Sustainability, is it the fake orgasm of the design world?
How do you know when designers and manufacturers are telling the truth?
Sustainability. We’ve always suspected it is one of the most spinnable words in our lexicon. Almost anyone can make something sound sustainable. The marketing departments are a flurry with ideas of how to ‘work’ sustainability as it has become a desirable quality for products for the upwardly mobile. In our opinion it is also one of the most difficult qualities to regulate. It is almost like trying to regulate speech. One man's offense is another man's freedom of speech. One man’ right to know is another man's privacy. So that leaves us figuring out where we sit on the sustainability spectrum and where and what environmental lines we are willing to cross for what reasons. One thought that rolls around our heads is, is your product or service sustainable if all you do is plant trees to offset your carbon footprint?
As always we need to start with some definitions to know which targets we are aiming for. These are the ones we found.
"To meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." - Brundlant Commision
"The underlying pattern of health, resilience, and adaptability that maintain this planet in a condition where life as a whole can flourish." - Daniel Christian Wahl
So we need to meet our needs in the here and now without compromising the needs of the future and I guess that really begs the question of us, “What are our needs?” Do we need to follow fashion trends or should we be investing in better quality, more ethically sourced local products that could be seen as timeless. Think Patagonia. In my humble opinion they are getting the whole sustainability thing right. They almost actively encourage people to not buy their product but to rather repair or mend previous items and they will do it for free if you take it in. I think most of their products have a lifetime guarantee, which comes at a premium, but it breeds a better intention around purchasing products. It also allows for product to be passed on, inherited and cherished, passing it on to the next generation. Things that are cherished and memories made with them are trend free. Listen to a podcast here with Yvon Chouinard on how he built the brand.
We have found a starting point to figuring out sustainability, our needs and discerning which enterprises and industries start with our needs rather than our desires. So we could start small with our needs vs wants. Do we really need to drink out of a paper coffee cup or could we use our own or quite simply drink the coffee at the coffee shop out of their own crockery, this is aside from this weird guilty pleasure I have of drinking coffee out of a takeaway cup with the lid on. I don’t know what it is about that vessel, the weight of it in my hand, the way the liquid comes out, I can’t be certain, but I really enjoy it as one of the simple things life has to offer, otherwise I drink out of a reusable eco-bamboo-silicone cup in black, because, you know, I’m a designer.
These are the simple things that have entered my consciousness to try and be better at life. I hope to grow them to eventually become really good at life. I take inspiration from my grandmother who lived through the second world war where rations were a thing. I remember growing up seeing her save the cling film that had packaged vegetables, it was washed and stretched out over the tiles on the kitchen wall. She also saved all the polystyrene trays and yoghurt containers to be used as painting trays or sandcastle building tools. We also, as a family, have wrapping paper and bubble wrap dating back to the first half of the last century that is perfectly usable and will be used thanks to her and I think that is a distinction between storing and hoarding, it is not hoarding if you actually use it and can store it in a place that doesn’t interrupt life or make you question if you need a bigger house/flat etc.
Our business and sustainability, which is something we struggle with defining and can become overwhelmed by, but are committed to and want to be a part of our ethos. I think like the coffee cup example, we are starting out making the best decisions we can with the information we have and thinking outside the box as much as we can. We have had to come up with what is important to us regarding our perception of sustainability. These are the practices we try our best to strictly adhere to with regards to our processes.
Design, Wastage, Materials, Finishes, Transport, Packaging:
- Design: Our products aren’t trend driven. They are simple, they can sit in most environments without disturbing an aesthetic, but rather enhance it. That is what we think makes them timeless and therefore will not be chucked when the new trends come.
- Wastage: This feeds into design. Materials come in certain lengths, shapes and sizes and we design our products accordingly so that there is minimal wastage and off cuts that cannot be used. So when things are being laser cut out of board or sheet we nest the shapes to be the most efficient use of the material.
- Materials: We used materials that are recyclable or sustainably harvested. Steel is recyclable and our wood is sourced from FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified suppliers. The fabric we choose is for the most part, unless otherwise specified, from overruns and we hand pick the fabric that would best compliment the product. Our leather is locally sourced.
- Our steel is powder coated which we feel is better than spray based on our research. Powder coating contains no hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and does not give off a gas. Powder coating’s strength and hardness maximizes longevity and minimizes the resources required to perform maintenance. The carbon footprint of powder coating is up to ten times less than that of solvent-based coatings. Overspray can't be reused. Powder overspray can be saved and reused.
- Our timber is finished with a vegetable oil-based Monocoat. Vegetable oils constitute the single, largest, easily available, low cost, non-toxic, non-depletable, biodegradable family yielding materials that are capable of competing with fossil fuel derived petro-based products.
- Transport: The biggest contributor to a products carbon footprint, we are still working this out to be the best it can be, but these are the steps we have taken to minimise transport. Our small products are manufactured in Durban and then shipped as their size makes it feasible, for the bigger products we have worked with high quality local manufacturers and suppliers to manufacture the product from our drawings in the one of the major centres of South Africa, so minimising transport and stimulating the local economy.
- Packaging: As best we can we use recyclable or biodegradable cardboard and paper and have designed the packaging of our bathroom accessories to not rely on glue or tape. When transporting bigger items we use removal companies that package the products into the van using blankets so not to damage the products along with not having a large amount of boxes or crates at the other end as well as saving on cost.
So to get back to the orgasm. How can you be sure when someone is faking it, you have to have a trusting, authentic relationship with them where you both work together to bring about the best experience for each party without having to fake anything to satisfy the other one, because in the end it is all going to be revealed.