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sustainable innovation for interiors: highlights from season 1

in sustainable design

Moving interior design into a more sustainable direction is a huge objective where everyone in the industry has a role to play: designers, suppliers, site workers, and customers.

Exchanging ideas and discussing with others is always a great opportunity for learning – even more in challenging situations. This is what inspired Sustainable Innovation for Interiors, the interview series I’ve hosted as part of Isola Design District‘s program for Milan Design Week 2021. Across 6 episodes, we’ve met emerging designers that care about sustainability, discovered new materials and novel applications, and talked about the future of the design industry.

Let’s gather some final thoughts after season 1…

the guests

Here’s an overview of the 6 guests and the projects we’ve explored during the series:

Plates and cups on a table.
Credit: Sara Howard Studio
Low table made of steel slug.
Credit: Rashmi Bidasaria
Low table made of algae and wood, styled on a rock next to the sea.
Credit: Francesco Cantini
Clay vases on a table.
Credit: Unurgent Argilla
Three-leg bench next to a pile of bottom ash.
Credit: Studio CTT
Three concrete lamps.
Credit: James Haywood Atelier

the meaning of sustainability

Sustainability is a term that means several things at once. Guests have highlighted different aspects when asked what this word means, and here’s a recap:

material use and reuse

Knowing materials’ technical properties is the first step to make the most out of them. This also allows considering landfills as rich material warehouses, looking at all waste types as valuable resources.

economy, environment, and society

These 3 pillars are all equally important in making an activity viable over time, so that it can survive and be successful without depleting the planet or denying fundamental human rights.

long-term outlook

True sustainability can only be achieved if everyone starts considering the long-term effect of his/her present actions. This is true for producers and consumers alike, and it’s a very powerful exercise that can shift our perspective over the entire world with one single question: what will happen next?

an outdated objective?

One of the first formal definitions of sustainability describes it as the ability to meet present needs without compromising the lives of future generations. This point has – unfortunately – already been overcome. So the whole concept of sustainability might be considered just outdated…or it might become a target we move towards while we work on restoring ecological and social balances on our planet. What’s for sure is that having no negative impact is not enough at the moment; what we need are net positive impacts!

sourcing waste

Using someone else’s waste as a raw material opens a very practical question: how do you go about sourcing waste? I’ve asked the question to my guests, and they’ve all agreed in saying that this is indeed a pretty weird moment. It takes some explanation to justify this request, but – after some initial skepticism – “suppliers” are usually happy to support a brave and planet-friendly project.

A huge pile of ceramic waste in a landfill.
Ceramic waste. Credit: Sara Howard Studio
Quartz powder waste and steel slag.
Quartz powder waste and steel slag. Credit: Rashmi Bidasaria
Posidonia seagrass on a beach.
Posidonia seagrass. Credit: Francesco Cantini
A pile of bottom ash.
Bottom ash. Credit: Studio CTT

reacting to the pandemic

The pandemic has changed everyone’s plans – at least to some extent. But this is not always a bad thing. Speaking to my guests, I’ve heard a variety of positive reactions. Writing a book, developing a new project with local resources, re-evaluating and redirecting career objectives, and even starting a new career altogether.

All these things came as a consequence of having more still time and not being allowed to travel far…and I believe this is a great lesson to treasure while we try to figure out what the new normal should look like.

making design more sustainable

The sustainable transition is a journey that requires multiple changes and priority resets. I’ve asked my guests what they believe could speed up or facilitate the change in the design industry, and here are the main points that came up:

personal choices

Becoming more informed consumers, voting with our wallet, and only supporting realities that we believe deserve it are all actions that give a strong signal. And in every market, the offer goes where the demand is…

economic accessibility

Sustainable materials and methods often result in higher prices. Finding ways to make them more affordable would also make them a viable choice for people that don’t have the means to choose them right now.

regulations, accountability systems and public funding

Updating the rules of the game is certainly going to be a powerful step in moving everyone in the right direction. But since policymaking is a slow mechanism, it is probably going to follow and complement bottom-up change in the real world.

the video series

The 6 full episodes are available to watch on YouTube:

[anooi studio X Isola Design District]
Cover image: anooi studio

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