Focus | March 5, 2019

Design that gives us a future

The environment and our fragile ecosystem are in trouble and the responsibility towards ourselves and future generations to avert an environmental catastrophe provides the greatest design challenge in history

words Eyespectacle

Nearly half of all ocean pollution comes from activities that take place on land, like industrial runoff, waste and chemical spills. Climate change is running faster than we are – and we are running out of time; limiting global warming will require far-reaching and unprecedented changes to human behavior. We are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes. Fashion, as one of the highest polluting industries, has its part to play in turning this crisis around – a crisis which has become one of the defining issues of our time – to this end the UN has developed the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change with a vision to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This is, perhaps, the biggest challenge humankind has ever faced, and is also its most exciting. The circular economy’s environmental framework, in which resources are designed for multiple life cycles instead of being simply disposed of after use, defines four specific points to reduce the impact of manufacturing on the planet: eliminate toxins required during the production cycle, increase the product’s lifecycle and eradicate throwaway fashion, design the product so as to maximize its recyclable credentials from the offset and finally, invest in innovation to incorporate recycled materials. Plastics are a major source of contamination in our oceans. Of the 100 million metric tons of plastic produced every year, about 10 million end up in the oceans. Swedish Lapland Brand EOE play their part in tackling this issue. As well as using biodegradable acetate, (free of petroleum and phthalates) and recycled steel in their eyewear, EOE are currently working on an exciting new project that will once again break new ground. Together with a team of experts they have come up with a technique for recycling old and used frames into a brand new material. This will be a unique material for EOE to use, and will also be the first of its kind in the world. Sometimes designers themselves are held ‘hostage’ by a system that favours high consumption and that builds in obsolescence solely in pursuit of profit, feeling that they are not part of a system that should instead be based on sustainability. So many interrelated activities make these behaviours and interdependencies hard to unlock. And yet, as creative thinkers, designers are incredibly well-skilled in establishing new codes and systems. Modo is a pioneering eyewear brand with strong environmental credentials, creating new concepts with earth-friendly materials as part of their Eco collection; their main commitments are sustainability and social responsibility and they pledge to plant one tree for each frame sold. Together with Trees for the Future, their ‘One Frame – One Tree’ program has planted over 2 million trees! Eco’s latest biobased frames are unique as they are made with 63% castor seeds, making them sustainable as well as lightweight and trendy. They have also recently launched Eco Recycled, where the stainless steel used for the frames is 95% recycled. Designers are in the business of creating something appealing, as well as useful, but consumers and designers alike are starting to question the notion of beauty if this now comes at such great cost to the environment. Designers don’t just create objects outside culture’s context, they define the narrative, to reflect the zeitgeist and to create new directions, to pull people in who want to associate and identify with this direction and these values.

Another brand that takes this issue to heart is Hoffmann Natural Eyewear; the buffalo horn material used for their frames is sustainably sourced, with nature conservation a top priority. Being aware of nature and its resources and helping to protect them is a key part of their philosophy. Water buffalos are domestic animals, they are honoured and protected in their native lands and the horn used for Hoffmann’s eyewear only becomes available after the natural demise of the animal. Natural horn is one of the most tried and tested materials for spectacle frames in the world. The properties of horn, including its appearance and feel, make it particularly suitable for creating eyewear. Even the horn shavings, the waste resulting from the production processes, are used as an agricultural fertilizer. And since the commitment to nature and the environment is not only demonstrated in the products, attention is also paid to sustainability issues in the production environment. For example, the entire production area is heated by an environmentally-friendly, geothermal heating system. While these are all small steps in the right direction, there is a growing realization that we can only be the proactive authors of a rewarding script if we take full responsibility for how we treat ourselves, our environment, and ultimately, the planet. We are, after all, all in this together.