Don't forget to take a good look at yourself and your practice before launching into sustainable changes

Article image

Who are you? What are you capable of? How do others see you? What are you really like as a person? When was the last time you looked hard at yourself?

Of course these questions also apply to companies and practices. Do you really know who you are?

Self-analysis is very important today, much more so than in previous years. If you’ve watched TV shows like Dragons Den or had people pitching to you, you’ll have been in the position of assessing the personality and capability of the candidates. You may have developed a “feel” for people, of what they might really be like day-to-day and not just when they’re in presentation mode.

When we started VIN + OMI in 2000 our business model and the way we approached projects was molded by our personalities. We hadn’t realized it at the time but we were very lucky to have natural curiosity and flexibility built into our personalities. While this can have its downside, it also serves us well in 2022.

We developed our brand as an ideology, not a design business. We wanted a business that matched our personalities. Our curiosity and questioning meant we couldn’t enter a project without a thorough understanding of the materials we were working with. However, in 2000 it was virtually impossible to get fully transparent supply chain and origin information.

Stone seat in a design that is committed to sustainability.
Stone seating: The production was offset with a large-scale carbon offset program. VIN + OMI. Photo courtesy VIN + OMI

One of the first materials we worked with was latex and in particular, latex sheeting. None of the suppliers seemed to have a clue where it really came from, what conditions the latex sap was harvested in, and how it was processed. Out of frustration we decided to investigate.

We visited the latex plantations of Malaysia and found appalling working conditions as well as poor rubber tree management and a high impact on the environment. We invested in a small plantation there and decided to rethink the way latex was produced. We produced, albeit initially at cost to time and pocket, a latex sheeting that was ethically and ecologically sound. We provided an educational program for the local village and our workers. At the same time, we developed an organic and sustainable plantation plan and had clear ideas of how we needed to offset our carbon footprint if we imported the latex.

We later went on to develop a large range of sustainable textiles and new processes that are still used in our design work. We didn’t know we were adopting “sustainability.” In 2000, we were just called “hippies.” But it seemed the right thing to do.

Of course this is extreme. But as people we are extreme, and this helped us—along with energy and persistence, which was needed at that time—to fully understand the origin of materials.

Sustainability in the textile sector.
VIN + OMI eco prints onto rPET textile made from recycled waste paint tubes from Daler-Rowney. Photo courtesy VIN + OMI 

Regulations are hitting architectural, design and construction businesses in an effort to save the planet. This is a good thing. This is the only thing. But it also poses a tremendous step change for some practices.

Don’t be daunted by the changes and don’t let negativity creep in. This is the time for you to approach projects looking at every angle from a sustainable point of view. You have to. There is no choice. From a marketing perspective you need to present yourself as an animal fully aware of sustainability, one with flexibility. You need to inspire clients and collaborators with your willingness to change and adapt, to explore and challenge.

Yes, you will get overwhelmed with the finances of going greener. Yes, you will get frustrated with many things this year and the next few. We know these are difficult times, this should not be a shock.

If you have the headspace, don’t just use off-the-shelf seemingly sustainable materials and processes. Think hard about what else you can bring to the table. Learn as much as you can about new sustainable materials that are being churned out daily. Think about every angle of your business and how you can change the way you are doing things to help the planet, then sing about it. Give your clients confidence that they are working with the right person. It’s vital they believe in you. Where you can, nudge your brain to think up new ways of being sustainable. We need new ideas.

Who you are as a person or as a practice matters more in 2022 than ever before. Bring traits like curiosity, passion, playfulness, experimentation, positivity, and many others into your blue-sky thinking.

Main image: Beetle Pavilion (in production) from recycled plastic and metal cans salvaged from Hyde Park, VIN + OMI.  Photo courtesy VIN + OMI

A film by VIN + OMI

Subscribe to our newsletter