It is a topic that is indispensable in our society. The Fridays for Future movement is growing and the World Design Organization celebrated the World Industrial Design Day in June under the motto Sustainability. But the key question remains how our existing system of production, consumption and disposal can be radically changed – and changed quickly.

Designers, engineers, developers, scientists, politicians and many more are involved in new ecological, resource-saving processes. Rethinking is omnipresent. This is an occasion for the German Design Council to speak with subject matter experts at Tortona Design Week in April 2019. The topic of the panel discussion was: “Disruption through design: challenging our current systems of production and consumption”. In the video clip you can watch the whole discussion. This article summarizes the most important statements.

Disruption through design is possible

The panel included Filippo Lodi, head of innovation and knowledge managementat UNStudio, Maurizio Montalti, founder and creative director at Officina Corpuscoli, Essi Johanna Glomb, founder and head of design at Blond & Bieber, and Melusine Reimers, CEO of Readymade. The event was hosted by Karianne Fogelberg, design theorist and curator at UnDesignUnit.

The round table discussed many questions: Can sustainability and growth be mutually compatible? Or does conservative use of resources require us to develop entirely new, more progressive approaches? What role does design play at the interface between manufacturer and consumer? How can designers contribute to innovation and serve as catalysts for critical change?

Design operates within the given political decision-making structures, and is therefore able to trigger a breakdown within the system – this is what we mean by disruption. But, according to Karianne Fogelberg, a synergy of many different factors is needed in order to maintain this disruption and change production systems and consumer habits in the long term.

From left: Maurizio Montalti, Essi Johanna Glomb, Melusine Reimers, Filippo Lodi, Karianne Fogelberg. Photos © Cortili Studio

Maurizio Montalti: Post-growth society and ecolabels

Maurizio Montalti, Founder and Creative Director Officina Corpuscoli

An ecolabelling scheme, Montalti believes, represents a tangible opportunity to promote climate protection. Such labels can provide guidance to consumers, while at the same time offering an incentive for manufacturers to raise their standards, and ultimately to enjoy the benefits of having a competitive edge in the market. However, according to Montalti, some labels are based on such weak standards that they seem to serve as little more than a marketing instrument, or a “greenwashing“ ploy.

A basic problem in this context, Maurizio Montalti adds, is the rather vague use ofthe term sustainability, which is often confused with the concept of being organic or compostable. Montalti calls for a revival of practices which apparently pre-date modern times, but are nonetheless far superior to current production systems in terms of ecological values. What’s more, in our current times, authentic communication and transparent practices need to be considered as an integral aspect of industry and design.

Maurizio Montalti is a pioneer in the research and development of a wide range of mycelium-based technologies for the production of natural products and biomaterials. He started to cultivate materials through his own Amsterdam- based creative practice and consulting business, Officina Corpuscoli (NL), working on the interface between design and biotech. Later he founded Mogu (IT), an innovation-driven, eco-conscious company dedicated to developing, standardising and marketing various types of high-performance biomaterials and end products made from mushrooms.

Melusine Reimers: Cradle to Cradle and global supply chains

Melusine Reimers, Managing Director and Co-founder Readymade

Melusine Reimers also addressed the question of ecolabels, pointing out that, from a quality perspective, the Cradle to Cradle label is one of the world´s leading environmental certifications. However, these days there are also a number of online platforms and initiatives, such as the blog started up by Reimers and the hashtag #whomademychair, that provide information on a product’s environmental status. The work-in-progress project displays manufacturers’ global supply chains on a Google Map, making production processes transparent to consumers. According to Reimers, these days it isn´t enough for a manufacturer to just have an ecolabel as a kind of alibi.

Reimers also stresses the urgency of political action. Only binding rules that structure and control sustainable economic activity would lead to a significant change in production and delivery conditions. As a result, a Cradle to Cradle seal would unfold its full potential and obtain the necessary significance.

Melusine Reimers, managing director and co-founder of Readymade, is committed to the idea of the post-growth company. With her furniture-sharing start-up, she is exploring alternative concepts to the present ownership model. Readymade allows people to rent furniture for a limited period of time, becoming part of a sustained cycle of re-use incorporating renovation and re-letting. If you decide you want to keep the furniture, you can buy it later on. For Readymade, sustainability is not just a matter of resources, but equally a question of consumption.

Essi Johanna Glomb: ask what customers really want

Essi Johanna Glomb, Founder and Head of Design Blond & Bieber

According to Essi Johanna Glomb, one crucial question surrounding sustainable production is whether environmentally friendly technologies, such as natural dyes from Glomb, can be produced in industrial quantities and for the mass market. Long-term studies showed that, initially, the pigments developed by Glomb exhibited some irregular fading when exposed to sunlight. On the other hand, harmful chemicals would be needed in order to achieve long-lasting colour fastness over a 30 to 40-year period – but, as Glomb remarked to the group, who really wearsa T-shirt for that long?

This type of “fault“ in the dyeing process has since been resolved through collaboration with a sports clothing manufacturer. Ultimately, however, Glomb would prefer consumers not to regard imperfections as faults, but to develop a new aesthetic understanding based on new values. According to Glomb, the dye industry could play an active role in this regard.

Essi Johanna Glomb, textile and surface designer and co-founder of the design studio Blond & Bieber, is involved in the interdisciplinary futureTEX research project Textile Prototyping Lab at the Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin. She is committed to promoting a new understanding of design which shifts the focus away from product development towards processes, concepts and research. Her own design work, for which she was nominated as a newcomer-finalist in the German Design Awards 2019, features an exciting synthesis of insights from design and materials research combined with traditional craftsmanship techniques.

Filippo Lodi: Making standards more flexible and harnessing big data technologies

Filippo Lodi, Head of Innovation and Knowledge Management UNStudio

Architecture and design depend on standards and regulations. This is the view of Filippo Lodi, who recently invented a colour called “The coolest white“ at UNKnowledge. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, this “ultra-white“ colour also has a functional purpose – it protects buildings against solar radiation and helps to reduce the amount of energy used in cooling systems.

Lodi also calls for the comprehensive use of the latest technologies, such as bigdata, in order to analyse user behaviour and generate optimal solutions. UNStudiois currently organising a pilot project along these lines for the urban development of a new “Brainport Smart Distric” in the Dutch city of Helmond.

Lodi names several key stakeholders involved in the development of sustainable design: 1) Legislators and political decision makers who lay the foundations required for innovation to occur 2) Private lobby organisations; and 3) education systems which encourage new ways of thinking. Lodi also emphasized the importance of multidisciplinary cooperation between architects, designers and industry professionals.

Filippo Lodi has master‘s degrees in engineering, architecture, arts and economics, making him an all-round thinker. As the head of Innovation and Knowledge Management, Lodi is at the helm of UNKnowledge, UNStudio‘s strategic think tank, where he works on developing disruptive technologies for the building environment. His activities range from creating a coating that that helps to cool buildings down and wood-based biocomposites for facades and interior walls, through to advising companies on their workflow and rebranding strategies. UNStudio is also developing a creative vision for the »Brainport Smart District« in the Dutch city of Helmond, which provides for gradual growth based on the principles of the circular economy.

You can download the complete documentation of the panel disscusion here.

This event was a follow-up to a panel to which the German Design Council (Rat für Formgebung) invited participants at the imm cologne 2019 in Cologne. The name of the panel discussion was “Sustainability in Design. Opportunities. Limits. Practice”. Participants were: Designer Werner Aisslinger, Karsten Bleymehl, Holder MRC-Germany, Design Journalist and Professor Markus Frenzl, Dipl.-Designer Eckart Maise, Chief Design Officer at Vitra, and young entrepreneur Florian Pachaly, Managing Director RECUP. They talked about the definition of sustainability and with which concrete measures actors in the design industry can make a contribution. The discussion was hosted by Wiebke Lang.


Pictures © Cortili Studio, Milan. Source: German Design Council

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