The EU Green Deal happens by way of design

02 juin 2021

I Green Deal: a major European project

The schedule set by Europe is very clear, with Next Generation EU and recently with “Fit for 55,” a package of tools with which the Union sets out to achieve the goals of the Green Deal, aimed at reduction of emissions equal to 55% by 2030 with respect to the levels of 1990, eliminating them completely by 2050. A plan accompanied by investments estimated at over 3500 billion euros in the period 2021-2030. Design plays a leading role in this scenario. From the redesign of business models for efficient use of resources, to that of products which have to become more durable, easy to repair, ready for reconditioning and reuse. From increasingly interconnected and symbiotic industrial systems to the development of platforms to facilitate collaboration between users and clients, institutions and companies, permitting materials and products to return to circuits of industrial processing, transformed in other guises or channeled back into the production cycle. 

Ursula von der Leyen at the presentation of the Green Deal to the European Commission in December 2020Ursula von der Leyen at the presentation of the Green Deal to the European Commission in December 2020

II A new Bauhaus: the sustainability
challenge is cultural

The future begins with design. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced the intention of creating a new Bauhaus as an integral part of the European Green Deal, a place in which to develop innovations and technologies capable of coping with the climate crisis. “I want the resources of Next Generation EU to generate a wave of European renewal,” Von der Leyen says, “making our Union a leader in the circular economy. But this is not only an environmental or economic project: it has to be a new cultural project for Europe.” A creative interdisciplinary initiative that provides a space of discussion in order to design future ways of living, located at a crossroads between art, culture, social inclusion, science and technology. A signal to widen the field of design education beyond the product-industry dichotomy, towards the creation of a generation of designers capable of meeting the challenge of making our society more sustainable, equitable and competitive. 

The entrance to the Bauhaus at Dessau, the famous German design school built in 1925, based on a project by Walter GropiusThe entrance to the Bauhaus at Dessau, the famous German design school built in 1925, based on a project by Walter Gropius

III Strategic levers: circularity and design

Italy is the country with the largest number of design firms in Europe. Their numbers surpass 30,000, with an added value of over 3 billion euros. This system represents an infrastructure for the national production system: as demonstrated by a survey conducted by Unioncamere and Fondazione Symbola of manufacturing companies with at least five employees, businesses that invest in design by inserting creative professionals in their teams or by subcontracting design services are more likely to report positive performance.

The value chain of design, when it is also sustainable and circular, is more resilient in the face of crises and emergencies, as indicated by Fondazione Symbola; taking stock of environmental issues becomes an indispensable factor for the planning of new and lasting growth. This is particularly true of the home furnishings value chain. It will be important to be able to respond effectively to the demand for new solutions that combine design, sustainability and technology, updating domestic spaces to adapt to new multifunctional needs – from smart working to remote education – and to also bring value to private outdoor zones. Companies are already doing this, demonstrating a mature approach to sustainability and design based on research and innovation in the area of materials (certifications, recycling, recyclability), but also the areas of production processes (more efficient and sustainable, producing less waste or recycling scrap in industrial activities), durability and logistics.

© Marina DenisovaThe structure of the Kata seating, in solid wood © Marina Desinova

IV Innovation and sustainability
are now inseparable

For a design company, talking about innovation means adding a variable that augments complexity in the development phase; because besides making original, competitive products conserving a suitable level of investment, good design and adaptation to functional needs, it is now necessary to make products that have reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle.

There is a kind of sustainability that is linked to production, involving reduction of energy consumption or use of renewable sources, as well as the elimination of furnishings that can be damaging for the health of the people who make them, buy them and use them. Water-based coatings and solvent-free treatments are now widespread, such as powder-coating procedures for wood. These choices also have an impact on the quantity of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere. Then there is also ethical sustainability, gauged in terms of the protection of people, and of the territories in which production takes place. These balances are also addressed at a design level, marking the beginning of a path that assesses all the repercussions of production, while making products easier to disassemble and hence to recycle at the end of their lifetime. The strategic selection of raw materials permits their channeling into a suitable, efficient chain of reuse after obsolescence.

Disassembly instructions for Kata seating, provided for customers along with the product profileDisassembly instructions for Kata seating, provided for customers along with the product profile

V Kata: a dress rehearsal for circularity

Assembly instructions now come with others for disassembly, showing how to separate materials and dispose of them. The results of this virtuous initiative remain, in part, to be seen: the collecting stations, in Italy and abroad, still have far from uniform rules for the grouping of the same materials. The recycling chain, however, is already equipped with technologies for the separation of aggregates, and is therefore ready to put aware design measures into practice.

Kata, a new seating collection produced by Arper, designed by Altherr Désile Park, offers the usual owner’s manual for products – in six languages – together with instructions for disassembly, on view at the web pages set aside for individual products.

Environmental impact can be measured by analyzing the entire life cycle of objects and furnishings, so alongside easy disposal work must be done on durability and readiness for repair, shifting from an idea of client as consumer to a more farsighted notion of client as user. The latter is a customer who makes good use of and cares for the purchased product; at the end of its life cycle, the user can choose between reconditioning or sale on the market for used items. Therefore the economic model is changing, and this will lead to rethinking of value chains and models of distribution, with the invention of new lines of business where products and services are increasingly intertwined.

© Ricard LopezOne of the images of the advertising campaign of Kata, regarding reuse of materials and elimination of scrap © Ricard Lopez

VI Regenerated textiles: a new décor deal

Textiles are among the materials most often utilized in the world of furnishings, especially in upholstered pieces. In recent years this production sector has gone through a major transformation; many decorative items have been transformed into technical products, with levels of performance, waterproofing and treatments that make them durable and easy to care for. The focus on textile innovation brings us back to Kata, where the yarn of the structure of the back and seat – in a 3D weave – is made with post-consumer polyester, transformed into light, long-lasting fibers. One kilo of yarn can be made from about one kilo of refuse, the equivalent of 48 small plastic bottles. This translates into reduction of plastic at waste disposal sites and in the environment, and energy savings with respect to the production of virgin polyester. Furthermore, this productive choice feeds the recycling system, providing further commercial applications for recycled products.

In technological terms, the fabric adapts to the body of the seating – made in solid wood from FSC certified forests – in an optimal way, reducing waste of the material to a minimum. Steel, the third material involved in the new seating line, can also be disassembled and easily channeled into processes of reutilization.

The environmental excellence of this new seating line is also visible in the packaging, composed of a recyclable plastic bag and a cardboard wrapper made without glue.

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