What role does design play in a sustainable and circular future?
Over 100 designers from around the East Coast followed our invitation, gathered, and discussed intensively with the panelists Emilie Williams, Etay Zwick and Karel Golta about the future of design, and the responsibility and leadership each of us have in creating a circular economy.
Definition of Circularity
“Sustainability is being in balance with our resources and in balance with how we create products in our world today. And circularity being like a method or a system to do that.” Emilie Williams
The moderator of our panel, Ashdeep Seth, IDSA NYC Chapter Vice Chair, opened with the question: What is sustainable design in principle and what does it look like today in practice?
The speakers were united in their opinion that sustainable design must strive for circularity. Circularity is about changing from our linear take, make, waste system into a circular one. Starting with how we build products, having a longer vision for them, including thoughts of repairing and reusing and stopping the overuse of our finite resources.
And they went further: Circularity is an invitation to think beyond consumers but of the communities that are going to be impacted. It´ s thinking about the ways you’re going to impact natural systems. It requires thinking holistically about various moments down the value chain, not just what some people initially think is the problem.
“It’s a practice of thinking more holistically how the things that we’re trying to solve for, are going to live in a world of ongoing interactions with more systems and people.” Etay Zwick
And finally, circularity needs a mindset shift. Because real sustainability is not about having a less negative impact. Even if we get better on the negative scale, we are still in the negative range. So, while the world is still concerned about reduction, reducing the CO2 footprint, etc., we must change our thoughts and do more. Net-zero or negative is not enough. We must create regenerative systems that are sustainable, but that also have value for the ones using these products and systems. That improves people’s lives. And we can do that by design.
“It’s not about having a less negative impact; it’s actually doing good.” Karel Golta
The process of becoming circular
Next, moderator Ashdeep guided the conversation to ask the panelists how a company moves toward circularity. Karel explained that it is an ongoing process. You have to educate the employees and yourself, which takes time and will never be done. Emilie, Leader of Hydrific, a new venture by LIXIL, added that it is crucial if it is a topic coming top-down or bottom-up. If it’s kind of dictated by the leadership team or if everyone can participate and support. And it depends on each individual company, of course. On the size and the industry. And the (corporate) culture. In addition, the trust in experts, the ability to listen, and to accept that it’s a long journey. A process whose end does not exist.
Finally, the panelists discussed putting circularity into action. Ashdeep asked the panelists, and the audience, to talk about their major challenges and successes with tangible examples when it comes to integrating circularity.
We heard from Etay, Director of Product Design at Newlab Innovation Studios, about Newlab and how they, together with corporates, partners, and governments, are trying to integrate sustainability into the organization to make it more concrete and permanent. They explored a pattern of types of challenges that they take on and started with focusing on energy. Newlab, as well as a lot of its members, investigate steps that must be taken toward a cleaner distributed, more sustainable world of energy. And because energy is closely related to the world of mobility today, they are also imagining and working on a vision for cleaner transportation and commuting. Big ambitions – and along the way always asking where and for whom design can make a difference.
One major challenge that our panelists addressed is getting people to do something other than what they have been doing. Make them aware that a designer should no longer just talk to other designers and suppliers but think outside the box. For example, the wastewater of one company could be converted into heat for production by another company. Designers must learn how to talk to not-designers. And they have to be open to such thoughts and innovations.
A second thing will be important in the future for designers: Mathematics and data. Circularity requires an understanding of these less typical design skills because you will use numbers to make good decisions. Our panelists agreed that without having and understanding the numbers and data, it will not be possible in the future – even for a designer – to make the “right”, sustainable, circular decisions.
After the panel, we had a great time getting to know each other and exchanging ideas in an inspiring space over drinks. One thing is certain: We are happy to be part of such a strong community. It takes collaboration to achieve a future worth living, for regeneration, and for our planet.
Last but not least, we would like to thank all the panelists, the moderator, and the attendees who joined in the discussion. Big thanks to Vincent Lin and the IDSA NYC Chapter. And of course, to Maria Consentino and Newlab. It was a great evening, and we very much look forward to next time. See you soon!