I’ve had a reoccurring thought for some time that I can’t shake. Actually it’s more of a uneasy feeling. Many of us are used to seeing litter in our cities or at the roadside (not so much in Switzerland I have to say), but the tonnes of crap dumped in rivers, seas and oceans worldwide is largely hidden from view – major oil slicks aside.
Just how much litter and waste is down there? I was reminded of this question when I saw a deepwater ocean study on TV recently. The camera panned around the deep and murky waters, showing previously unknown marine life seven miles below the ocean’s surface – alongside a rusty old Budweiser can. Discarded fishing nets, industrial waste and tonnes of unwanted rubbish are dumped in our seas on a daily basis by irresponsible individuals and corporations without morals.
I got the same sickly feeling when I saw a project by Kiln; an award winning digital journalism studio in London. In April they published ShipMap online, showing in an interactive site the volume of traffic that our seas and oceans have to deal with. If you do one thing today, click the link and you’ll be equally amazed and horrified: Ship Map (www.shipmap.org)
What’s this got to do with interiors?
Everything. These ships are transporting products of every kind imaginable. Parts and materials are shipped to assembly lines to be assembled into products and shipped on. Our consumer culture is such that it’s so easy to order online. Just one click with little thought to what goes on behind the scenes. Emerging countries hungry for our disposable cash use cheap labour and lack of regulations to provide cheap disposable solutions. Whilst the general public need to be educated about this – we, professional specifiers, Architects, Interior Designers, consultants and manufacturers have a larger responsibility to do the right thing: to educate ourselves and find ways to reduce the effects of big business on our planet.
With over 660 million people relying on the Oceans to provide them with food and a living, the problem doesn’t just affect sea life. When I was a judge for Mixology North Awards last year I was very impressed with one particular entry: Net Effect by Interface. Interface collaborated with the Zoological Society of London and NGO Project Seahorse Foundation to develop a new concept: a win-win for the ocean, its inhabitants and dependants.
Interface worked closely with their supplier Aquafil, who have refined technology to recycle nylon waste into carpet fibre. Reclamation networks were formed throughout the Philippines to gather ‘end of life’ discarded fishing nets. The nylon nets are then recycled into carpet tiles. Many poor fishing communities are benefitting from cleaner beaches and seas – and seeing economic benefits as a direct result of this clever idea. I like the thought that as our urban areas grow, they are eating up waste and regurgitating it into new buildings as carpet tiles.
Cradle to Cradle
Many in the developed world strive for more environmentally friendly products. ‘Cradle to Cradle’ is an internationally recognised certificate, demonstrating a manufacturers commitment to the environment. Dutch office chair specialists BMA Ergonomics make ‘green credentials’ central to everything they do. A BMA office chair is made from at least 67% recycled materials and is 98% recyclable. In their Sustainability Report, BMA commit to doubling the lifespan of their chair from 10 years to 20 by 2020, further reducing emissions and even offering a ‘buy back’ scheme to customers, so old BMA chairs can be recycled. Another key point made is showing responsibility as a buyer, not just a supplier. There are a growing number of manufacturers like BMA and Interface who show real commitment to the environment – and these are exactly the types of companies we should all be striving to work with: transparent, sustainable & responsible.
Sustainability appears in many forms. Take the old school Landrover Series IIA, no longer produced. It was practically indestructible. People drove them for decades and they just kept on going. There is an argument that this car is one of the most environmentally friendly ever. Kidding right? When compared, the vast majority of other vehicles are simply outlasted by the Landrover and need to be replaced several times over a similar time period.
With furniture and interior specification we must have longevity, recyclability and sustainability in mind. We all need to do more. Laziness or ignorance is no longer an excuse. Manufacturers should seek global partnerships to share production facilities in different parts of the world to reduce carbon footprint. We as specifiers need to take responsibility too. We need to educate ourselves and others by asking the right questions and making informed decisions about where products come from and how they are made. We need to know what it is we are supporting with our money. And with our clients money.
Or we’ll see more of this.