Sustainability. A word that is very closely related to Sweden and Swedish design. It has become an important aspect for most—if not all—companies and individuals in Sweden to think about. The name Greta Thunberg has even become globally known as the Swedish environmental activist who touched people around the world with how caring she gets about the condition of the climate that we all live in. She also showed how willing she is to open people’s eyes to live more sustainably despite their ages, cultures, and/or backgrounds, which, in turn, has been implemented by many Swedes these days.
Not only in everyday lives, but Sweden has also enabled the concept of sustainability in different study programmes in universities. Sustainability is thoroughly introduced to generate fresh graduates with minds for the climate.
And if there is another word suiting for Sweden other than sustainability, that would be innovation.
Being innovative is a goal that different companies and even individuals have. Solving problems through ways that are never thought before by others have been what drew most people to come to Sweden for professional reasons. However, combining innovative thinking with sustainability is not a simple task.
To achieve that goal of sustainable innovation, different regions have carried out several competitions for students. These are meant to give them opportunities to grow and implement what they have learned from the programmes yet at the same time promoting their abilities and thinking beyond their comfort zones while keeping sustainability in mind. Being a design student myself, I was soon appealed to join a design competition held by Region Kronoberg in collaboration with Region Kalmar, “Hackathon – Från Skräp till Skatt!”, or when translated means from trash to treasure.
The title surely explained it all, but to put it simply, the intention of the competition was to introduce Circular Economy, a concept that has recurrently applied by different companies to help play their parts to save the environment. A concept meant to reduce waste as much as possible and keeping resources recycled over and over again. Through the competition, students from the regions are invited to show their abilities to turn the waste material from different partner companies and the regions into functional products or prototypes of products that can potentially be used again commercially.
Competition Poster (Source: blog.regionkronoberg.se )
Once chosen, emails were sent to students for the introduction phase. The competition I joined itself was held on a whole weekend (Friday to Sunday) in the Nobel Prize Museum in Markaryd. It was held in early October after most programmes had completed the first course of the semester. Students were picked up from the universities by a regional bus and were brought to the museum where a more thorough introduction was given. Presentations about the topic, which in this case was circular economy, were also given by different partner companies to familiarise students more regarding the topic and goal of the competition itself.
Here, I thanked my lucky stars for I got the chance to meet one of my idols in the design world, Alexander Lervik. He showed us some of his creations and his thinking behind it and we got to learn more about product design in general. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. Anyway…
We were then taken to our rooms for the night (yes, we got our individual rooms at a local hotel with all the necessities). After that, we went to the workshop where we then worked on our project as a pair with another design student from a different university. The first things we saw once we entered the workshop were the many boxes and a truck full of waste materials. If I was not giddy enough before, I sure was then. From broken furniture, textiles, paints, foams, and even wood pieces filled almost half of the workshop. Surely enough, there were also extensive tools that we could use for our products.
However, the day didn’t start then. We were asked to eat and rest before the following day of war began.
And so it Began
After a good night’s sleep, the competition began. Together with the teammate, we started gathering the materials that could potentially be used to create the product. One thing that needs to be thought about when pitching the product later on, however, is why those materials were chosen. And with every step of putting the materials together, the same question of “why?” kept popping up and became the one thing that kept us grounded and put the focus on sustainability and functionality.
Chosen materials. (Source: Personal documentation)
Here, for example, the materials my teammate and I chose for our products are mainly copper wastes. This is because this material can be easily found around the area and has a high value when recycled. It also tends to be durable and, of course, it’s aesthetically pleasing. Once decided, we started assembling our product. The process itself was not linear. We kept adjusting our end product depending on our abilities and the flexibility of the materials. However, the other teams at the competition and also the jurors were very eager to help us and gave their inputs. It may sound weird, helping others in a competition, but I have to say that made the experience so much more exciting. Not only that I experienced competing against other amazing designers, but I also experienced making new friends, which goes a long, long way.
And the Winner is…
The last day came, and surely everyone rushed back to the workshop and tried to put the last pieces of their masterpieces together before we had to pitch them. After we had our lunch and connected a little deeper with another, we came back to the workshop to present our creations to the jurors. The points that needed to be mentioned in the presentation include, but not limited to:
Needs – relating to the customers’ needs that are trying to be covered,
Approach – what makes the solution to the problem unique,
Benefits – of course, for the customers and also for the environment, and
Competition – the advantages that the product has compared to the other existing products.
The list helped us to put our focus during the presentation and we even got to test out our product! We got extremely useful feedback and questions from the jurors, who happened to be parts of the partner companies. We also listened to the other presentations just like we would in class.
The Choice. A multifunctional chair made by yours truly. (Source: Personal documentation)
Sadly, my team did not win the competition, but there were so many amazing designs created by amazing designers throughout the competition. Also, I didn’t feel one bit beaten as I gained amazing friends and experience from it. My teammate and I decided to keep in touch and possibly develop the product we created then along with the jurors who expected us to continue developing it. Some even offered to help and that, itself, is an amazing thing I gained from this experience.
Presenting the final product. Source: Personal documentation
What did I Learn?
Apart from meeting the lovely jurors, tutors, and designers, who I hope will stay in my contact lists forever, I learned how waste will only become trash if you treat it like one. Surely, you’ve heard the saying “treat others the way you want to be treated”. So, why not treat waste materials the way you should treat others. See the good in them and bring it out and turn them into treasure.
The amazing designers at Hackathon – Från skrap till skatt 2020. Source: C/O Markaryd.
Innovation through Business, Engineering, and Design
Editor: Mochamad Sunaryadi