During this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week, I took part in an evening panel discussion which focused on “Designing with Climate in Mind”. Joining me at the Interface London showroom were eco-innovator and author Mark Shayler, JLL’s Head of Sustainability Sophie Walker and brand and business strategist, Jenny Andersson who moderated questions.
“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is”. That powerful message was delivered to world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg back in January. Although the warning is stark, there is hope. Greta told the assembled politicians that “there is still time to turn everything around, we can still fix this”. She’s absolutely right, but that time is running out to take action.
If we stop for a moment to think about the positives, the awareness of climate change is greater than it’s ever been. The magnitude of the recent protests in London and cities across the UK is just one indicator of this. But it’s not just the scale of those demonstrations which took people by surprise, it was also the people taking part. It was people like you and me. People who have had enough of living with the status quo and want to make a real difference.
There’s no question that sometimes the call for action can feel overwhelming. It leads us to ask what part we can really play in helping to tackle climate change and sometimes this confusion results in not knowing where to start. At this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week, we wanted to show visitors to our showroom that they can play a key role in helping to create a climate fit for life, and that their actions in both their personal and professional lives really count.
One step at a time
Let’s start with the personal. One of the key pillars of our Climate Take Back™ mission is to learn how to Love Carbon. For a long time carbon has been seen as the enemy, but we want to change that. We need to rethink our relationship with one of the most valuable resources this planet has to offer.
Ahead of the event we worked with designers Alexie Sommer and Sophie Thomas to create a poster which offered people 20 different ways to help people learn to Love Carbon. These range from simple ideas like running your washing machine on a cool cycle, to creating a compost, or getting on your bike. All of these things are small, easy changes which will go a long way to making a difference. The equation is simple, the more people who make a change, the bigger the impact. That’s why we printed off these posters (on recycled paper) for people to take home from our showroom during Clerkenwell Design Week. A handy reminder to have at home or in your office, of the ways in which we all hold the power to tackle climate change.
Making a difference through your work
This brings us to the professional. Clerkenwell Design Week is one of the biggest gatherings of architects and designers in the calendar and it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss and debate innovative approaches which can drive forward real change. The increased public awareness of sustainability means that businesses can no longer choose whether or not to engage when it comes to corporate environmental and social responsibility.
Beginning this journey is the biggest step and it’s certainly one which can seem daunting for some. During our evening panel discussion on the Tuesday of Clerkenwell Design Week, we talked about the importance of first understanding how your business and its associated outputs impact the environment. The next step is setting goals and achievable objectives, to take action to turn that impact into a positive one. One key thing to remember is that these goals need to be ambitious enough to drive real change, but realistic enough to be achievable.
Sophie Walker, who’s Head of Sustainability at commercial real estate firm JLL, told us that they’re focusing on four key areas: their clients, their own people, their workplaces and their communities. What’s vital is that they’re walking the walking, as well as talking the talk. She explained their commitment to using renewable energy in 90% of their own corporate offices, alongside implementing this for 100% of the buildings they manage for clients as of last year. They’re reducing their consumption of single-use plastics, championing the circular economy and supporting homeless people into housing. Sophie talked about the fact that this is about making sustainability “mainstream” and they’re “seeking to transform the property sector by integrating sustainability into all their advice and by supporting clients“.
For us at Interface, it’s about helping to turn around flooring manufacturing, an industry which historically has a negative impact on the environment, and becoming one of the first companies to show the world what sustainability is all about. Our founder, Ray Anderson, wanted to become “restorative through the power of influence.” That power of influence is key and was a theme picked up by author and eco-innovator, Mark Shayler. He said that “design is the single most powerful environment tool that there is. Nothing else comes close. With design you can change the way that I think, change the way I behave, change the way I buy, change the way I consume. That’s magic.”
Talking about this is so important, which is why starting these conversations during Clerkenwell Design Week is vital. But as I said at the beginning of this blog, time is running out, we need to take action. So the message is clear: a little more conversation and a lot more action please.
The momentum of the dialogue around climate change shows no signs of slowing down. Following this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week, the UK architectural community made a real statement of intent. Seventeen winners of the RIBA Stirling Prize – including Foster + Partners, ZHA and Rogers Stirk Harbour came together to declare a climate emergency and are calling for more to join them in tackling “the most serious issue of our time”. It’s bold moves and collaboration of this kind which will continue to drive real change.