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  • So imagine, you're in the supermarket,

  • you're buying some groceries,

  • and you get given the option

  • for a plastic or a paper shopping bag.

  • Which one do you choose if you want to do

  • the right thing by the environment?

  • Most people do pick the paper.

  • Okay, let's think of why.

  • It's brown to start with.

  • Therefore, it must be good for the environment.

  • It's biodegradable. It's reusable.

  • In some cases, it's recyclable.

  • So when people are looking at the plastic bag,

  • it's likely they're thinking of something like this,

  • which we all know is absolutely terrible,

  • and we should be avoiding at all expenses

  • these kinds of environmental damages.

  • But people are often not thinking

  • of something like this,

  • which is the other end of the spectrum.

  • When we produce materials,

  • we need to extract them from the environment,

  • and we need a whole bunch of environmental impacts.

  • You see, what happens is, when we need

  • to make complex choices,

  • us humans like really simple solutions,

  • and so we often ask for simple solutions.

  • And I work in design.

  • I advise designers

  • and innovators around sustainability,

  • and everyone always says to me, "Oh Leyla,

  • I just want the eco-materials."

  • And I say, "Well, that's very complex,

  • and we'll have to spend four hours talking about

  • what exactly an eco-material means,

  • because everything at some point

  • comes from nature,

  • and it's how you use the material

  • that dictates the environmental impact.

  • So what happens is, we have to rely

  • on some sort of intuitive framework

  • when we make decisions.

  • So I like to call that intuitive framework

  • our environmental folklore.

  • It's either the little voice at the back of your head,

  • or it's that gut feeling you get

  • when you've done the right thing,

  • so when you've picked the paper bag

  • or when you've bought a fuel-efficient car.

  • And environmental folklore is a really important thing

  • because we're trying to do the right thing.

  • But how do we know if we're actually

  • reducing the net environmental impacts

  • that our actions as individuals and as professionals

  • and as a society are actually having

  • on the natural environment?

  • So the thing about environmental folklore is

  • it tends to be based on our experiences,

  • the things we've heard from other people.

  • It doesn't tend to be based on any scientific framework.

  • And this is really hard, because we live

  • in incredibly complex systems.

  • We have the human systems

  • of how we communicate and interrelate

  • and have our whole constructed society,

  • We have the industrial systems, which is essentially the entire economy,

  • and then all of that has to operate

  • within the biggest system,

  • and, I would argue, the most important,

  • the ecosystem.

  • And you see, the choices that we make

  • as an individual,

  • but the choices that we make

  • in every single job that we have,

  • no matter how high or low you are in the pecking order,

  • has an impact on all of these systems.

  • And the thing is that we have to find ways

  • if we're actually going to address sustainability

  • of interlocking those complex systems

  • and making better choices that result

  • in net environmental gains.

  • What we need to do is we need to learn

  • to do more with less.

  • We have an increasing population,

  • and everybody likes their mobile phones,

  • especially in this situation here.

  • So we need to find innovative ways of solving some of these problems that we face.

  • And that's where this process called life cycle thinking comes in.

  • So essentially, everything that is created

  • goes through a series of life cycle stages,

  • and we use this scientific process

  • called life cycle assessment,

  • or in America, you guys say life cycle analysis,

  • in order to have a clearer picture of how

  • everything that we do in the technical part of those systems

  • affects the natural environment.

  • So we go all the way back

  • to the extraction of raw materials,

  • and then we look at manufacturing,

  • we look at packaging and transportation,

  • use, and end of life,

  • and at every single one of these stages,

  • the things that we do

  • have an interaction with the natural environment,

  • and we can monitor how that interaction

  • is actually affecting the systems and services

  • that make life on Earth possible.

  • And through doing this,

  • we've learned some absolutely fascinating things.

  • And we've busted a bunch of myths.

  • So to start with, there's a word that's used a lot.

  • It's used a lot in marketing,

  • and it's used a lot, I think, in our conversation

  • when we're talking about sustainability,

  • and that's the word biodegradability.

  • Now biodegradability is a material property;

  • it is not a definition of environmental benefits.

  • Allow me to explain.

  • When something natural,

  • something that's made from a cellulose fiber

  • like a piece of bread, even, or any food waste,

  • or even a piece of paper,

  • when something natural ends up

  • in the natural environment, it degrades normally.

  • Its little carbon molecules that it stored up

  • as it was growing are naturally released

  • back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide,

  • but this is a net situation.

  • Most natural things

  • don't actually end up in nature.

  • Most of the things, the waste that we produce, end up in landfill.

  • Landfill is a different environment.

  • In landfill, those same carbon molecules

  • degrade in a different way,

  • because a landfill is anaerobic.

  • It's got no oxygen. It's tightly compacted and hot.

  • Those same molecules, they become methane,

  • and methane is a 25 times more potent

  • greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

  • So our old lettuces and products

  • that we have thrown out that are made

  • out of biodegradable materials,

  • if they end up in landfill,

  • contribute to climate change.

  • You see, there are facilities now

  • that can actually capture that methane

  • and generate power,

  • displacing the need for fossil fuel power,

  • but we need to be smart about this.

  • We need to identify how we can start to leverage

  • these types of things that are already happening

  • and start to design systems and services

  • that alleviate these problems.

  • Because right now, what people do is they turn around and they say,

  • "Let's ban plastic bags. We'll give people paper

  • because that is better for the environment."

  • But if you're throwing it in the bin,

  • and your local landfill facility

  • is just a normal one,

  • then we're having what's called a double negative.

  • I'm a product designer by trade.

  • I then did social science.

  • And so I'm absolutely fascinated

  • by consumer goods and how the consumer goods

  • that we have kind of become immune to

  • that fill our lives

  • have an impact on the natural environment.

  • And these guys are, like, serial offenders,

  • and I'm pretty sure everyone in this room

  • has a refrigerator.

  • Now America has this amazing ability

  • to keep growing refrigerators.

  • In the last few years, they've grown one cubic foot

  • on average, the standard size

  • of a refrigerator.

  • And the problem is, they're so big now,

  • it's easier for us to buy more food

  • that we can't eat or find.

  • I mean, I have things at the back of my refrigerator

  • that have been there for years, all right?

  • And so what happens is, we waste more food.

  • And as I was just explaining, food waste is a problem.

  • In fact, here in the U.S., 40 percent

  • of food purchased for the home is wasted.

  • Half of the world's produced food is wasted.

  • That's the latest U.N. stats. Up to half of the food.

  • It's insane. It's 1.3 billion tons of food per annum.

  • And I blame it on the refrigerator,

  • well, especially in Western cultures,

  • because it makes it easier.

  • I mean, there's a lot of complex systems going on here.

  • I don't want to make it so simplistic.

  • But the refrigerator is a serious contributor to this,

  • and one of the features of it

  • is the crisper drawer.

  • You all got crisper drawers?

  • The drawer that you put your lettuces in?

  • Lettuces have a habit of going soggy

  • in the crisper drawers, don't they?

  • Yeah? Soggy lettuces?

  • In the U.K., this is such a problem

  • that there was a government report a few years ago

  • that actually said the second biggest offender

  • of wasted food in the U.K. is the soggy lettuce.

  • It was called the Soggy Lettuce Report.

  • Okay? So this is a problem, people.

  • These poor little lettuces are getting thrown out

  • left, right and center because the crisper drawers

  • are not designed to actually keep things crisp.

  • Okay. You need a tight environment.

  • You need, like, an airless environment

  • to prevent the degrading that would happen naturally.

  • But the crisper drawers, they're just a drawer

  • with a slightly better seal.

  • Anyway, I'm clearly obsessed.

  • Don't ever invite me over because I'll just start going through your refrigerator

  • and looking at all sorts of things like that.

  • But essentially, this is a big problem.

  • Because when we lose something like the lettuce from the system,

  • not only do we have that impact I just explained at the end of life,

  • but we actually have had to grow that lettuce.

  • The life cycle impact of that lettuce is astronomical.

  • We've had to clear land.

  • We've had to plant seeds, phosphorus,

  • fertilizers, nutrients, water, sunlight.

  • All of the embodied impacts in that lettuce

  • get lost from the system,

  • which makes it a far bigger environmental impact

  • than the loss of the energy from the fridge.

  • So we need to design things like this far better

  • if we're going to start addressing serious environmental problems.

  • We could start with the crisper drawer and the size.

  • For those of you in the room who do design fridges,

  • that would be great.

  • The problem is, imagine if we

  • actually started to reconsider how we designed things.

  • So I look at the refrigerator as a sign of modernity,

  • but we actually haven't really changed the design

  • of them that much since the 1950s.

  • A little bit, but essentially they're still big boxes,

  • cold boxes that we store stuff in.

  • So imagine if we actually really started

  • to identify these problems and use that

  • as the foundation for finding innovative and elegant

  • design solutions that will solve those problems.

  • This is design-led system change,

  • design dictating the way in which the system

  • can be far more sustainable.

  • Forty percent food waste is a major problem.

  • Imagine if we designed fridges that halved that.

  • Another item that I find fascinating