – 40 (considerably lower than previous talks), Johannes observed that you can already see human behaviour changing, albeit slowly, with the younger generation showing greater interest in living more eco-friendly.

Throughout the talk, each designer mentioned how disheartening it can feel when working with and using waste, as it can never be combated due to the amount, we, as humans create daily.

In the design industry, there has been a definite change. 100% Design a few years ago only had 5 or 6 brands that had sustainability at the heart of their designs. However, today the number is closer to 100.

The key learning from the talk was that we all need to play our part; everyone needs to be more conscious to make a change.