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sustainability in design: insights from stockholm design week 2021

in sustainable design

Design’s sustainable transition is a big move that calls for creative solutions, because the path from current to more sustainable standards is not a defined one.

What follows is a series of reflections on ways to make the industry more mindful of our planet – all inspired by thought-provoking insights that were shared during Stockholm Design Week 2021.

the non-new challenge

“Recycling and climate change have not been top of private shoppers’ minds historically. Although we’re seeing a marked change, levels of knowledge about sustainability remain low. Taking refurbishments as an example, many people still have a kind of “throw-away” mentality and want everything to be “fresh and new”.
Cit. Kerstin Lagerlöf - Tarkett

It’s common to associate buying with getting something new – meaning something that comes straight out of a factory. So far, the only exceptions to this have been vintage items, whose flaws and imperfections are praised as a sign of value. That’s exactly the point. Non-new is automatically associated with flawed, and disregarded whenever searching for a flawless item.

The solution lies in adding more options. In an industry that cares for the environment there are options between new and second-hand. There’s refurbishing, to update and repair existing objects making them flawless again. And there’s remanufacturing – which refers to the use of old components to make new products. In both cases, the end product will be as-flawless-as-new but with a much lower environmental footprint!

Close-up of a carpet material and stone side table.
Credit: Tarkett

new expectations for a better world

“Circular or recycled materials have to become the norm and that’s going to affect the aesthetic in design and architecture, as it produces greater variation. Colors and surfaces can’t be exactly the same every time, so we need to develop an aesthetic that celebrates this variation.”
Cit. Christian Lodgaard - Flokk

Aesthetic standards are something we create as a society, so we can totally create a new one if we want to.

The role of designers is – I believe – crucial in the development of an aesthetic sense that accepts more variation and recycled inputs. Product designers are able to take unsuspected materials and turn them into interesting products. And “space designers” (interior designers, landscape designers, and architects) can create harmonious spaces using those products.

Moodboard of coloured recycled wool fabric samples.
Credit: Flokk

seasonality: a new design concept?

“It may be that some materials will only be available seasonally: for example, snow poles in spring, ocean plastic in the summer and bio-based materials in fall and winter.”
Cit. Christian Lodgaard - Flokk

Becoming more mindful of the environment also means following its cycles. Seasonality is not much of a variable in design right now, but it could make sense to embrace it as a way to reduce the environmental footprint of materials. After all, do we not respect seasonality when it comes to fruits and vegetables?

What might feel like a constraint at first, can turn into a huge opportunity. Limitations are among the strongest drivers for creative solutions!

Office chair styled together with colour-coordinated grey objects.
Credit: Flokk
Office chair styled together with colour-coordinated burgundy objects.
Credit: Flokk

the role of fairs

“For 2021, exhibitors are being offered The Nude Edition, a scaled-back stand concept with a focus on sustainability. This is a way to make sure that everyone can take part in the 2021 event, despite parts of the industry having a tough time financially this year.”
Cit. Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair

Design fairs are important appointments in the industry. And brands are always trying to stand out because a more striking booth means more visits, more tags on Instagram…more visibility.

But what happens after the fair is over? Can we think of more sustainable (and efficient) ways of making fair booths? A good example is Vestre‘s booth from last year’s edition of Stockholm Furniture Fair. A booth created entirely with bricks, wood and gravel – all simple materials that can easily be repurposed once the fair is over!

Fair booth made with bricks gravel and wood.
Credit: Vestre
Fair booth made with bricks gravel and wood: close-up.
Credit: Vestre
Fair booth made with bricks gravel and wood: close-up.
Credit: Vestre
Fair with simple wooden booths.
Credit: Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair

taking the leap

“[In 10 years’ time], many companies will probably have either disappeared or completely restructured their business in order to keep up with developments and embrace economic growth that doesn’t cost the earth. I imagine that’s where the real challenge is going to lie – how do you break away from the outdated way of doing things and take a leap into a new world with both feet.“
Cit. Daniel Svahn

Here’s a very frank way of putting it. Embracing change is always uncomfortable, but not doing it might end up being even more uncomfortable this time.

Personally, I believe that having a clear and deep understanding of why such change is due is going to be helpful in staying motivated through the crucial times ahead of us. What’s at stake is nothing less than a liveable planet – for us and for future generations of human beings.

Furniture made of upcycled materials.
Credit: Daniel Svahn
Vase made with wood offcuts.
Credit: Daniel Svahn

To sum up, the move towards a more sustainable design industry is certainly a huge one requiring deep mentality shifts, new priorities, adjustments to existing processes and more.

The good news is that everyone in the industry has a role to play: manufacturers, fair organizers, designers, clients. Never like today, we can all do something and the more we do our individual part, the more the whole industry will move!

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