Sustainability is on the agenda. Also for the fairs. As mentioned before each fair handles this differently. Some have the topic as a theme, some dont do anything and let the visitor decide themselves.
Also different parts of the design industry handles this differently. I would say that the textile industry handles the question much better than the furniture industry.
But one of the best and strongest driver on sustainability and design is the fair Ambiente. I say this openly. If you want to find new, good, interesting sustainable design – then Ambiente is your best option.
Ambiente calls itself the largest consumer goods fair in Europe and with 4 635 exhibitors this is enormous. The fair have addressed sustainability for a long long time, so the topic is not new. Among all the things the fair does, they have a jury monitored section they call Ethical Style. That means you as a brand can apply to be called sustainable but you will only be approved if you pass the jury. Out of 4 635 exhibitors only 317 manage to get listed as being fully sustainable according to the jury.
Noone else is doing this in the fair industry. This is an amazing example of how a fair can drive and push sustainability. Instead of standing there passive – they set the standards and make it easy for us as visitors to find the best and most sustainable products.
Each of the 317 exhibitors that pass the jury get a sign at the stand. Clear communication.
If I could wish for one thing, it would be to get an inspiring exhibition rather than a trend installation. Same size as a trend section but with selected and curated sustainable design. More to look at, and not just read in a booklet.
So, the fair is behaving nicely. Good. But not necessarily all brands. Everyone is realising that we need to address sustainability. It is a selling tool. Even a marketing tool. Walking at a fair like Ambiente, I would say that perhaps 60-70 % of all exhibitors are talking about sustainability. Hmmm.. Perhaps a high number… Lets say 40-50 %…
And it is difficult to penetrate all these messages. There is absolutely some greenwashing here. That is why Ethical Style is so important. The ones who have the sign are guaranteed to be sustainable. Others will be like this brand. An enormous sign indicating that they are working with eco friendly, sustainable products.
Of course I take this opportunity to talk to brands. So I walk in to the stand and ask “So you have a sign saying you are saving water – how?”. And it turns out they have one (!!) pillow as a prototype (!!!) that they might launch (!!!!) later. All the other pillows in the stand are normal meaning they are made of normal cotton, died in normal colours, transported in a normal way. Nothing sustainable at all. Nothing.
And this brand is obviously then NOT listed as one of the 317 brands in the Ethical Style. Here a fair Ambiente helps me.
As indicated, a lot of exhibitors talk about sustainability from their perspective. And that is super good. Maybe you didn’t apply to be in the Ethical Style, and that is fine. But beware. Sustainability is a marketing tool now. Ask questions.
Exhibitors might seduce you in fancy installations about sustainability. And that is fine. But as questions.
What does circular economy mean to a brand like Rig-Tig.
Is it the packaging that is FSC certified or the actual products?
What does it mean when Guzzini talk about “circle” and “future inside”.
Or this Spanish company making pans that heat up twice as fast as an ordinary pan. How does that work? Ask questions. Ask questions.
So lets look at some trends in the sustainability chapter. One is, as indicated previously, origin. Just like food, we want stuff to have a good origin, being made out of love, and curated.
Like Finnish brand Gedigo Wild Leather. Sustainable production (also the tanning).
Or Lapuan Kunkarit who experiment with new materials together with Aalto university – byt always talk about their local weavers.
Origin, origin, origin. Here Portuguese ceramics by Vicara Design.
Origin, origin, origin. Regardless if it is made of sustainable materials we get the sensation we have control of the whole production process.
Also working with origin, but from a different angle. Call it heritage. The handle is made of FSC certified wood and the display screams “sustainable”.
But we will see a lot of new materials and material combinations. A lot. And which is better? I think they are all very interesting and we should absolutely talk more about this. Here bamboo.
I have mentioned FSC certification. We will absolutely see more of these certifications, and depending on materials you will have different ones. In textile you have GOTS. Here Magisso that made kitchen cloths under the brand Happy Sinks.
And of course proper recycling which obviously is a different strategy than making products out of new materials like sugarcane.
This Finnish brand makes bags our of old VHS tapes.
Cutlery made of recycled materials. And of course interesting to talk about now then airplanes are banning plastics next year.
A fair like Ambiente also give you experimental design that might come to market in one way or another. Like this student project (I think from Eindhoven, the Netherlands) that make tableware out of blood. If you have to eat meat – take care of everything, not just the fillet.
Or this project where they used the same paper pulp (or paper foam) as in egg cartons. Recycled paper can become new Christmas ornaments.
So as a conclusion. The fair Ambiente is doing a lot for the industry with their curated section under Ethical Style. There is a danger that we will see more of greenwashing. Ask questions. What do they mean? Areas that are trending in the sustainability field are origin, new materials (sugarcane etc), established certifications (GOTS, FSC…) and recycled materials.