Net-Zero Design Research Network

Lead Research Organisation: Sheffield Hallam University
Department Name: College of Social Sciences and Arts


The global coronavirus pandemic has and is forcing much of the worlds population to reshape their, thinking, their behaviours and to disrupt sectorial operating models in order to adjust to new normalities to paraphrase Cohen (2020). We have and are experiencing imposed mobility restrictions and social distancing measures that have resulted in: reducing road traffic and air travel, the development of asynchronous and synchronous learning, a renewal of civic capita, the rise of local e-commence services and self-sufficient local communities. In the age of the Anthropocene, National, Regional and Sub Regional governments, communities and the public at large have experienced at first-hand the collective actions we need to take to realise the UK's pledge to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 (UK Government, 2019).

Design is neither immune nor a neutral activity (Thackera, 2013). The Covid-19 pandemic has compelled the design sector to accept and confront its complicity and cognitive dissonance towards the climate emergency. Our reflective gaze has exposed the heaviness of Design's planetary load (across domains of research, education and practice) and an urgent need to escape the stare of the Medusa (Calvino, 1988).

The gravitational pull to a life-centred design approach has a recent history, it is still small and dispersed, and yet, it too has not kept pace with the societal, institutional and business models that have vaulted five years forward as a direct consequence of the pandemic (McKinsey, 2020). Rodgers & Bremner (2019) suggest in their charter for the future design school, we need to learn from the world and to devise new models for living and making with a damaged planet (Haraway, 2016); especially as design innovation, ecology the economy and politics are now almost inseparable components of the UK's post-covid economic recovery plan (UK Government, 2020). Several authors have outlined the justification for 'why' we need a shift to a life-centred approach and the importance of environmental ethics in the age of the Anthropocene (Morton, 2010; Zylinska, 2014; Anderson, 2015; Jagodzinski, 2019). We have also found evidence of the creative industries disciplinary voice for systemic change through the many climate change manifestos produced (First Things First, 1964; 2000 & 2014; IAM, 2017; Do the Green Thing, 2019; Music Declare Emergency, 2019). However, our foreground research has found few of exemplars that provide a clear roadmap for 'how' design-led communities are expected to operationalise 'high-level' strategies into low-level actionable measures in order to meet UK net-zero targets.

The need for this intellectual inquiry is urgent and of strategic importance to the UK. To address this unmet need, we are proposing the development of a Net-Zero Design Research Network (N-ZDRN). The N-ZDRN will stimulate debate and the exchange of ideas to significantly advance our collective understanding of the opportunities, barriers and practical behavior changes and tools needed to support the transition of design education, research and practice to net-zero.


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