Part 2: Tackling the Man-Made Climate Emergency

Sustainable Spaces & Experiences

With a new sense of urgency to safeguard the health of our planet for future generations, brands must take radical, disruptive action, playing a key role in Tackling the Man-Made Climate Emergency.

Continuing on from our first instalment (Part 1 : The Rental, Repair and Resale Revolution) where we discussed facilitating new consumption behaviours and models, our second instalment explores the ways in which physical spaces and experiences can have a more positive impact on the environment, supporting sustainable brand strategies.

Many companies are taking action to build their sustainability agendas and express this through their communications and product collections, but there is an opportunity to extend this thinking to the spaces where consumers access and engage with products and services.

As a creative community of designers and brand decision makers we all have a responsibility and an essential role to play in helping to realise a more restorative, regenerative future. We must reset our priorities when writing and responding to briefs, thinking not just of the brand and user, but the planet and resources too. The transformational journey towards true circularity will not be an easy one, but will be achieved by taking small, yet progressive steps that will lead us to a more sustainable future.

Guilt-free experiences

As part of the evolved Experience Economy, we are forever seeking unique, unforgettable and shareable experiences which enhance our lives. However, just as our consciousness around single use plastics has risen, so too will our concerns about the environmental impact of the experiences we participate in – with a growing desire to be free to enjoy them, without feeling guilty.

Experiences are transitory, with the potential to have a large environmental impact in relation to their lifespan. Brands and designers must challenge this, exploring ways to make them less wasteful, with a reduced or even positive impact on the planet; the ultimate aspiration should be ‘leave no trace’. Demonstrating this thinking, London Marathon Events has committed to becoming a world leader in delivering sustainable mass participation sports events. A range of innovative initiatives were trialled at the 2019 event, including Skipping Rocks Lab supplying 30,000 edible drinks capsules made from seaweed to be handed out to runners in a bid to reduce plastic waste. This was in response to eye-watering statistics from the 2018 event which saw 920,000 plastic bottles discarded onto the city’s streets in a single day. Festival organisers are also going to great efforts to build their sustainability strategies and encourage attendees to behave responsibly. In 2019 Glastonbury banned the sale of single-use plastic bottles and introduced ‘The Gas Tower’, a dance arena made from plastic mined from beaches, parks and streets. For many years Coachella has featured the Energy Playground – a playful energy harvesting experience which enables consumers to use their own kinetic energy to charge their phones, raising awareness about energy consumption and providing a renewable off-grid solution.

Waste as a resource

As a global landfill crisis coincides with alarming overconsumption of the Earth’s natural resources, significant work is being done to explore how today’s waste can become tomorrow’s functional materials, alongside the development of innovative bio-based materials. As we seek out new alternatives for our material future we are heading into an exciting, progressive era of design, where fast-moving aesthetic trends are giving way to a far greater focus on material exploration and experimentation.

Progressive brands are recognising the benefits of adopting closed loop practices such as urban mining and reintroducing waste elements of their products back into their interiors through innovative surface materials. This approach makes economic sense, creates a rich narrative and results in an ownable design signature. Creating a close connection between product and environment, the Ganni store in London is a recent example of this; accessories are presented on plinths crafted from recycled plastic waste and within trays made from recycled and pressed fabrics. The décor also includes striped rugs made from upcycled fabric from previous Ganni collections. Positioned as the world’s first zero-waste retail location, British accessory brand Bottletop has opened a London flagship with an interior that was 3D-printed using Reflow filament made entirely from plastic waste. In addition, the rubber floor is made from recycled tyres and the ceiling features a canopy of aluminium cans embedded into a 3D-printed lattice structure.

Circular design futures

It is widely acknowledged that the transition to the circular economy presents one of the most important design challenges of our time. Moving from a linear model of make, use, dispose to circular systems where we keep resources in use for as long as possible, then recover and regenerate them at the end of their life requires a fundamental shift in mindsets and working practices.

Forward-thinking businesses are increasingly thinking of themselves and their activities as part of a wider, more holistic ecosystem. A sustainability pioneer, Stella McCartney is helping to lead the way, considering every part of the business from textile sourcing and product production, to service and spatial design. The Old Bond Street store is the embodiment of the label’s sustainable ethos, with traditional luxury materials shunned in favour of handmade, organic and sustainably sourced elements, whilst a groundbreaking Airlabs system cleans the air using nano carbon technology to ensure it is the cleanest in London.

Though traditionally throwaway in nature, temporary installations are an area of design demonstrating standout examples of circular thinking and closed-loop architecture. Conifera by Arthur Mamou-Mani x COS at Milan Design Week 2019 was constructed from 700 fully compostable, 3D-printed wood and bioplastic bricks. With an interlocking, modular form, the installation was designed to be reimagined and reused after the event. Another notable example, shown above, Brasserie 2050 at Lowlands Festival 2018 imagined what the world will need to support its predicted population of 10 billion in 2050. The zero-waste restaurant embraced circularity in both the offer and the physical space, serving a sustainable menu from a ‘barn of the future’ constructed from borrowed, hired and dismountable materials that would maintain their value after it was dismantled.

By adopting all three of these approaches; actively reducing waste, creatively using waste as a resource and implementing circular design principles, as a creative community we take responsibility for helping to ensure the health of our planet for future generations.

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