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The Sustainable CMF Index launch: key insights


the CMF team at seymourpowell

Collaboration is key when it comes to tackling sustainability challenges. The cross-fertilisation of expertise and ideas broadens knowledge and facilitates a more productive creative space. As such, it was important that the launch of our Sustainable CMF Index took place in person: enabling genuine and intimate conversations, leading to innovation streams and potential sustainability-focused partnerships.

The Index navigation system spotlights four of our key leverage points to tackle sustainable CMF design: utilising waste, lowering carbon, improving systems and turning products into socially-positive endeavours. It allows for the curation of small material showcases and offers a sneak peek into the inner workings of the framework.

These four interrelated approaches are not all-encompassing, but instead provide multiple entry points to identify the conditions and potential priorities for sustainable change.

Here are few key insights from the discussion held on the night:

The Sustainable CMF Index - 01  Low CARBON
Low Carbon

When examining lower-carbon materials, we look at the overall material handling, from extraction and transportation to processing and use. The aim is to identify materials with low-embodied carbon at their core, which genuinely reduce the emissions of our products and services (not merely offsetting them). Discussion at the event demonstrated the importance of mapping the entire system around materials, rather than facts in isolation. A material which appears low carbon for one product or industry isn’t necessarily low carbon for another. Kvadrat re-wool is a good example. Wool is a notoriously good fibre choice with numerous benefits: it is 100% natural, renewable, biodegradable and recyclable. It also has thermo-regulating, easy-to-care-for and long-lasting properties. Wool, however, tends to be heavier than fibres which are artificial and so for some industries (like aviation or automotive) the weight of a material will have a direct effect on the carbon impact of the overall experience.  

The Sustainable CMF Index - 02 IMPROVED SYSTEMS
Improved Systems

To achieve theirenvironmental goals, brands need to leverage design systemically. The currentpolluting and extractive economy is the result of a system based on thetake-make-waste linear model. The truth is, you can’t design a trulysustainable solution within an unsustainable system. The real goal should be todesign the most sustainable solution within the current system while simultaneouslyworking to improve that system. This requires a full understanding of thesystem: identifying all the different elements which constitute that system, aswell as their interconnections and interdependencies, zooming in and out of theproblem to connect the dots and see the bigger picture. A concern was raised bythe audience around the feasibility of products being constructed for both easydisassembly and effective tracing and recycling of their parts into recyclingloops. Soluboard (an alternative to PCB circuit boards) is aninteresting solution looking to tackle such concerns. Its natural fibre decomposesin hot water, separating electronic components from bio-based fibres, enablingeasy disassembly, recycling or composting of each component.

The Sustainable CMF Index - 03 SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE
Socially Responsible

Some businesses start their sustainability journey by implementing socially positive practices such as fair employee welfare, fairtrade sourcing and community engagement.

Applying social responsibility to physical products can be more difficult due to highly-complex supply chains, increased raw material and processing costs and a reliance on conflict materials such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold.

We loved some of the initiatives which were shared around that table, such as brands partnering with a supplier to develop a fully-bespoke material solution which embraces their heritage, locality or technology, whilst empowering people and/or makers along the way. This not only demonstrates that materiality has the power to improve people’s lives, but that it can also help build brand awareness when used as a marketing and communication tool. There is no better example than i-Did felt to illustrate this point. Check out the card for full details below.

The Sustainable CMF Index - 04 Utilising Waste
Utilising Waste

Our final showcase looked at materials developed from waste streams. Underlying preconceptions often assign wrong labels to recycled materials: there won’t be enough volume, it will come at higher cost, there might be inconsistencies in the material, the performance characteristics won’t be comparable to virgin equivalent etc.

However, some of the material technologies featured in the Index prove those preconceptions wrong. Look at Hydro, for example. Hydro’s product range offers a fully recycled aluminium, made with a minimum of 75% recycled post-consumer aluminium scrap. This makeup is used on the enclosures of most MacBook Pro’s today. In fact, Apple’s bespoke material is made from 100% recycled content! Thanks to considerable investment and advancements in material science, materials can be engineered to better suit performance criteria, required volumes and cost targets.

MARGINAL GAINS - 05 Perpetual improvement
Perpetual improvement

It’s an ongoing mission for us to keep our website optimised and operating in a way that is as environmentally considerate as possible. The best way to do this is to respond to how people are interacting with the site: where they are visiting and where they are not. This enables us to optimise the user-flow and refine the content, so that visitors can easily locate what they need.  

We’ll be updating you on our progress over the coming months on The LAB, with more practical examples of the marginal gains we make to continually improve the sustainability of our website.

This piece was brought to you by the CMF Team at Seymourpowell.