Planted: The Future of Sustainable Design

Plants in concrete blocks
Lawrence Parent for Green Grads

As part of our One Planet initiative, we're always on the lookout for new ways to be more sustainable, both as a brand and as individuals. We're proud to be one of the sponsors of Planted, the first zero waste design event in the world. Taking place at Kings Cross in London from 23rd-26th September, Planted explores a sustainable vision of the future by reconnecting people and spaces with nature, showcasing beautiful design-led brands who put sustainability and the environment at the heart of their business, alongside up-and-coming independent designers aiming to improve our tomorrow. Co-founded by the "godmother of design" and former owner of designjunction Deborah Spencer, Planted is built upon the principles of biophilic design and aims to explore how we can create cleaner, greener and healthier spaces for truly natural living.

Curated by design writer Barbara Chandler, the GREEN GRADS exhibition brings together over 30 graduates presenting ideas, products and installations with sustainability at the core. Some draw attention to the problems faced by the earth, whereas some suggest solutions to these issues with their creations. Here, we talk to both Deborah and Barbara about Planted and the GREEN GRADS showcase to discover what we can expect from the event and what sustainability means to them...

Deborah Spencer
Deborah Spencer
Barbara Chandler
Barbara Chandler

What’s the concept behind Planted?

Deborah: Planted is about reconnecting people and spaces with nature. While design shows often look incredible, there has been a huge concern about the issue of waste and lack of sustainability. This got us thinking about whether there was another way to be more environmentally friendly in the way that these events are run. On the back of an introduction to Oliver Heath, a global authority on biophilic design, we created Planted, and have been working on the show for the past 18 months alongside the online Planted Unearthed series. We are really excited to be talking to the public about this event for the first time.

You’re the first zero waste design event in the world, what are you hoping to achieve?

Deborah: As we deepen our understanding of the pressure our planet is under, in large part due to human activity, we recognize the urgent need to change consumption habits and drive cultural change, ultimately leading us to consider the environment in every decision we make. Every sector needs to take responsibility and the events industry is no exception. Historically, we have been part of a wasteful system and not paid enough attention to our environmental impact.

By working only with brands who place the environment, nature and sustainable practice at the heart of everything they do, and ensuring every part of the show production is repurposed, reused or recycled, can we help shift the dial towards more circular systems and achieving best practice. This is a huge challenge, but we are excited, energized and focused on changing the way events are delivered.

Do you think designers and brands today are more eco-conscious?

Deborah: Yes, I do. The sustainable design brands that are exhibiting at Planted are committed to sustainability, nature and the environment, prioritizing and minimizing their impact on the environment during the production and manufacturing process. They are able to demonstrate how they are working proactively towards carbon net zero; are actively considering sustainable means of packaging products to eradicate waste plastic; and are committed to reuse, repurpose and recycle every facet of the stand build.

Wall made from old tennis balls
Soundbounce by Mathilde Wittock

“They’re just tennis balls cut in half and eco-dyed,” says Mathilde Wittock, who painstakingly collected old balls from local clubs. Halved with an ingenious S-cut, these are slotted into plywood, for a softly textured sound-absorbing screen. And apparently there are not a lot of other uses for redundant bounceless balls.

Wooden bench with potted plants on
Storied Seed Bank by Mandy Biscoe

Enclosed within a wooden box are small plant samples, connected to audio plant samples. Listen in and someone will tell you why that plant especially matters to them. “The Storied Seed Bank shows the importance of plants in people’s lives and the connections we have to them in the 21st century,” says creator Mandy Biscoe.

Tell us about the idea behind the GREEN GRADS showcase at Planted.

Barbara: The huge New Designers show in Islington has been cancelled two years running, so two years of design graduates have not had a platform for their work. I call them the lost classes 20/21. So I went round England this summer to see the graduating students and projects that would have come to London. The talent was amazing so I set about finding at least one venue for a joint display. Deborah was immediately enthusiastic and, given the remit of her Planted show, we called the showcase GREEN GRADS.

How did you choose the 30+ graduates showcasing their installations? What were you looking for?

Barbara: I was looking for graduates who had engaged with sustainability and the environment in some way or another, and nurturing nature is another big theme at Planted. It's essential to have a good mix. We have some beautiful almost art installations that draw attention, for example, to endangered specials or ocean pollution, contrasting with practical projects for, say, reusing grey water. And lots of new ideas for turning waste into new materials - that's a very big trend at the moment.

Ocean Bucket Set by Callum Wardle

Callum Wardle's project Ocean Bucket has been running "beach cleans for beach toys" across North Devon. Collected plastic ocean waste is sorted, graded and made into robust buckets, spades, rakes and moulds for Devon beaches to hire out on a daily basis, thus closing the loop.

Pendant lampshade woven from willow
Willow Weaving by Simon Redstone

Biophilia is defined as a "reconnection with nature, natural materials and craft". Simon Redstone is a skilled weaver, who uses natural, sustainable willow and coppiced wood to create modernist 3D designs, such as this pendant lampshade above.

What are some design highlights we can expect?

Deborah: We are presenting three different sections: Natural Living, Botanical Market and Sustainable Design.

Natural Living will be showcasing beautiful furniture and lighting brands from today which improve tomorrow. A number of immersive installations will be presented across the King’s Cross site in partnership with environmentally friendly collaborators. Planted’s Sleeping in Nature installation in Granary Square will create a biophilic sleeping environment, centred around a Nomad Cabin. Themed on a late summer meadow, it will demonstrate how nature can be introduced into cities and built-up areas while biodiversity can be enabled in even the smallest of spaces. There will also be the GREEN GRADS exhibition curated by Barbara Chandler, focusing on greener designs for the future by graduates from the past two years.

Our talks will focus on the most important issues facing humankind today including the future of waste; can food save the world and how to rewild our cities to halt the catastrophic loss of biodiversity and reverse the effect of climate change. A botanical market selling seasonal and locally sourced food, as well as beauty and health products and a plant market, will form the third section of this year’s Planted event.

Barbara: The SE17 chair is a heart-stealer, made from scratch from local materials by two students who were sharing a house. They even made their own lathe to turn the legs and woven the seat from salvaged plastic bags. Then there is some wonderful furniture made from old doors which is a sculptural statement, and a screen is made from discarded tennis balls.

Chair in a London street market
SE17 Chair by Andrew Scott & Andreas Kamolz

During lockdown, housemates Andrew Scott and Andreas Kamolz made the 'SE17 chair' entirely from local materials. Pallet wood for spring pole lathe came from nearby East Street Market with turning gouges from a discarded clothes rack. Greenwood came from Burgess Park, with a woven seat made from plastic bags gathered at the market and made into rope.

Concrete blocks with plants growing out of them

Living Blocks are the invention of Lawrence Parent, developed from his degree project at Brighton University last year. This an "open source" (i.e freely accessible to all) recipe for modifying simple moulds with balloons and discarded fruit and veg to mimic a natural stone that harbours vegetation and wildlife to soften harsh urban landscapes, with the aim of bringing nature back into cities.

How are you trying to be more sustainable in your own home?

Deborah: There are so many small things you can do at home and here are just some of things we have been doing:

• Turning lights off. It sounds simple but so many of us forget to turn lights off.

• Grow your own. Few of us have the space or expertise to grow enough fruit and vegetables to feed ourselves through the year but we all have the space to at least supplement our weekly shop with the odd carrots, tomatoes or sprigs of parsley. It’s so easy and rewarding as well as being healthier and reducing our carbon footprint.

• Buy second hand. With so many beautiful shoes and clothes donated daily to second-hand charity shops, you’ll be amazed at the amazing bargains you can pick up while giving money to charities doing important work at the same time.

• Buy local and buy seasonally. We’ve all grown accustomed to pineapple in January and tomatoes in November but so many off these products are grown thousands of miles away and flown in around the year. Buy locally sourced products seasonally which will hugely reduce your carbon footprint.

• Compost. Why throw away unwanted vegetable and fruit scraps when they can easily be composted down to make lush, healthy compost to feed our indoor plants or vegetable patches. It’s so easy and means you’re not sending as much waste to landfill.

• Turn down the thermostat. As the winter months take hold, it's better to put a woolly jumper or hoody on to save electricity and money.

• Frequently stock up on household products from local refill shops.

Colourful moulded plastic objects
Lockdown Mementos by Olivia Howick

GREEN GRADS at Planted is at Kings Cross from 25th-26th September.