The good guys

With sustainability gaining ground in every area of contemporary life, Suzanne Hinchliffe takes a look at the leading campaigners for Green design, all of whom are striving to embed its core principles whenever and wherever they can

Sustainability is simply referred to as ‘good design’, according to those who have adopted the philosophy. In recent years it has become more than a buzz word that is debated and deliberated over. The S-word has been well and truly implemented, whether this be environmental design or inclusive and social design, but, with this in mind, it is difficult to quantify the amount of resources out there.

This list of initiatives, organisations and people practising sustainable design is not exhaustive. The responsibility has been taken on by so many groups that this can only be a positive thing, but who are the leading lights of the Green brigade? Here is an overview of those championing the sustainable cause.

Though Tim Ashton may not have consciously signed up for sustainability, he really has a flair for it. As creative director at Antidote, his work is not necessarily associated with ‘being Green’. However, he is the man behind one of the most memorable eco-campaigns, Anya Hindmarch’s ‘I’m not a plastic bag’. The campaign was put into action after Ashton worked on the community links project directed by David Robinson, who set up the website We Are What We Do. Antidote designed the books Change the World for a Fiver and Change the World from 9 to 5, which were developed from the Web initiative. Since then, Ashton has been involved with other eco-projects, including the ‘soot’ globe for Carbon Sense, and Change the World at 35 000ft, a joint project with Virgin Atlantic and We Are What We Do.

Under development manager Rebecca Edge, the Audi Design Foundation has continued an adventurous programme that focuses on sustainability. The most recent being Sustain our Nation, an initiative to harness all aspects of sustainability in real projects for the UK.

The foundation is known for donating grants through its Design for Life programme which commenced in 1997. The aim is to award some £80 000 in funds a year, with grants ranging from £10 000-£30 000. Other initiatives by ADF include the Designs of Substance initiative that challenges students to consider how to use design to improve the lives or situations of people with little or no money – one example being Max Frommeld’s work in the townships of South Africa.

Co-founder of the Social Environmental Enterprise and Design Foundation with Flora Bowden, Clare Brass has established several design-led initiatives and organisations dealing with social or environmental issues. She was campaign leader at the Design Council from 2004, and leader of sustainability there from 2006- 2007. Brass then took up a part-time role at Design London to bring social enterprise and sustainability thinking to business, design and engineering students.

The Seed Foundation has partnered the Policy Studies Institute to launch a Defra-funded research project, HiRise Gardens. The mission of HiRise addresses issues of biodegradable waste and looks at the social concerns of homelessness. The aim is to get a community composting system, the Rocket Composter, installed on every estate in the UK, which is then managed by local, formerly homeless residents.

This action research project will last one year on the Maiden Lane Estate in London’s Camden, where Seed will be directly working with the sustainability team at Camden Council and a design team made up of residents on the estate. Workshops for the project started in April.

Professor Michael Braungart is an advocate for sustainability. The German chemist’s ‘cradle-to-cradle’ concept, devised with William McDonaugh, has become globally significant when it comes to the sustainable cause. The book Remaking The Way We Make Things (2002), written by McDonaugh and Braungart, calls for the transformation of human industry through design that is ecologically intelligent. Braungart also gives lectures, the most recent being with the office furniture manufacturer Orangebox, which has become the first European company in its sector to achieve cradle-to-cradle accreditation.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is the Government’s adviser on architecture, urban design and public space. The group developed the Sustainable Cities campaign and, in March, Cabe and Natural England brought together planners, design professionals and local practitioners from across the world to discuss the latest thinking on Green infrastructure and to call on the Government to prioritise funding for parks, trees and open spaces in our cities. In response to this, Housing and Planning Minister Margaret Beckett launched Skills to Grow with an announcement of a £1m fund to recruit a new generation of apprentices to nurture England’s parks and green spaces.

Martin Charter is a pioneer across sustainable design. His work as director of the Centre for Sustainable Design at the University College for the Creative Arts facilitates discussion and research on eco-design. Last year, Charter chaired eco-innovation workshops and, following this, a network of eco-innovation has brought together a range of eco-entrepreneurs who present the challenges faced when developing Green ideas, before putting the concepts into practice.

As director of the Sustainable Design Research Centre, a course director of MA Design for Sustainable Development and cofounder of Greengaged with Sophie Thomas, Anne Chick has been going Green for more than 15 years. Co-founder of the Centre for Sustainable Design, she has written Graphic Designer’s Greenbook: A Handbook and Source Guide on Design And the Environment, and launched the Design for Development masters course at Kingston University.

Described as ‘a pioneer of the Green building movement’, service design engineer Max Fordham won the 2008 Prince Philip Designers Prize in recognition of his lifetime achievement in design. He has practised sustainable design for more than 40 years. Environment-friendly buildings to his credit include Lord’s Cricket Ground’s indoor school in London, Poole Arts Centre and the Tate St Ives art gallery.

The Forum for the Future is a charity committed to sustainable development and the organiser of the innovation competition FT Climate Change Challenge to discover the best low-carbon project across the world. Working alongside the global design consultancy Ideo, the charity is the lead partner in the I-Team project. This project enables sustainable behaviour change through a design-led approach with local councils. The team of experts consists of Andrea Koerselmann who is co-leader of service innovation and design practice at Ideo, St Luke’s co-founder John Grant, writer and eco-entrepreneur Paul Miller and Forum for the Future’s Chris Sherwin, Fiona Bennie and Gemma Adams.

Greengaged, the sustainability hub at the London Design Festival, is currently working on its 2009 programme, hosted by the Design Council. It has been developed and organised by Sophie Thomas at Thomas Matthews, Sarah Johnson at Redesign, and Anne Chick from the Sustainable Design Research Centre at Kingston University. The Greengaged website and blog was relaunched at the end of April, helped by design writer Kate Andrews, and included podcasts of some of last year’s highlights. Greengaged is looking to franchise around the world with plans for the event to visit the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December (DW 1 April).

The Helen Hamlyn Centre addresses the commitment of the Royal College of Art to advance learning for people-centred design and innovation. The centre focuses on inclusive design, patient safety and workplace design. The implementation of inclusive design helps transform environments and communities making products and services accessible to the widest range of abilities and ages. HHC has a long-established collaboration with the Design Business Association on its annual Inclusive Design Challenge, where UK design consultancies create designs with an inclusive social dimension. Themes in the past have included designs for arthritic people, the poorly sighted and people with dementia.

Live Work is a consultancy that believes in sustainable design. Director Ben Reason set up the company in 2001 with Chris Downs and Lavrans Lovlie, who were looking for an opportunity to make a difference. The group has helped the NHS to use design to transform services, worked with communities to create services for Designs of the Time 07, and is focused on creating services that help people shift to a low-carbon future.

Sustainability is top of Dorothy MacKenzie’s agenda. Chairwoman of Dragon Rouge, she also chairs the Green Alliance think tank. Dragon has recently developed and employed The Better Design Process, which is built out of a belief that great design means integrating sustainability at every opportunity. Sustainable design has been implemented in all of its designers’ training.

The Museums Association last year launched its consultation on sustainability and museums to encourage its members to tackle Green issues. Following input from more than 600 written responses, it published its findings and recommendations. It will meet again in October.

Last year Provokateur launched its ethical venture Tap, which promotes tap water by associating it with mineral water. The sustainable design group creates its own initiatives and has recently developed Acme Climate Action – a book, website and campaign to respond to climate change.

Redesign encourages clients to use design to create positive and environmental change. The group has put on many sustainable design exhibitions to educate designers who don’t want to make landfill, and runs workshops and seminars to provide information and ideas on materials. Redesign is bidding for funding from Defra’s Greener Living Fund. More than £6m is being made available to support projects and programmes by national delivery partners between November 2008 and March 2011.

John Thackara has questioned how design can help us live more lightly on the planet since the inception of Doors of Perception in 1995 in Amsterdam. As director, he explains the focus shifted in 2002 with Doors to India. ‘We’re talking less about sustainability and doing more in real-life situations and projects,’ he says. Thackara was programme director of Designs of the Time 07, a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North East England, exploring what life in a sustainable region could be like. Next year Dott will be based in Cornwall, where Thackara will be working more behind the scenes. A tireless ecocampaigner, last year also saw him as the commissioner at the design biennale in St Etienne, where he produced a show called City Eco Lab. Later this year, he will be speaking at Cumulus London 2009, which questions how technology, globalisation and sustainability impact on the creative sector.

As the leading light on the sustainable design front, Sophie Thomas is set to have yet another ambitious year. Thomas’s work as director and joint owner – with Kristine Matthews – at Thomas Matthews maintains its sustainable philosophy. Thomas Matthews is looking at the future scenarios of ‘zero carbon’ print as to whether this is at all possible. Their work also continues to develop schemes for businesses and consumers to help them make sustainable choices.

Her work at Greengaged and Three Trees Don’t Make A Forest is busier than ever, with several new ventures this year.

The website launched on the 21 January at the Danish Design Centre in Copenhagen. The concept of the site is to reduce the negative impact of climate change. The site’s philosophy is that design should be quiet, create less demand from consumers for products and less demand from designers using energy and resources. It aims to fulfil two main criteria: to showcase solutions to meet EU legislation demanding 20 per cent less greenhouse gases and 20 per cent more renewable energy; and to showcase designs which are innovative, useful and enable consumers to understand the product.

Three Trees Don’t Make A Forest was set up by three directors who specialise in sustainability: Sophie Thomas of Thomas Matthews, Caroline Clark of Lovely As A Tree and Nat Hunter of Airside.

This year, Lovely As a Tree and Three Trees Don’t Make A Forest will merge to create an online resource, which builds on Clark’s work. Once funding has been approved, the trio’s vision is to have a comprehensive, access to all, online platform offering the UK graphic design community resources and advice about how to be more environmentally conscious and responsible.

Other ventures include the BSI sustainable design workshop commencing this month. This workshop will look at areas to embed sustainability into your work practices. Three Trees Don’t Make A Forest is also developing corporate masterclasses specifically for those in-house design teams and consultancies that want to up-skill their teams.

Waste & Resources Action Programme is a Government-funded programme which helps individuals, businesses and local authorities to reduce waste and recycle more, making better use of resources and helping tackle climate change. The website ( is a resource which gives designers information about alternatives for packaging design, and about how to eliminate packaging as well as address issues of recyclability.


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