Town Hall #35 - New Possible & Beyond Zero - USA
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Rick Bell - Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University in the City of New York
Melissa Cullens - Founder & CEO at Charette
Paolo Marques - Principal at GH+A Design
Julia Monk FAIA FIIDA - Hospitality Thought Leader, Architect, Interior Designer
Ronnie Peters - Founder and CEO at 360 Design, Creative Director at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
Harry West - Professor of Practice at Columbia University and Principal at Invisible Design
Jon Winebrenner - Creative Director at Sonn Technology Ltd.
I don't think that we are able to make any serious change unless we step up and face the economics... it is money that drives change
we need to set up the environment, the context, so somebody can make a buck driving down our carbon consumption
we as a society have to face up to the fact that we are the problem
we need to ask our government to step up to its responsibility and tax the things that are killing us
if we tax carbon we'll use less carbon, it is that straightforward
design has a very strong role to play, because we're good at helping cultural changes happen
we need a superior being, an AI that values our future selves as much as our current selves, and to help us make better decisions on behalf of ourselves
ultimately we created the problem, we're the ones consuming, we're the ones putting the carbon out there, all of us, and so it's up to us to change our behaviour.
it is about having the patience to get to that common ground, from which you can then build back up to solving some of these bigger issues
we have to build a consensus on what the ideal is and to do that we need to talk... we need to do research, before we start defining where we're going
we need to get all the stakeholders together and get all of their opinions, then understand by consensus where we need to go
We don't stress enough the small things that everybody could be doing to help us get to our goal of 2050 and then beyond
we put these lofty issues out there, they're so big that no one, even if they have their hearts in the right place and they can put their pocketbook in the right place, can solve any of them by themselves
our collective future actually predicts what our individual futures will be
There has been huge investments of retail in the past and there is not that appetite going forward
it starts with ME, it starts right here, and it starts with my actions and the things that I can do
having regulation and regulatory endorsement is absolutely key
the patterns of social behavior are going to change, we'll see that in our public spaces or public buildings, all aspects of social life, it'll change the patterns of housing, how we work, patterns of mobility
in terms of environmental impact, I think people are realising that everything is interconnected
what are the laws that impede people doing what they aspire to do? You know, what are the regulations that are getting in the way? And how can they be changed?
talking to the prior point about polarisation, the difficulty in making laws that talk to the BeyondZero aspect of going further than what might otherwise be possible, is stymied by this incredibly equal diversity of opinion
I don't think we're doing anything that is significant enough to truly stop the catastrophe [of the climate crisis]
designers are not patient people, we don't like to wait for the change to happen, but it does take time and it does take repetition
we, as design leaders have a real responsibility for pushing back pretty hard when profit gets in the way
there's a lot of room for us to change the mental model and the frameworks that we use to cut to the chase and find language that feels open for more people to participate.
they're able to see the value in what you're putting forward, and willing to take the risk to go beyond the regulation or to break the regulation to be the first mover to get out there
we're into this elevated state of human nature right now
Mark Bergin 00:01
Hello, I'm Mark Bergin, the founder of DRIVENxDESIGN and the Design Exec Club. This is Episode 35, of the Design Exec Club Town Halls. I've got a bunch of some of the smartest people I know. And we're going to be talking about, how do we actually consider a world which is Beyond Zero carbon emissions? And then how do we get to that future faster? I'm sure it's not going to be a smooth journey. And I'm sure those big ideals, like what a lot of future casting things are, that they're very hard to get to. But hopefully, in discussions with our panelists today that we're going to be able to understand what some of those next steps are. If you go think it's 30 years, 60 years, depending whether you're looking at the target for the Chinese or for the other G20 countries. In that period, there's a lot of changes that can happen - there's different governments, there's different economic cycles or different pandemics. But let's see what the panelists can go help us with as far as how to get to the future faster. Rick Bell I want to throw across to you. In the roles that you've had over the last 20 plus years, in one of our previous calls, you said that you were in some ways that you'd seen us go back to the normal situation after Superstorm Sandy after 911 after you know, a range of issues? Can we actually progress out of where we are so that we can go to the, you know, a big vision? Or is it that we have to take small incremental steps? What's your learnings?
Rick Bell 01:31
I think the pandemic is a game changer. A lot of the other events that had been catastrophic in New York and other places around the world have been very finite in terms of their impact. Admittedly for those impacted, they were absolutely significant in game changing. But the pandemic has influenced everybody, whether they realize it or not. It influences all sorts of aspects of social life. I think what we're looking at in terms of the environment, are changes in behavior that aren't going to go back. People have talked about the new normal, there's no normal patterns of social behavior. In the past, in New York, there were many people walking around the streets a decade ago, five years ago, three years ago who wore masks. They tended to be from far away from New York, not from New York. I think in New York now, if you look around walking in the streets, people are wearing masks as if it was essential to guarantee social interaction. Interaction between people is not going to go away, the patterns of social behavior are going to change, we'll see that in our public spaces or public buildings, all aspects of social life. It'll change the patterns of housing, how we work, change patterns of mobility, and transit, all sorts of things one could talk about. But in terms of environmental impact, I think people are realizing that everything is interconnected. And while the pandemic is not caused by carbon emissions, I think we'll see a lot of soul searching and introspection about the things that are important, that remain personal interactions, and the things that will drop away different types of communications, less international travel for conferences, more, here we are, you know, virtual communications,
Mark Bergin 03:25
Melissa, I'm going to throw across to you. You've got two things that fascinate me about this idea of working out what the future looks like. You've got a two year old, so therefore, you're very much invested into what will the future look like? That's your next 20 plus years. But you also worked at Ellevest, where there was a project of try to take, say, financial equality between men and women, which was on a horizon of 170 something years, and then try to get it so it was actually achievable in people's lifetime. So you've been involved in this world of how do you accelerate something which is progressing but not progressing fast enough. Can we do these things or are they so insidiously complex, that their ideals but not achievable?
Melissa Cullens 04:15
Oh well, I don't know. Designers are not patient people. We don't like to wait for the change to happen. But it does take time and it does take repetition and one of the things that I think might be really applicable from that time was shifting perspectives. So when I started out at Ellevest it was pre Trump election, preemie to the mindset around what women needed was very different than it is now. It's kind of almost hard to even remember. We heard a lot from people that they didn't think they needed their own investment platform. And we've heard a lot from women that they felt like everything was fine, and then kind of the election happened and folks kind of felt like, oh, gosh, maybe we aren't as forward as we as we thought we were. And, you know, you think, they think better start looking out for themselves. But one of the things that we did as a part of the kind of like, to attempt to move people from one mode of thinking to another was just consistent information. And I think, you know, I'm from the south, I'm from Marietta, Georgia, and my parents are conservative Southern people. And so I have the wonderful experience of in family moments getting to have awkward conversations about what's happening in the world, and what is real, and what is not real. And that's probably the biggest thing in between us in real change. And I think there's an element of that that's technological, about how information is being disseminated and how we have access to it. And as designers, there is a job for every single person, no matter how many years of experience you have in standing up for what's ethical, with what you're designing, and what you're putting forward. And I think that we, as design leaders have a real responsibility for pushing back pretty hard when profit gets in the way of that. And then I think there's, you know, beyond just the dissemination of the information, there's the way the story that we're telling, you know. Again, from the south, my family were farmers. They come from a world where they love and appreciate the natural environment. That the natural environment is important. But they're so caught up in the identity politics around not feeling like they belong with the climate movement, that they can't participate as allies. And I kind of hate using that word, because even that word is a bit polarized, but they just don't feel like they belong. They don't feel like they're included. And so I think that when we think about how do we talk about, how do we communicate the impact and the opportunity, I think there's a lot of room for us to change the mental model and the frameworks that we use to cut to the chase and find language that feels open for more people to participate.
Mark Bergin 07:34
And I think one of the things that I'm going to focus on there is, you know, many of us will have seen Hillbilly Elegy or read the book, which tells a really interesting story about people who are trying to go stick with values, but those values are actually holding them back. And then some of the clan want to go and actually break free from that. And we've got the same issue in Australia, when it comes to people who are in rural or regional communities, and they're on the land that they seem to align more to, I can't be involved with the environment because the environment was initially it was yelled at them that they were doing something wrong. And they were told that they didn't love the environment. So there's the, you know, you're not a good person that came into it. And then in the previous Town Hall that we did, Julie, you brought up some some of the challenges that we've got around the media and also around partisanship that's there. And I think what I've noticed is that with farmers in Australia, they seem to fit into three groups - there's corporate farmers, there's very progressive, independent farmers, and then there's non progressive farmers. And what's interesting, if you go look from an economic impact, that the people who are making the difference in the farming community are in the top two groups. The non progressives fit into the media and pain porn, that they turn around, and they're the ones that the media go and say, This is a struggling farmer, and absolutely, they are struggling the farmer. But if you had a struggling business, and you behave like these farmers did, which was that you didn't want to progress, everyone else would say, I don't care, your business is gone. And so you've got something between the voting rights of people in rural communities wanting to hold on to yesterday. If somebody is running a bodega, and they don't want to actually progressed, they go out of business. You know, it's not like they have the right to stay in business because they run a bodega, because there's lots of beggars everywhere, but there's ones which are progressive, and there's ones that aren't. So I think we've got this pain porn, which is a bit of a failure in the media cycle, because they know that if they put pain on TV in an interview that they are going to get people's attention, which means they get advertising dollars, which means it's broken. We've lost some of that social licence that's there and I think that to me, is a really interesting problem, because that's television broadcast media who are trying to hold on to audiences that have been taken away. Sorry?
Melissa Cullens 10:09
Mark Bergin 10:11
Well actually, so there's ..... I want to go into that, because this is meant to be a controversial discussion. You know we've got a big ideal, and if you've got a be ideal, and you're going to work out how to achieve that, you're going to have some controversial points. So the issue with capitalism is, there is good capitalism, there is toxic capitalism. There's .... as there are good egos, and there are toxic egos - they're still egos. But normally, when we talk about ego, we talk about toxic ego, we don't talk about the erstwhile ego. Good capitalism actually gives an extraction for the investors and productivity in the community without damaging other members of the community. When you start to do damage to other people, we need to call it out. It's bad capitalism. It's toxic capitalism. And I wonder if that's actually something that comes in. Julie, you've got your hand up there, you have been very polite, but you need to come off mute for me.
Julie Monk 11:12
Capitalism is capitalism. Leadership is leadership. Leadership can be good and bad. Capitalism, I don't think we can say is good or bad. It's how you use the capitalism that makes it you know, this or that. And I think it gets back to integrity, ethics, people dealing from science, people dealing from truth, rather than people dealing from fantasy or made up truth, that's going to make capitalism good or bad. It's how you use it. Like the farmers in the United States, there's a lot of really tough stories, there are tough stories that could be reported by the news. Why are there tough stories in the United States? Well, perhaps it's because the government took away their primary client who they were exporting to. And now they're making up for that with all of these huge billion dollars of bailouts that are going in. That's the government leadership, taking capitalism and turning it into something that's, I think, not good. I don't think it's healthy for people not to farm their farms and sell their products, and feel good about what they're doing on a day to day basis.
Mark Bergin 12:20
And I have to agree with you, you know, the term toxic capitalism or good capitalism, it's clumsy. But because we know that capitalism actually has no morality. It's actually it's a mechanism. It's not a moral machine. Is leadership enough there? Because if we go look at it, I'm trying to work out, except for New Zealand, is there a leader of a country that you'd actually think I want to live in that country at the moment, you know. Our Prime Minister in Australia, it's like, oh, it's Mr. Do nothing you know. He'll do a media release, and then the problems disappear There's no policy behind it. Your in change in the US where you've said the previous leader that you didn't want to have for another period? Well, he doesn't understand that. But then you're saying, well, we want a difference that's there. Canada, I think you're, because we've got two Canadians on the call. Is your Prime Minister somebody that you'll actually say, Yeah, you're a great leader, or is it like, yeah, maybe Jon you'd like to discuss? I don't think any of us and even if you go to New Zealand, and New Zealand is going Oh, look, she's good for international PR, but is she really good in the country? In Australia, we thought Barack Obama was fantastic, because he gave great media releases but was he great for the country in what he implemented? And that's about how do you bring along the people who aren't partisan, as much as how do you bring along the people who are partisan with you. And that's a separation of politics.
Jon Winebrenner 13:52
Everything is so polarized now, like there is no grey anymore. It's in any discussion you have, it's black or white. And just the exclamation point on the end of that is the gap, the financial gap that's happening. The middle class is just vaporizing. And children, kids, young, the youth under 30, like they can't buy homes. I would argue that most of them are seriously questioning or looking at capitalism in a way that with a jaundiced eye. And the the whole Make America Great Again, was about going back to the 50s when there wasn't middle class and all of that, but look where that whole ideal has gotten us. I don't know. Yeah. So you mentioned Canada. Trudeau, he's very polarizing. You have people that love him and you have people that hate him. So unless we start figuring out how to get to understanding grey again I get pretty skeptical.
Mark Bergin 14:55
Yeah. And it seems the only understanding of grey was some book that was about BDSM. And that was short lived as well, you know, and was nominated how many shades. But you know, that I think is designed as is we need to understand the condition, we need to understand the ideal. And then we need to work out how do you go from the current condition to the ideal state that you're trying to get to? So, you know, we could spend most of this call just trying to work out what are the conditional dilemmas we've got? But have we served anything unless we say, Well, how do you turn that into action? Julie I can see that you're eager.
Julie Monk 15:34
I'm sorry. But I think first of all, we have to build a consensus on what that ideal is. To do that we need to talk. So we need to do research, before we start defining where we're going, I think we need to understand better where we are. And that's why it took such a big contrast to your idea of capitalism isn't good or bad. We need to identify the sources of all of these issues, and then address those and not say, you know, capitalism is bad. So let's blame capitalism. That's not a person. That's not a, it's a thing. So that's easy to do. Once we start talking about where the roots of where that toxicity is coming from, and address those, I think, then we can start to find the solution. But I think we need to get all the stakeholders together and get all of their opinions, then understand that by consensus where we need to go.
Paola Marques 16:21
I would agree with that. Because I think, you know, I think, Melissa, you mentioned earlier that designers are very impatient. And we have staff on board. And I know that, you know, we talked about getting someone under 30 on this call. So I'm dealing with staff who were, you know, close to my age, late 40s, early 50s, mid 50s, even. And then staff who are under 30, who have different views on what success means to them. And, by the way, I'm sort of obviously, you know, I'm the newcomer on this site. This is not a topic that I have much experience on, but I was just so curious to be on the call and hear about this, because I'm trying to set in place in the next 10 years, before I go off and settle off somewhere in the sun, you know, What legacy am I leaving with the office and these group of, you know, highly energized mid 30 year olds? And what do they understand about sense of sustainability? So I would agree with you, Julie? Like, what is success? We're at least, are we all on the same level playing field? And incrementally how do we get there? And maybe by the sheer nature of the type of work that we do in our office, it's a shame to say, but I'll acknowledge it - It's been a hard conversation with some of our clients to even talk about, for instance, new retail concepts. So, you know, what do the retailers think after a concept that, you know, maybe is irrelevant after five years? And I agree, there is no new normal, but what will retail look like? And I know that the whole prospect of new concepts that have to be turned over in three to five years, there isn't much of an appetite for that. There's been huge investments of retail in the past and there is not that appetite going forward. There are very few form between Apple stores that will be built from ground up. So I do agree with you, I think it has to be incrementally, and there has to be an understanding of what will success mean. And to try to navigate all that, I have to say I get a little overwhelmed. But I do see this kind of energy in the younger group in our office, but not knowing what's the path. How do I get there? So I'm very curious to hear what everyone's going say. So ...
Mark Bergin 18:47
Yeah, so Paola, we came in contact through the London Design Awards, with a project that you went and did in Carnaby Street for a brand that has a very large tongue and a set of lips in it. I don't know how much you could talk about the project. Can you?
Paola Marques 19:02
Yeah, I can. Now we can. We couldn't for quite a while. So that's why this. I was very curious to see what the conversation was going to be about tonight. But yes, so Universal Music Group came to us, and asked if we were interested in working on a flagship store for the Rolling Stones. Right in the middle of the pandemic, we were awarded the project. Right off the bat, we put a pitch in just before Christmas, and were awarded the end of February. I had visited London and we were starting the whole process. And when lockdown hit mid March, everything came to a halt. But the project continued. And so we produced the entire project, long distance. Had some great people in London, with great expertise and a huge desire for the project to happen. So we stayed on. But that was our introduction to DRIVENxDESIGN.
Mark Bergin 19:54
Okay, so what interests me here is the Rolling Stones are traditionally known as a fast moving consumer good retailer aren't they? So this was, oh hang on maybe this was the first store that they've done, is it?
Paola Marques 20:06
Mark Bergin 20:06
Okay, so the future retail might be actually nothing to do with the past, it may actually be a new proposition that we haven't yet seen, which is what this story is. And I think if I go look at the people who are talking about the future of retail they're often working out how do they go take a legacy retail experience and upgrade it to being contemporary. And we know that's very difficult, because there's all sorts of transformational issues that are there. We've seen with airlines that the newcomer airlines were able to go do online check-in very quickly. The older airlines had all of these policies, procedures, and staff and customer expectations that made that difficult. So the idea of a transformation rather than a new proposition is a very different thing. I think when we go look at the idea of getting to carbon neutral or getting beyond carbon neutral beyond the zero, it's actually a transformative process. It's not necessarily just a new proposition, which goes to what you were talking about Melissa. It's a challenger that's in there. Rick, you've seen a lot of ideals that have come through and say big statements that have happened in New York over your duration with the City of New York and the Institute of Architects. Do these things, are they better media releases than they are actuations? Or do people actually work out how to carry them through?
Rick Bell 21:28
That's a really good question. You know, the implementation is stymied, if we go back to the prior discussion, by the economic system. I'd like to talk about the future, you know, and maybe, quote, one sentence if I might from this book, you know. New York is flooded in 2140. People are living with environmental catastrophe in the snow. And Kim Stanley Robinson writes very close to the beginning. Quote, “So look, the problem is capitalism. We’ve got good tech, we’ve got a nice planet, we’re fucking it up by way of stupid laws. That’s what capitalism is, a set of stupid laws.” You know, I think some other writer, better known said, you know, first thing we got to do is get rid of lawyers. What are the laws that impede people doing what they aspire to do? You know, what are the regulations that are getting in the way? And how can they be changed? And, you know, talking to the prior point about polarization, the difficulty in making laws that talk to the BeyondZero aspect of going further than what might otherwise be possible, is stymied by this incredibly equal diversity of opinion. You know, in New York, it's hard to imagine how people could agree with climate deniers. Melissa, you deal with that at Thanksgiving? Yeah, I don't even think of that Christmas or holidays. But it's not just the south, you know, you have people on Staten Island who don't believe COVID is real, you know. So how do you assume a certain reality, act on that reality, knowing that people are in disbelief about the importance of the values that you hold dear, which include doing something that is necessary to do before it's too late? And it may well be too late, you know, if you want a contrarian point of view. I worked in city government for many years, and we talked a good game, you know. Not to criticize my former or current colleagues, but actually doing something takes a level of political commitment that is absent in many many places. You know, tell me the exception.
Mark Bergin 23:57
So what I want to do there is because you've hit on a very interesting point there about the laws and structures permissions that are there. Jon you've recently finished a project, which is a portable hand wash station that can go into schools. You've gone to the schools in your district, and you've said, look, we've got this prototype, early stage manufacture. Can we put it in the school so the kids can wash their hands when after they come in from playing? Fantastic. You had 100% rejection because it was a new idea, and it didn't fit into the current rules and regulations.
Jon Winebrenner 24:35
You know I can't say exactly what the reasoning was. But I can only speculate right now. It was a combination of just flat out rejection, No, we can't use that right now click, to being told that they're just not allowed to put handwash stations into portables. And at least here in Vancouver, they have basically portable RV type buildings that are out in the school yards to accommodate more students. And they don't have bathrooms or sinks or anything like that in them. And that's kind of what I was targeting. And there's a school nearby me that had a COVID outbreak, an elementary school that were in the paper. And in interviews, they were saying that it was due to lack of handwashing. So I called them and said, I would actually give it to them, like not sell it and let them use my prototype. And they flat out said no. So if we're talking about regulations and laws, like, there's just a lot of things right now that are just so driven by fear, fear of making mistakes, fear of you know, fear of the unknown? I wish I had answers to this stuff. I'm kind of just working through this myself right now. But it's now time for me to pivot to somewhere else, because the school systems are just saying, nope, not interested.
Mark Bergin 26:03
Okay, so what we've got there is, there's a proposition which can solve in this circumstance, a hand wash station. That makes sense. But there's some roadblocks that are there. So it's actually it's not a design challenge at the moment for the object, it's actually a system challenge of redesigning the system to allow that opportunity to come around Ronnie Peters I want to throw across to you because if you go think of the idea of bringing in a new transportation system, such as Hyperloop, and then turning around and saying what we want people to feel safe with is. The first place you've got to start is, you know, internationally recognized standard approval systems like TÜV in Germany, which is, you'll see, those little labels on many electrical products saying that it's their safety standards. Hyperloop has been able to get that make of endorsement. Does that then immediately open up or does it just reduce the number of barriers to getting your systems in place, and the inertia challenges of trying to get something new into the market?
Ronnie Peters 27:09
There are multiple different levels that we need to deal with. So having regulation and regulatory endorsement was absolutely key. And one of the big steps towards this, having people now having ridden in Hyperloop is the next level of just people starting to feel comfortable and realizing that this is safe and something that people can do. And then there are all the engineering challenges that go along with that. It is the most safe, controlled environment you could imagine. It's far safer than a train where there are crossings where accidents can happen. It's far safer than flying, way safer than driving, cycling, anything else because we've just created this absolute structure that's all automated. And we're looking at the communications also being automated within that. So all of the different capsules within the system are actually communicating with each other. So if one slows down, all the others slow down with it, and you don't have any human intervention there with that, that's just happening as part of the system and can be overridden. And there is communications back to humans. But we're looking at how we can like bring that kind of level of automation that is there in trains and you're seeing it in other systems, but not as much as we're going to have with Hyperloop.
Mark Bergin 28:36
Julie I can see that you're eager.
Julie Monk 28:40
No, I'm just listening avidly.
Mark Bergin 28:45
It's interesting, just looking at everybody and work out how do you moderate this. I actually did an in real life event last week, and I was fascinated with the difference in fidelity of seeing people's feet twitching or their hands twitching. Because I realized, you know, when you can't see people's hands you don't know what's going on. Okay, so that was a false call then. So Ronnie you've got this interesting thing that you worked out how to accelerate some of the permission that's in there, and it's a very safe thing. But if I go back to Jon's scenario, Jon's actually got the antidote for the problem that the schools have got, but the person that he's asked, can't actually see past there was probably building code that said, because they're portables, and we can't go deal with the sullage water or the wastewater. Therefore, you can't have water in there. But every kid's got a drink bottle with them. There's probably a gel base sanitizing station in there. This is that thing where you need to go and work out how to break the code, isn't it? You've got to work out how do you make a proposition that gives relief from a building code or somebody understands this isn't plumbed in hand washing, this is portable hand washing. And that, to me is interesting. You've got to work out how to hack around the the regulations there because regulations and legislation take forever to change. Melissa, when you were doing the Ellevest work, did you get hit by many financial regulations that ware stopping you from coming up with innovative products? Did you have to walk an obstacle course or was there a straight path for you to do that?
Melissa Cullens 30:26
Thank goodness they regulate the financial industry. They need to regulate it more. Yeah, you know, the SEC is watching - you cannot advertise returns, you cannot talk about your product success rate, you cannot tell people that it is better best or use any kind of superlative language, when it comes to talking about investments. And that can make it really hard for a retail consumer to make decisions about, you know, what's best for their money. It is a different conversation entirely about, you know, how we're all in a position to as Americans ensure that when we're not able to work anymore, that we've accumulated enough wealth that we don't die alone in a box. So you know, but we're not given any support around, being able to kind of make those choices and pick. So instead of having a pension, you have a 401K. And there's a long history of like, why that happened, and all those things. But we were talking about, that might be a little more interesting, is talking about, with the washing stations, moving people as a part of the design process. A