The great recovery.
In the midst of economic turmoil and growing mountains of literal and political rubbish, is there room for optimism in the UK? Yes, absolutely – we need it now more than ever. This is what we got up to at LOPO London Lab #4: designing a future without waste, sustainable fashion, the food sharing revolution… toothbrushes, t-shirts, gorillas and leftovers… humanity in its adolescence… building a story of hope in spite of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Here’s how the evening went down.
Redesigning a world without waste.
Sophie Thomas is co-Director of Design at the RSA. Unlike most designers, she’s spent a lot of her time ‘knee deep in waste’ trying to understand why stuff goes through our society so quickly. She believes ‘waste is a design flaw’. The current statistics are scary enough to make you want to bury your head in landfill: 90% of nearly all the items we buy end up as rubbish after only 6 months! A toothbrush that has a lifespan of 4 months – yes, that’s how long you’re supposed to keep your toothbrush for – takes 400 years to decompose and generates 25,000 tonnes of landfill every year. The scale of the challenge is immense. But as Sophie reassured us, it’s also where the solution lies: by designing a product with the end of its life in mind, you can completely change what becomes wasted. 80% of the environmental impact of a product is pre-determined at design phase because it’s the design of a product that determines what materials are used, if they can be taken apart and if/how they get reused. Apply that on a global scale, and design solutions help us close the loop – turning environmental pipe dreams of a world without waste into something possible. That’s the idea behind the Great Recovery Project Sophie set up at the RSA. It’s taken 1000 people, mainly designers, to different waste facilities around the world. They get to see first-hand what it takes to break certain products down, take them apart, reuse bits and reclaim the value. Then, they get to work to an entirely new brief – one that designs for a circular economy from the outset. Physically taking things apart, re-building and re-designing ‘stuff’ kinaesthetically, makes change happen. As does, collaborating around particular issues, with a mix of people: ‘very much like LOPO’ Sophie explains. ‘It’s incredible to see the ingenuity and creativity that comes about when you bring people together… engineer serendipity… you create enormous opportunity.’
What can we do to help?
First up to pitch their project is Richard, the founder of Tunza Gorilla. Tunza means ‘we care’ in Swahili’. Tunza Gorilla is a sustainable fashion brand with a mission to protect critically endangered gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. ‘We want to be a like an ethical, gorilla friendly version of Uniqlo’ selling every day, affordable clothing items that help change the world. Every purchase does something good: a Tunza t-shirt for £10.99 plants a tree to protect the gorillas home; a polo shirt for £17.99 helps train a future ranger; and a hoody for £21.99 saves a gorilla from a snare, by supporting a family of ex-poachers find an alternative source of income. Tunza has a website, they’ve run a crowdfunding campaign and they’ve started selling organic cotton, Fairwear-certified clothing. They’re about to launch a new line of t-shirts. What would make you buy a t-shirt from Tunza, rather than Uniqlo? What would stop you from buying from Tunza over Uniqlo? Beyond Tunza’s existing target market of students and gorilla lovers, who else could they be selling to? How can Tunza reach them? Do you have any connections with other organisations or influencers Tunza could partner with?
Next up, Saasha and Olio. Saasha was bought up believing ‘nothing of value should ever go to waste’. She co-founded Olio to kick start the food sharing revolution. It’s a free mobile app for anyone with leftover food. Take a picture of your leftovers, upload it to the App and share your leftovers with someone in your neighbourhood. Simple as that. Think ‘Freecycle meets Tinder’(!) – and it’s really taking off! They’ve had 55,000 downloads of the App; 100,000 food items have been shared so far; 70% of which, have been collected and eaten rather than binned. To get more people onboard, you can now share non-food items via Olio – although their core mission will always be about food – and they’ve just launched the App internationally. Their biggest challenge is supply: most people inclined to use Olio tend to be relatively food waste conscious – how do they bring mainstream users on board? How do you make it second nature for people to use the App and post items? How can they cost effectively grow the Olio network beyond London? And how do Olio make the most of a sizable volunteer base to attract, engage and retain users? The #1 thing is help spread the word.
Things are looking up.
Let’s see what a truly optimistic vision of the future looks like. Tom, LOPO’s co-founder, reads his letter to the future… ‘I would like to set things out by saying that as an evolving species of primate, totally making up a global technological civilisation on a planet, from scratch, with no rule book, no outside guidance or advice, I think we’re doing great…. We are going through the painful awakening of our independence and responsibility. I see the civilisation around us and its folly not as a terminal problem but as the passing, terrible aesthetic choices of a teenager… Humanity, what do you want to be when you grow up? My vision of the future holds a metropolitan rainforest. I envisage a future without waste, a future where there is no contradiction between biology and technology, no – us and nature. A home planet that is a real home a mature home, one in which we really plan to raise the humans of the future – our children, where we delight in building better opportunities for their expression, freedom and fulfilment.’ We’ll post the video so you can see the whole thing.
Back to the present.
There’s a lot going on in the UK at the moment. To counter the divisive narrative that’s irrevocably changed the UK’s relationship with the EU – and itself, one of our previous pitchers, Annette Mees, invites the LOPO community to get involved with a series of Future/Change labs. They aim to rally people from all different backgrounds and demographics to cross divides, look into the future and build a story of hope. For more details, get in touch.
One evening. What an adventure. With every meetup it becomes increasingly evident why the combination of pragmatic optimism is so important. Not only do we need to be able to imagine how things could be different, but we have to start physically doing it!
Buy the Tunza t-shirt and download the Olio App.
Dream. Let’s get building, together.