Boardroom 2030

Boardroom 2030? Watch this space

We invited journalist, author, podcaster and founder and director of Making Design Circular, Katie Treggiden, to join us for Cornwall Boardroom 2030 at the Eden Project in 2022. Here she reflects on her experience and the ripple effects it has had for her since.

Close your eyes and imagine a boardroom. What is the décor like? What sort of table is in the centre of the room? What does it have on it? What are the chairs like? What is hung on the walls?

Now imagine the board meeting is in full swing. Who is sitting at the head of the table, leading the meeting? Who is speaking? Who else is sitting around the table?

Now, let me make some guesses about what you might have imagined.

A glass or oak-panelled room? A big impressive table, with notebooks, laptops and coffee cups? Black office chairs or maybe something more akin to a dining chair. Maybe a plate of biscuits, sandwiches or croissants in the middle? And on the walls, a big screen and maybe some artworks?

As for the people in the room: lots of tall*, white, middle-aged men in suits? Maybe a couple of smartly dressed women?

Did you see any people of colour? Any elderly or younger people – any children? Did you see people with disabilities or neurodiversity? Members of the LGBTQIA+ community – or members of the local community? Did you see junior employees, customers or suppliers? Did you see designers or scientists? Anyone who went to state school – or art-school? Anyone in jeans, even? How about someone with blue hair, a tattoo or a facial piercing?! Did you see trees, rivers or birds – or at least any advocates for nature?

The question that poses is – does the homogenous collection of mostly tall, able-bodied, public-school-educated, neurotypical, cis-gendered, straight, white men that comprise most boards have what it takes to get us there?

Whoever is in the room, a board of directors is the group of people appointed to jointly supervise the activities of an organisation – and therefore are the people ultimately responsible for its impact on both people and planet.

The 2030 Agenda, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Goals – the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs – to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

The question that poses is – does the homogenous collection of mostly tall, able-bodied, public-school-educated, neurotypical, cis-gendered, straight, white men that comprise most boards have what it takes to get us there?

Or do we need more diversity, more perspectives, more worldviews, more lived experiences, more voices in the room? More advocates for the communities (both human and non-human) most affected by climate change?

This time last year, I was lucky enough to be invited by Leap to Cornwall Boardroom 2030 to see first-hand the difference that including more voices in the conversation can make to the quality of questions asked and decisions made.

We heard from Good Energy’s youth panel – an advisory board of young people that represent the concerns of the future. They meet formally and are also involved in the ongoing conversations through an open-communications channel hosted on Slack.

We saw a mock board for the Eden Project that raised such good questions that Eden have asked them to come back for real conversations with their board.

The power of diversity to drive better conversations and therefore better decisions was palpable.

But not all companies are big enough to have a formal board of directors. I run an online course called The Seed, that empowers designers and makers to explore, find and define their unique contribution to environmentalism. Most of them are tiny companies often comprising just one or two people.

Undeterred, I took inspiration from Cornwall Boardroom 2030, and one of the exercises we undertook was to put together an imaginary board. People – alive or dead, known to them or famous – that they could call on informally or even just hypothetically. The results blew my mind.

Katie Treggiden photographed by Emma Oates

A British furniture-maker who works predominantly with wood, included an oak tree on his board, so that the needs of the forest would be represented. He now goes and meets with that tree weekly.

A Swedish maker who upcycles waste plastic in her work, invited the ocean to join her board.

A Belgian-Congolese fashion designer included an empty chair. Despite having put together the most diverse group of people she could think of, she wanted to make space for potential blind spots, and conscious of the phrase ‘if there isn’t room for you at the table, bring your own chair,’ she wanted to make sure no-one would ever have to.

The Seed forms part of Making Design Circular – the membership community and online learning platform for designers, makers, craftspeople and artists, who I encourage to “rewild their creative practices, so that they, their businesses and their planets can thrive.”

I am currently beginning the process of becoming a B Corp. The first section in the BIA (the B Corp Impact Assessment) is about governance and one of the questions asks whether you have an advisory board. Having experienced these incredible examples of the impact that bringing more voices into the conversation can have, my answer is ‘not yet, but watch this space.’

I have in front of me a list of 12 people I plan to invite to join the Making Design Circular advisory board. They include a 13-year-old girl who lives in Sweden and an 80-year-old retired dentist; advocates for zero-waste, repair and regeneration to represent the circular economy; members of my local community; a seaweed scientist; and that fashion designer and her empty chair.

Now does that collection of people have what it takes to help steward Making Design Circular towards the 2030 that the UN’s SDGs are aiming for? I don’t know, but they’ve got a damn sight more chance than I have of doing on my own.

– Katie

 

 *A study of Fortune 500 companies showed that (in America), something as arbitrary as height can be the key to the C-suite: 4% of adult men in the general US population are 6’2” or taller, but 30% in the CEO sample reached those heights. Source: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/rama-gheerawo-design-leadership/

 

To access the online article click here

The Restart Project – Restart Radio

The Restart Project helps people learn how to repair their broken electronics, and rethink how they consume them in the first place.

Katie Treggiden featured as a guest in episode 086 of the Restart Radio podcast talking about why repairers need hope, not guilt!

This month we talked to author and communicator, Katie Treggiden about her recent book entitled, Broken: Mending & Repair in a Throwaway World. Katie has put decades of thought into helping creatives and makers become more sustainable but also forgive themselves when they can’t be.

Back to her roots

Having grown up surrounded by nature in Cornwall, Katie tells us about her surprising origin story. She spent over a decade working in advertising before pivoting towards her life-long love of writing. With this, she also folded in a new interest – purpose-driven craft and design. Since then, she has explored what this actually means through writing dissertations, books, and hosting a podcast on the topic. With all this experience under her belt, she decided that she wanted to help makers develop their working practices to fit the circular future that we need to build.

How craftspeople are using repair

Katie has previously written about waste and reuse, and her new book Broken puts the focus on repair. She shares some standout case studies from the book of artists and craftspeople who are incorporating repair into their work. These include Celia Pym, Bridget Harvey, Ekta Kaul – all artists who explore repair in entirely different ways.

Katie notes her interest in the different ways repair can be used for example, as a tool to restore practical value, or to add artistic value, or even for self-care. We talk about where repair and hacking fits into the larger culture of craft, and more specifically the ‘craft of use’. She notes how much more difficult electronic repair often is compared to more traditional craft and making. This is especially true now that manufacturers make an effort to conceal the craftsmanship that goes into making (and therefore taking apart and repairing) our devices.

Letting go of guilt in order to move forward

While individual action is of course important, system change is essential for the scale of the problem we are dealing with. When running her courses for creatives, Katie really focuses on this point as key to forward movement. Instead of being weighed down by the personal guilt of climate breakdown, makers need to be led by curiosity and experimentation instead of sustainability perfectionism. We all have a part to play in helping the planet, but it is not our responsibility alone.

“I think really until companies are responsible for the things they sell for their whole lifetime, repair is not going to be the norm.”

Additionally, she stresses the need to be compassionate. There are so many reasons why people may not repair. These include social stigma, a lack of time or resources, or that their stuff is simply not designed to be repaired. Knocking down these barriers is not something anyone can do on their own, rather, we need collective action to change the system.

Practising ‘defiant hope’

It’s difficult to stay optimistic about our power to enact change but Katie believes hope is one of the most important tools we have. There isn’t a one size fits all solution to being sustainable, but what can join us all together in our efforts is our common goal.

“One of the most important parts of my job is staying hopeful and and helping to keep other people hopeful.”

Links:

To listen to the episode on Spotify click here.

Webinar: 5-stage path to sustainability, The Design Trust

Katie Treggiden was asked by The Design Trust to join as a guest speaker for The Business Club, with their topic focussing on creating more sustainable businesses – but not in just a ‘yeah, I do my recycling’ way – but really walking the talk when it comes to eco values – a session for giving really practical tips helping businesses move forwards with this properly and long term.

During this session, Katie shared her 5-stage Path to Sustainability, which helps makers to identify which stage of their journey they are at (Acord, Seedling, Sapling, Tree or Forest) and then provides actionable steps to help them move forward from wherever they are towards becoming a fully regenerative business.

She also shared the Making Design Circular framework which explores how they might choose to be rather than what they might choose to do in order to rewild their creative practice so it enables them, their business and the planet to thrive. This includes practices such as letting go of perfectionism and the idea that there is one “right” way to do sustainability and instead embracing imperfect progress towards a values-aligned approach.

We need a genuine restart that asks difficult questions about the role of Salone (Dezeen)

Milan design week is an opportunity to showcase ingenious responses to climate change but the Salone del Mobile fair it relies on is still inherently unsustainable, writes Katie Treggiden.

Salone del Mobile is back in its usual April slot and Milan design week 2023 is being touted as a new beginning after the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Having consulted with 2,300 interviewees and working groups on the fair’s role post-covid, Salone is promising “a new trade-fair experience, an impactful cultural program, [and] an event that focuses on sustainability”.

Stands will be laid over the lower floor of the Rho Fiera Milano fairgrounds only, rather than on both as in previous years, and the lighting show Euroluce will get a new “ring-shaped” layout. There is an attempt to fold the cultural heart of Milan design week into the fair itself with exhibitions, talks, workshops and installations. And finally, there is a renewed commitment to sustainability.

The first two seem inward-looking at best, but after the pandemic all but shut down the industry, a fresh start with sustainability at its heart feels appropriate. That part of the promise comes in the form of a new Sustainability Policy and Green Guidelines, membership of the UN Global Compact, and pending ISO 20121 certification.

The Green Guidelines ask exhibitors to be “team players” in the fair’s attempts to become more eco-friendly, promoting circularity and reuse in installation, low-impact materials, safety and access for all, a traceable and responsible supply chain, and clear communication of their efforts. If there are any consequences to not being a “team player”, these are not specified.

The phrases “cutting down”,”prioritising” and “opting for” are repeated throughout the document, which rather loosely incentivises action with the notion that “sustainability represents a new opportunity for growth”.

But we know that reducing impact while pursuing growth is rarely an effective strategy in environmentalism. To really address climate change, we need a genuine moment of restart – one that asks difficult questions about the role of Salone instead of seeking ways to perpetuate business as usual. It is no longer enough to do less harm, we must actively find ways to regenerate natural systems and build a path towards global equity.

This year’s edition of Salone del Mobile will draw 1,962 exhibitors from all over the world with countless product, furniture and stand components that cost a lot of carbon to move, let alone make. Typically, the fair attracts more than 370,000 specialist visitors from more than 188 countries, 5,000 journalists, and 27,500 members of the public. That’s a lot of air miles.

And yet, Milan design week is also the world’s largest showcase of the types of design innovation that the planet does need. At Salone Satellite last year, Disharee Mathur demonstrated her Passive Cooling Tiles, which are made from waste glass and sanitaryware and absorb ambient moisture to prevent buildings from overheating – a climate-positive solution to fight the effects of global warming.

At Milan flagship show Alcova, Estuary of Riptide and Reunion by Forêt Atelier revealed the hidden flora in the waters of the Oosterschelde in the Netherlands and explored their potential for capturing carbon, reducing the methane emissions from cattle, and providing biodiverse habitats.

And Studio Swine’s waste-free exhibition for the American Hardwood Export Council at the triennale showcased the potential for renewable hardwoods, called for balance in the way we use natural materials and underlined the need to “address the greatest social and economic issue of our time: climate change”.

My hopes this year for Milan design week are, as always, that what I see will fill me with optimism. New ideas from bright, young designers more concerned with solving the world’s problems than designing the next bestseller; material innovations that might finally free us from the linear take-make-waste model; and brands that are not just doing less harm but genuinely working for the benefit of people and planet.

Increasingly, however, my greatest fear is that none of what’s good about Milan can exist without the very problems it is trying to solve. The temples to consumerism filled with the same products in new colourways that consign their perfectly good predecessors to landfill, the hundreds of thousands of visitors flying in for just a few days, the rife capitalism that makes even the most culturally important events possible.

I’m only one of 5,000 journalists, but will what I see in Milan – and any good that I can do a result – really offset my own contribution to the carbon footprint of this whole endeavour? I don’t have an easy answer.

Milan design week is the biggest showcase of design in the world, and if it’s not exploring creative solutions to the world’s biggest problems, then I’m not sure what it is doing. But as trendy as it has become to tell anyone who will listen that you “don’t bother with the fair anymore”, Salone is the reason all of this is here.

We can’t walk around the city, gelato in hand, and pretend that almost 2,000 international brands haven’t shipped or air-freighted their wares into the Rho Fiera Milano fairgrounds. And we can’t pretend that isn’t what makes this entire endeavour possible. Salone is the sun around which the rest of Milan design week orbits. And without the sun, there is no life.

As with so much of the climate debate, there are no perfect solutions. No amount of “cutting down” or “opting for” is going to fix this. “Better than before” is still pretty bad.

But for all the hyperbole undoubtedly attached to this so-called “restart”, and despite sidestepping existential questions that might enable meaningful change, I am still daring to be hopeful about Salone. I don’t believe it has got the balance right yet, but at least it has its eyes on the scales.

Katie Treggiden is an author, journalist, podcaster and keynote speaker championing a circular approach to design. She is the founder and director of Making Design Circular, a membership community for designer-makers who want to become more sustainable.

Milan design week 2023

Milan design week 2023 takes place from 17-23 April 2022. See our Milan design week 2023 guide on Dezeen Events Guide for information about the many other exhibitions, installations and talks taking place throughout the week.