Designing with Climate in Mind: my takeaways from the podcast

in Sustainable Design

Challenges are occasions to be creative.

Today we’re looking into a product of this mindset: the new Designing with Climate in Mind 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.
Such diversity proves that design, science and business are not so far apart after all. It also reminds 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 so important.
The times we are living are challenging - even more so 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! :)


In this episode, the guest Oliver Heath points out how spending so much time in our homes this year 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 the impact of such a strong mindset shift extends to whatever we think and do.


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 become small” when it comes to ideas.


Climate change is such a huge issue that one might 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 you do?”:

  • 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 citizens.


My main highlight from this episode is about the role of words.
Circular economy, circular design… big terms like these risk disconnecting people from the issue, making them think it’s all going to be out of their understanding, so why even try to understand.
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!


The COVID-19 pandemic has put the entire world in a position of having to build 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 race & where people live in the world.


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. But it all started with the mix of curiosity and indignation of a woman seeing tons of firehoses being delivered to their final destination: landfill.
Walking through this journey is a refreshing and empowering exercise, a great circular design success story!


Back to the topic of humans being part of nature, the guest 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 a positive impact, not just avoiding negative impacts.
(This reminded me of Broken Nature, the Triennale exhibition that described the role of design in similar terms).


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 and willing to explore new ideas, new approaches to build a better world.

Back to my opening note about positive mindsets, Paul Rose 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!


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!

To sum up, Designing with Climate in Mind (opened in a new window/tab) has been for me an incredible source of inspiration, both from a technical and personal point of view.

As the host Jon Khoo said to me, its main aim is to bring hope without being naïve.
And what better approach 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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