DE­SIGN / EN­GI­NEER­ING: DAVID TRUBRIDGE

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To de­scribe de­sign com­pany David Trubridge as an en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious out­fit might be to un­der­stat­ing things, ever so slightly.

In fact, you’d likely be hard pressed to find a com­pany that strives to be as sus­tain­able as the in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful Hast­ings-based de­sign com­pany.

And that makes sense. Long be­fore win­ning in­ter­na­tional ac­claim for his in­no­va­tive light­ing and furniture de­signs, founder and com­pany name­sake David Trubridge was a forester and lover of na­ture, spend­ing a lot of his time tramp­ing and sail­ing.

He caught the eco-bug early, and while op­er­at­ing as a one­man furniture maker in the eight­ies and nineties, Trubridge be­gan speak­ing about en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, urg­ing peo­ple to take ac­tion and pre­sent­ing talks at univer­si­ties and museums.

A “re­luc­tant busi­ness owner” well aware of the pro­duc­tion is­sues fac­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies, Trubridge made it his mis­sion early on to leave as small a foot­print on the en­vi­ron­ment as pos­si­ble while still keep­ing the lights on.

It was sus­tain­abil­ity, be­fore sus­tain­abil­ity was a thing. Trubridge’s work first came to in­ter­na­tional promi­nence in 2001 when the Ital­ian de­sign house Cap­pellini bought the rights for Body Raft, an ele­gant, sculp­tural re­cliner that would go on to be­come a furniture de­sign clas­sic.

The pur­chased sig­naled the trans­for­ma­tion of the busi­ness from a small-scale op­er­a­tion to one that has a con­sid­er­able pres­ence on the in­ter­na­tional light­ing and furniture mar­ket. And the rest, as they say, is his­tory. Trubridge’s de­signs have now been fea­tured in count­less in­ter­na­tional pub­li­ca­tions and have seen him cel­e­brated as one of the top 15 de­sign­ers in the world.

The Co­ral light an in­tri­cate form is made from just one sin­gle com­po­nent re­peated 60 times – as re­leased in 2004, es­tab­lished the com­pany’s blue­print for pro­duc­ing high-end prod­ucts in kit-set for­mats that min­imise their en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print, es­pe­cially ship­ping vol­umes.

And that’s more than just PR lip ser­vice. The com­pany has en­gaged ‘cra­dle-to-cra­dle’ re­searchers to iden­tify where im­prove­ments in sus­tain­abil­ity and waste man­age­ment can be achieved.

Sur­pris­ingly, it was freight­ing specif­i­cally that was iden­ti­fied as a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to the com­pany’s car­bon emis­sions, com­par­a­tively dwarf­ing the ac­tual pro­duc­tion of their as­sem­bled lights. See­ing the ben­e­fits of ship­ping smaller boxes was star­tling for the com­pany and led to a com­plete re­design all their main sell­ers to mimic the Co­ral Light’s en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly form fac­tor.

The kit­set model now in­flu­ences ev­ery as­pect of the busi­ness, from con­cept and de­sign all the way through to man­u­fac­ture and pack­ag­ing. Items come flat packed and ready for the cus­tomer to as­sem­ble, with larger, more com­plex kit­sets are also shipped as flat packs, dis­trib­u­tors as­sem­bling them at their fi­nal desti­na­tion in prepa­ra­tion for the mar­ket.

Wher­ever pos­si­ble, all tim­ber is from sus­tain­ably man­aged plan­ta­tions in New Zealand or the United States. Wood is left nat­u­ral where ap­pro­pri­ate, with nat­u­ral non­toxic oils be­ing used in place of harm­ful sol­vents. From a de­sign point of view, the prod­ucts use only the min­i­mal amount of ma­te­ri­als and are gen­er­ated with a fo­cus on longevity, rather than mim­ick­ing quick­mov­ing trends.

Of course, none of this comes at the cost of good de­sign, but that’s still a mes­sage that needs to be ex­plic­itly com­mu­ni­cated to the end con­sumer, says the com­pany.

“We have to be­gin by telling the po­ten­tial cus­tomer the rea­son be­hind the kit­set model – re­duced cost, the fun we hope they have putting it to­gether and re­duced en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts – through our web­site and mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als,” says Ben Pearce, head of mar­ket­ing at David Trubridge.

“This still re­mains our big­gest mes­sag­ing fo­cus. Most other de­signer lights only re­quire min­i­mal assem­bly, so it's para­mount we con­stantly com­mu­ni­cate this to our dis­trib­u­tors, agents and cus­tomers to en­sure buy-in, en­gage­ment and col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

The com­pany now has ei­ther dis­tri­bu­tion or rep­re­sen­ta­tion in all ma­jor mar­kets, but Pearce says there are real ben­e­fits to mak­ing sure there are Ki­wis on the ground, wher­ever deals are be­ing done.

“This has a two-fold ad­van­tage,” he says. “As we al­ways pre­fer to have some­one in-mar­ket to rep­re­sent us, and al­most al­ways a fel­low Kiwi un­der­stands the cul­ture and story that we are pro­ject­ing – na­ture based, green, made-in­New Zealand prod­ucts.

“This al­lows them to start from a rel­a­tive po­si­tion of strength in re­gards to the story be­hind the prod­ucts and the rea­son our prod­ucts dif­fer from oth­ers.”

It’s a clean-green com­mit­ment the de­sign out­fit in­tends to stick to. The com­pany is now plan­ning a rad­i­cal re­vi­sion of its of­fer­ing, dis­con­tin­u­ing prod­ucts in the range that use plas­tic – other than the nec­es­sary ny­lon clips and wir­ing of course – by 2020.

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