“We need a real renaissance that asks hard questions about the role of salons.”

Milan Design Week is an opportunity for an intelligent response to climate change but the Salone del Mobile fair it relies on is still inherently unstable, writes Katie Tregidden.

Salone del Mobile has returned to its usual April slot and Milan Design Week 2023 is being marked as a fresh start after the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Consulting 2,300 interviewees and working teams on the role of fairs post-Covid, Salone promises “a new trade-fair experience, an impactful cultural event, [and] An event that focuses on sustainability.”

The stands will be placed only on the ground floor of the Ro Fiera Milano fairgrounds, instead of both as in previous years, and the lighting show Eurolus will have a new “ring-shaped” layout. The fair seeks to encapsulate the cultural heart of Milan Design Week through exhibitions, talks, workshops and installations. And finally, there is a new commitment to sustainability.

After the industry shut down after the pandemic, a fresh start with sustainability at its heart seemed fitting

The first two seem to be the best to look at internally, but after the industry shut down after the pandemic, a fresh start with sustainability at its heart seems fitting. That part of the commitment comes in the form of a new sustainability policy and green guidelines, membership of the UN Global Compact and pending ISO 20121 certification.

The Green Guidelines call for exhibitors to be “team players” in the fair’s efforts to become more eco-friendly, promoting circularity and reuse in installations, low-impact materials, safety and access for all, a traceable and responsible supply chain and clear communication. of their efforts. If there are any consequences for not being a “team player”, they are not specified

The phrases “cutting down”, “prioritising” and “opting for” are repeated throughout the document, which rather loosely encourages action with the idea that it “represents a new opportunity for increased sustainability”.

But we know that reducing impact while pursuing growth is rarely an effective strategy in environmentalism. To truly address climate change, we need a true moment of reinvention – one that asks hard questions about the role of salons rather than looking for ways to perpetuate business as usual. It is no longer enough to do less harm, we must actively find ways to regenerate natural systems and create a path towards global equity.

This year’s edition of Salone del Mobile will draw 1,962 exhibitors from around the world with countless products, furniture and stand elements that cost a lot of carbon to move, but let’s make it. Typically, the fair attracts 370,000 expert visitors, 5,000 journalists and 27,500 members of the public from more than 188 countries. That’s a lot of air miles.

And yet, Milan Design Week is the world’s largest showcase for the kind of design innovation that the planet needs. At Salone Satellite last year, Dishari Mathur showcased her passive cooling tiles, which are made from waste glass and sanitaryware and absorb ambient moisture to prevent buildings from overheating – a climate-positive solution to combating the effects of global warming.

My biggest fear is that none of what is good about Milan can exist without the problems it is trying to solve

Milan’s flagship show Alcova, Riptide’s Estuary and Foret Atelier’s Reunion reveals plants hidden in the waters of the Oosterscheeld in the Netherlands and explores their potential to capture carbon, reduce methane emissions from livestock and provide habitat for biodiversity.

And Studio Swain’s waste-free exhibit for the American Hardwood Export Council at the Triennale showcases the potential of renewable hardwoods, calls for balance in the way we use natural materials, and emphasizes the need to “address the greatest social and economic issue of our time: climate.” change”.

My hope for Milan Design Week this year is, as always, that what I see fills me with optimism. fresh ideas from bright, young designers more concerned with solving the world’s problems than designing the next bestseller; Material innovation that can finally free us from the linear take-make-waste model; And brands that are not only doing less harm but actually working to benefit people and the planet

Increasingly, however, my biggest fear is that none of what is good about Milan can exist without the problems it is trying to solve. The temples of consumerism are filled with the same products in new colors that consign their perfectly good predecessors to the landfill, hundreds of thousands of visitors fly in for days, rampant capitalism that makes even the most culturally important events possible.

I’m just one of 5,000 journalists, but will what I see in Milan – and the results of what I can do – really offset my own contribution to the carbon footprint of this whole effort? I don’t have an easy answer.

Milan Design Week is the world’s biggest design exhibition, and if it doesn’t explore creative solutions to the world’s biggest problems, I’m not sure what does. But as trendy as it has become to hear someone say you “don’t bother with fairs anymore,” Salone is here to make it all happen.

Salone is the sun around which the rest of Milan Design Week revolves

We can’t walk around town, gelato in hand, and pretend that some 2,000 international brands haven’t shipped or air-freighted their products to the Ro Fiera Milano fairgrounds. And we can’t pretend that doesn’t make this whole endeavor possible. Salone is the sun around which the rest of Milan Design Week revolves. And without the sun there is no life.

As with many climate debates, there are no perfect solutions. No amount of “cutting down” or “opting for” is going to fix this. “Better than before” is still pretty bad.

But despite all the hyperbole undoubtedly attached to this so-called “reinvention” and the existential questions that might enable meaningful change, I still dare to be optimistic about Salone. I don’t believe it’s got balance yet, but at least it’s tipped the scales.

Katie Tregiden is an author, journalist, podcaster and keynote speaker who champions a circular approach to design. He is the founder and director of Making Design Circular, a membership community for designer-makers who want to be more sustainable.

Milan Design Week 2023

Milan Design Week 2023 takes place between 17-23 April 2022. See our Milan Design Week 2023 guide on Dezeen Events Guide for information on the many other exhibitions, installations and talks taking place throughout the week.

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