This past Monday I attended an event at Fab Lab London organized by RSA The Great Recovery on Pushing the Bounds of Materials and Information: Tracking and Tracing in a Circular Economy. Though the event was advertised as a workshop, it unfolded as a speaker series as the majority of the day was devoted to a range of practitioners working within the overarching theme. The morning began with Tomas Diez of Fab Lab Barcelona, who in addition to presenting a variety of relevant works with a focus on the open source Smart Citizen project, gave a presentation on societal transformations throughout the different industrial ages and highlighted the shift of consumers to producers in contemporary society. Next up was Alan Dukinfield of S2S Lifecylce Solutions, during which he and his colleague provided an insight into the technical installation, usage, barriers and potential futures of a RFID material tracking system in a commercial context. After lunch we took a turn into textiles, hearing from Rien Otto from Dutch aWEARness, and Dr Kate Goldsworthy and Miriam Ribul from Chelsea College of Arts and TED (Textile Environmental Design). The former focused on current practices of their own Circular Content Management System from a larger industry perspective and introduced new textile sorting technologies used by others. The latter focused on the designer’s role and the importance of their understanding of the potential implications regarding material choices and design decisions. In addition, Miriam presented an interesting research project investigating the potential of individual textiles fibers embedded with dynamic information. The day wrapped up with a short introduction into setting up and gathering data from the Smart Citizen kit.
Thoughts & Reflections:
While I was very impressed with the range of speakers regarding the circular economy, I wish there would have been significantly more time devoted to ‘workshopping’ – whether in the form of smaller group brainstorms or specifically diving deeper into the Smart Citizen kit. I say this not only because of my innate urge to get hands-on, but also because consistent questions emerged regarding the barriers of long term behaviour change, acceptance and implementation of these new processes, practices and technologies within society and systems. I felt these obstacles were begging to be explored. For example, in regards to the Smart Citizen kits, Diez discussed the challenges of engaging communities to sustain the use of the sensors, including creation of trust around the sensors and their data. Within tracking technologies, interesting points regarding disruptive human behaviours were raised, like the innocuous act of removing a clothing label from one’s own garment inaccurately deeming the end of a product’s lifecycle. At a more systemic level, I would have loved to learn more and brainstorm around the implementation of the UK’s PAS 141, a process management specification for the re-use of used and waste electrical and electronic equipment.
That all being said, I’m assuming they realized as well the difficulty of fitting in a wealth of content plus a formal workshop in a single day. Hence, a followup event once again at Fab Lab London with a much more hands-on focus.
Leaving Notes & Quotes:
- Diez – “Access to tools… to make tools… to make cities smarter.”
- Dukinfield – “Intelligent Product: A product whose information content is permanently bound to its material content and which is able to influence decisions made about it.”
- Goldsworthy – “Products as systems… impacts beyond the objects we design.”