As part of our trade program, interior designers and architects receive exclusive offerings and services. Join now.


An Evening on the Future of Design

In celebration of B Corp Month and the theme “This Way Forward”, we hosted a panel discussion at our Sydney showroom on the future of sustainability in design.

Facilitated by Tim Ross, the wide-ranging conversation included Jeremy Bull of Alexander &CO., Eva-Marie Prineas of Studio Prineas, and author and journalist Karen McCartney.

Below, the speakers share their insights on the benefits of becoming certified as a B Corp, how sustainability informs their approach to design and the growing consumer appetite for values-led brands.

Photography by Fiona Susanto

Tim: Karen, have you seen a shift towards more sustainable design amongst consumers?

Karen: Sustainability is an imperative, not just a nice to have, and with that comes a kind of responsibility for brands. I think the consumer is looking to this trifecta of purchasing power. They want a product to be desirable, the right price point and sustainable. Businesses that can wrap that all up into an attractive package [will] position themselves very well for the future.

Tim: Jeremy and Eva-Marie, is this what your clients want?

Eva-Marie: Definitely. Twenty years ago, solar panels and water tanks were add-ons and often when the project was being costed they were the first things to disappear. Now, they're standard. I also think the clients coming to us now because they know we're a B Corp have a completely different set of priorities – they still want quality but they're happy to have less.

Jeremy: The niche that we inhabit is luxury housing, multi-residential and food and beverage – and in all those sectors, there has to be a return on investment. The view we've taken is that modifying our supply chain is fair game. And then our brand vision is based on an aesthetic outcome which looks a little bit used and repurposed. People come to us because they like the look, but the look is built on a philosophy of ecological sustainability, whether they know it or not, or like it or not.

"Sustainability is an imperative, not just a nice to have, and with that comes a responsibility for brands."

Tim: How does it change the way you design?

Eva-Marie: We've always encouraged our clients to use what they have, not necessarily create something brand new. I think we're part of an industry [of] massive carbon producers and often it's not about switching out this or that; it's about just building less.

Tim: Tell us about the reasons both of you became B Corp certified.

Eva-Marie: For us, it was a natural progression. We found out about B Corp and thought, wow, that really aligns with the way we are trying to run our practice. B Corp is not just about sustainability, it's about governance, community, workers, customers. We did it as a team – everyone in the studio had a little part and we'd come together every week and talk about where we were at.

Jeremy: In 2019, I was traveling with Tess and the kids through the Great Ocean Road [during the Black Summer bushfires in Australia] and I was very bad company. The whole place was on fire, and I was very depressed. Then Amy, our GM, and I were looking at books on the end of capitalism and [asking ourselves], How do you reeducate a practice so that we have longer-term missions? The thing that jumped out to me about B Corp was it’s a vehicle by which businesses can just bypass bureaucracy and self-govern.

Tim: And how long does the process take?

Eva-Marie: We were formally working on it for 12 months.

Jeremy: I think it was about two years.

Tim: Karen, how important is it for the architecture and design community to be leading in that way?

Karen: It's interesting. I interviewed an architectural practice called Trias and they put on their website a statement that they would only use electric, not gas, in their projects. They said since then, they had drawn people to their practice that want to work in that way. So, I think what you put out there comes back to you.

Eva-Marie: It's definitely our responsibility as architects to educate.

Tim: When you are sitting with clients and talking through the design process, how much of it are you sharing and the reasons for it, and what's the response?

Eva-Marie: For something like gas, we have a briefing questionnaire and it's very clear that we don't specify gas. With other things, if they're not immediately on board, you put it aside and then you come back to it a little bit later from a different angle and eventually hopefully they'll agree.

Jeremy: A product can have an [environmental] impact, but if it’s going to last unchanged for the next hundred years, there's a relative component to it. Broadly, clients don't care about any of that so it never needs to become a conversation. But it’s a massive conversation internally. What’s the material? Was it low carbon? At its end of life, is it compostable or can it be turned into another product?

Tim: Karen, you see John Waters’ buildings where you can take them apart and reuse them for something else. Do you think that's a hard sell for clients?

Karen: An important piece of how we move forward is building waste. There are some companies, like Second Edition, who try and on-sell or repurpose it. I think that needs to be more embedded in the system. The skips arrive, they're filled up and off they go to landfill. It's stuff that everybody just wants off their property and off their balance sheet. It requires a lot of rethinking.

Tim: What I'm curious about getting certified is how does it make your team feel?

Eva-Marie: It gives everyone a purpose and just going through that whole process together in our studio has meant that snowballed into a whole lot of different things. The element of learning together has been team building, a lovely incidental happening.

Jeremy: The pillars of what it means for us has certainly touched the culture and a lot of our dialogue. The stewardship of building and making it robust and last – those conversations then form the basis of how the practice works.

Tim: The final question is your hope for the future of Australian architecture and design. Karen, are we in a good place?

Karen: There's such a long way to go. I just think there's a whole education piece required because so much in Australia is driven by real estate.

Eva-Marie: As architects, we're trained to be great problem solvers and critical thinkers. We need to accept that sometimes we should think more and build less.

Jeremy: At some point we have to reconcile it, but I'm not so sure what that moment looks like. I think that the only thing that we can control now is our intention.

Bonsai by Tildy. Catering by Radish Events.
Beverages by Piper Heidseck, Minimum Wines and San Pellegrino.