Are We Taking Sustainability Seriously at Clerkenwell Design Week?

With a British summer riding the longest period of drought in recent history and awareness of the broader consequences of marine pollution shaming a global audience, it’s worth asking: how are the ‘creatives’ responding? When we heard Clerkenwell Design Week 2018 announce that this year’s festival would focus around a theme of sustainability we were pleasantly surprised.

The festival, often noted as exhibiting some of the world’s finest and most cutting-edge design talent, invited 34,000 visitors to view the displays this year, and once again Morfus took our spot in St James Church’s crypt.

Here at Morfus we love sustainable innovation, but is this something that’s afforded enough attention at Clerkenwell Design Week? The jury’s still out. Nonetheless, we have picked out a few of our favourite designs created with an eco-friendly mind set from the festival.

Morfus UK furniture

Skipping Rocks Lab – Ooho

Skipping Rocks Lab by Ooho

This eye-catching product provides a convincing solution to one of the most prolific issues currently facing our environment: plastics. Forget about water bottles as you know them, these ingenious little water balloons, called Ooho, provide an environmentally-friendly alternative.

The casings are formed from 100% natural materials, specifically those found in seaweed plants which biodegrade within 4-6 weeks, should you decide not to eat them – that’s right, the balloons are also edible and completely harmless. Skipping Rocks Labs have used their expertise to tackle a world-wide issue here. We wish them every luck in the future and hope to see their products on UK shelves soon.

Loll Designs

Loll Designs

Originally conceived as a means of repurposing old skate ramps, Loll Designs build their unique outdoor furniture around key principles, namely responsibility and durability. Since its advent, Loll Designs has gone from strength to strength, adapting its product offering and turning its attention to plastics. To date they’ve upcycled 70 million milk jugs – an incredible achievement.

The products showcased at Clerkenwell Design Week 2018 were some of their most popular and we can see why. The item which really caught our attention was their futuristic iteration of the famous Adirondack chair produced over 100 years ago by Thomas Lee.

TDO Architecture

TDO Architecture

While not a practical solution to an environmental problem like the other products we’ve mentioned, we couldn’t ignore this striking piece from TDO Architecture. Their polystyrene installation was a response to the 2018 festival’s ‘reform’ brief, intended to educate people about the ‘sustainable credentials of unlikely materials’.

TDO noted that polystyrene is often viewed as an environmentally-unfriendly material, when in fact it is ‘endlessly recyclable’. The geometric design’s impressive presence during the festival was matched only by its message and, crucially, was recycled and repurposed after the event, proving that fantastic design can be achieved at minimal cost to the environment.

The Collective

The Collective

On the wall behind The Collective’s display of interior furniture were a set of dark panels that seemed to grab the attention of everyone passing by. These are the agency’s EchoPanel Tiles. The acoustic tiles allow you to add a bit of personality to any interior wall and are made with 60% post-consumer recycled plastic.

While the idea of plastic that once made up drink bottles might not sound too appealing, the panels actually have a pleasant felt-like appearance and convert any room into a distinctly modern-looking space. Decking out interior walls is usually a process which requires a lot of new materials and therefore involves a considerable environmental impact, however The Collective have found a way to negate these ecological effects while still offering an elegant design solution.

#YourToteCounts competition winners


Sometimes it takes the mind of a student to create a truly ‘in your face’ design message. The #YourToteCounts competition was intended to address the rise in use of totes bags – which have an ecological footprint 327 times worse than that of a plastic bag – since the plastic bag ban came in.

Visitors were asked to bring in old tote bags and students from Chelsea College of Art would give them a fresh new design at their installation set up with Print Club London. Some students opted for eye-catching slogans, others for beautiful graphic designs, but we agree with the winner of the public vote, pictured above.

Nancy Holloway, clearly aware that the many international designers who descend on Clerkenwell Design Week might not be familiar with the odd pronunciations of English place-names, decided to clear the confusion up once and for all. Be sure to check out some of the other incredible designs created by the young minds at Chelsea College of Art.

Final Thought

We must remember that despite the environmentally well-intentioned designs displayed during Clerkenwell Design Week 2018, we are doing far too little to combat waste and clearly need to step-up our sustainability efforts. Should designers be leading the charge in sustainability, or should government legislation be the driving force behind change? The answer is obviously both, but in the absence of an accepted measure of sustainability effectiveness (a kind of environmental cost/benefit analysis) all the small steps we take to improve things may make us feel better, but it is their quantitative and combined benefit that counts. Unfortunately this is something we are largely unable to compute.

We here at Morfus we were delighted to see so many talented designers at Clerkenwell Design Week 2018 doing their part in changing the future, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that if we really want to alter our current damaging trajectory we need a much clearer environmental measure of all those small earthly steps…take your head out of the clouds, Secretary of State.

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