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Desperately seeking sustainability

24 July 2019

Savannah Vize – Graphic Designer

In last year’s hottest month, I found myself condemned to a lifestyle of avoiding ice lollies, backing away from frappuccinos and resisting the siren call of a crisp, cold Coca-Cola. The onslaught of sweltering hot weather – whilst a cause for environmental concern in itself – was only made more uncomfortable by my pursuit of a Plastic Free July, a global movement that encourages millions of people to be part of the solution to plastic pollution. 

As I reflect on the experience one year later, the month was not easy. In fact, it was near impossible and I’m not ashamed to say that I fell short on a handful of occasions. Unlike giving up chocolate or crisps for Lent, there’s no solace in being able to go on a guilt-free binge at the end of your detox when it comes to plastic. Instead, buying a bottled drink or a shiny-wrapped snack is suddenly more difficult and guilt-inducing after having avoided it for so long… and yet, today I find myself cooling off from the heat of this year’s July with a delicious Magnum, wrapped in (you guessed it) plastic. 

My 31-day exclusion from drinking studio coffee or having iced drinks (we have no freezer at m:g HQ, so ice is always plastic-bound) did, however, catalyse a conversation about changing our company-wide habits. With manageable goals, we shifted to an eco-friendly coffee and tea regime, recycled printer paper, reduced the frequency of our Amazon prime orders and promised to regularly revisit and update our environmental policy.

This year we were approached by environmental charity Hubbub to create a pair of pop-up structures to encourage people across Suffolk and Norfolk to reduce their food waste. The brief required a sustainable and conscious approach to our material use – providing the push we perhaps needed to make good that last substantial promise. 

Navigating sustainable certifications of everything from plywood to paint and print was (and remains) a scary prospect. Correct me if I’m wrong, but we found no digestible handbook with an architect and designers’ A-Z of eco-materials. Generally speaking, sustainable alternatives remain hard to find out about, harder to understand and even harder to source. But while non-toxic natural paints and FSC plywood feel few and far between amongst a plethora of non-renewable options, we soon had a plan for two eco-friendly pop-up banana trees, sprouting equally eco banana flyers. 

Our Banana Drama structures were made using bamboo plywood (a much faster renewing alternative to regular ply), put together with reusable fixings (no glue here) and finished with clay-based paint from Earthborn and a lick of non-toxic lacquer. The banana recipe cards which adorned their leaves were printed on recycled, uncoated paper stock using 100% vegetable-based inks by Better Printing – making them totally biodegradable too.

There’s still some way to go on educating ourselves on the pros and cons of these materials – we didn’t, for example, delve too deeply into the air miles on each product – but being conscious of our choices is half the struggle. We recognise the responsibility that comes with putting things into the built environment – adding ourselves into the dialogue of sustainable design is a big step in the right direction and we’re dedicated to sticking to that trajectory with some challenges for the future.

Simple studio swaps we’ve made over the past year: 

  • Minimal milk: swap out plastic with an easy change to milk delivered in reusable glass bottles (regular deliveries also mean no more stealing next door’s milk when everyone forgets to buy some on their way in). Milk & More offer delivery services all over the UK. 
  • Conscious coffee: we get carbon-neutral deliveries, biodegradable packaging and sustainably sourced coffee from Yallah Coffee – and it also just happens to be delicious.
  • Sustainable snacking: if you’re on the lookout for an eco-friendly way of curbing hunger pangs, then Oddbox delivers boxes of rescued fruit to your workplace.

Our challenges before July 2020:

  • Develop our knowledge of sustainable materials and collate a list of preferred eco-friendly materials and suppliers.
  • Work out strategies for our materials’ end-of-life (and where end-of-life means landfill, look for alternatives).
  • Re-use and recycle project materials with places like The Remakery.
  • Try to locally source materials where possible.

Got any eco-tips or useful resources to share? Tell us on Twitter.