Designing with Climate in Mind: my takeaways from the podcast

in Sustainable Design

Challenges are occasions to be creative.

One product of this mindset is certainly Designing with Climate in Mind: a new podcast hosted by Jon Khoo, Head of Sustainability EAAA at Interface, a world-leading manufacturer of sustainable flooring products.

Graphic of Designing with Climate in Mind.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>

The idea

In reaction to COVID-19 restrictions, Designing with Climate in Mind was born to recreate the conversations that take place during in-person events. Not the scripted on-stage presentations though, but rather the little exchanges that happen in between, those informal conversations that often lead to the most inspiring ideas.
The result is an enjoyable podcast that flows incredibly well, capturing the smoothness of a spontaneous conversation.

The topic

COVID-19 has shifted the public focus away from climate-related discussions. Despite it being totally understandable, climate change has not stopped and still requires attention.
So how about making the COVID-19 recovery also a green recovery?

Designing with Climate in Mind wants to inspire architects, designers, and other built environment professionals with ideas to operate more responsibly.

Guests have been carefully chosen to bring in a mix of different backgrounds and personal stories, proving that design, science, and business are not so far apart after all. Such a wide diversity is also a good reminder of the importance of looking out of our own industry and into other disciplines from time to time. Because it’s these “external contaminations” that often help to connect the dots!

Sharing success stories and stimulating insights, the podcast creates a sense of hope and empowerment that I believe is absolutely essential – now more than ever.
These were challenging times already and have become even more challenging with the pandemic. But we need a positive and purposeful mindset if we want to move forward rather than just drain ourselves in sorrow!

My takeaways

Let’s now dive into the episodes, with one main takeaway each.
I won’t spoiler too much, I promise! :)

EPISODE 1 - OLIVER HEATH

In this episode, the guest Oliver Heath points out how spending so much time in our homes during quarantine has helped us all realize the close connection that bonds us to nature.

Even more, the pandemic has highlighted that we are part of nature, not separate from it.
Biophilic Design translates this idea into design, but its impact actually extends to whatever we think and do.

EPISODE 2 - MARK SHAYLER

My highlight for this episode is a question that the guest, Mark Shayler, suggests we all ask ourselves: “Who stole your voice?”

Whether we like to admit it or not, we’re all influenced by external factors. And if this influence becomes too ingrained in our minds, we start speaking with someone else’s voice.

But this is not what the world needs. The world needs authentic voices, passionate voices that dare to take risks. Because – as Mark Shayler points out – “safe often becomes small” when it comes to ideas.

EPISODE 3 - DR. ELLA GILBERT

Climate change is such a huge issue that one can easily feel powerless in front of it. In this episode, Dr. Ella Gilbert gives a practical answer to one of the most common questions on the topic: “As an individual what can I do?” Here is what she suggests:

  • Cut meat and dairy & change how you travel
  • Campaign for meaningful change, lobbying for the right policies

 
Overall, a strong invite to make our voice heard, both as consumers and as citizens.

EPISODE 4 - CLAIRE POTTER

My highlight from this episode refers to the role of words.

Circular economy, circular design… big terms like these risk creating a disconnect, making people think these topics are too hard to even try and understand them.

On the other hand, a down-to-earth explanation has the power to engage, going straight to the essence of a subject. A great reminder that applies to sustainability and beyond!

EPISODE 5 - MUNISH DATTA

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the entire world with the same need: building back.
Far from wanting to deny the gravity of the situation, this is opening a huge opportunity: building back better.

This episode highlights how a good recovery from the pandemic doesn’t only need to include environmental considerations. Social factors are just as important for an inclusive recovery, one that’s accessible to everyone regardless of culture and geographic location.

EPISODE 6 - KRESSE WESLING MBE

This episode shares a great business story, that started from curiosity and ended up in a luxury brand.

Today, Elvis & Kresse makes high-end accessories out of discarded firehoses. And it all started with the mix of curiosity and indignation of a woman when seeing tons of firehoses being delivered to their final destination: landfill.
Walking through this business journey is a refreshing and empowering exercise, a great circular design success story!

EPISODE 7 - MICHAEL PAWLYN

Back to the topic of humans being part of nature, Michael Pawlyn points out how 2020 has highlighted the fragility of our systems, marking the end of us living beyond the laws of nature.

In design, this calls for a regenerative approach.
Regenerative goes beyond sustainable, it’s above neutrality and refers to the need of having positive impacts, not just avoiding negative ones.
(This reminded me of Broken Nature, the Triennale exhibition that described the role of design in similar terms).

EPISODE 8 - PAUL ROSE

What do natural exploration and green recovery have in common?
According to Paul Rose, the connection is in the spirit - that curious attitude we’re all born with. In this sense, exploring nature is a sort of training to be more daring when exploring new ideas and approaches to build a better world.

Paul Rose also highlights the value of climate optimism: a solution-based approach that focuses on sharing virtuous examples rather than complaining about how bad the situation is. So essential for the world to build back better!

EPISODE 9 - RICHARD WALKER

This episode is another inspiring example of how business and sustainability can go together. Or, saying it with the words of the host Jon Khoo:

“Whatever you design, make or do, it’s possible to do good for the planet while also doing well as an organization”.

While speaking about the role of businesses in driving change, guest Richard Walker calls attention to the importance of leadership at all levels.
For big changes to happen, the world needs more leadership out of the political sphere. And leadership can come from anywhere.
What an empowering message!

EPISODE 10 - ADAM STRUDWICK

The final episode of the podcast addresses sustainability from an interior design perspective – which (to me) was the perfect way of closing this journey through several industries and viewpoints.

As the guest Adam Strudwick highlights, interior design is not the biggest contributor to buildings’ carbon footprint. But still, there’s a lot that can be done.

Looking into the future, reversible design could become a sustainability standard in interior design. Meaning that – next to the usual construction drawings – interior projects could include indications and drawings on how to take things apart.
This would apply a circular economy mindset to interiors and construction, addressing the end-of-life/remodeling phase right from the start into a sort of building’s operational manual.
Additionally, a carbon budget for interior design and architecture projects could well become a new standard – next to the more common financial budget.

Both strategies highlight that designing for sustainability means embracing a long-term view that looks way beyond the end-of-project filing phase. And this is true in interior design as well as in any other industry.

 
To sum it all up, Designing with Climate in Mind (opened in a new window/tab) has been a thought-provoking and inspiring resource for me.
Approaching one same topic from different perspectives has raised both professional and personal questions in my mind while fueling an overall positive and purposeful mindset.
As the host Jon Khoo said to me, the aim of the podcast was to bring hope without being naïve, keeping a positive outlook despite the complexity of the issues we're facing. And what better mindset to make the COVID-19 recovery also a green recovery?

 
 
[DforDesign X Interface].
This article is an editorial collaboration with Designing with Climate in Mind.
All words and opinions are strictly my own.

Cover image: Arek Socha

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