Carole Collet: Let’s Be Positive About Preventing Climate Catastrophe

Date:Friday, May 10, 2019
Author:Charlie Gilbert

Professor Carole Collet is an authority on sustainability. Having founded the Textile Futures Masters at Central Saint Martins UAL in 2001 (now MA Material Futures), she recently created MA Biodesign, which is dedicated to the exploration of bio-informed strategies as a driver for sustainable innovation.

She currently has two key roles at Central Saint Martins UAL: working with her Design & Living Systems Lab and Maison/0, the LVMH sustainable innovation programme, where she fosters the integration of sustainable principles into the design process across disciplines.

Ahead of her appearance at Decoded Future, where she’ll be moderating the From Waste To Wealth: Moving to a Circular Economy panel, Carole reveals why she’s positive about preventing climate catastrophe, what we can all learn from the French beef industry, and why everyone should read the WWF’s Living Planet Report.

Carole, you started pairing ‘fashion’ and ‘ecology’ back in the 90s. Did anyone see sustainability as an issue back then?

“Certainly no one talked about sustainable design in 1991. There was no awareness, no understanding of how toxic the textile industry actually was. There was also confusion; people assumed that ‘ecological’ meant using natural materials like cotton – a crop that’s devastating because of its intensive use of pesticides and fertilisers.

“The term ‘ecological’ was also treated as a trend; few companies thought it relevant and interesting. It was difficult finding people who thought that it would become a much bigger issue.”

How far have we come since then?

“Sustainability is now on everyone’s radar, but not everybody knows how to take action. But I’m quite positive because a lot is happening, especially in fashion with the government having published its Fixing fashion report in February.

“At the same time, everything is speeding up. We have 11 years to deliver; 11 years to save the planet. We’ve lost 80% of our insects in Europe over the past 30 years. People understand the need for urgency. The challenge now isn’t wanting or knowing how to take action, it’s doing it in a way that’s fast enough to beat the clock.”

Tell us why you’re feeling positive…

“We’re decimating the very thing we depend on to survive – our biodiversity. But I think whenever there’s a critical crisis we somehow find a way around it. We’re starting to see this with all the initiatives against single-use plastic.

“We need to become a bit more radical; look at South Korea forbidding single-use plastic bags. Sometimes we need more legislation, and to be more radical, to facilitate a faster step change. I’m positive that this will help us get somewhere.”

What about businesses; are they motivated to be more sustainable?

“There’s an assumption that sustainability is more expensive. But this isn’t necessarily true – implementing sustainable values actually means not wasting anything. That’s a huge cost saving to start with.

“In my world, the main issue is the fast-fashion model – this idea that because you can buy something so cheap, you can always go out and buy something new. In terms of changing consumer behaviour, this is a huge challenge.

“Maybe we can learn something from the French beef industry, whose recent campaign encouraged people to buy less beef, but better beef. Could we consume less fashion, but better fashion? People say it’s more expensive to buy higher-quality things, but not if they’re worn for longer. It’s not about what’s new; it’s about what’s better.”

We’ve got 11 years. Where do we start?

“We need to speed up making a difference. Everybody is responsible.

“We should be optimistic, because we’re able to leverage momentum when it matters. We also have to be relative. The planet will die in four billion years. But what’s happened in the past 40 years has been so fast. How can we quickly rethink how we do things?

“We need the help of the media. If all news channels tonight focused on the insect stat, the whole world would take notice. The media should be there not just to report and critique, but to inform. It needs to use its power to switch everybody’s interest to saving ourselves – not just cathedrals.

“Have you read the WWF’s Living Planet Report? Its conclusions are really, really scary – but it only gets in the news for a day or so when it comes out. Why isn’t it more discussed? If we don’t face issues like how we’re going to pollinate the food we’re eating – 70% of our crops are pollinated by bees – then how are we going to get the food we need?

“If we all do tiny things, they’ll add up. It’s about raising consciousness, but in a positive way so that people feel empowered to make a difference at their level. If we wait for politicians to lead us, we’re not really going to make a difference. We just need to get on with it.”

Don’t miss Carole at Decoded Future on 6 June. Get 20% off your ticket now by using STYLUS20 at the checkout. And if you want to keep up to date with Carole’s projects, follow @maisonzero and @designandlivingsystems on Instagram.

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