This month at the London Design Festival, climate experts worked with creative minds to design revolutionary, sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.
During the event, designers including Vivienne Westwood announced initiatives to combat climate change. Westwood, the iconic designer who has supported Greenpeace and climate activism for years, said she is reducing her fashion collections by half in an effort to become more circular.
Ben Parker of Made Thought, a creative studio for intelligent design whose clients include Stella McCartney, the Museum of Moden Art (MoMA), and Unilever, reminded us of the need to reuse because there is no “away” in throwaway culture: “Human beings are the only animals that produce waste, and everything we throw away ends up as trash on land, in the ocean, or in space”.
Jim Sullivan, head of the Global Sustainability Innovation Accelerator at SAP, talked about the company’s new global marketplace on Ariba Network for suppliers of recycled plastic, which will allow brands to connect more sustainably with new and alternative supply sources via waste picker communities.
Parker and Westwood were among the designers and experts who gathered at the SAP-sponsored London Design Festival Global Design Forum to discuss the role of design in finding innovative and sustainable solutions to perhaps the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.
Sustainable Solutions for Halting Climate Change
Most ideas presented at the forum were not revolutionary per se; some have been around for centuries, but never entered the mainstream because they were overshadowed by other more powerful, lucrative trends.
The diesel engine, for example, was originally designed to run on vegetable oil, but the automotive and aviation industries are fueled by petrochemicals because they were cheaper to process back in the days when these industries were being shaped.
There are, however, more fuel-efficient transport alternatives. Professor Sir David King from the University of Cambridge Center for Climate Repair cited the VariaLift Airship, which was designed to solve traditional airship limitations. VariaLift’s mass-produced, reliable, and economical range of heavy-lift airships use 80 percent less fuel than equivalent aircraft and need no airport or trucking infrastructure because they can land directly at the client’s site for pick up and delivery.
Similarly, bamboo has been used as a building material for centuries, but has only been considered as a serious alternative to steel, glass, and concrete more recently, as society becomes more aware of the environmental impact of the cement industry, one of the largest producers of carbon dioxide today.
Elora Hardy, founder and creative director of pioneering architectural firm Ibuku, explained how her team is combining Stone Age technology and modern age bamboo modelling to build stunning commercial and residential spaces.
“Human beings are part of nature,” Hardy said. “But the concrete wilderness we’ve created has made us forget that nature is bountiful and regenerative, and produces materials that can be used indefinitely”.
Plastic remains one of the biggest issues. A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation notes that ocean plastic is projected to outweigh fish by 2050, making this topic a high priority for governments, businesses, and citizens around the world.
To drive awareness during the forum, SAP commissioned Sam Jacob to design an installation within the grand entrance of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Titled Sea Things, the digital installation begins with a stylized view of the ocean in the year 1907, when the first plastic, Bakelite, was patented and tracks changes through 2050, when plastic overtakes marine life.
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Designer Sam Jacob and SAP UK & Ireland Managing Director Jens Amail discuss the role of design and technology in eliminating ocean plastic.
An infographic by National Geographic illustrates that while about 40 percent of plastic produced globally is used in product packaging, less than one-fifth of plastic is recycled, creating serious environmental and human health problems.
Sullivan points out that about $10 billion worth of packaging annually flows through Ariba Network: “If we redirect even a small portion of global packaging spend to certified suppliers of recycled plastics, we can have a tremendous impact”.
Along with Stephen Jamieson, head of Sustainable Business for SAP UK & Ireland, Sullivan was instrumental in SAP’s participation in the recent Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit, where participants discussed the possibilities of creating a plastic-free ocean in 10 years.
SAP’s goal is to use Ariba Network to connect buyers with new recycled plastics suppliers like Bantam Material Ltd and others certified by organizations such as OceanCycle, a social enterprise focused on creating traceability in plastic supply chains and helping businesses integrate ocean plastics into their products. The new marketplace is the next phase of the Plastics Cloud, a pilot program launched last year to help reduce and ultimately eliminate the waste of single-use plastics.
Plastic packaging suppliers like Bantam welcome this development. The company, which has recycled more than 10 billion bottles since 2005, recognizes that most ocean plastic starts on land, so incentivizing collection along coastlines around the world will help significantly reduce plastic contamination in the water.
Processing that plastic back into the highest quality materials at industry-required volumes, along with certified traceability, will drive meaningful impact.
When people as diverse as Vivienne Westwood and Sam Jacob team up with likes of SAP and Bantam Materials, Greenpeace, and Cambridge to find revolutionary and sustainable solutions for climate change, there may still be hope for the future of the planet.