business design values

Value driven bikes

Wishbone - Richard Latham and Jennifer McIvor

Richard Latham and Jennifer McIvor are the passion behind Wishbone Design Studio. And that passion has created a successful international business firmly embedded in sustainability and quality.

Because we declared our values early on – sustainability and quality – we were attracting customers of that same ilk, the pressure on us was not to drop standards, but to raise them.

Talking points

Wishbone is a family business, we’re located in Newtown in Wellington, and we design and manufacture for a global market high quality childrens products – ride-on toys, most of our products have wheels – and we’re making them with sustainability as a background principle.

(Rich) I wanted to make stuff…industrial design

I don’t want to make rubbish, so from that perspective if you’re making quality product you’ve inherently got a sustainable ethic to it.

There are a lot of cheap Chinese toys in the world, and we didn’t want to make cheap Chinese toys. We manufacture in Asia but we focus on quality, we focus on guaranteeing that the bits and pieces that we put in the box are worthy.

(Jen) I studied law, I wanted to find way I could practice law that would pursue a passion. And I discovered environmental law and international law…(eventually) I became a diplomat.

Sustainability has been a key principle for me, I wouldn’t describe myself as a greenie. I’m interested in policy around environmental issues.

Starting a business was an exciting opportunity to pursue sustainability through the private sector.

(Jen) I’ve always had a love of natural world, I love the outdoors, I derive a lot of energy from it, and I thought if I’m going to be a lawyer, I thought how am I going to connect those dots? (and The Lorax, adds Rich)

I was making stuff for my children in our New York bathroom.

My supply chain (during the initial design) was Home Depot – what I could work with. When we came to production we could address those things – we looked at the glues, the materials themselves so we could be sure they weren’t going to corrode or rust,

Wishbone Design Studios started with three principles – simple, smart, and sustainable. The first two referred to the functionality of the product and how it transformed, and the sustainability was the manufacturing ethos.

There is no plastic in our packaging, it’s all recycled board. Even the packaging itself, we realised that we had to have a box to put the product in, but what happens when it gets home? So we printed an image on the inside of the box so it becomes a play space and a cut-out mobile.

These sustainability things are adding value.

(Is it harder not to make rubbish?) In a competitive marketplace your product is more expensive. People make cheap rubbish because they are trying to hit a price point, we have never really been driven to look at that. It is a factor in business, obviously there’s no point making world’s best widget if no one is going to buy it – so we’ve tried to navigate the fine line between being commercially viable and making the best product we can.

We launched just as the 2008 crisis hit. So we were very aware that the world was encountering a major financial crisis, and money was suddenly not what it was, and consumption patterns were not what they were. At that very moment we were working on our brand, what are our core values we want to instil into everything we do? Our product design but also our employment strategy, our partners choices – fundamentally Richard and I are not major consumers of material goods…

At the time the world was suffering this financial crisis, it would be a fair assumption we thought that there’s a good market of consumers tat would revert to traditional values rather than speedy consumption of goods from discount sources. They would go looking for the one item that might indeed cost a little more but would last longer.

We thought that there was this old school value that would enjoy a renaissance, and it was coincidence that these are the values that we live by, and so that was the brand, and we might have an opportunity to start a new brand right in the thick of a global financial crisis.

The product could suit a child as young as one, and we intended for them to still be riding it when they were five. So that put the pressure on to make sure it would last four years – in the life of a children’s toy that’s quite a long time. And we would hope that they would pass it on to a younger sibling.

The back page of the instruction manual, we printed a car-ownership style registration page

Another principle is 100% repairable product. We wanted to make products that would never end up in the landfill.

That our bikes hold their value for second-hand resale is a matter of intense pride.

It’s a conscious strategy to promote the second-hand market.

It’s counter-intuitive to business where the more stuff you make the more stuff you sell, we say, no, we’ve got this product that we like to see being resold amongst a community of user, we can service it and keep it usable. An endearing quality we’re building, the value set of our brand.

We’d love our bikes to be second generation products…passed on to their own children…that for us is an inspiration, that we can produce something so well that it will be there not only for a family and its siblings, but potentially for a second generation of those children.

We use the phrase that we’re designing a new generation of classic children’s toys. Modern design together with old school value.

The limited edition bikes…started out as cosmetic seconds bikes, we took the frames out of the skip, added artwork to them and increased the value. That is part of our DNA, seeing an opportunity, taking something that was rubbish and making good out of it.

Because we declared our values early on – sustainability and quality – we were attracting customers of that same ilk, the pressure on us was not to drop standards, but to raise them.

The last thing you want is to be culprit of green-washing. So we adopted policy early on of stating what we do do. We describe the steps we have taken in areas of sustainability, corporate social responsibility – this is what we do do, and here’s the truth about everything else, and here are our aspirations for the next 12 months.

This bike is made from carpet.

Communicating the values of the business through product.

A matrix of new ideas coming together. Theoretically the world’s a better place because produced this product that sets a benchmark – it can be done, you can take recycled residential carpet and produce a children’s bike.

So now we’re asking how far can this go? How can we take the product learnings…this is just the beginning of the path..

We have to deliver a product that delivers functionally something better than everything else, the fact that it’s made from recycled carpet is a secondary point. It’s just inherently in the product.

Sell more stuff not our business model. We made a decision one year, our business plan was to be sure that the following financial year we didn’t sell an additional unit. The hardest thing we do is manufacture well. We will make and sell to those who want it, and we will do a good job of that. Our goal is not to just sell more.

We are a model of a family owned creative business.

(Success) Global consumers are looking to get the products that they need from brands that represent who they want to be…people want a cleaner

(Activists?) Futherist thing from activist…trailblazer. Fine line. Never going to beat chest and try and preach, but I would like to think we care doing things in a interesting and creative way – which other people can get some inspiration from.

(Motivation?) Five core values, the first: get close. It’s about the human element.

We both get out of bed in the morning, not to sell bikes, but to have the joy of the interaction with people

There’s a hook to it, now other people are dependent on us to sell bikes. There is a responsibility there that we’re coming to terms with.

We’ve never driven to make 1000s and 1000s more of what we already make, we’ve never been driven to have major staff numbers

(Challenges?) Growth, learning discovery…maturing…knowledge base…scope…technology strategy.

Maintaining values as we scale…trying to find people who understand our value sets…culture within our business internationally.

(Miracle?) Not having to work so late at night.

(Advice?) Have stamina…so many times we’re looked each other and asked are we idiots? Confidence – there is a bigger picture here, and we’re on a path to achieving it. Knowing we’re doing the right thing.

(How will you know when you’re there?) (Jen) We’ll never get there. (Rich) When I sold the first bike, I thought was there…

climate change engineering

Engaging embodied energy

Craig Jones

The embodied energy in a disposable battery is fifty times more than the energy that can be extracted from the battery.

Dr Craig Jones of Circular Ecology is a leader in embodied energy and carbon footprinting of products, services and buildings, and in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Is is the author of the Inventory of Carbon & Energy an embodied energy and carbon database, and wrote the first book on embodied carbon in the construction industry. Circular Ecology, he tells us, comes from mixing circular economics with industrial ecology.

Talking points

Many kids start out with an environmental passion, but he older they get it just sort of disappears from them – they just get used to how society works at the moment – buy things, dispose of things, not really thinking about them.

It is disappointing that they don’t teach more about the environment and sustainability in engineering.

Engineering, design, is responsible for the products we have. It is a great opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of all the products that we use.

They (engineering graduates) don’t know enough about how to reduce impacts of products, and they just don’t have training and education to know how to do that.

It’s not the culture of companies to reduce impacts unless embedded in policies – which is not yet mainstream.

If you don’t take the opportunity when you design a building to reduce the embodied carbon then that opportunity is lost forever.

The embodied carbon, in a very short time frame, you are using 15-20 years worth of operational emissions. If you don’t take the opportunity to reduce that carbon you can’t go back, that opportunity has been lost forever.

We have the technology today – it is not really a technical issue.

It takes more energy to make a kilogram of paper than a kilogram of steel

Even though I prefer to read reports and documents on paper, I print about nothing these days – you do get used it.

Even as someone who does this full time, what’s a kilogram of carbon really? It is a difficult unit to understand, so I try to consider it in terms of units that are a bit more meaningful…if you did things differently, what is the saving in terms of other things that you do: driving the car or watching TV?

I think water footprints could quickly get more attention.

Too many people confuse carbon footprint with sustainability, and too many people confuse environmental benefits with sustainability.

True sustainability balances environmental factors with social factors and with economic factors.

If you are starting from nothing, then carbon and energy is a good place to start. But it shouldn’t be displayed or marketed as sustainability. Climate Change is one of the more pressing challenges we have at the moment, but there are other important issues out there: toxicity; eutrophication; inequality…

We need to look after our planet so we can hand it down to our children and our grandchildren. For them to have the same quality of life that we have had then we need to change – the planet needs to be healthy for that to happen.

There are so many environmental labels, it needs to be simplified and should be officially backed.
If all manufacturers of similar products had to adhere to the same label, the same assessment method, there would be nowhere to hide, you couldn’t hide behind creating your own label and doing it differently.

At the moment, most consumers don’t understand the impacts – their products are disconnected from the consequences – so the masses will just ignore those labels.

Recycling is not a benefit, it should be expected rather than congratulated.

If we are to live in a truly sustainable manner we need to stop congratulating ourselves for doing things that should be expected.

It needs to become an expectation, we should feel guilty for throwing away that plastic bottle or tin can.

If you recycle your tin can, that saves enough energy to power your TV for four hours.

The life span of a tin can is two months – from mining to discarding – so even with a 55% recycling rate, most of it is going to landfill.

A circular economy means New business models that are still profitable for companies

The embodied energy in a battery is fifty times more than the energy that can be extracted from the battery.

There are companies doing sustainability properly and they are making a profit. But it is not yet seen as mainstream. Those companies have the advantage of being ahead of the curve.

There is an opportunity for consumers, but there’s not really enough information in an easily digestible form.

(Activist) No. I do try achieve gains through my day-time job. And through giving out information freely.

(Motivation) Environmental gain.

(Challenges) There are more and more people in this area, it is becoming competitive. Reducing the costs of the assessments, especially on whole product lines.

(Miracle) Something in policy and legislation that mandated companies to measure and reduce the environmental footprints of their products, buildings and services.

(Advice) Everyone does have a choice when they buy things. You don’t have to always make that choice, other things come into it, but now and again just think about the environmental impacts of something when you purchase it. And even, think do I need that? Quite often you buy things and they end up at the bottom of the cupboard. Think about that, and it reduces the amount of things you buy and never use.

This conversation was recorded at the very pleasant Bordeaux Quay alongside Bristol’s historic Floating Harbour in September 2014.

agriculture economics

Circular economy

Dan Kristensen

The current economic system is linear and ends in a landfill. In a circular economy you design our way out of the need to dump.

Daniel Kristian Kristensen is a researcher in the Department of Agroecology – Agricultural Systems and Sustainability at Aarhus University. We talk sustainability transitions in agriculture, circular economy, and the need for radical rethinking.

Talking points

It is quite apparent that the system is not suited to continue along the same path as previously…so that’s what I see as a transition, a fundamental shift in the way that agriculture is organised.

Agriculture has to deliver…that will be a period of – maybe not conflict – but where the demands on agriculture will be quite intense.

The tension is where where interesting things are happening, agriculture is has both models (production and ecological models)

We have to drop the idea of there being one solution and embrace the complexity of having to negotiate increasingly globalised solutions for the problems that are occurring locally.

There a lot of issues around sustainability, but it’s not one issue so it’s not one solution.

Recycling is not enough, it often means you degrade the product. We need to take recycling to a radical extent – upgrade and improve.

In a circular economy things have to circulate, not just take a few more loops and still end in the landfill after all. You want to continuously upgrade the product and the services associated with the product – upcycling.

Consumption is important to keep the economy going, but it does have an element of being more reflexive, consumption needs to be rethought so it’s not just wanting new stuff all the time and discarding what you had previously. Rethinking…getting the services you want, say to use the phone, then just get the service…that will change the incentive for the manufacture…

(On growth)…the circular economy is a radical reworking of how the economy works on many levels. Growth as we normally think about it might not sit very well with the circular economy, it can be done applying principles to the continuous improvement and new services, but consumption in terms of increasing throughput and throwing more stuff away, that is definitely not compatible with circular economy.

It’s a radical transition, but it still approachable for someone that wants to treat it less radically – it’s different actors around a common agenda.

I like to think of it as negotiating where we want to go in the future.

It is as much as change of mindset as technical solutions.

We need exemplars of what is achievable.

(Motivation?) Curiosity, how we can go on having an economy and prosperous society?

(Activist?) No, would like to be one but I can’t claim to be being very activistic.

(Challenges?) Circular economy in a relationship to agriculture.

How to get people together, traction on a way forward, getting a framework for long term solutions drawn up – that’s one of the big challenges, there’s of muddling through that is short sighted. The long term vision needs to be there, we need some dialogue on that. We need a conversation about that, creative thinking and involvement in that.

(Advice?) Pursue your interests in terms of education and do that as a guide.