By Adele (featured in HMKM Eye #2 - Selling Sustainability)
It's a Material World
Choosing the right material is suddenly a very important decision. As Adele Orcajada DiGiacomo explains, consumers and professionals are making sustainability a high priority.
Materials are a vitally important part of everything we make. They shape the way we interact with our environment.They reflect the evolution of our identities and our societies. The human race has even used material types to classify its own history – the bronze age, the iron age, and
so on. But now, more than ever, the relevance of materials is being fully understood. In the face of urgent issues such as diminishing resources, growing landfills, carbon-filled air and plastic-polluted water, it is very clear that materials, and the makers behind them, will be key players in our race to save the planet.
As a materials specialist, I’ve seen a noticeable change in awareness of the impact materials have on our environment, health and well-being. Consumers are far more literate and interested in material innovation than ever before. They’re asking questions. They’re curious. Not only about the products they consume, but the materials that construct where they spend most of their time: homes, offices and retail spaces.
Consumers want to do their part in saving the planet which, of course, affects the way they shop. So they’re demanding that retailers lead with
ideas, systems and services to ensure we’re all working together in our aim for a sustainable planet.
At MaterialDriven, we’ve seen a rise in enquiries across all industries – architectural studios, packaging designers, brands, property developers and even directly from consumers who want support in choosing better materials.
Sustainability: The three hottest topics right now
I’ve identified 3 key points that are front of mind for retailers right now: what they want, what today’s sustainability trends are and the financial viability of using sustainable materials.
No Guilt: Retailers want to help consumers feel like they’re having less of a negative impact on the planet. They rely on brands to support them with sustainable packaging (via biodegradable alternatives such as bioplastics, or natural materials such as heatpressed leaves), clean materials and transparency on what goes in every product or material.
Compelling Narratives: Grown materials, from mycelium (branched, tubular filaments of fungus), or in some cases algae, might not initially fit the consumer’s (or the retailer’s) idea of glamour or luxury. But by engaging a client with an understanding of the origin of the material, explaining what problem it solves and connecting them to the exciting story that explains this new material, the new aesthetic becomes innovative, cutting edge and appealing.
Disposable Materials: Retailers need to keep their shops and displays fresh and innovative. This means they require disposable materials that can serve temporary needs, look good, aren’t expensive and don’t harm the environment. These materials must have shorter life cycles, be easy to dispose of, while being robust and be aesthetically pleasing.
Trends: spotting today’s most innovative and sustainable
Healthy Materials: There is an increased interest in materials that support our well-being, are free from toxins, can purify the air and soothe the senses, while causing no damage to the environment during their manufacture or lifetime. These can range from graphene-based paints to wall coverings made with leaves, to seaweed-based fabrics that neutralize toxins in the air.
Waste-based Materials: Waste from multiple sources (the more challenging the better – human hair, urine, blood!) have increasingly been transformed into new surface materials and lighting.
Social Responsibility: The linear manufacturing model (make-use-discard) is no longer acceptable and brands must play an active role in encouraging and educating consumers in circularity, such as offering recycling programs, or repair kits and workshops.
Biomaterials: Materials that are natural, grown, bio-fabricated or biophilic are becoming more and more valuable, especially when it comes to the consumer desire for biodegradability at the end of a product’s life.
Vegan Alternatives: It was only a matter of time before Veganism permeated to the design industry. Retailers have become attuned to consumers who seek ethical alternatives to leather. Fortunately, an incredible range of alternatives are in the market now, biobased and biodegradable, but just as durable and beautiful. For example, beLEAF™ (made with leaves from the Brazilian Amazon), as well as having zero impact on the environment, also eliminates the carbon footprint of its production.
Bioplastics: In our quest to remove all petroleum-based plastic from our planet, material suppliers across several industries are coming up with a whole range of plastics that are biodegradable and industrially compostable. Enter bioplastics: plastic-like materials produced from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, recycled food waste and more. Design studio, Crafting Plastics, have developed a material called Nuatan®, designed to be home compostable in a matter of weeks – a far cry from the manmade plastic that, on average, takes up to 1000 years to disappear.
Small, cost-effective changes that any retailer can make
When we talk about material innovation within sustainability, many products seem financially risky and far from ready for commercial settings. However, that isn’t a true picture.
Avoiding Adhesives and Sealants: Adhesives are high in toxic chemicals, but mechanical joinery makes it easier to disassemble items at the end of their usage to be reused or recycled. For example, Niaga has developed a reversible adhesive so that materials can be reused easily.
Detoxification: Reducing the use of toxic substances throughout a product’s life cycle by development and use of safer chemical and design substitutes. This means avoiding all harmful or hazardous ‘‘Red List’’ chemicals in interior products.
Transparency: Retailers can request data about energy, carbon, sourcing and ingredients. Once that information is available, manufacturers should be pushed or persuaded to use more natural ingredients that perform as well as existing products.
Dematerialization: The aim is to reduce the amount of materials used or discarded in a product or process. Strategies for dematerialization include recycling or reusing waste, using less material, increasing product life, selecting materials that can be recycled or composted and designing for repair, reuse, upgrade and adaptation.
To read more of our thoughts on Sustainability, check out HMKM Eye #2 - Selling Sustainability: https://rebrand.ly/HMKM_WeLove1