What role can the interior design industry play in creating a circular economy, and how can these measures help to ensure a cleaner, more sustainable future for the entire world?
This was the big question asked by circular design champion, author, podcaster, and our talk host Katie Treggiden, to our assembled group of panellists who joined us for the talk.
Susie Jahren, a Sustainable Research Manager specialising in materials and nanotechnology at SINTEF, was the first panellist to be brought into the conversation, providing insight on why aren’t more people using waste as a raw material. SINTEF is one of Europe’s largest independent research organisations, and Susie specialises in materials and nanotechnology.
She put forward a range of barriers that are in place, from technical to economical, regulatory to lack of incentives. In many cases using virgin materials was not only cheaper, it was easier, and a more consistent resource to use. The challenge is to breakdown these barriers, and put new systems in place to make waste materials, especially plastic, more accessible.
So how do you break down those barriers?
Christian Lodgaard Flokk SVP Products & Brands, spoke next, addressing the ongoing research collaboration with SINTEF into finding these reliable and economical waste material streams.
Christian: “We looked at barriers to circularity in total, from business models to supply chains, new sources of post-consumer waste… that we could take in and increase our consumption of waste, expanding to new categories.”
He then explained the latest initiative of this research project to bear fruit, using broken plastic snow plough markers as a viable resource. Although this was a finite resource, it provided the opportunity to experiment with a new resource and gain valuable knowledge for future developments, and the creation of 200 limited edition chairs with a unique colour thanks to the luminous orange colour of the plastic used.
The barriers are not only found on the manufacturing side, but also on a consumer level.
Simon Hamilton, Founder of Design Career Consulting spoke next. With a background working in both commercial and residential interior design, as well as an educator for the upcoming designers still in education, Simon was asked by Katie for his opinion on the challenges that circular design. He emphasised that whilst there was growing goodwill for clients on all levels to use sustainable products, when projects get going, sustainability takes a backseat to personal taste and costs, as well as access to the products and general knowledge of the environmental credentials of designs in a clear and straight forward manner.
If reliable and straight forward information is what is required, then one clear way to do this is more widespread use of the EPD or Environment Product Declaration – an independently verified document highlighting the complete lifecycle impact a product has on the environment.
Jan Christian Vestre, CEO of outdoor furniture brand Vestre was brought in next to talk about this, and how his company, Vestre, have put this documentation across their entire catalogue of outdoor furniture.
He made it clear that whilst many say this is a difficult thing to achieve, it took his company 6 months to complete the process, and if they can do it anyone can.
Jan Christian: “I’ve heard so many companies saying it’s way too expensive, its way to complicated, we don’t have the tools, we don’t know where to start, but, I’m sorry to say, that’s nonsense. If you are willing to focus on what’s important today, everything is possible. Stop talking start doing. Less talk more action.”
He went on to express his views on the current situation, proposing a ban on all short-life products, strict rules on repairability and recyclability, and the need for governments to make some non-negotiable demands on the industry as a whole to bring circular design principles to the wider market.
Simon continued the discussion by addressing the topic of diversity and inclusion, highlighting his outreach work with programs such as United in Design and Decolonised Networking, which aim to create a more diverse participation in the design community, inviting everyone to the table to discuss the issue on sustainability.
Both Christian Lodgaard and Jan Christian continued the discourse with a look at how businesses can adopt circular design principles and be responsible manufacturers whilst maintaining a profitable business.
For Flokk, as explained by Christian, this manifests itself through diligent research and painstaking planning at every stage of the value chain. Understanding where we can improve and putting inplace largescale solutions to maintain financial viability whilst improving environmental impact.
Jan Christian continued by quoting one of the founding fathers of capitalism, Milton Freedman, “The business of business is business – the only responsibility it has to itself is increasing profits” and explaining how that is an idea we should really be moving away from. He continued by explaining how he was far more interested in environmental politics when growing up, but upon inheriting Vestre, a furniture company, from his father, how he could invest his personal beliefs into his company.
Jan “We are using our furniture and our company as a tool to bring change. We integrated 9 of the 17 sustainability development goals into our model, of course, to stay profitable too, but that was the challenge… we are not making money on things that are immoral.”
Before the panel opened up to questions, the chat returned to Susie and the work of SINTEF, with Susie giving another example of a potential resource they have been looking at. Salmon farms create many tonnes of clean, reliable and uniform plastic waste every year, in many countries around the world. The missing link is working out ways to get this resource to the companies that can use it.
Susie: “Finding out where are the barriers here and how can we break through this issue so that it can be available for companies like Flokk going into the future.”
She continued by talking about the need to understand the overall impact of converting to a circular economy, and the widespread effects it will have on entire populations around the world, and how understanding and anticipating these events, and building in safety nets for people who will be affected is equally important.
The full recording is now available to watch online above, or you can view it directly on YouTube here.
Many thanks to all of our panellists, and to everyone who enjoyed our talk live, and those who have watched it on demand since.
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