The finalists for the Terra Carta Design Lab have been revealed, with projects that draw attention to the geopolitics of the Arctic as well as blockchain emissions.
The initiative is a partnership between The Prince of Wales, Sir Jony Ive and the Royal College of Arts (RCA). Launched last year, it seeks design students who have high-impact, low-cost solutions for the climate crisis.
Projects have been judged on their innovation, feasibility and potential for impact, across ten themes, which span health systems to fashion and textiles.
Over 2,300 RCA students were invited to contribute to the scheme. Four winning projects – chosen in April from this shortlist – will be awarded mentorship and funding.
We take a look at some of the projects below.
Sustainable sportswear and edible cardboard
Many of the shortlisted projects are materials-based, such as Amphitex which hopes to offer a plant-based alternative in the outdoor sportswear sector. The textile is 100% recyclable, and made from a combination of recycled and plant-based feedstock. Traditional multi-layered waterproof and breathable textiles are near-impossible to recycle, according to the design team. They also often contain “environmentally concerning chemicals”, the designers say, which break down slowly and can harm eco-systems. Amphitex is made of a single-layer and current prototypes are as high-performing as traditional materials such as Gore-Tex, the team claims.
The first material from the Shellworks team, Vivomer, also hopes to create a plastic-free future. When the product is discarded, bacteria in the soil and ocean view it as food and eat it, according to the design team. At the moment, Shellworks is focused on the beauty and personal care industry.
More material innovation comes Notpla (the team’s seaweed-based plastic alternative has been featured on Design Week) and its seaweed-derived paper. According to Notpla, it has a comparable cost and performance to traditional wood-based paper and cardboard. Amid rising demand for cardboard, we spoke to designers last year about different approaches to using cardboard.
Reef regeneration meets eco-burials
Xellyfish, described as a “creature-like device”, has been designed to extract microplastics. The water column can grow and shrink, the team explains, in a manner which mimics natural species. That means it can adjust to the local ecosystems in which it’s located. Research and design consultancy Weird Ecologies has also been shortlisted for its work on devices which “latch onto” existing networks and encourage the growth of ecological matter.
Another finalist project hopes to provide a nature-friendly alternative within the funeral industry. As Design Week has previously reported, many traditional funeral services have a considerable environmental impact – flame cremation can release up to 400kg of carbon dioxide per corpse. Resting Reef hopes to tackle two issues at once with a “nature-centred oyster capsule” that would dispose of people’s bodies and encourage reef growth. Oyster reefs are a crucial element of marine life, but it’s estimated that up to 85% of them have been destroyed.
Race for the Arctic is a “docu-game” which envisions the future of the Polar Silk Road (a planned shipping route along the Arctic circle). Built with insight from scientists and indigenous communities, the games “aims to bring three-dimensional colour to the cold data of the climate catastrophe”, according to the team of experience and communication design students. As the game proceeds, the stakes increase – highlighting the challenges from environmental, geopolitical and social conflict.
One project deals with emerging technologies. InC2 is a blockchain-based platform which seeks to help other platforms track, analyse and hopefully reduce their supply chain emissions. As the digital world diversifies (including the metaverse to NFTs), designers have been increasingly considering their digital carbon footprint – web designers have been considering a more “carbon-conscious” approach.
Designing for more sustainable cattle farming
While we may think of wearables as only for humans, Zelp is designed for cattle. There are around 1.5 billion cattle worldwide, and each one can emit up to 500 litres of methane every day. Zelp is worn around a cow’s snout, and is made to neutralise methane as it’s exhaled in real-time. According to the design team, it surpasses animal welfare standards and could also provide insight into cattle behaviour and health through geotagging. Another potential benefit would be gathering information about the animals which produce least methane so that a more efficient herd could be raised.
The Tyre Collective, a start-up designing tyres that capture microplastic pollutants, is also a finalist. It’s estimated that tyre wear accounts for almost half of all road transport particulate emissions. The device can be fitted on tyre wheels to collect microscopic particles when vehicles brake, turn and accelerate. In 2020, the joint RCA-Imperial College team was awarded the James Dyson Award UK.
You can read more about the finalists on the Terra Carta Design Lab website.