Sustainable design: it’s time to join the movement

 22 January 2015

The creative community is trailblazing the movement against climate change. Lucy Latham, environmental sustainability coordinator at Julie’s Bicycle, discusses its achievements and how the designer of the future can develop as a sustainable practitioner.

"I can safely say that this is the landscape where change is happening."

The creative sector is a hugely exciting and innovating place to be. While you’re reading this, artists, designers and technologists are paving the way for our future societies. They are reinventing how we live, how our communities, homes and workplaces are organised, what we buy, and even how we interact.

The creative community are not only rising to this challenge but are the trailblazers.

The future is up for grabs and there are so many opportunities. We are only bound by the limits of our imaginations.

I am an artist. I may not be one in the traditional sense, but I envision and I create. As the environmental sustainability coordinator at Julie’s Bicycle, I'm working where environmental sustainability meets the arts.

I can safely say that this is the landscape where change is happening. I’m talking big change. World change. Hold-on-to-your-hats, paradigm smashing, future-reimagining change.

A movement against climate change

We are seeing a change in consciousness where people are no longer content with the status quo of breakneck growth, soaring inequality, resource exhaustion and, as a result, environmental catastrophe.

Right now, climate change is being directly experienced through increasingly severe and frequent weather episodes across the world. We are seeing shifts in climatic conditions so powerful they eclipse ecological thresholds, resulting in habitat collapse, species extinction, famine, spread of disease and even conflict.

But people are waking up. In September 2014, we made history. While over 100 of the world’s leaders gathered in New York, 2646 solidarity events in 162 countries took place to demand an end to the climate crisis.

And the creative community are not only rising to this challenge, but are the trailblazers, creating art that tells the stories neither science nor politicians can.

Innovation in the creative industries

Innovation is happening all around us. Smart and brave ideas have seeded, from cross-discipline collaborations between artists and scientists to technological innovations and productive economic alternatives.

The marriage of art and technology is producing some awe-inspiring results. 

The marriage of art and technology is producing some awe-inspiring results. Take choreographer Prue Lang, whose dancers piloted piezoelectric shoes that harnessed their energy whilst performing. Or what about Kacie Hultgren, the scenic designer who uses her 3D printer to create scale set models.

Innovations in app design now facilitate sharing of tools and resources, recycling of unwanted goods and even enhancing participation in politics. There are also numerous examples of gamification and virtual reality creating scenarios in which we can reimagine our cities and communities.

Radical new approaches to production

The material world is another hotspot. We are seeing radical new material science technology, and with this the sourcing, design and end use is radically changing too.

The way we value our products is also being reconsidered. For example, vintage clothing and memorabilia is so fashionable now that new products are even designed to look worn-in.

Repurposed material is increasingly an inspiration to designers. Take Liora Lasselle, a graduate of Central Saint Martins, who used sustainable and natural fabrics to produce her graduate collection, adorning them with upcycled tins and plastic bags.

Waste is no longer seen as rubbish, but a resource to pillage and scour. 

Or Tanvi Kant who recycles old family sarees to create fine jewellery items. The finished pieces embody a heritage and tell a story.

Crucially, waste is no longer seen as rubbish, but a resource to pillage and scour. 

These are great examples of artists taking a collaborative approach and working towards a circular economy. An economy where our waste streams are diverted from landfill and we adopt a culture of awareness of the value of the materials we use.

4 tips for being a sustainable designer

So how do you, designer of the future, develop yourself as a sustainable practitioner? 

1. Recognise the things you are already doing and communicate them

This could be anything from reusing envelopes to switching off your lights; from using a bike to sourcing materials locally; or from recycling to using your art to engage with environmental issues.

2. Understand what your environmental impacts are

Consider what environmental impacts you have control over and what you can influence. For example, as a painter, you will need to use paint – but you can pick paint which is organic, non-toxic, solvent-free, locally sourced or even re-used.

3. Create an environmental manifesto

Using the insights gained from tips one and two, create an environmental manifesto demonstrating:

  • your values
  • motivations
  • good practice
  • environmental impact
  • actions for improvement.

An environmental policy or manifesto is an ideal marketing tool and a great asset to use when applying for funding. It shows that you are a responsible and principled creative business, plugged into wider issues.

It is an opportunity to demonstrate resource efficiency (something funders are always interested in), long-term thinking, business resilience and leadership, plus the ability to see challenges as opportunities.

4. Make use of online resources

The Julie’s Bicycle website is brimming with free resources to plunder, including the Creative IG Tools (carbon footprint calculators), environmental policy and action plan guidelines, numerous case studies of best practice, and a host of guides covering topics like visual arts, touring, outdoor events and production.

The great thing about the world today is that we have an abundance of opportunities for driving change. We have yet to fully exploit the potential synergies between science, art, engineering, design, and computing interfaces.

The future is a canvas and it’s for us to create. It’s time to join the movement and make some noise.

Find out more about the work of Julie's Bicycle in bridging the gap between environmental sustainability and the creative industries.