“We have high ambitions: the entire creative industry needs to be shaken up and sorted out,” says Sophie Thomas, one third of newly formed social enterprise, Three Trees Don’t Make A Forest (who feature in our January issue, out now). The new initiative, which launches this month, aims to provide a one-stop-shop for creatives seeking information on sustainability issues and how their working life affects the environment.
Thomas, co-director of design studio thomas.matthews, has teamed up with Nat Hunter of Airside and Caroline Clark of ecologically-aware design site, lovelyasatree.com, to form Three Trees. “We’ve all been on the same circuit talking about sustainable design and have noticed there’s a real thirst for practical information on how it relates to communication design,” says Thomas. “As Three Trees, we intend to run workshops for students and small studios, offer consulting and also go into large corporations to talk to their in-house teams. One of the first things we’re doing will be a D&AD workshop next year.”
Three Trees functions alongside the two designers’ full-time studio work and Clark’s established online resource–the hope being that the new venture will quickly become a place for creatives to discover how to make projects more environmentally sound, source particular paper or ink suppliers, or even (as Hunter has already succeeded in doing with her own team at Airside) get advice on how to run a design studio in a much more sustainable way.
“I’ve been interested in these kinds of issues for 20 years but hadn’t seen a way to bring it into my business,” says Hunter. “Over the last two or three years I’ve seen more and more ways to change the running of the studio and, when I met Caroline and Sophie earlier this year, we realised how valuable a resource that could disseminate all this information to creatives would be. We need to get this out there and I know how easy it is to change what we do.”
The members of Three Trees have much experience in dealing with issues of sustainability within their
own practices. Airside, for example, worked on animations for Live Earth (still from A Beginner’s
Guide to Giving a Damn about Climate Change shown)
The trio wear their own ecological credentials on their respective sleeves. From the outset the working philosophy at thomas.matthews has placed issues of sustainability at its core. Airside, on the other hand, are relative newcomers to this way of thinking, thus Hunter offers a fresher, top-down perspective that balances Thomas and Clark’s experience of sustainable design from the word go. The trio also admit that being included in CR’s very own “green” issue back in April this year helped to strengthen their cause to work together as a team.
But while each has experience of a range of environmentally-aware initiatives, doesn’t any serious change require the design industry to rethink its practices on a more holistic level? “A lot of people think that the whole issue is just to do with paper, but there’s, of course, a lot more to designing in a sustainable way,” adds Clark. “When people are working on something, they’ll think about making one object look beautiful and how it might then look in their portfolio– they don’t necessarily think about the 50,000 others that might be sat in the warehouse.”
Another issue that Three Trees hope to challenge is the clichéd idea of the green aesthetic. The point being that deciding to be a greener designer is more than simply creating work that ‘looks’ environmentally-friendly. “We want to transcend the aesthetics of sustainable design,” says Hunter. “At the moment, if something is ‘sustainable’, it has to look like it is. Our point is that ‘everything’ should be sustainable, it shouldn’t just look like it might be.”
To date, Three Trees is a tight collaborative effort between its three founders, but they hope to set in motion the means to create a network of people driven to promote sustainable design. “It’s a very collective concept,” says Thomas. “It’s going to be about collaboration and people connecting from lots of different areas. Effectively, we could all be in competition with each other – Airside and thomas.matthews are for-profit companies, so we’re trying to set a precedent really. We’re saying you can have a business, be sustainable and also create really good design.”