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Designing a Better Tomorrow Series: Overcoming Sustainability Fatigue with the Power of Design

Explore a sustainable future with Creative Strategist Rachel Edmonds, as she unlocks the potential to shape a tomorrow defined by sustainability, innovation, and collective prosperity through purposeful and forward-thinking design.
24 April, 2024
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I have a confession. Recently, I’ve been experiencing sustainability fatigue. Sustainability as this huge, unwieldly, wide-reaching topic has felt overwhelming, something I know has happened to many of us. So, I thought I’d share what’s been helping me, and that is to focus on what feels actionable and tangible. In this case, it’s been the power of design.

Though I’m not a designer myself, as a strategist I work with designers every day. In the design phase we have an incredible amount of influence—to shape the lifespan, materials, and sustainability of our creations. Did you know a staggering 80% of a product's environmental impact is influenced by decisions made at the design stage? (from the Ellen McArthur Foundation)

At its core, design is creation with intent. So, it begs the question, what if we step-change our focus on sustainability right from the start? One way of doing this, is future-proofing from the outset. Designing with adaptability, repairability and reconfigurability as core principles, which can dramatically reduce resources utilization and waste. And I hear you, ‘future-proofing’ is a term thrown around a lot. Let’s get into some specifics.

1. Make it flex

Our society is in context flux. Whether it’s emerging technologies, a global pandemic, or the climate crisis; there is always a ‘new normal’, that doesn’t stay normal for long. Our needs and desires at an individual and collective level are continually evolving. The behaviour we see today will be vastly different to that in 5, 10, 20 years. As such, the concept of Polyvalent Spaces is emerging as a cornerstone of sustainable design.

Polyvalent Spaces are built environments designed to adapt to changing needs, offering endless possibilities for reconfiguration. Essentially, it means designing spaces with the flexibility to evolve over time.

Take for example the innovative work of Haptic Architects and Ramboll, who have reimagined high-rise buildings as living entities capable of continuous evolution, eliminating the need for demolition. The main structural frame has three-story-high decks that can support various configurations, adapting horizontally and vertically to accommodate diverse functions such as residential, office, hotel, leisure, or production use. The ability to fundamentally reconfigure the layout and use of the building over-time enables a long-term relevance amidst ever-evolving societies, extending the potential life cycle of a tower-block considerably.

UXUS Future Forecast Sustainable Design Haptic and Ramboll Explore the Future of Timber High Rise

Images courtesy of Haptic Architects & Ramboll. Professional CGI by Forbes Massie.

If entire tower blocks can be engineered to adapt over time, challenging the conventional notion of buildings as static structures, it prompts us to consider what else can be built with flexibility at its core. By strategically designing a system with flexibility as a core design principle, we can promote longevity and resource efficiency in a rapidly changing world.

2. Make it last

We’ve all heard that things simply aren’t built like they used to be. And it’s a serious problem. In a throwaway culture marked by single-use & disposability as a mind-set, the need to prioritize durability and longevity is pressing.

But thankfully, there are some incredible innovations taking durability to the next level. Geoship - a company building homes to withstand the test of time— is harnessing cutting-edge materials, to build homes that don’t rot, don’t burn, and are resistant to earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. Beyond this incredible resilience they’re also energy efficient and naturally insulating - claiming to have 90% smaller carbon footprint than traditional homes. AND, they’re cost-effective. Designed to be mass produced in factories and assembled by home-owners (or professional crews if flat-pack on a home-scale isn’t your thing). With a clear view of the problems they’re looking to tackle (impact of the climate crisis, lack of affordable housing, cost of living crisis), paired with serious dedication and innovation, they are offering a new archetype of home. We can see that when we expand our perspective & challenge the status quo, it’s amazing where we can get to through design. Pushing boundaries on how we can build for today, and future generations to come.

    UXUS Future Forecast Sustainable Design Geoship

    Images courtesy of Geoship.

    3. Make it smart

    Finally, I couldn’t write about sustainability in 2024 without mentioning Generative A.I. This technology is reshaping our lives. But it can do so much more than rewrite emails or create a project plan (although I do appreciate that, thanks ChatGPT).

    With Gen AI’s ability to analyze vast amounts of data and generate innovative solutions, this technology has the power to revolutionize sustainable design. Not constrained by previous experience (‘oh we tried something like that before’) or assumptions (‘no that simply can’t work’), it can provide fresh ways of thinking and new solutions, for example showing us how to optimize energy use, cut down on waste and enhance resource utilization. Integrated into our current design processes, it can analyze existing designs and suggest modifications or come up with new scenarios/solutions that can be assessed and refined.

    UXUS Future Forecast Sustainable Design Sidewalk Labs

    Images courtesy of Sidewalk Labs.

    Take Sidewalk Labs ‘Delve’ - a Gen A.I tool paving the way for smarter, more sustainable urban planning. By crunching complex data sets it creates a variety of scenarios for planners to evaluate, explore and refine. At impressive speeds it can process everything from geographical information, to legislative regulations, to street layouts, generating sustainable urban planning designs that guide planners towards more sustainable options.

    Gen A.I’s ability to process large data-sets to create innovative concepts, while focusing on minimizing environmental impact, paints an exciting picture for many sectors. In leveraging this incredible technology, we can accelerate our journey towards more sustainable designs, by making smarter, more informed decisions.

    Looking ahead

    There is immense power and potential in the design phase – of experiences, products and environments. It’s where we can ask ourselves questions like how long will it last, what is it made of, can it be adapted or repaired and what happens at the end of its life. By expanding our perspective and designing with clear intent from the outset, we can harness the power of design, innovation, and technology to design a better tomorrow for all.

    At UXUS, we specialize in harnessing the power of design to connect people and brand. If you’d like to find out more about how we can do this for you, please get in touch.   

     Stay tuned for more articles to come in this Designing a Better Tomorrow series. 

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    Designing a Better Tomorrow Series: Overcoming Sustainability Fatigue with the Power of Design

    Explore a sustainable future with Creative Strategist Rachel Edmonds, as she unlocks the potential to shape a tomorrow defined by sustainability, innovation, and collective prosperity through purposeful and forward-thinking design.

    Read more
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