Sustainability in product design: the time is now

Sustainability is more than a mere buzzword, and deserves more than lip service. Climate change is real, and if we don’t reach targets laid out in the Paris Agreement and reach Net Zero within the next two decades, the planet could be headed towards catastrophe. 

We are all now aware of the problem of waste, but how can we reduce the negative impact of our everyday products on the environment? And, crucially, can we do this without compromising on aesthetics and functionality? 

Materials: sustainability at the source

Product design is a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. Materials form the core of physical products, and the choice of materials is a key consideration. Sadly, non-biodegradable materials are everywhere, and continue to pollute our planet. Our clothes, for example, contain microfibres – miniscule pieces of plastic derived from materials such as polyester, nylon and acrylic. These products shed the microfibres, and they make their way into our water systems, the air that we breathe, and even the food we eat. 

These microplastics can last for hundreds of years. Recycling won’t solve this problem; the microfibres, if recycled, will form another product only to be released into the environment again, in the same way. Phasing out microplastics from the production line will help to reduce the amounts in the ecosystem.

Materials that are biodegradable are far kinder to the environment than their non-biodegradable counterparts. Bioplastics are made from renewable sources such as corn starch, proteins and sugar cane. This is more eco-friendly than plastics derived from fossil fuels – crude oil, natural gas and coal. Many are purporting that bioplastics could be the solution to the plastic problem. It can be found in food packaging, and in the textile and medical industries. However, there are some concerns regarding the manufacturing process – bioplastics require significant amounts of agricultural land to produce it, although at present less than one percent of total agricultural land is used to cultivate plant-based bioplastic sources.

Organic materials could also provide an alternative material for a variety of products. Mycelium composites come from fungi spores derived from certain mushrooms, and are 100 percent biodegradable. The composite material can be used in various industrial applications. MyFoam is a foam-like material derived from mycelium, for use in a range of products such as packaging, leather, and bricks. 

Using reclaimed materials helps to reduce waste that would otherwise go to landfill.

Cork is fast-becoming a popular eco-friendly material, and not just for cork stoppers and notice boards. This versatile material can be found in unique pieces of furniture, flooring, book covers and footwear. Derived from the bark of cork trees, it is harvested, heated and filed into strips, with waste cork being ground down for other applications. And, most importantly, the trees are not harmed during the harvesting process, and the bark regenerates itself following the harvesting season.

There is also a burgeoning trend for reclaimed materials, whether that be furniture made from reclaimed wood, or buildings constructed with reclaimed stone. Using reclaimed materials helps to reduce waste that would otherwise go to landfill. It can also be more energy efficient than the process of sourcing new materials, and can be sourced locally to reduce transportation costs (and the associated carbon emissions).

Embrace the circular economy

The concept of the circular economy rejects the current paradigm of ‘producing, using and throwing away’, replacing it with a new ideal of production and consumption that emphasises reusing materials and extending the life cycle of a product. The aim is to reduce waste and to move away from the tendency to use cheap materials in the manufacturing process, that quickly wear out or become obsolete during a short space of time. With the manufacture of everyday products accounting for around 45% of CO2 emissions, we must tackle this issue as a matter of urgency.

Designers need to adopt a sustainability mindset from the beginning of the product design process – also known as ‘eco design’ or ‘lifecycle thinking’. 

Decisions made at the product design stage determine the environmental impact of that product – how energy efficient they are (if they are energy-using), whether the materials can be reused, repaired or recycled, and the life cycle of that product. So, designers need to adopt a sustainability mindset from the beginning of the product design process – also known as ‘eco design’ or ‘lifecycle thinking’. 

At present, design is often ‘human-centred’, looking at the product from the user’s perspective to better understand the user’s needs and how they behave. Against this backdrop, sustainability needs to be integrated and a balance needs to be struck between the needs of the individual – who is ultimately going to use the product – the impacts on communities of people, and the impact on the environment and the wider ecosystem.

It goes without saying that product designers need to consider how easy it is to recycle the product (including disassembly) and the CO2 emissions released during the manufacturing process – for example, sourcing locally wherever possible and making use of any technological innovations on offer that would increase efficiency, including in the supply chain. 

Consider environmental certifications

Environmental certifications have begun to pop up over recent years, in recognition of the desire on the part of consumers to ‘buy sustainable’ and the increasing pressure on brands to meet sustainability standards. The Ecolabel Index is a portal listing all of the ecolabels in the United Kingdom, many of which are based on industry or government standards. 

And this also has an international dimension – ECOS, for example, is an NGO advocating for eco-friendly technical standards and policies, including eco-design and eco-labelling. Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) also offers environmental certifications, the main suite of standards being ISO 14000.

Designers should take a proactive approach, and become part of the dialogue – whether that be through consultations with government and international bodies, or within their particular industry.

Product designers should consider meeting external environmental standards and embedding this into their design process. This is not only to win over consumers, but rather to become genuinely eco-friendly at all stages of design – as well as being able to benchmark products against an external framework. Designers should take a proactive approach, and become part of the dialogue – whether that be through consultations with government and international bodies, or within their particular industry.

Aesthetics in design versus the environment?

It is all very well aiming for sustainability and meeting regulatory standards, but there is one big elephant in the room: is it possible to design a truly eco-friendly product without compromising on aesthetics, or even functionality? This could be seen as a question of ‘ethics versus aesthetics’. The designer is a creative, and perhaps it could be argued that ethical notions of sustainability constraints will ‘box in’ the designer’s creative process. After all, if no-one wants to buy your product because of how it looks, who cares if it is eco-friendly or not?

Added to this is the trend of eco-friendly products having a certain ‘look’ – beige and green colours, a certain ‘organic’ sensibility, lots of wood and woodchip and cardboard. What does this actually have to do with sustainability? It could in fact be a form of greenwashing, with no eco design substance at all. Meanwhile, solar panels on buildings can be considered an eyesore, and energy efficient buildings have to prioritise eco-friendly elements, with aesthetics giving way. Perhaps this calls into question the fundamentals of product design – how important is aesthetic appeal? And will eco-design be considered as important as functionality, as our society becomes more and more concerned with preserving the planet?

“We don’t love something because it is non-toxic and biodegradable, we love it because it moves the head and heart.”

Lance Hosey

Architect Lance Hosey, in his book ‘The Shape of Green’, examined the relationship between sustainability and beauty, putting forward principles for aesthetically pleasing sustainable design. “We don’t love something because it is non-toxic and biodegradable, we love it because it moves the head and heart.” For Hosey, sustainable buildings should also be beautiful, because beauty is an essential element of design, without which the product (building) is likely to be discarded, or perhaps never come to fruition in the first place.

No-one said that designing for sustainability would be easy. There are many hurdles to be overcome. Perhaps the greatest obstacle is the mindset of business owners, key stakeholders, and the design community at large. A shift in thinking is urgently needed, so that eco-design becomes second nature. It is only then that we will truly begin to see real results.

Keith Cunningham: reclusive artist showcase at Newport Street Gallery

Haunting, dark paintings in blood red, shades of burnt orange and ghoulish grey. The occasional figure of an anonymous solitary man, a human skull or an animal carcass hidden beneath the thick brushstrokes. This is the work of reclusive Australian artist Keith Cunningham, little known during his lifetime, in a retrospective exhibition ‘The Cloud of Witness’ at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall.

Installation view, Keith Cunningham: The Cloud of Witness (2022), Newport Street Gallery. Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates.

Some 70 artworks by Cunningham, all part of Damien Hirst’s personal collection, are on display at the gallery – and the theme is certainly sombre. Walking through the pristine white gallery, the first painting titled ‘Portrait of Frank Bowling’ – a contemporary of Cunningham’s – shows the figure of a man who appears to be grimacing, his facial features obscured by the dark red and brown paint. A series of pieces themed around dogs are particularly striking, the ghostly form of the animals fading into various hues of red and grey. Upstairs are more figurative paintings; lonely figures. His widow, Bobby Hilson, has said that his paintings “reflect his complicated personality and have an intense aesthetic marked by an underlying darkness”. These pieces are deeply psychological yet subtle; abrasive but also alluring.

Keith Cunningham Four Dogs, Spain, 1955, Oil on canvas, Credit: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

Cunningham moved to London in 1949, initially to study graphic design, before enrolling at the Royal College of Art to study painting. A contemporary of Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon and Jo Tilson, he became a part of the London art scene, garnering praise from art critics and collectors. But he later withdrew from the art world, refusing to exhibit his work. He continued to paint, storing his artworks in his Battersea studio, which were not revealed to the public until his death in 2014. For Cunningham, his art was a private pursuit where he could unleash his inner demons, expressing them through the violent contours of pigment. 


Keith Cunningham ,Red Portrait of Frank Bowling, 1956-1957, Oil on canvas
Credit: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

This exhibition showcases Cunningham’s intense productivity, with a steadfastness and consistency that – despite his relative obscurity – should cement his position as a remarkable artist alongside the likes of Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.

The exhibition runs until 21August 2022 at the Newport Street Gallery and admission is free.

Newport Street Gallery, 1 Newport Street, London, SE11 6AJ. www.newportstreetgallery.com

UK chancellor announces further Covid support in new budget

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced the budget for 2021, including an extension of the furlough scheme and grants for the self-employed. 

In a series of measures set to help people through the Covid-19 pandemic, he put forward a three-step plan to support people and business, fix public finances and build the future economy.

Sunak said that the government’s coronavirus response was working. He said that the Office for Budget Responsibility had told him the economic recovery would be swifter and more sustained than they had predicted. The economy should be recovered by the middle of next year, six months earlier than forecast.

However, the economy will still be three per cent smaller in five years’ time. Unemployment is forecast at 6.5 per cent, which is lower than predicted. This means that 1.8 million fewer people will be unemployed.

The furlough scheme will be extended to the end of September and there will be no changes to the terms. Furloughed employees will receive 80 per cent of their salary. Employers will be asked to contribute to the cost, along with the taxpayer. 

The self-employed will continue to receive grants from the government to support them during the pandemic, which will be based on an average of profits. The fourth grant will be available until April and the fifth grant will be available from August onwards. 

Claims can be made from late July. Those whose turnover has fallen by more than 30 per cent are eligible for the full grant. This comes to a total of £33 billion from the Treasury to support the self-employed. Anyone who has filed their tax return will be eligible to claim the grant.

Universal Credit to support those on low incomes will increase by £20 a week for another six months. Working tax credit claimants will also receive equivalent support through a one-off payment of £500. The living wage will also increase to £8.91.

The government will fund a ‘Restart Programme’, offering £18,000 to highstreet businesses in need of support to recover from the pandemic. It will also give £3000 to employers to take on new apprentices and pump money into a new traineeship scheme, in a bid to help young people get into work.

Businesses will also receive support, with a recovery loan scheme available to help them recover from the pandemic. Loans from £25,000 to £10 million will be offered. Businesses will also benefit from a business rates holiday until the end of June and a two thirds discount after that. VAT will also be reduced.

The housing sector will also receive a boost from the government. Those with small deposits looking to buy a property can apply for a mortgage with a mortgage guarantee from the government, which will be offered from next month. They will need just a five per cent deposit under the new scheme. The stamp duty holiday will also be extended until June.

There will also be a freeze on fuel duty and alcohol duty.

Sunak said that borrowing levels were very high and were not sustainable. He said that the personal allowance threshold for income tax would increase from £12,500 to £12,570 but would then be frozen until April 2026. The higher rate for income tax would rise from £50,001 to £50,270 but would also be frozen until April 2026.

However, the budget was met by criticism from Labour opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said that it merely “papered over the cracks” and did not offer a long-term economic solution for the country. In particular, it neglected the NHS and social care, he said.

Album review: Jacaszek, ‘Gardenia’

As a self-confessed ambient music aficionado, Touch Records is my go to place for all things soundscapey. Polish electroacoustic composer Michal Jacaszek has been releasing music on the label since 2014 and has established himself as a well-respected ambient musician within experimental music circles.

His latest offering – ‘Gardenia’ – is a sublimely crafted sonic delight. Incorporating natural sounds from the Limpopo province in South Africa, it is not merely a record of found sounds; the unusual environment provides a springboard for a new creative work.

‘Waterhole’ opens with insect noises, birdsong and high pitched atonal sounds. It is ominous and foreboding, with a depth of atmosphere that slowly draws you in before layers of dissonant distortion envelop the composition. It stops and starts in a way that leaves you feeling on edge, akin to being in a large cavernous space, not knowing what is around the corner. 

‘Mmabolela’ is a continuation of this theme. There is a deep reverberation hovering below, lending a certain expansiveness to the piece. Ever so slightly melancholy, microscopic melodies can be found amongst the textures as a sampled low-pitched voice cuts its way through the frequencies. A certain other-worldliness beckons you to come inside and rest for a while. ‘Riverbed’ is a more forthright track, with a sense of direction that carries you along. A choir occasionally punctuates the glitches, before abruptly cutting out. This is a cerebral composition, conjuring up images of the heavens. 

With track ‘Red Dust’, you are transported to the South African outback, with the sounds of crickets talking to the synthesisers in this immaculate piece. It slowly builds into a crescendo of ambience, the sound of mother nature ghostly and powerful. ‘Dawn’ is a more minimalist piece, with scattered rain-like sounds; lush, processed ambient melodies weave in and out of the composition and layers of distortion reach skyward before gently retreating. A bass guitar softly rings in counterpoint to the electronic glitches. 

‘Bones’ suggests the sounds of unidentifiable creatures, sucked into a vortex of drum-like reverberations, hammering away into dissonance. The track is anxious and fractious; there is a sense of something yet to arrive. This is a worried anticipation, preparing for tribal battle. ‘Nidus’ opens with a distant chorus of atonal ambience, before synthesised melodic samples cut into the composition. Another melancholy piece, it teases, pushes and pulls, suggesting but not quite stating outright. A truly beautiful and haunting track.

‘Nebula’ is a subtle, quiet arrangement. Synthesisers echo each other, as atonal melodies ping to and fro, a vocal sample permeating the composition like a distant memory. It gradually builds into a layered ambient symphony, recalling science-fiction as well as nature.

Final track ‘Ruins’ is filled with the sounds of nature, bird calls, and the atmosphere of the nature reserve. A deep bass sound and keyboard draw the composition towards melody and away from the environment, whilst processed, stop-start ambient sounds add atmosphere and trepidation. Atonal glitches bounce back and forth before suddenly cutting out, leaving the sound of the birds once again. 

Jacaszek has created a stunning work of ambient music with this album, making clever use of nature’s sounds without falling into the trappings of the ‘new-age’ genre. It is an album that you will want to play again and again, either listening with deep intent or to add atmosphere in the background. An outstanding album.

https://jacaszekreleases.bandcamp.com/album/gardenia

A virtual home – the digital diaspora

Migrants are in a constant state of readjustment in their host countries. Forging a new life for themselves far from home, there is often a need for connection and community.  Many migrants find it difficult to assimilate within a new country and seek out other migrants from their home country or try to remain connected to friends and family back home.

The term ‘diaspora’ originally referred to the dispersal of Jewish people from their homeland and their settlement in other countries. It is now taken to mean any ethnic group of people who have migrated elsewhere but have a sense of identity shaped by their migrant experience and their home country. Following the end of colonial rule, migration became a key feature of Western society, and in a globalised world, many migrant communities now exist in Europe and the United States. People from the diaspora might decide to visit their home countries regularly, watch television channels broadcast from their home countries or attend events organised by other migrants in their host country to stay connected.

The internet enables migrants to connect within a cultural collective and express themselves in a way that might not be possible where they live. Through online communities a form of ‘digital diaspora’ has emerged, a virtual life transcending national borders that many displaced migrants yearn for. The internet is a fitting platform for migrants, its relative anonymity and global reach providing a sanctuary for those who have left war-torn or economically challenged countries but have yet to forge an identity in their new environment. Online networks and platforms for migrant communities have proliferated in recent years.

Tamil migrants have fought for self-determination and they have congregated in virtual forums and websites, forging a sense of solidarity. According to researcher Priya Kumar, ‘the web has expanded the opportunities and motivations of Tamil activists and diaspora community members, who use the platform to invite wider audiences to engage in online-offline mobilisation activities’. Websites frequented by Tamil migrants include news sites, human rights websites and community websites.

http://www.tyo.ch/ is a German website that commemorates losses during the Sri Lankan civil war. It commemorates Tamil fighters such as Suppayya Paramu Thamilselvan. The website includes an apt quote from him: “Dear Tamils ​​from the diaspora, speak to the media, politicians and fellow citizens in the countries where you live and tell them the truth, the truth about the atrocities in our country,” it reads. A call to arms, the website encourages activism amongst its readership.

tamilnation.org describes itself as being ‘concerned to tell a story…it is a story about a nation without a state, a trans state nation of more than 80 million Tamils living today in many lands and across distant seas’. The site is very much aware of the diaspora community, stating that ‘the digital revolution in which we live is helping to advance Tamil togetherness. Globalisation and localisation are taking place at the same time. Tamils living in many lands and across distant seas are communicating with one another through internet newsgroups and mailing lists.’ 

Many migrants leave Eritrea for Europe or North America, but their cultural ties to Eritrea are strong, and, following the war of independence, there is a sense of belonging that remains with Eritreans wherever they are located. Academic Victoria Bernal from the University of California looked at the website www.dehai.org, a community for the Eritrean diaspora that allowed them to discuss political issues and stay virtually connected to the country. Bernal describes the website as ‘a virtual Eritrea’ and a ‘transnational Eritrean public sphere’, a public space giving Eritreans abroad a sense of identity and a voice that they might not otherwise have.

In the US alone there are some 1.5 million Armenians, who have strong political ties due to their political struggle for independence. This has manifested in the form of activism, and researcher Monique Bolsajian notes that ‘Armenians in the diaspora focus on advancing the “Armenian Cause” and preserving their ideal homeland.’ The Armenian migrant community is soon to have its own online platform called “Highconnect”, to be launched by Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian (himself a second generation Armenian). The aim of the online platform is to connect Armenians globally. It will also allow Armenian entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas to Silicon Valley investors. The Armenian Weekly is a news site staffed by Armenians. Commentators for the news site promote activism amongst the Armenian migrant community. Armenian Weekly writer Stepan Piligian talks to this community: ‘the diaspora has its own set of questions that are laced with anger and tell a story of wounded trust,’ he writes. 

Kurdish people abroad have also found an online community to assert their identity. Researcher Jowan Mahmod notes that ‘Young Kurds turn to the online forums to test and contest certain ideas and norms’. Mahmod describes the digital diaspora as an imagined community, a sense of belonging that exists primarily in the mind. The internet facilitates this imagined collective identity, particularly as Kurdish people are effectively stateless. In online spaces Kurds from the diaspora converse with each other, questioning what it means to be Kurdish and discussing political agendas. They are multi-lingual, Westernised and torn between their Kurdish and Western identities. They discuss this identity crisis online, expressing their conflicted sense of selves and sometimes accusing online members of being too Westernised or, conversely, of not fitting in with Western society. Mahmod’s research indicates that the Kurdish members of online communities became more socially and politically engaged with respect to Kurdish issues, attending demonstrations and connecting with the other members of the community offline as a result.

This is just a snapshot of online migrant life. The e-Diasporas Atlas project, http://www.e-diasporas.fr/, researches and maps websites and online forums that are relevant to different migrant groups. An ambitious project coordinated by Dana Diminescu, it collates websites and forums that focus on migrants from the Jewish diaspora to Tunisian groups. The websites are vast and varied, as well as being truly global.

A strand of commonality between these different diasporas is political activism. These groups are marginalised, often from ethnic groups in a struggle for self-determination or fleeing persecution in their homelands. Their identities are fragmented, they are scattered geographically and they are often emotional and passionate about the causes that they are interested in. The internet is a tool for them to further their activism and to associate. Migration in the digital era will produce reverberations online for as long as these issues continue.

“Who will defend us if not ourselves?” Indigenous people and rainforests under renewed attack in Brazil

Socio-environmental protections in Brazil are being dismantled whilst the world is distracted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Forests in the Amazon, home to 1 million indigenous people, have been subject to fires and deforestation as the current government administration seeks to reverse hard-won gains for indigenous and environmental rights. These fragile rights exist in tension with agribusiness and industrial development in Brazil, which appear to have the support of the government under its current president, Jair Bolsonaro.

The Brazilian constitution enshrines the rights of its indigenous people to live in the Amazon rainforest, which also serves to protect these areas from environmental damage. However, whilst protected in theory, the reality is that these indigenous zones are under constant threat of destruction, from cattle-ranches to dams and gold and copper mining. Now with coronavirus sweeping through the deforested areas, indigenous tribes face a health threat similar to that which previously decimated their ancestors during the colonial era.

The indigenous people of Brazil have undergone a long struggle for their rights. Active campaigning throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s led to constitutional reform, namely the 1988 constitution following the end of military dictatorship. Article 231 of the constitution explicitly recognises indigenous people’s right to demarcation of the land that they inhabit, referring to ‘original rights to the lands they traditionally occupy’. These rights are protected under the constitution, in particular with regard to the exploitation of natural resources on the land and protecting them from forced removal.

However, these rights have been challenged by commercial interests and clashes between indigenous people and illegal miners have often been marked by violence. This was particularly prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s, with an estimated 15% of the Yanomami people killed during this time. This era of free-for-all gold mining was characterised by thousands of garimpeiros searching for gold by hand, using picks and shovels. The Serra Pelada gold mine in the 1980s was a notorious example of the scramble for natural resources. Concerns for indigenous people and the environment was cast aside, and the Yanomami people’s limited rights on the land, excluding land ownership, were unable to stand in the way, their lives threatened as well as their cultural heritage. 

Now gold mining has returned to Brazil, with two Yanomami tribesmen killed in June 2020 by gold miners. Not only are these miners destroying the forest, using mercury and hoses which pollute the land, they are also bringing with them infections including Covid-19, further killing dozens of Yanomami people. With memories of the Haximu massacre in Venezuela in 1993, NGOs are calling for a halt to mining to protect the Yanomami people from further death and destruction. 

In 2007 the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was adopted, formally granting rights to indigenous people under international law. The declaration recognises the human rights of indigenous people and their right to self-determination. The declaration also states that indigenous people should not be subject to genocide or violence, nor to forced assimilation or the destruction of their culture. However, Bolsonaro has said that ‘not a centimeter’ of land will be demarcated to indigenous people under his rule. In March 2020, a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting was held in Geneva to discuss the concerns of NGOs and indigenous representatives that the current government was encroaching on these rights, including putting the indigenous people at risk of genocide. Their concern is primarily the threat of violence from illegal gold miners, the garimpeiros, who have been responsible for previous violations. 

Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic rages, the Brazilian administration has begun to issue executive orders effectively deregulating the existing socio-environmental protections. Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, was quoted in May 2020 as saying that that the pandemic was an opportune time to “run the cattle herd”, which is taken as meaning that as the pandemic distracts, agricultural business could benefit from environmental legislative amendments effectively deregulating the space and making it easier to commercially exploit the land. The comment was condemned by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch. The executive orders issued by the administration include an effective amnesty to those who have previously committed illegal deforestation as well as concentrating power in the Minister of the Environment, who has, it seems, made his position clear.

Another recent bill brought forward by the Brazilian government in February 2020, PL 191/2020, proposes to regulate mining and hydroelectric power projects such as dams in the indigenous zones. Effectively the legislation will legalise the activities which are currently illegal in the region, due to indigenous rights protections. Under the current administration, mining and agribusiness applications to the National Mining Agency have increased, in particular since the bill was presented to Congress. The bill could be seen as granting a green light to agribusiness in Brazil, whilst undermining indigenous rights enshrined in the constitution. The Munduruku people made a declaration of resistance on December 18 2020, stating their opposition to the proposed law, describing it as a ‘Death Bill’. They singled out the Brazilian multinational mining company Vale as one of the main culprits responsible for the destruction of their land. Vale also owns the Brumadinho dam, which collapsed in 2019, resulting in the death of an estimated 260 people who were living downstream. 

The Brumadinho dam disaster illustrates the lack of regulatory oversight of hydroelectric projects in Brazil. The collapse of the Fundao dam in Mariana, which was operated by Samarco, resulted in iron ore pollution of the Rio Doce river, killing 19 people as well as destroying the town of Bento Rodrigues. These dams were constructed to contain the waste from mining, and consist of soluble materials, rendering them more susceptible to collapse. This is another example of the hastened and destructive way in which materials are exploited by mining companies in Brazil. 

Brazil accounts for one third of the world’s rainforest, but under the current administration, deforestation has increased at an alarming rate. In 2020 alone, deforestation rose by over 9%, with some 11,000 sq km (2.7 million acres) of rainforest destroyed. Given the size of the Amazon rainforest, this will have an impact on carbon emissions both for Brazil and globally. 

One of the main causes of deforestation in Brazil is cattle ranching. Demand for beef production has resulted in deforestation in the region, although there have been attempts to regulate this space. Sustainable farming NGOs such as Allianca da Terra encourage good farming practice through the promotion of certifications of good environmental standards. Another organisation, cattle ranching management and partnership firm Pecsa, renews existing degraded cattle ranches and encourages more efficient farming to reduce deforestation. The Brazilian Forest Code also requires landowners to maintain 80% of the land as forest, however, the threat of illegal deforestation remains. 

The current Brazil administration is under pressure to comply with the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which Bolsonaro had previously threatened to withdraw from. Brazil carries a large responsibility for global carbon neutrality goals, although its government considers these international pressures as a challenge to its sovereignty and freedom to develop. It now looks unlikely that Brazil will meet its targets to cut over 30% of its carbon emissions by 2025 along with zero illegal deforestation. This, coupled with the incursions on indigenous rights, has led some to suggest that investors impose a trade boycott on Brazil and governments impose sanctions. Warnings have come from supermarkets in the UK such as Tesco that they might not stock Brazilian products if deforestation continues at the current rate. 

Brazil has made progress on its socio-environmental protections in the last few decades, however its current trajectory is downwards in this regard. Emboldened by the current government’s rhetoric, illegal mining and deforestation continues unabated. The cultural heritage and way of life for indigenous people, long fraught with difficulties, is now under threat more than ever. The forests which they inhabit may soon have a free pass for mining companies should the latest bill be enacted. The current constitutional protections for indigenous people and environmental regulation may soon be mere lip service if government policy continues in this direction.

Latin America’s hip hop scene

A burgeoning Latin American hip-hop scene is causing waves that could rival its US counterparts. Infusing trap, reggaeton and salsa, it makes for a unique take on the hip-hop genre. 

Cazzu (Argentina)

Cazzu, an Argentinian rapper and singer otherwise known as Julieta Cazzucheli , offers a refreshing female perspective on South American hip-hop. She has a strong gothic aesthetic, with long black hair, tattoos and heavy make-up, sometimes wearing a balaclava. This is not your typical Latino songstress. Songs like ‘Chapiadora’ can hold themselves up alongside top male trap stars, and her high-pitched vocal floats on top of the heavy beats and bassline. “Girls who fall in love are losing cash and time” she raps in this song about women earning their way in life. In ‘Mucha Data’ she is confident and assured. “You’ll never meet a girl like me”, she says as she brags about not taking phone calls. ‘Fuego’ is a softer song, showcasing Cazzu’s singing ability and vulnerability, as well as her impressive range of styles. In a male-dominated world, Cazzu can certainly hold her own.

Duki (Argentina)

Twenty-four year old Argentinian rapper Duki, who has collaborated with Cazzu, is establishing himself at the forefront of Latin trap music. ‘Hello Cotto’ has over 60 million plays on Spotify, and has lyrics which are dark and subversive, with a hint of paranoia. ‘The CIA is following me’ he raps aggressively in Spanish, ‘the madness doesn’t pass.’ He has cultivated an appropriate bad-boy image to accompany his music, snarling at the camera in photographs, his face and hands heavily tattooed, clutching at his neck chain. 

Bad Bunny (Puerto Rico)

Puerto Rican rapper and singer Bad Bunny has made a name for himself by fusing Latin trap music with reggaeton, resulting in a distinct hybrid style that stays true to its Latin American roots. Track ‘I Like It’, a collaboration with Cardi B, entered the Billboard Chart at number one and he was the most streamed artist on Spotify in 2020. His collaboration with star singer Rosalia, ‘La Noche De Anonche’, is a stand-out track, mid-tempo and melodic with heavily auto-tuned vocals.

Lunay (Puerto Rico)

Twenty year old Puerto Rican singer Lunay is also combining Latin trap and reggaeton to make catchy dance floor tunes. He released his debut album, ‘Epico’, in 2019. Pristinely produced and lighthearted, his pop track ‘Soltera’ has racked up over 500 million plays on Spotify. It has all the hallmarks of a Latin anthem, and recalls the hit ‘Gasolina’ by Daddy Yankee, which also happens to be Lunay’s favourite track.

Yung Buda (Brazil)

If you’re looking for something a bit more lo-fi and left-field, check out Brazil’s Yung Buda. His first full-length album, ‘True Religion’, contains ominous synth sounds alongside his auto-tuned Portugese vocals. The production is delicate, minimalist, elegant and refined. Distorted and oftentimes melancholy, his style is reminiscent of English producer Burial. ‘Piloto’, taken from the EP ‘Musicas Para Drift’, is full of bleeps and glitches as he lends his trap-style vocals to this experimental hip hop track.

New cancer centre opens in Sutton

A new state-of-the-art Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery worth £75 million has opened in Sutton, London, with a virtual opening ceremony held on the 17th of November. The centre is part of the London Cancer Hub site that is currently under development in Sutton, which aims to be a global centre for cancer research and life sciences campus. 

The London Cancer Hub is a major long-term regeneration project in Sutton and is a partnership between The Institute of Cancer Research, London and the London Borough of Sutton, with support from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, Epsom and St Helier NHS Universities Trust and the Greater London Authority. A response to the need for expansion for the Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research, the hub is intended to establish a world-leading centre for life sciences research and increase the rate of discovery of new treatments. A science-specialist secondary school, the Sutton Harris Academy, is also located on the premises to provide links between students and researchers and clinicians.

Councillor Ruth Dombey, of Sutton Council, said: “I am delighted that Sutton is now home to this world-leading cancer research centre, cementing our borough’s position at the heart of the global pursuit for cancer cures and treatments.

“The work that will be done at the Centre for Drug Discovery is truly inspiring to learn about, and I’m pleased that the links we have fostered between Sutton schools and the ICR mean that some of the next generation of cancer-beating scientists could come from the Cancer Hub’s own doorstep.”

Sutton Council aims to create 280,000m² of state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure in a campus location. The site is intended to be redeveloped at a cost of over £1 billion and is expected to create more than 13,000 jobs. The development is planned over the next 20 years.

The work of the Institute for Cancer Research includes research on cancer evolution with the Centre for Evolution and Cancer. The centre applies theories of Charles Darwin’s principle of natural selection within ecosystems to better understand how cancers develop and why drug resistance occurs by looking into the genetic components of different cancers. The researchers include computational biologists, geneticists, cell biologists and clinical scientists and the centre is supported by the Wellcome Trust. The new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery in Sutton will also focus on treatments designed to prevent tumours from evolving resistance. This is a form of natural selection, as certain cancer cells evolve to become resistant. Through technologies such as single-cell genome sequencing this process can now be examined. Possible treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs and hormone treatments.

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “This new building is the embodiment of our research strategy, which centres on overcoming cancer evolution and drug resistance – the major challenge we face today in cancer research and treatment. The Centre will bring together our cancer evolution scientists with our drug discovery researchers all under one roof, so they can more easily share ideas and spark new discoveries.”

The Sutton site currently consists of the Epsom and St Helier/Sutton Hospital, The Royal Marsden and the Sutton branch of The Institute of Cancer Research. The Sutton hospital is currently vacant, and Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust may re-locate some services to the London Cancer Hub. The project has secured funding of £8.4 million from the Strategic Investment Pot which is administered by the City of London to fund the first wave of development of commercial life science buildings. A Knowledge Centre will be developed, which will include labs, offices and collaboration spaces. Sutton Council is also planning to deliver a new Innovation Gateway in an existing building owned by the council, immediately adjacent to the Institute of Cancer Research. 

The Sutton Local Plan, adopted in 2018, identifies a series of challenges to the development, including outdated facilities and a lack of public transport. The current site is currently fragmented and has developed incrementally. Sutton Council seeks to improve the public transport links, secure investment in infrastructure and improve traffic and parking management in and around the site. Sutton Council has commissioned transport consultants WSP to identify transport improvements required at each stage of the developments and will encourage sustainable modes of transport in its travel plans. Proposed transport measures include enhancements to local bus services, improvements to road junctions, cycling improvements and extension of the Tramlink to Sutton Station and the London Cancer Hub.

There are also business development opportunities as a result of the regeneration project. Sutton Council suggests that pharmaceutical companies could be interested in collaborating, as they have done with previous similar institutions, and that SMEs could also be attracted to the hub. It is intended for life science businesses to co-locate and collaborate with the academic research centre and it is estimated that the London Cancer Hub could bring over £1 billion per annum to the UK economy.

In terms of job growth, it is hoped that the London Cancer Hub will bring employment opportunities to the Sutton area. The borough of Sutton is currently the eighth most economically active borough population in London and the London Cancer Hub should create 2,470 managerial and professional jobs, 1,950 associate technical and professional jobs and 2,015 administrative and service level jobs. Sutton Council considers the administrative and service level jobs to be most likely to accommodate the local labour market.

‘For real’: On authenticity

How well does one person ever know another person? This is the question I have recently been asking myself. With the increasing use of social media and electronic communications, we can stay connected to others without even picking up the phone, let alone meeting face to face. But I have a feeling that these connections may well be merely skimming the surface. In life we project a facade, the best version of ourselves that we want others to see. That is normal, and natural. Of course our egos want to portray an aspirational prototype and social media, for example, is geared towards this. But in reality, it transpired that not many people truly know me at all. Why is that? If you have only ever met someone at a party or event, you will likely have formed an impression based on meeting them for a couple of hours in a crowded room. If you know me from my social media, you are only getting a morsel that I have decided to make known to everyone. These are perhaps not the best environments for authenticity.

What is authenticity? The Oxford English Dictionary describes authenticity as ‘the quality of being genuine or true’. How many of us are truly authentic in our day-to-day interactions? What is the quality of the relationships that we have? And are we even allowed to be authentic?

I became frustrated as I realised that many of my day-to-day interactions did not feel authentic. As we live in an age of populism, the majority slowly but surely drowns out individual voices and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a common strand of humanity. This is the reference by which many people live. After all, who wants to be left behind? If this is the new standard, well then, simply follow it. Everyone is striving and yet must appear to be effortlessly achieving their goals. The strain on our faces, as the schism widens between our true selves and the new rules of society, says it all. 

It was Alexis de Tocqueville who, centuries ago, warned of majority tyranny in democratic nations. The minority view would be cast aside as the popular vote would trundle forward. But who would have predicted that our very sense of selves would be called into question? When your thoughts are no longer your own, when you feel pressured to adopt certain opinions and rules for living, you are no longer an individual. Populism is indeed tyrannical, and following the crowd is the very antithesis of authenticity.

Added to that, democratisation in a networked space has turned us into our own mini-celebrities, promulgating our own truths online to those who want to listen (myself included, this is a blog after all). But where everyone now has a voice, we have become surprisingly monotonous. There is no chaos or anarchy in our democratised, hyper-networked society, there are simply lots of people saying the same thing over and over. In an attempt to find individuality in a world that has turned increasingly hostile and all encompassing in its dominant ideology, we seem to be losing the battle. Those who do stand aside from the crowd are in danger of being labelled as being ‘woke’, a new term that refers to anyone who has an opinion challenging injustices. But the opposite, laying dormant as the world takes a very sorry turn, is, in my opinion, far worse.

The thing with authenticity is that if you are not living your life authentically, you will know it. You will feel lethargic and forced. You will feel that you are not living true to yourself, and in my case, I became acutely aware that I was walking down the wrong path when I could not recognise myself anymore. For every real connection I had a handful of inauthentic relationships. And these inauthentic connections are actively encouraged, by social media, by well-meaning family who think you need to get out more, by our society. 

According to a UK government Community Life Survey for 2019-2020, 74% of those surveyed meet up in person with family members or friends once a week or more, rising to 81% communicating by phone and 84% exchanging texts or instant messages with family or friends once a week or more. These same people surveyed overwhelmingly responded that they had a support network (95% surveyed said that if they needed help there are people who would be there for them), and this would suggest that community life is thriving. But I still question the depth of these connections. We are talking to each other more than ever, but what are we saying? Are these exchanges meaningful? You might not be alone, but are you truly ‘showing up’ when you meet? 

Now I’m not saying that you should pour your heart out to the first stranger you meet at the bus stop. There is a lot to be said for leaving things unsaid. But I do think that there is an irony in a world where we can now say so much, we are in reality saying very little. The recent pandemic has highlighted the need for social connection and community. This time, where we are all socially distanced, has led to a sense of social fragmentation, that we are far apart not only physically but also emotionally. 

And so, I propose a new year’s resolution. To seek out authentic connection and to live life as authentically as possible. Take the time to get to know someone and to let them get to know you, the real you, all of you. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? But if we don’t do that, we are signing up to a life less lived. And wouldn’t that be worse? Don’t be afraid of being judged as wanting. I know that I would rather know the worst of someone, than to not really know them at all. 

Being yourself, it seems, is easier said than done.

Christmas without a home in Sutton, London

Hundreds of households in Sutton are at risk of homelessness, according to recent statistics published by the government. Homelessness means not having a home, and whilst this is often associated with living on the streets (‘sleeping rough’), according to the homelessness charity Shelter, being homeless can also include staying with friends and family, in a hostel or bed and breakfast, or being at risk of violence or abuse in the home (known as ‘homeless at home’). Reasons for becoming homeless could be financial or social. People can become homeless due to eviction by a landlord, splitting up with a partner, the loss of a job, or family or friends asking the person to leave. Big cities such as London also tend to have higher rates of homelessness. The Covid-19 pandemic is also adding to financial hardship and it could have a knock-on effect. 

In the financial year 2019-2020, 871 households in Sutton were considered to be owed a duty from Sutton Council under new legislation, the Homelessness Reduction Act, to prevent homelessness or to provide relief from homelessness. Around 5 households per 1000 in Sutton were assessed as being under a threat of homelessness. The reasons for threatened homelessness included a change in personal circumstances, a landlord wishing to sell or re-let the property and family or friends no longer willing or able to accommodate them. Other reasons include a relationship breakdown with a partner, domestic abuse and the end of a private or social rented tenancy. Typically these situations lead to financial hardship. In 2018 Shelter placed Sutton in the top 50 local authorities for homelessness in England, at 35th in the national ranking. 

The Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force in April 2018, imposes new duties upon local housing authorities to prevent homelessness and to provide relief measures to those who are homeless. The new legislation includes single adult households, who were not previously afforded protection as a priority need under the Housing Act 1996. This has resulted in a rise in single adult households receiving local authority assistance. These households are most likely to seek relief assistance when they are already homeless, whilst households with children are more likely to seek prevention assistance at an earlier stage, before homelessness. If a household is considered ineligible by the council or if they disagree with aspects of a decision, a person may ask for a review of the decision within 21 days of being notified. The decision will then be reviewed by a senior officer who was not involved in the original decision. 

There are currently around 1600 households in Sutton on the waiting list for council or housing association accommodation. The council makes clear that homeless people are unlikely to be placed in council housing due to the long waiting list. Instead those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness will be assessed by the council and assigned a caseworker. The caseworker will draw up a personalised housing plan to prevent homelessness or assist in finding new accommodation. This can include liaising with a landlord to resolve issues, contacting family or friends for temporary accommodation and assistance in finding employment or privately rented accommodation. The caseworker can also assist the person in making a claim for benefits or discretionary housing payments. They may be placed by the council into temporary accommodation, although the availability for this is limited.

With a long waiting list for council housing, temporary measures will only delay the problem. This is why charities such as Shelter are calling for a ‘New Homes Rescue Fund’ to build 50,000 social homes, particularly as the pandemic exacerbates the situation. Sutton Council, in its Homelessness Strategy 2020 report, noted that there was a ‘rehousing shortfall’, admitting that there was ‘insufficient housing to discharge the main homelessness duty’. This is the reason for the temporary accommodation measures, which currently provide homes to 700 households, possibly rising to 1,200 households in three years’ time. Sutton Council has stated in the report an objective of increasing council housing stock as well as working with private sector landlords to increase the amount of properties available in the borough, as well as reducing the reliance on temporary accommodation. Sutton Council has a programme of buying back ex-council stock and has returned over 100 properties through this programme. The council is currently looking at a new acquisition programme to increase social housing stock. It primarily deals with homelessness and housing advice though its trading company Encompass, and this year its total budgeted spend was over £2.5m.

In response to the increasing homelessness figures, Sutton Council has commissioned the charity St Mungo’s to assist people in Sutton experiencing homelessness. The three year contract, awarded in 2019, is worth £2.8 million and will provide services including housing and a tenancy support service. It will particularly assist single vulnerable adults who were considered at risk. Councillor Jayne McCoy said:

‘St Mungo’s will help us make sure single, vulnerable adults can continue to live independently. Increasing rents, low incomes, changes to the welfare system and personal challenges mean more vulnerable people face eviction. We’re ambitious for all Sutton’s residents, whatever their situation, and working with St Mungo’s will help us provide the employment, education and training support our most vulnerable residents need.’ 

Properties across 40 sites in Sutton will be included in this programme.

Sutton Night Watch, a homelessness charity in Wallington, has recently teamed up with the clothing brand Phase Eight to launch a new clothes outlet to generate income for the charity as they face challenging times, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The charity is currently handing out food parcels and attending local boot sales and fairs to raise funds. During the pandemic a local costume maker, Heather Filby, is donating money from face mask sales to Sutton Night Watch. However, the charity has seen its opening hours cut back during the pandemic and many homeless people have found themselves slipping through the cracks during this time. Fundraising events by the charity have been cancelled or scaled back, and donated items have had to be quarantined.

Sutton is also benefitting from the work of the charity Caysh, an organisation that specifically assists young people aged 16-21 who are often facing homelessness. It operates services in Sutton, as well as in Bromley, Croydon, Royal Greenwich and Lewisham. The charity works through a referral system, with referrals coming from local authorities. In Sutton its youth homelessness pathway can be accessed through the housing centre at Sutton Civic Centre. They offer lodgings, a housing pathway, and advice and support to help young people to live independently.

The implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 should go some way to alleviating the homelessness problem through its preventative and relief measures. Compared to inner city London boroughs such as Lambeth, Hackney or Tower Hamlets, the homelessness rate for Sutton is considerably lower. However, the rate for Sutton is higher than some boroughs outside of London. Homelessness in Sutton is very much a live issue, and the borough still has some way to go. The new St Mungo’s contract and the ongoing work of charities in the area are contributing towards the reduction of homelessness. However, many homes are living precariously at the edge of homelessness with tenancy issues, unable to make the rent. This Christmas, spare a thought for those hundreds of households in Sutton who are teetering on the edge of homelessness.