What's So Trendy About Sustainability?
This week, we ask what being 'sustainable' really means, what are the movements keeping us green, and could good design could be the key to a cooler planet?
The Tipping Point
That's the tipping point, the date upon which we have already used up all of the earth's sustainable resources for 2019. The earth can’t regenerate itself in time for the following year. So everything we use this year after that date is GONE.
We are literally consuming our planet.
It's supposed to be shocking, but let's face it, there have been some warning signs...
Australia is on High-Alert for a scorching summer
Our House is On Fire
The Amazon Rainforest's burning right now, Central Africa's alight, the ice caps are melting, California just had the largest bush-fire on record, and Australia is on high alert for a scorching summer.
We could go on.
But, like all positive-minded individuals, we ask ourselves - what's the fix?
Yes, it’s that magical word again...
Who doesn’t love hanging out in nature?
Sustainability! But what does that mean?
In short, it’s the ability to go on forever. If we accept, for example, that there are only so many trees on the planet we can cut down, then a business that chops without replacing = unsustainable.
One that replants = sustainable.
CO2 emissions are at an all-time high - The UN says we have 11 years left to save the planet and reduce emissions.
A Climate Emergency
With the Climate Emergency wreaking havoc upon the earth, we could all be more clued up about sustainable living and how we can make intelligent buying choices. With that in mind, we investigate how we can go a little greener and how designers and online stores are helping to make it easy for us.
All may not be as it seems with ‘sustainable’ business, they may have been subject to "Greenwashing"
Before we get into the sustainability trend - be warned, some corporations (a quick google shows who) are so desperate to SELL, they’re jumping on the woke band-wagon - paying lip service to sustainability all while continuing to pollute the planet.
This is a dangerous misrepresentation, not only to the public but it also affects those organisations who really are doing their bit, by watering down the meaning of the message.
Is sustainability to stay or just another regrettable trend...
A Passing Fad?
We wish. Sustainability might be a buzzword, but the concept is here to stay. At no other point in history has it ever been so essential to start doing something about climate change as NOW. This emergency is real and these Eco Warriors are here to remind us of that.
Greta Thunberg founded the SS4C movement - school kids across the world now strike every Friday to protest climate change.
Greta the Great
As Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate warrior said recently, ‘You can’t be a bit sustainable - either you’re sustainable or you’re not sustainable.’
Greta is a girl after VELA’s own heart.
Our name in Latin means "to sail" - and sail she did! Greta recently travelled from Europe to the US by sailboat, a great demonstration of how travel can be more earth-friendly.
We love a holiday - but travelling by plane relies on fossil fuels, so it is one of the worst things we can do for the environment. These fuels are finite and emit massive amounts of noxious gas.
Wind, by contrast, is entirely renewable energy - so sail away! And be sure to join the protest - not get stuck behind it...
XR Boycott Fashion is a new campaign pushing for slow consumption and sustainable fashion
Protest that S**T
Extinction Rebellion, if you haven’t already heard of them, are a new activist organization making waves and headlines around the world with their climate change protests. They recently shut down significant parts of Brisbane by blocking the roads with banners and carnival-like demonstrations throughout the city. They’ve done the same in London and even instigated a ‘naked’ protest, gluing their rear ends to a window of The Houses of Parliament.
‘XR Boycott Fashion’ is one of their big campaigns and is aimed squarely at the fashion industry.
Grandma knows quality when she sees it, like these 35 ethical and fair trade clothing brands
Like Grandma used to do
Over the last hundred years or so, the fashion industry has managed to pull a trick which is excellent for business, but horrible for sustainability.
In the not so distant past, our grandparents would favour durability and function when shopping for clothes. They would try to buy new clothes as rarely as they possibly could.
A more ecological approach to fashion is something we should be moving toward, like the Australian clothing brand The ARK
It's a SCAM darling
Now, that’s been flipped on its head. The fashion industry wants us to buy new clothes, not yearly, but on a seasonal basis. They’re not doing that because it’s sustainable (and it certainly isn’t), but because it makes them more money. One fashion student recently refused to do a final project for her uni in protest.
That’s why ‘XR Boycott Fashion’ exists, to counter the fashion industry’s story that buying clothes is something we should be doing constantly, instead of as little as possible.
Sloths - we could take a leaf out of their book
Slow & Steady Wins the Race
One of the ways we can counter fast fashion is slow consumption - which is about what we do with a product after we’ve bought it.
But, what does slow consumption mean?
In a nutshell, we need to start thinking about the things we buy as heirlooms - something that could last us a lifetime and that we can pass onto future generations. Good looking, but shoddily made pieces of design, especially furniture, are out. Pieces of design that look great, and last forever, are very much in.
VELA Life’s online store was created with the climate in mind
Curate for Climate
At VELA Life, sustainable production is something we look for in all of the designers we work with. Focussing on slow consumption means sourcing sensibly produced, durable, sustainable products you can keep forever, and it’s a huge part of how we curate our range.
PRAIA’s Cork x Natural Rubber Yoga Mat - we’re holding it up as a great piece of sustainable design.
PRAIA, one of the design studios we work with, was established in Newcastle, not far from Sydney. Founded by Ryan Sneddon, their mission is to create yoga mats that reflect the natural beauty of yoga.
Best of all, when it comes to sustainability at least, each mat is 100% biodegradable. We asked Ryan about how he works sustainability into PRAIA’s designs.
“I think it comes down to knowing the raw elements of your products, what they are, where they come from, how they are sourced, their impact on the environment. Once you have this knowledge you can really start to delve into more sustainable materials. They’re not always viable, but having the knowledge will at least lay a foundation for designers to focus more on sustainability.”
We shouldn’t just be concentrating on our posture - our mats matter too
PVC? Not for me
Most yoga mats are made from PVC. In other words, plastic, which takes about 100 years to breakdown in the ground and produces harmful chemicals at the point of manufacture.
You might think, well, we can recycle plastics these days. Not enough people are aware that although the technology exists to recycle plastic - it’s very rarely used.
Taking better care of our forests is an essential part of stopping climate change
Love Mother Earth
We all love yoga, but it goes without saying, we don’t want our mats to be buried in the ground for 100 years after we’re done with them. We certainly don’t want to add to our already overflowing landfills.
That, and the way it’s harmoniously worked other elements of sustainability into its design, is why we’ve chosen PRAIA’s cork and natural rubber yoga mat to take you on a sustainability journey.
A rubber plantation, giving up its sappy goodness year after year
Let’s start with the rubber part. Here, PRAIA has pulled off a stroke of genius. In making it more sustainable, they’ve managed to make it more functional than a standard yoga mat in the process.
The organic latex rubber is hand-tapped from rubber trees where small incisions are made into the bark. The rubber tree’s milky sap drips out and collects in small cups attached to the tree. Unlike many products that come from trees, rubber production doesn’t require them to be chopped down. The rubber tree can be reused, year after year and so, it’s completely sustainable.
Too hot to handle - your PRAIA yoga mat can help
Here’s where the better functionality comes in. Natural rubber, as opposed to synthetic, has a stronger resistance to tearing when hot (so perfect for hot yoga).
It’s also 100% hypo-alergenic, has better dynamic performance, and it won’t retain moisture like synthetic rubbers. So, you see, being more sustainable and environmentally conscious doesn’t have to be a case of sacrificing something.
With intelligent design, we can make products eco friendly and better at what they do. That’s exactly the kind of design we need to help the planet.
BOB - a modular storage system from British designers, Bisley, which is perfect for slow consumption.
British furniture brand, Bisley, have come up with a new modular storage system, named BOB. Minimalist pieces like this work well in almost any setting. Put another way, its clean lines, plywood and veneer, give it a timeless look, and that’s precisely the kind of thing we should be thinking about when making aesthetic choices.
Modular seating - the way forward, as are these eco-friendly furniture designs
The brilliant bit is that drawers, shelves and cabinet modules can all be bought as and when needed. In theory, the system could stay with you, from the day you move to student digs to the day you get that enormous mansion you’ve always dreamt of. The piece of furniture grows as you do, as you clip on new modules.
Spreading the cost of a big piece of furniture gradually, over a lifetime, sounds like a sensible idea for your wallet too.
Kasey Hou’s Sustainable Flat Pack Toaster is on the cutting edge of sustainable, repairable, modular design
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, REPAIR
But what about being repairable? A lot of the things we buy today often aren’t worth repairing, in that the repair work itself can cost more or close to what we paid for the item in the first place. Having said that, the ‘throw it out and buy a new one’ approach doesn’t take into account the damage this action has on the environment.
Kasey Hou, a designer from Edinburgh, Scotland, has been turning up the heat on non-sustainable electrical products with her Sustainable Flat Pack Toaster. She was inspired by the mountains of e-waste, scrap electronics which are incredibly difficult to dispose of sustainably, piling up around the world. The Global E-waste Monitor, a watchdog, says that 44.7 million tonnes of e-waste was produced in 2017.
Modular design could mean an end to this sort of thing when you need something fixed, find more inspiration here
Hou’s design uses the flat-pack idea (good for the environment through cutting pre-assembled transportation emissions) but does away with the: if it breaks, replace it part. Because it’s flat-pack and therefore self-assembly, putting it together yourself also makes for a great education in how to repair when it does break. All the parts you need to make the fix will be readily and cheaply available.
Although Hou’s toaster is only a prototype right now, this kind of thinking is exactly the sort of beautiful, genuinely sustainable design we should all be keeping an eye out for.
Extinction Rebellion shut-down Central London for over a week in April with their boat protest
Big Business Has to Act
Admittedly, it’s all quite a lot to think about for us as consumers. Feeling like you’re not doing your bit can be a source of guilt, even if you are buying brilliantly designed, sustainable products like these. You might take solace in the idea that a lot of climate activists believe it’s not entirely up to us as consumers to make sure we’re following a strictly sustainable lifestyle.
It’s also imperative that big business takes responsibility and governments make laws that ensure it. That means supporting representatives who take climate issues seriously and will create laws to stop enterprises destroying the planet. This article puts it pretty well and gives some food for thought: I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle.
Become a sustainability super hero with VELA Life & RetroSuperFuture
So, what can I do?
You’ve read this article, that’s a great first step!
We highly recommend constantly educating yourself on the issues and in turn, educating others.
And hopefully, by now, you’re in no doubt that the journey from raw materials to a product arriving on your doorstep plays a significant part in our planet's survival.
So, it’s important that we investigate our products before we buy to ensure we are purchasing from reliable sustainable sources. We must think long term when we purchase, rather than one-use or throw-away. Let’s all try to buy good design that lasts a lifetime.
Being sustainable does take a little effort, but it's worth it...
Our world is beautiful and It's the only one we've got - let's look after it
VELA life - Honourable design, sensibly produced