Nothing is random in this urban world we live in; almost everything is there through design of one form or another. Yet we often overlook this in our everyday lives. From the furniture that surrounds us to the clothes we put on and the experiences we go through – almost everything exists by design.
We perform the act of consumption day after day, removed from the design and production processes. Efficiency renders these stages invisible and we enjoy the utility and beauty of the end products with rarely an extra thought beyond the labels. These processes have more impact that we can imagine, as they shape the way we perceive what we use and how we use them.
As sustainability, inclusiveness and circularity grow in prominence, we look into what constitutes “conscious consumption” and why we should care. In this 3-part series, we pick the brains (and hearts) behind six local design projects under this year’s Good Design Research initiative by the DesignSingapore Council.
With circularity being the latest buzzword, how do we cut through the buzz and make good the circular movement? In the third and final chapter of the “Conscious Consumption” series on Singapore design, we speak to the designers behind two Singaporean design projects about their take on circularity and examine how “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” could be a viable answer.
Part 3: Waste not. Waste, Not.
Thousands of logs are currently sitting in sawmills in Singapore, waiting to be turned into mulch or pallet wood. Over the next 13 years, another estimated 13,000 felled trees will join this pile. Singaporean bespoke woodworking studio Roger&Sons, hopes to give these forgotten logs a second life with the Local Tree Project they started in 2019.
“Due to the grains and the way these logs are grown, the unpredictability deters woodworkers from working with them,” shares Morgan Yeo, Director and co-founder of Roger&Sons. “Local wood comes from all parts of Singapore. That means that these logs were not grown from a lumber plantation and there’s little management of how the trees grow. The conditions of these trees often vary, thus giving us a variation of unpredictability at every step of the process.”
Despite the challenges in making local wood viable for making furniture and other thoughtfully designed objects, Morgan and his two brothers Lincoln and Ryan, believe that they can turn these trees that have been felled for urban development, into durable furniture and objects that will stand the test of time.
The trio rebranded the furniture company started by their late father Roger Yeo in 2014, and have since made sustainability a core value of the company. This year, under the Good Design Research initiative by the DesignSingapore Council, they are looking into the research and development of stabilising local wood for use as part of their Local Tree Project. The team wants to share the knowledge and experience gained to fellow woodworkers in Singapore and the region to allow for greater breakthroughs in the industry.
Eventually, they aim to reduce the carbon footprint of the business by working with local resources instead of imported wood. “Each local tree that we work with has a story to tell and we would like to provide our clients with the opportunity to be part of the narrative. During the design process, we reduce material wastage by nesting our products wherever possible, making the right calls on the dimensions of raw materials we should purchase, and deciding the methods of preparing these materials, such as how we cut the wood.”
This move also brings them closer to achieving full circularity – “Being circular means constantly improving our products, services and developing better circular processes within our operations. We want to extend a product’s lifespan so they wouldn’t be thrown away so easily. In the long term, we would also like to provide opportunities to teach people basic woodworking skills they can use on their own to do simple repairs on their furniture and items.”
As makers, they also have to contend with by-products generated from the manufacturing process. Instead of adding them to the waste pile, the team at Roger&Sons is looking for more ways to repurpose by-products such as sawdust and shavings, and salvage tree parts, like tree bark for example, that are normally thrown away.
When companies start being transparent and genuine on their steps towards sustainability, that is when it would encourage more people to believe in the goal towards a more sustainable Earth.
At Offcut Factory, designers and co-founders Esli Ee and Edmund Zhang are also working towards reducing the material waste generated by the manufacturing industry. They want to build a model and community where factories and businesses can find alternative solutions to material waste management.
Esli and Edmund’s partnership began with the desire to make home and lifestyle objects in Singapore. They visited local factories where they came across piles and piles of discarded offcuts that are still usable, and learnt that manufacturers choose disposal for convenience and a lack of better options. So, they decided to come up with a more sustainable alternative that reduces waste and in turn, carbon emissions.
They began their research by going door-to-door in industrial areas such as Ubi and Sungei Kadut. Making this transition is not easy for many of these businesses as their waste management practices have been around for ages. Esli recounts that “not all factories were open to our narrative but these conversations were insightful and eye-opening nonetheless… we deep dive into what they do, how they do and why they do. We make it a point to speak to not just the founders of the factories but also from the staff, to have a deeper understanding behind the operations.”
These conversations proved invaluable in developing Offcut Factory’s methodology and framework. They work with factories to turn discarded offcuts into quality, usable materials and make them accessible to potential buyers. This opened new revenue streams for the factories and reduced waste at the same time.
As designers that first started out with designing tangible objects, Esli and Edmund were able to understand their collaborators and their working styles, and help them achieve meaningful outcomes. They worked with local craftsmen and technicians to transform offcuts into unique products. In the process of co-designing, they were able to create functional lifestyle pieces unique to each factory’s manufacturing expertise and know-how.
“…like how we managed to turn waste into source material sales and designed collections,” shares Esli, “we appreciate seeing our collaborators adopting the approach and feedback that initiatives are also taken on the ground to thoughtfully set the ‘waste’ aside for future developments.”
The project is still a long way from their ultimate goal to create a greener ecosystem in the manufacturing industry. They hope to expand the framework by encouraging companies to adopt more eco-friendly means of storage and transportation.
We hope this project can impact multiple industries and businesses beyond those that we have already identified to create a more sustainable environment and close the loop together.
Esli Ee, Co-founder of Offcut Factory
Images courtesy of respective brands, artwork by Curatedition. All rights reserved.