Often put forward since the turn of the century, the notion of sustainable development is only beginning to be assimilated. In Europe, only Sweden with its furniture industry is an exception. As part of Paris Design Week, we met Charlotte van der Lancken and Jonas Bohlin, two Swedish designers who have made sustainable development their watchword.
You are two designers from different generations. Do these generations have the same outlook on sustainability?
Jonas Bohlin. When I was at the Konstfack art school in Stockholm, between 1976 and 1981, there were no discussions about the climate or the Earth. At least not in the design industry. It was more of a political question. I chose to take this into account in my work, that is, to think about materials and construction methods that have a minimal impact on the Earth. Basically, that meant, and still does, to make something that can live for 100 years, both in design and in materials.
Today, the subject is taken into account much more. This has happened for many reasons, but I believe one of them was the discussion between faculty and students: an exchange of knowledge between generations.
Charlotte von der Lancken. When I started in 2004, climate change was not as big a topic as it is today. Today, awareness is much more important but we continue to consume: three times more than in the 1970s. Professionals are now working to consume differently, to create differently, and designers have a role to play. I myself work with scientists at the RISE Institute. It is about replacing harmful materials such as plastics, materials of fossil origin with wood.
Now let’s talk about your design approach. How well does sustainability frame it?
CL Compared to my early days, I think about sustainability to a much greater extent. As a designer, you are part of a larger whole, also made up of the producer, the consumer and the whole economic sphere that surrounds him, but we have more of our say on the impact that an object can have on the planet. By our design and the material we decide to use, we have to think about the end of the product’s life, especially if we know that it will be used for a short time.
JB Design concerns the entire life of an object, from the idea of it until it no longer exists. Of course, you can’t imagine what will happen, but we, the designers, have a responsibility to think about the impact of the object on the Earth.
Is the object thought of in a larger ecosystem than its simple function? Its interaction with the environment, for example?
CL It all comes down to the type of material you use. The object you create should be detachable, and people should be able to recycle parts of it or even reuse some of it. But today, the system is not really designed for recycling, as companies have to sell many products to achieve the greatest possible margin. The economic system must be adapted to reality, even more so in Sweden: in terms of materials, the product is already there in our forest, and we must realize that we can use it a lot more than once. .
What is your process guided by? The search for new materials, recycling, traceability …
CL We have to be able to use the materials we have. In Sweden, 70% of the country is covered by forests and trees, a renewable source that consumes large amounts of CO2. Why import timber from other countries? We need to go back to our forests and use them better.
JB We have moved away from the forest, and as designers or architects we have to be careful to use it correctly, especially if it is a material to which we have free access. But sustainability, or ecology, is not just a question of objects and design. It is also a question of human beings. We have to take into account that the people who work in the factories, who make the objects that we have designed, must also have access to a good quality of life.
How attentive are industrialists to your commitment?
JB For my part, manufacturers must listen to me. When I make interiors, or designs for Swedish factories, I decide how to do it and what materials to use. If they don’t agree, especially on the cost, they turn to someone else. What I mean is that manufacturers have to listen to us, because we designers are the brains. If they don’t, they don’t get any product.
CL They listen to what we designers say to a large extent. At the end of the day, it’s always about the economy. Can we sell this for a certain price? Have a certain margin?
It is also a question of label: in Sweden, we are one of the strictest countries in terms of labels and certifications, for selling to schools, to public spaces… There are limits. As a designer, you are not completely free to decide everything, you have to adapt to the situation, and do the maximum.
Inside Swedish Design brings together leading companies and internationally renowned designers with the next generation of talent. What does the Inside Swedish Design initiative contribute to this quest for sustainable development?
JB Inside Swedish Design is for those who want to be greener and put sustainability above all else. By bringing together companies and designers, we give ourselves the opportunity to change faster and more effectively. We must not forget that there are a lot of designers, a lot of factories, a lot of producers, but there is still only one Earth.
CL It is a matter of collaboration. Swedish interior design promotes communication between companies. For example, it helps us at REIS to promote new biomaterials. When it comes to sustainability, the changes have to be significant. And for that, it must reach the greatest number of people.