This article makes a case that artists can use their skills towards more ecological outcomes. I couldn't agree more. Here is an article written by Ben Valentine and featured on Hyperallergic.com
Interview with Nicole Bassett from the Renewal Workshop
I get so excited that there are more and more examples of people creating circular systems. These SME's help well known brands fill in the gaps to start going circular through partnerships. The Renewal Workshop works with big brands such as Prana, Toad & Co, and others to provide a second life to returned items. How it works is that when a return is made at these brands, it is sent to The Renewal Workshop where it is cleaned, repaired, and/or upcycled and resold on their partners websites and their own. Nicole, one of the founders commented that she is working with the perfect sized brands because they are small enough to still want to take risks, but large enough that they have a recognized product. We discussed this idea that being a "fixer" or a upcycler for brands that are too big or too inflexible need "gap filling" small businesses to provide these services. Angles to creating these services to deal with the waste produced by big brands still using the linear take, make, waste model, involve thinking about logical offerings that work for all parties involved including the costs of transportation in terms of money and the environment,
Take back program design can help as well as service design, experience design, and creating partnerships to be mutually supportive of programs to reduce waste, increase customer loyalty, and recoup resources to grow profitability by way of multiple uses of that resource, This is the goal and these are the skills needed for businesses to get on board. We can help. Textiles are the second most wasteful, resource intensive, and toxicity producing industry second to the oil and gas industry. Working to reuse clothes, extend the life of them by designing them well and with durable materials, and creating business models such as leasing clothes for special occasions or through company take back programs to recapture and reuse the textiles into other products are all ways to start shifting this industry to go circular. There are plenty old world examples of this, but we need new modern stories of resourcefulness that works at bigger market levels.
What's great about the Renewal Workshop model is that they have created partnerships that give them a branding angle with a demographic that has environmental ethics. They found a friendly playground to thrive with this idea. They also use a state of the art cleaning method that minimizes water use, and they have made a smart resale channel with their partnerships and with their own brand. One thing that I love is that they are also a small business in a small town and are creating jobs where they are sorely needed.
There are many small designers using sustainability methods in their processes and choices of materials, but the overall impact is small. Finding that sweet spot to work with medium sized brands that are agile enough to partner for circular program or service design is key, not just for impact but to show the big clothing brands like H&M etc. a downstream reuse method that they could implement and a upstream redesign that could shift their product and distribution, the latter takes more innovative leadership and a stomach for change.
As I work and write in this field I really want to to help and highlight companies without customers with environmental ethics create systems that are efficient, effective, and so well designed that anyone with any ethics can see the value, this is the goal. I'm super grateful for entrepreneurs like Nicole Basset at the Renewal Workshop for working the angles to be a stellar example for circular economy strategies that work. We need more successful stories that are grounded, common sense, and networked to be mutually beneficial. The future, the present, is collaborative and resourceful.
Olou J. Koucoi is a social entrepreneur who is working with his own company, Focus Energy and in association with Shinbone labs to make solar power accessible to communities in Benin, West Africa. He is hip to circular economy strategies and has implemented a “pay as you go” system to help make power affordable to communities. His model works with communities that agree to initially sign up at least 15 families into the pay as you go program to get started. This model is close to the micro-financing model in that is relies on group accountability to pay monthly fees for solar service. Paying with mobile money has made this much easier for customers and the business as well. Once communities sign on, a local business representative comes out to set up and train community members about the system. If payment is not received remote technology has made shutting off the system from an internet connected computer available. This is a key feature of the business model. Currently, the communities are able to pay off the cost of their solar panels, inverters, and batteries in a few years and then own them. Olou hopes to make this business model more circular by having the company own the hardware and therefore be responsible for fixing it, replacing it, and refurbishing it for continued use. This ownership by the company and a take-back program for their subscribers will ensure the high-quality standards for manufacturing and would ensure that spent batteries will be properly handled and not become dangerous waste in these communities.
This solar business is providing light, cellphone charging, and power from appliances such as TVs. Focus Energy and Shinbone are working to add a Wifi feature to the hardware to provide internet access through their solar systems.
When asked what the main challenges are for this type of social enterprise Olou offered a critical insight that providing power for light and cell phones does not help address the deep problem of poverty. Africa is a producer of raw materials and in the capitalist system raw materials are not valued, instead, value added products are what makes money. For example, raw cashews and cocoa coming from West Africa, for example, are sold to India and China and then made into products that sell at a higher price. He hopes that providing machinery to make oils, and other goods with appliances that run on DC solar will provide a real opportunity for locals to create value-added products from their locally produced materials. This will actually address poverty with the productive use of solar energy now available.
I believe that these development projects with companies such as Focus Energy and Shinbone and others are where the circular economy can really shine. I am very grateful to Olou and his dedication and vision for this work. I hope to be on the ground in West Africa to see these circular economy strategies in action while researching and developing programs to further provide accessible and long-term processes for thriving community development.
More at Focus Energy's Facebook page: Focus Energy
You know when you have an idea, and you want to hold it close, but then you realize that it would need so much community and financial support to make happen that withholding it until you have the resources to pull it off is just ridiculous. This is an idea like, that and one that I want to be a part of designing and creating before I die.
The Vision: A collective purchase of land that is sectioned off to be a wilderness preservation site, a natural/green burial ground, a hospice center for people so they do not have to die on opiates in hospitals. It would also be an outdoor sculpture garden with cabins for visitors.
This vision is about giving back, regeneration, and creating final experiences for people so they don't have to die and have their bodies processed in a way that is not in line with their values. I believe the collective purchasing model or a foundation purchase would help make this possible, and repeatable in various areas of the world.
Wilderness Burial Grounds are not new concepts, but they are regaining popularity for ecological, psychological, and spiritual reasons. I'm connected to the White Eagle wilderness burial grounds and I recently heard about Herland as well. These locations are inspiring and examples of models that work and are close examples of this vision. It's so important that we investigate why our current death practices are the way they are and redesign them to be healthier for heart, the planet, and families. Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul by Stephen Jenkinson is a gem of a book about death in general including a historical look into some cultural elements that are missing for the human communities for the first time in thousands of years. Personally, I feel that after all of the earth's resources that it takes to sustain my life, the least I can do is give my body back to the earth so it may feed new life. I'd prefer to do this without being pumped full of preservatives and without eleborate casings to keep me from quickly decomposing. Decomposing naturally and non toxically is accepting that we die, which is something our culture is trying to deny on many levels with current death practices.
Wilderness Burial Grounds are also places where my remaining loved ones can find where my bones are, and realize that they are connected to a place, a spirit, an existence because their ancestors are. I do not want to be connected with in a linear, square, field of ego stones and fake flowers, and I know that others feel the same way. As more family and friends and individuals start facing and honoring death as a part of life, I foresee the rise of natural/green burial grounds and country hospice centers.
Where do you want to die?
Another component of this vision is a hospice center that allows people to pass away in an environment they would prefer rather than in hospitals and urban care centers. Maybe I wouldn't care then, but now I know I would like to die leaning against an oak tree or in one of my canvas tents with sunshine and dappled leaves shining through the creamy walls.
Creating intentional hospice centers for final experiences allows the dying to experience their death and not be drugged out of it. I imagine hospice centers with clear declarations: their intentions are not to sedate the dying with drugs and capitalize financially on this process. I believe people want this, even if they don't value their death experience at this moment.
As I understand more about death and dying, I realize that so much of it is about the family and the grief process. I would like to see an outdoor art installation area that serves as a completive space for the dying and their families. I see that space as a way to connect with the unconscious using art and symbol to help people see a broader perspective in their grief and suffering. I see the installations as thematically intentional and designed with interactive spaces, such as art forms that allow someone to mediate or lay down and look at the stars. Ideally, I would love some of this art to have ecologically regenerative elements, such as art that encourages plant growth, or deals with the themes of decomposition in a beautiful way. That is what this is about, creating soulful beauty around our decomposition and regeneration on this stunning earth.
Here is some outdoor sculpture garden inspiration: http://www.sculptureinthewild.com/home.html
If you are interested in connecting about this idea, please reach out. This dream requires a community to put into action. Chelseapeil@gmail.com
Joel Newman, a recent PNCA graduate came to me about 2 years to chat about needs in the reuse arena. We talked about the wild world of combating obsolescence and he settled his interests towards repair. I couldn't be happier to see the fruits of his labors with his final thesis. At http://www.portlandrepairfinder.com you will see the beginnings of a comprehensive directory of repair resources. As you can see in the graphic below, the number of people with repair skills across material or product has plummeted. Grandpa who knew how to fix the radio isn't around anymore either. It's like dying languages, once the people that know how to fix things pass away, there goes whole worlds of skills. But this project is a happy story about the revival of the fixers, about connecting those who understand the value of materials and want their stuff fixed. So if you or someone you know like to know how to fix stuff, or want to continue the lifespan of your gear, please support local people who keep things going and add your handy dandy name to the list if you are one of the lucky ones who learned a repair skill. I've decided to take steps to get better at sewing and welding so I have something to bring to the table.
I'm noticing a lot more businesses moving into this direction by contracting with other businesses or vendors to fix their product or take it and fix it to resell in a different market. More blogs on this soon.
It's getting easier to give a damn people! Thanks be to those that create systems to make it easier for the rest of us.
What is Sustainable Design? That's a good question. The answer: it depends.
You may not want to hear that but it's true. Sustainable design is different for each discipline of design, whether it's product design, architecture, graphic design, landscape design, fashion, and so on. As of now, most people have a facile analysis of sustainable design; ignoring the true complexities of the issues.
A quick google search says "Sustainable design (also called environmental design, environmentally sustainable design, environmentally conscious design, etc.) is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability" (Wikipedia).
While this definition touches on what sustainable design is, it's more complex than that. It's about looking at the interconnected, interdependent systems that we and all the stuff we create is a part of. It's more than just doing less environmental harm, but rather doing more good. Doing more good with less. It's about designing better social systems while restoring the environment. It's about seeing ourselves as a part of nature, not apart from nature. We humans are nature too. That may be a "duh" for many of you, but much of our history as humans would say otherwise. We have been a part of a "take, break, and make" system that is fully designed.
In this talk, we'll discuss the different facets of sustainable and what it means for different disciplines. Humans are creators and builders, so how might we do that more thoughtfully, and without waste? We will discuss how we might shift our way of thinking about how we design. We will discuss how sustainable design is a philosophy with a set of frameworks and tools everyone can start employing today.
We will discuss some of these sustainability-centered frameworks, tools that can be used depending what area of design you're engaged with, and resources you can start digging into. For example, The Living Principles, Cradle-to-cradle, Life-cycle analysis, Biomimicry, Circular Economy, and other impact assessments. We'll also point you toward some big players who have been working in sustainable design, tackling wicked problems, and helping to shape the field, such as iDE (International Development Enterprises), The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Project H Design. We will draw (in real-time) during this lecture.
I'm grateful to support people that want to work in sustainability, circular economy, or to be even more general about it ethical holistic work. I felt the need to start a "podcast". This is my first attempt to get content out there in hopes that it is helpful to those looking. There will be more coming and more refinement as well. But as my mentor says, don't sacrifice good for perfect. Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.
In my talks and workshops, I am seeing many students and young professionals are seeking guidance. On woman sent me questions that might be helpful for other purpose-driven people looking for meaningful work.
1) What are some practical steps one can take towards translating theory into practice?
Finding a situation with real problems to work out is the best way. At your work place, school, or volunteer organization, these are where opportunities to really start the process of turning theory into practice come alive. Listen to people’s pain points or pay attention to possibilities. I recommend starting with the trash or the obvious thing that is wasteful and working backward to inquire about why is it this way and what can we do at all levels of the system to make it less wasteful, non toxic to people, animals, water and soil. Why is it designed this way? What can we do in our business, organization etc to make it environmentally friendly, use less resources, and connect with others who might benefit from our partnership.
The biggest challenge turning sustainability theory into practice has been changing people minds about their responsibility and capabilities to do anything about it in their sphere of influence. Relationship building and communication are fundamental to seeing that anything is actually done. Unless you are running your own show and infuse ethical design and sustainability from the start. However, even that requires great communication and understanding between you and your vendors or customers. Values, social status, and cost savings, are elements of motivating people to integrate sustainability. If you have this finesse with people, that is to get them to drop their egos, see the long term consequences, and take responsibility, you have a real gift that is needed in this work.
Asking for what you want to see is another practical step. It is related to having great communication skills to motivate people to understand and adopt practical steps for sustainability, but you also have to start asking the right people the right questions or do small tasks that address the problems you are trying to solve that can gain momentum. “The revolution starts as soon as the dishes are done.” This is a quote from the Occupy movement, which speaks to basic things being in order before you tackle bigger things if you are working backward. For example, I’ve called and asked vendors or service providers if they could not send packaging or have their wasteful packaging redesigned. I’ve also asked businesses to fix something they sold or take back the product to reuse it. I call this seed planting with connections to start the process of them thinking differently about their service, design, products or processes. They may not do it, but if enough people ask they might start listening. That is a big reality in this work, that there are many practical things that can and need to be done, but sometimes your role is to plant a seed or the concept so people will awaken to it and be inspired by the awake people who are already implementing.
2) What was your path to this work?
My path has been uncompromising so far because I’m tenacious, strong (willing to follow my heart), and idealistic especially in my 20’s. I started learning about this stuff from my very resourceful, zero waste grandmother you was very poor during the depression. I grew up in Wyoming where the landscape provided immense imagination and I was inspired to know how other people lived and how did their landscapes effect them. I took International Studies and Development courses in college and started learning about holistic ethical design and change management essentially. I’m lucky because I have always deeply loved and respected the earth so this was also a thread through my whole development. The past 10 years I have only wanted to only work for conscious companies which meant I worked for a lot of passionate startups that didn’t have the funding or support to launch as far as their dreams, and the recession crushed a lot of this work too. I've worked for free a lot, way too much. I also needed to find which skills would benefit my passion for sustainability. I discovered it was project management, strategy, marketing, and innovation or design thinking work. I have a natural ability to work with and see systems so I wanted to find the best leverage points. I came at this with letting my passion lead and my skills develop around it, but this has been my path which has made me versatile, a specialized generalist, I like to joke. When giving advice about this I recommend people do the deep work of getting to know themselves, their natural skills, the skills they want to learn, and the areas of intrigue, basically, what do you love. Then match this with your passion and start co-creating, (working with others, a product/service, or organization) and make yourself a part of what you believe can be possible.
I believe that in the United States that entrepreneurship is a driving force for conscious change with ecologically healthy outcomes. I have tried to start businesses as well. I either didn’t have the funding I needed to launch them appropriately, the recession crumbled these dreams, or I found out what parts of the start-up process I most enjoyed and what parts I didn’t want to do, and I had to ask myself if I really wanted to become such another company selling jackets that are way to expensive to make and sell for the average person. I’ve realized that much of selling sustainable products has meant catering to the wealthy and that really bothers me because the healthy, sustainable way shouldn’t be the expensive way.
My path has not been easy or financially lucrative, I believe some people have managed to do the good work of sustainability and make great money, but I have found in Portland, Oregon that investing, providing policy support, and financial compensation for this work has not been robust or really here. However, I did manage to work for an organization that blends my passions of art and the environment together and I feel lucky and that was a rare find in the United States. In partnership with an industrial and sustainability designer I have been involved with more strategy and design thinking work, but again we are finding that few businesses are truly investing in help to shift towards this work, but they are interested in business development that might have sustainable outcomes. So we have had to change our process, language, and service offerings and this is better because it will reach more people. This is a valuable lesson in having other valuable skills, while you are able to be humble enough to infuse your sustainability passion in the work without needing to wear the badge so everyone knows what you are doing. It is easier if the company supports your values, though.
Entrepreneurs that have these values are building businesses that are conscious/ sustainable and thus they get it already and are not reaching out to us for help. I acknowledge that we may not be in the right place or marketing to the right people for our strategy business, but I’ve been at this for 10 years and am seeing patterns in my experience. This isn’t to say that I don’t see new opportunities, but I see them more in education and empowering people who want to make a difference in their work and want guidance. I see people reading about how to do things and that’s really inspiring. This seems like a DIY movement in many ways, which I think is great and I hope to still encourage, share resources and advocate.
3) What resources or opportunities are you looking for to aid in your work?
- I’m looking for opportunities to work for companies with a healthy budget, a flexible, global perspective on company culture, and the values to go through a redesign process to be a conscious company if necessary. I’d really like a job doing this, not just freelance work.-The opportunity to partner with a big brand or a medium brand to implement circular ideas and relationships would be great.
- I’d like the opportunity to go to the Netherlands to see what in the Circular Economy is actually happening. A lot of this work can be conceptual so seeing it work in reality on a bigger scale is an opportunity I’d like to have.
- I’d also like to work with a mentor to help me see what I’m missing, such as how to prospect really well and land contracts, essentially be a better sales person or find a sales person.
- Money and connections, being sponsored to create think tanks or design charrettes for the right mixes of people and projects.
- Figuring out the best use of tools and teaching techniques for whole systems thinking and facilitation. I’m looking into learning more about teaching for this.
- Meeting with other people working in this field who have complementary skills. Diversity is key and you can’t know or do everything.
4) What barriers are there to be considered or overcome in achieving implementation?
There are many, but I believe the biggest one is a fear of change and a distaste for the extra thinking and work involved. It’s like learning a language, you want to speak French but it requires a daily practice. Additionally, people have to be willing to experiment and be willing to fail and learn from it. Entrepreneurs seem to be better wired for trying new things or working with people dedicated to design or innovation within a company. Knowing the best people to connect with within an organization who want to and actually have the power to make this work happen has also been a challenge. You have to look for small things can be done in each situation to overcome this barrier. Listening is really the first step.
Group dynamic can really get in the way, egos, people trying to prove themselves... I’ve experienced this myself. I think strong vision and leadership and well-tuned teams make implementation possible. Relationship building and negotiation skills are critical. If the dominant culture is about competition instead of collaboration it is really difficult, but not impossible, sometimes competition drives innovation. I’ve run into a lot of "Founders Syndrome" or leadership that doesn’t want their vision to change, or they many say” this is how we’ve always done it.” Which is funny to me because that shows a lack of evolution or adaptive management which isn’t how nature or organizations work to survive. This could all boil down to a fear of change, inflexibility, and serious lack of imagination which is so dangerous.
Resources and time come up as barriers as well, this is classic project management concerns. This is why we have adaptive management or Agile methods, basically for quick feedback loops. There are practical barriers to not having certain things in place that would make implementation possible, like robust reverse logistics, locations of materials or manufacturing that make closing the loop more expensive, or a machines or processes that need to be created to do a thing, like to extract something or make something. These are easier to deal with than emotional or moral barriers.
5) Are there any methods for connecting with professionals or companies doing holistic ethical design?
Yes there are, and it’s a matter of meeting people, researching, asking the right questions and tracking companies and people doing the work. I think reading articles and following up on who they are featuring is also a good way. I’ve found sharing information with people with this field of interest is the best. Realistically, the younger generation has had more education and examples of this work in your awareness, so I’m hoping there will be more designers and professionals doing the work soon.
6) How can one vet a company to distinguish between green washing and a legitimate good practices?
This is an important question because sometimes people lie, but I think you can feel it out by seeing who they might be partnering with, what are they really selling, such as the feeling or solution are they providing. What type of business they are in and where the industry is on the scale of ecological thinking. Sure there are things like recycling, energy efficient light bulbs etc. and these things are great first steps, but so is the thinking and work in the deeper layers of the businesses such as the design layer, or the material or service offering. Is it solving a problem and producing an ecological outcome as well? Is this company just offsetting its wasteful practices by buying “environmental” solutions? If you can get to them I think talking to the leadership and the people actually doing the work and not the marketing department is important. I like looking into trash cans and talking to customers who use the service or product as well. I think the companies solving a problem in a way that is so obviously legit that they don’t need to say how green they are can be more interesting than having to wade through a green marketing facade. Use your intuition on this.
7) Are there any resources you can suggest to learn more about biomimicry or the circular economy?
Asknature.org is a great start for biomimicry and checking out books at the library. Janine Benyus is the queen of this world.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation is the main driver of the circular economy internationally and they are spreading the word and partnering with companies all over. I'm so grateful for their work. I recently found great resources for designers at Ideo.com in the circular economy world as well.
Since the election results in the United States I have had to step away from the downward spiral about what's going to happen and focus on the present moment. I believe that whatever situations in the world that have allowed this to be must be balanced by people that support the vulnerable and voiceless. So what are we going to do to rescue ourselves and our communities, our choices and our future as we see our rights, access to resources, and voices disregarded? Each person may have an area of interest that they feel most passionate about, perhaps its women's rights, animal rights, non-GMO foods, water rights, peace, and justice. Whatever it is the world needs you to do something or get involved more deeply. For me, I've always been passionate about treating the earth and the life-sustaining gifts on her with respect and care. I believe strongly that this work is in the imaginations, hands, and the voting dollars of all people. I will venture to guess that the new administration is not likely to support sustainability with policies for environmental protection, renewable energy, waste reduction, water rights, or circular economy efforts. I truly hope I am pleasantly surprised. However, the motivation is there for the rest of us to be involved.
This way of being, of valuing sustainability continues to be pushed forward by those that see the long term benefits of caring for our planet over the short term financial gain for the few. We all must continue to choose responsibly, especially with our financial investments, and create conditions, products, services, experiences, and relationships that support the planet and each other. By "we" I truly mean everyone in any context can do something to give back, protect, not waste, clean, prevent, care for personal health and the planet in their homes, work, investing strategies, and with their donations. If you don't think you can do anything drop a line and we will figure something out.
As we have seen the consciousness of the people protecting water is under attack, but the institutions we have believed were working in our favor, are not. The biggest lesson we must accept is that we have been living under illusions that we are safe, living in healthy places, are treated with respect and that someone else in a higher position will fix the problems. We have seen that global leaders are not doing the right thing for human and environmental rights and health. The hierarchical model isn't working and relying on some "powerful" person to fix things is naive. People must be shaken out of their comfort zones to see what must be changed, and so the waking up is happening. We have another opportunity to be creators, innovators, people that care to be the change, to create micro-climates if you will, that inspire and spread and start healing the destruction.
If you were hesitant to jump in and be involved, there is no time to wait. The energy is ripe for facing your illusions and join the international communities of people that work beyond politics to create a healthy world for all living things. We will be like the pinecone that needs a forest fire to open and spread vibrant seeds.
Mindo Lago is a project of ecological restoration, an event space, and a hotel in Mindo, Ecuador, a town two hours northwest of Quito. Mindo Lago began as a project to recover native species of amphibians since they are considered to be nature´s thermometer. They are indicator species because their presence is a sign of ecological health due to their sensitivity to climate change and pollution. Twelve years ago, the land stewards built ponds, planted native water and land plants, and ensured that the lands was free from toxic chemicals and protected against human encroachment. This work has resulted in a haven for frogs, toads, howler monkeys, insects, birds and the plants and ponds that make them feel at home.. The response is so overwhelmingly beautiful and healthy, that people show up for nightly "Frog Concerts" whereby the frogs and toads will promptly begin their songs at 6:30pm. The songs vary depending on species, season, and weather, but what is obvious is that the resident amphibians are numerous. Since the project began 40 species of native amphibians call Mindo Lago home. At the Frog concert guests are served a small glass of wine, are given a introduction to the mission and work of the organization to restore and protect amphibians, and then go an a tour to see frogs, toads, spiders, birds, and biolumenesent micro bacteria.
The work and vision of Mindo Lago shows that nature can heal herself with proper stewardship, and native plants, water, and respectful toxic free care. Mindo Lago is a perfect example of design for restoration and the incredible aliveness and health that arrives as a result. To support the protect the caretakers of the land began to slowly create a hotel surronding the lake for people to learn, stay, and enjoy the truly revitalizing places in Ecuador. How do we know that? The diversity of creatures, especially the ecologically sensitive amphibians show up to stay and show up to sing. For more information check out: http://mindolago.com.ec/en/.