15 Minutes With: David Roberts (MD, Formroom) Sustainability 4/5

For the penultimate part of our sustainability series, we’ve brought it home to chat to our MD, David, about sustainable practices, design philosophy, and doing our bit.

Hi David! We’ve discussed sustainability questions with a lots of different voices across the industry in this series – so what does sustainability mean to you?

David: I think it means trying to do your part in this world threatening issue of climate change and the environment. I think that can feel very overwhelming, and that potentially stops people from doing anything because it feels so monumental.

For me its about doing the things we can control to be part of that larger picture. Because we help clients build things, I see us as being a knowledgeable partner and consultant in that way. Giving them the education and knowledge when it comes to design, building choices, and material options so they can then do their bit from an informed place.

The Cube’ pop-up for Velux was made using CLT, where carbon content was measured and offset by existing carbon pledges. The structure was also made modular for easy transportation and reuse.

G: Within our industry, it could be argued that one of the big blockers to the use of sustainable materials is cost. would you agree?

D: In one word I’ll say yes. But its more nuanced than it was, say 5 years ago. Sustainable materials have moved on a lot. Unfortunately, due to commercial pressures on margins etc, it does seem to still be treated as somewhat of a ‘luxury’ – it’s seen as a choice which isn’t driving as much commercial value. But obviously the wider cost is a different story.

G: The cost of sustainable materials is definitely part of it – but we’ve worked on projects where sustainable choices can actually be MORE economical for a client.

D: Yes – I think we help our clients to be more sustainable through the design and project choices themselves. There are so many ways to act more sustainably on projects, aside from material choices. For example, reuse and repurposing physical components and materials. Not having to remake everything from scratch every time a client wants to do something new is a big part of it.

Another way to be sustainable is flexibility within design. Modular, and multi-use retail spaces will generate less waste and need for additional building materials, while still being able to cater to expectations for change and newness within retail. Good design practices are often, inherently, much more sustainable.

“Finding new ways to help our clients shift further towards sustainability is a priority. If we can get them even further, from carbon neutral to negative, that’s the next chapter.”

Modular spaces and furniture at Pacific Wines ensures minimal material waste, and maximum use.

G: I think that’s another benefit that can be gained from consulting design professionals when creating a space – the knowledge of design practices that are much less wasteful.

D: Yes, and we always apply that knowledge to our projects – particularly when creating a blueprint design, or a scaleable concept for different kinds of sites. The need for that flexibility will be factored in at every stage. Putting in that level of thought and strategy into retail design that will be relevant to the brand beyond a very short timeline, is a big part of what we do.

G: What kind of projects would you like to see more of in our industry?

D: I really love projects where the material is the story. It’s heroed rather than the side story – it makes people reconsider materiality. Like ‘why do we make lots of things out of harmful, single use materials when there’s these other innovative, possibly better options out there?’ They’re showcasing the versatility of that.

Eco-conscious apparel brand Ecoalf makes the material the story in their Spanish boutique. Image credit: Dezeen

G: A function of good design is being beautiful, and functional – and in this case, also ethical. I think bringing those 3 factors is something we can really do in an agency through our design process.

What would you change about the industry when it comes to sustainability?

D: Make it less about volume and more about intent. And by that I mean its far better to do one, really interesting, innovative concept delivered with sustainable practices and have great PR, and let the magic of social media do it’s work. Allow it to reach a whole country – or the whole world potentially, rather than try and launch one concept in 30 locations with half the credentials, and half the impact.

G: And its important to note that impactful customer experience doesn’t just have to be delivered via hyper-materiality. Experience led spaces can require much less material as a rule.

We saw a lot of focus on materiality in retail last year. Do you see that continuing for 2024?

D: I think physical will always be very powerful, but I would like to see it a lot more considered. I also see a lot of room for the boundaries of more experiential elements being pushed – which we’ve been excited to explore in lots more of our upcoming projects.

“I’d like to see projects made less about volume and more about intent. Let’s do one really interesting, innovative concept instead of 30 with half the credentials, and half the impact.”

We’ve been working on a very exciting project in-house at Formroom, incorporating all we’ve learned around sustainability in F&B, design practices and materials that we can’t wait to share. Stay tuned!