3 Lessons from Shanghai’s Successful Design Summit

Although we had to leave the Successful Design Summit early to prepare for our launch party this weekend, we felt that Doug Woodring from the Ocean Recovery Alliance had a lot of lessons that would really resonate with our fanbase. Speaking of his successful design career in convincing big brands to cut down their waste production, Woodring gave us a lot to think about.

His most impressive feat was convincing Hong Kong-based Watsons Water to switch over to recycled plastic for their water bottles. Their bottle caps had won the company a large number of awards for its twist-to-open design, but as Woodring explained to us, this design completely disregarded the companies’ environment impact. He went even as far as saying it was one of the biggest violators of waste production. In April 2015, Watsons was the first Asian bottling corporation to adopt 100% rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate), thanks to ORA’s influence. The bottle caps still need work but the bottle itself is now made from rPET, setting a precedent for other corporations to follow.

“Recycled PET is a very exciting new product and we need it to scale across the bottling industry so that the billions of bottles used today can be recovered as a resource, and used effectively ​again, while reducing waste at the same time,” Woodring remarks.

After setting the tone with this story of success in sustainable design, he went on to explain a flurry of concepts, but here were our favorite 3:

If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will assume that no one cares and that no one is in charge. Going a bit further, vandals will be inclined to break nearby windows. On an environmental level, this is true on many levels. If there’s litter on the streets, people won’t feel as guilty of becoming part of the problem. The same goes for water and electricity usage, recycling programs, etc.

Without leaders taking action, leading by example and speaking up, mob mentality kicks in and problems escalate.

Woodring cited the Philippines putting in serious efforts to clean up damage from Typhoon Haiyan in order to prevent future damage to their ecosystem. Tourism, fishing and overall quality of life improved in these areas as a result. Nearby coastal villages, people went as far as diving to recover non-biodegradable waste as part of the cleanup!

Our Linear Economy is Toxic by Design
Take. Make. Waste.

Our current economy is a one-way street that ends with waste production. The way we design, produce and dispose of the vast majority of our products and packaging is completely linear. This is far from a successful design for our species, don’t you think?

Extraction industries dig up and sell our natural resources. Manufacturers process these resources into products and packaging. Retailers sell the products. Consumers buy the products and discard the packaging. Finally, we pay the government to haul our waste to landfills and incinerators. Sound familiar?

Since these corporations have absolutely zero inclination to bear responsibility for their products at the end of their life, there is constant growth in the volume of products and packaging produced. On top of these, rates of recycling have been stagnant since the 1960’s. Powerful information.

Giving Commerce — who will step up?

History and business have always favored innovators, those who step boldly against the status quo. But to change from a Taking Commerce to a Giving Commerce, we need industry leaders to transform the current paradigm to benefit everyone. The most effective way right now is through sustainability, and this can only come from successfully designing techniques to replace the wasteful practices industries are used to.

Nike has established itself as a role model in Shanghai�’s design world by creating a trendy, sustainable concept store made from 100% waste material. But there�’s more than just points to be made: successful companies dedicated to sustainable design are sprouting up in Shanghai setting new industry standards.

Take for instance Waste2Wear, creating a variety of garments and textile products from recycled plastic waste. Shanghai�’s designers are at the forefront of innovation, changing the conversation from �”How much can I get for how little I give?�” to �”How much can we give for all we get?�”

Large brands and companies can set the pace and tone of business, but the most exciting signs of things to come are the emerging creative designers turning sustainability into their livelihood. The Shanghai-based duo, Tatiana & Alasdair have taken to reducing waste from tarpaulin cement and fish feed bags by turning them into fashionable accessories under the brand name of Somos Design.

Originally published at thesquirrelz.com on September 11, 2015.

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