Designing new ways to tackle climate change - Leonie Bell

Today V&A Dundee is hosting Design for Planet, a two-day Design Council event aimed at galvanising and supporting the UK’s 1.69 million-strong design community to address the climate emergency. Design influences every aspect of our lives, designers can imagine new possibilities, and design sectors hold invaluable knowledge that, if converted into action, could help turn the tide.
Leonie Bell is Director of V&A Dundee.Leonie Bell is Director of V&A Dundee.
Leonie Bell is Director of V&A Dundee.

At times, design has had a chequered past in relation to the planet and historically has often contributed to unsustainable and wasteful ways of living. In-built obsolescence, the cult of the new, frugality as unfashionable; much of our finest design talent has often been focused on encouraging us to desire, produce and consume more and more, and at speed.

As a small nation with a long history of ingenuity, Scotland is well positioned to work collaboratively across sectors. From science and engineering, to agriculture, to research and education and the arts, we can share skills, bringing together different perspectives and disciplines to develop radical ideas and – crucially – act on them.

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Scotland is looking to the future with design and technology innovations like wave power and bioplastics, but we must also tap into centuries of traditional knowledge on living sustainably with the land, like that held by Scottish Traveller communities.

Keevah, a pupil from Ballumbie Primary School, Dundee has a look at the What if…?/Scotland exhibition.Keevah, a pupil from Ballumbie Primary School, Dundee has a look at the What if…?/Scotland exhibition.
Keevah, a pupil from Ballumbie Primary School, Dundee has a look at the What if…?/Scotland exhibition.

In Dundee, the public, private and third sectors, and cultural organisations, are working together to design the city’s future. From the colourful, co-designed pedestrianisation of Union Street by UNESCO City of Design and the V&A Dundee building – which is powered by renewable geothermal energy – it’s a short walk past electric vehicle charging points and zero-emission buses, via a quay that offers decommissioning and renewables expertise, to an industrial site soon to be transformed into Eden Project Dundee.

As we develop our national design role, V&A Dundee has a huge responsibility to take a lead in tackling the climate emergency through design. We are in a unique and privileged position that enables us to bring together a wealth of design talent, to form partnerships with other sectors, and to apply design thinking to solutions great and small.

What does that look like in practical terms? It’s making our exhibitions more sustainable, from the materials we use to build them to the processes for installing, removing and recycling them.

It’s working locally on projects like Sewing Box for the Future, re-wearing, re-making and re-purposing clothing, reducing stigma around re-use and promoting a circular economy.

It’s interrogating architectural challenges, rethinking how we design, build and care for the spaces we live – as seen in the recent Scotland + Venice partnership What If…?/Scotland exhibition, workshops and discussions.

It’s about supporting initiatives like the Tayside Climate Beacon, a partnership of 18 culture, heritage, science and community-focused organisations that are all committed to action on climate change, led by Dundee Rep.

It’s about shifting outlook and values. Good design is too often seen as only for some people, but we want to position it as a universal human right that must work with the dynamics of the planet and communities

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In 2022, we will open the international exhibition Plastic: Remaking Our World. This is an opportunity to reassess our relationship with one of the world’s most transformative materials, which is essential to so much in our lives yet a global symbol of human excess and waste.

This is vast, urgent and complex. Creativity and design can help to power a sustainable revolution, and as Scotland’s design museum we will embed climate consciousness and action across all that we do, deepening our civic role and social impact, and developing the museum’s ability to bring together different perspectives to imagine and develop a better, more inclusive future.

Leonie Bell is Director of V&A Dundee.

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