Eco Plan For 2022: Rethink Everything

“It’s super complicated,” Lauren Perich said with a laugh.

She was going through a diagram of how O+A hopes to retool its design process in 2022 and had paused to glance at her digital audience, O+A’s own design staff. These were the people who would have to turn the bubbles and bullet points into action, and their blinking Zoom faces were like a classroom of math students looking at a formula that consumes the whole blackboard.

Lauren is a Senior Designer at O+A and was the project manager on Eco Playbook, our digital primer on climate-conscious design the company produced and released to the public in October. This one-hour workbench was O+A’s internal launch of the Playbook’s findings—an action plan for revamping pretty much every aspect of acquiring, conceptualizing, designing, and building an interiors project.

And yeah, it’s complicated. One of the points O+A co-founder Verda Alexander made during the workbench is that to have an impact on climate change, other kinds of change will have to accelerate. “That means buy-in,” she told the staff. “How we want to be committed. It’s an individual journey as much as it is a group journey. Doing one thing isn’t going to solve the problem. Probably even 20 things won’t solve the problem. But you’ve got to start somewhere.” And by starting somewhere, Verda insisted, a “snowball effect” can result in impactful change. “And maybe we won’t be living in the apocalypse.”

It’s been a couple of years since Verda concluded that because the design and construction industries contribute significantly to global warming, they (we) had an outsized responsibility to contribute to the solution. When the pandemic locked down O+A’s plans for an action-focused 2020/21, Verda assembled a design and research team to look with fresh eyes at what in the firm’s process could be reimagined.

Turns out just about everything. Eco Playbook documents the team’s journey, individually and as a group, toward the reforms lined up in that marathon diagram. More workbenches will follow in the coming weeks as the Eco team figures out with designers how to implement new protocols in the work they do every day. That means choosing carpet for its social impact and consultants for their carbon content. It means lobbying officials for sustainable policies and hitting the streets in protest when they let us down. It means thinking proactively and acting protectively. It means throwing a lot less stuff away.

One thing is certain: designers have never had a more important project.