Light screen

Recently, I moved house. In this home, every space has one wall that’s seventy percent antique single-glazing and thirty percent inactive radiator. My interior lamps are direct competitors to overhanging street lights. They compete over darkness. Together, they are both winners. Light is always.

In bright sunshine, my laptop-screen turns blurry and my smartphone’s brightness cannot beat the sun-ray’s reflections. A day like that and it’s immediately difficult to look at any screen at all.

This year’s first card reached its receiver on a clear winter day. To make sure he’d head outside, to screen people and streets, I could not other than send him something to fold over his laptop. With light and darkness, who’s first decides who is who. I wanted him to be first.

To search and see light beyond a screen.

 

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Conferentia

Witnessing the design of the annual TEDxAmsterdam-conference since 2009, I’ve seen how the role of conferences is changing. Speaking to conference connoisseur Monique van Dusseldorp one day, she told me that “conferences used to mark a single opportunity to access the latest insights from a field of expertise”. Today, ‘the latest news’ does not require a conference-visit. Nor does linking to fellow professionals, hobbyists or aficionados. We work the web for that.

What then, takes us to conferences these days? A keynote speaker? An impressive guest-list? A business-promise? Maybe (not). I believe it’s the quality of hosting. With that challenge in mind, Pepijn and I accepted to design a conference for a sustainable packaging company.


Photos: Bibi Veth

As a complementary team (he: design, bits-based infrastructure – she: concept, communications), we kicked off the design process with internal workshops to evaluate past conferences and sense needs and expectations. Not to say the past determines the future, but it provided a benchmark for our conference.

We aimed to offer the company and its guests inspiration and practical guidance to prep their businesses for a sustainable future, because “what we practice, is what our future will be” (Toke Moeller, co-founder The Art of Hosting). That included inviting engaging speakers, who shared their entrepreneurial zest, such as Mark Aink and Ynzo van Zanten.


Practical guidance also meant bringing stakeholders in conversation and collectively harvest solutions for a sustainable supply chain (the theme was ‘realizing circular concepts’). Of course, sufficient breaks with local and delish food were one way to go.


Another was to invite Anne Walraven, a young social entrepreneur who collects questions. She then takes these (local, personal) questions to thought leaders across the globe. During her talk, the guests formulated a question for Chinese advocate for international collaboration on sustainability, Peggy Liu.


This way, the conversation of a single moment leads to an answer in the future (and new questions, of course). ‘Realizing circular concepts’ thus included evoking a conversation that continues in people’s minds and hearts after the conference.

‘Conference’ finds its etymological origin in ‘bringing together’. We noticed that, with conscious hosting, people are invited to take responsibility and move “their issues and ideas into wiser actions and innovative solutions that last”.

PS Watch Peggy Liu’s answer here:

Sketch Away

Every Thursday I face an auditorium packed with 60 designers-to-be at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. Together with my senior colleague, trained architect and Belgian gourmand Jos Delbroek, we teach first-year students about architecture (he) and social design (me).

One of the first things Jos teaches the students – and taught me – is swapping your laptop for an A4 sheet and a sharp pencil. This way, you train your handwriting, your design signature. Over and over again, he asks to draw what you see or imagine. Because, “the more one looks, the more one gets to see”.

Lecture Sketcher

Jos pointed me to Urban Sketchers, a global network of artists, who “show the world, one drawing at a time”. They sketch by taking the following in mind:

  1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
  2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
  3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
  4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
  5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
  6. We support each other and draw together.
  7. We share our drawings online.
  8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

Product of a predominantly academic schooling myself, I’ve for long perceived any doodling in between the lines as competing with my lists, causal-relations-pointing arrows or starry bullet points. Now, I know it’s a great means of putting things down as clean as possible.

Words, shapes, lines, voids, hand-drawn type growing from the movements of your hands process the input of your senses. That makes paper and pencil a great means to train unbiased observation. And if your sketches in turn reveal a bias,  just sketch it away.

The Crusoë Company

When cold and wet nights set in, there’s nothing more tempting than revisiting memories of a French summer’s bright and starry skies. So, that’s what I’ll do. Now, yes. Since it was quite an extraordinary summer. Having spent the beginning half of 2013 working on or with my supplementary limb – the laptop – I was in dire need of some physical routine, cooking and making. Did I know there was an island for that. In France, even.

IMG_0136

So I swapped eight (possibly) sunny weeks in Amsterdam for eight stove-bound weeks in Rémalard. But one does not end up in Le Perche for no reason. It’s really devoid of standard travel-entertainment. Some serendip here and there led me to the single darn pearl in the Perchean woods: d’une île. There, you can sleep, eat and wander.

The driving force behind this ‘island in time’ are Michel + Sofie. They manually turned the old countryside manor(s) into eight apartments, where unwinding is unavoidable, and desirable. Love, dedication and beauty are the main ingredient of e v e r y t h i n g you see, touch, hear, feel and taste.

Café

I crusoëd along with Michel + Sofie for the 2013 summer season, and witnessed a unique process of creation. Where many of us might feel they’re overflowing with ideas, but find too little time to realize them, I discovered it’s not (only) about time, but about space. At d’une île, there is space.

Space, because:
– you overlook les fôrets from your window, making ideas grow whilst musing.
le terroir of Le Perche rewards entrepreneurial efforts that offer quality.
there’s always work to do and mainly your own pool of creative solutions to tap from.
– moments of buzz and business are alternated with time for reconsideration and reflection.
– time takes what it needs to grow d’une île organically.

What most fascinated me was that, although the space-statements above might evoke some sense of ‘slowness’, the opposite is true. The design, reconstruction and interior of d’une île were realized within a time-frame any architect or contracter could only dream of.

To me, it feels as if the key lies with a vision rooted in the courage of two talented personalities taking some space.

My First TEDx!

Whilst I’m working on a new version of Living Antenna, things are happening in the meantime – that also contribute to a better idea of what it could, and should be. So in this under construction phase I did not want to withhold this from you: my first TEDx-talk! I was invited to speak at TEDxWageningen, the academic and business food valley of The Netherlands. The theme was “The Emergence of Bio-Based Economies”.

It was exciting to think of what I’d like express to an audience of critical strangers – and amongst some other really inspiring speakers. I decided it’d be best to speak from personal experience, and from what I’m passionate about. And that is – no surprise – about everything typically Living Antenna. In other words: how I believe food, design and sustainability relate, and contribute to each other.

Click here or on the picture to watch the talk!

Unfortunately my microphone was switched off the first three minutes, so I’ve included the first paragraphs for you to read along:

“I’ve got a terrible disease, and my disease is that, in certain areas of my life, I can experience a deep sense of joy, wonder or disappointment. At those moments, I am moved to feel at dis-ease. It happens to me all day long, and the way to cope with that dis-ease, is to ask questions and that is what feeds my personal and professional life. This story is about the symptoms of my disease, and the ideas that result from it.  

The first idea is about what I think is the missing link in (effectively) tackling sustainability issues, then I move on what in our daily lives is one of the major overlooked elements on the road to realize a sustainable future, and I’ll finish by why you, sitting right in front me, can make a difference without any effort whatsoever.

My first observation concerns the whole production and consumption system, where sustainability thinking mainly focuses on optimizing either the pre- or the post-consumption phase. Pre-consumption includes energy efficiency, fair trade and logistics, whereas post-consumption deals with materials, waste and emissions.

But our daily routine of using the products and services we buy, is hardly addressed in present sustainability thinking. It seems as if this consumption phase is a foggy, grey box that we don’t want to look into.

And that is an example of what made me feel at dis-ease, because a substantial part of “unsustainabilities” are hidden in these daily routines. In our standards of normality. The power of standards is that you never question them. Apparently, it’s next to normal to shower for ten minutes, to throw away your boiling water, to only eat perfectly shaped veggies, to turn your home into a tropical paradise in the middle of winter. To me, these standards of normality are an unquestioned opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future.. “

For more, it’s best to just sit back, and watch the talk. I’m really curious what you think of it, so feel free to comment or contribute to the ideas.

Seduce To Reduce

It’s difficult to decipher why people do what they do – and in my opinion, also not something to strive for. It’s too complex. Instead, do something and see how people (or you) respond to it. Hivos, a Dutch non-profit, took this advice very seriously. They are experimenting. Yes. They learn through trial and error, instead of scientifically scrutinizing people’s motivations, needs and drivers.  These experiments are part of their newest campaign – coined the Seduction Project – to engage people in less energy intensive behaviors. But not through paternalizing current behaviors, but instead through seducing (‘nudging‘) people into energy behaviors Hivos considers desirable.

To walk their talk, Hivos organized a Small Climate Summit, bringing together entrepreneurs, researchers and artists who all put forward one idea based on the principles of seduction. Mirte Becker, a game design student, suggested a Light Gun to switch off lights in a playful manner. My friends from Strawberry Earth explained their ‘green deal’ website, that proves that buying ‘green’ is not enough, if you can also buy ‘awesome’. And artist Matthijs Lievaart initiated the Club of 90, encouraging people to drive 90 kms/hour, because “real gangsters are never in a hurry.”

All 10 seductive ideas are summarized in this presentation:

 

 

I look forward to more sustainability initiatives like this, because who doesn’t like to be seduced?

Everything I Have

Writing a thesis on sustainable consumption makes you inspect your lifestyle. Actually, I look at what I do and buy in gloriously geeky detail. And so far, it makes me want to experiment. Not that I want to downshift, no. But it’ll be interesting to see what value I actually assign to everything I own. Of course, all my stuff seems to be relevant to me. Seems, yes. I’m not sure. In a Facebook-discussion with my friend Justus Bruns, I was pointed to this talk of Bruce Sterling by Alper Çuğun.

In his talk, Bruce explains how you go about such a Relevant Personal Stuff Assessment. Start by dividing everything you own into four categories:

1. Beautiful things. Aesthetics are very important. But is it so beautiful you’d want to show it off? Exhibit it? Do you tell your friends about it? If not, it’s not beautiful. Take a (beautiful) picture of it, get the bar-code in case you’d want to re-buy it and share the picture with your external hard-drive, only. Because, “you weren’t born with it,” according to Bruce.

2. Emotionally important things. Also, emotional attachment is important. But, are you going to tell anybody about it? Does the object carry a narrative worth sharing? Or is it just emotionally blackmailing you? If there’s no associated story, better to get rid of it. Again, take the picture. Write the unworthy-of-sharing story too, if you wish.

3. Tools, devices and applications. With getting rid of tools, you lose nothing. Bruce: “You’re only gaining time, space and health.” If you want to keep tools, make sure they’re of highly technical standards. Do not duck-tape your tools. Or make do with tools. They probably break more than they fix.

4. Everything else. Get rid of stuff you never touch. Or haven’t touched in a year.

Amazing project by Simon Evans: Everything I Have

Then, Bruce emphasizes that there is stuff that should be of the highest quality imaginable. Those are objects you use everyday and are physically close to you. That’s a bed, yes – because you spend almost a third of your lifetime in it. Sell Everything else and buy that bed, and a back-friendly chair. And proper cosmetics, because they sit on your cheeks, and eyelashes. Proper shoes. The stuff you wear, and touch on a daily basis. He promises that your “quality of life will skyrocket.”

He even promises that “you will look different, you will act differently – you will become much more of what you already are.”

I have a notebook. And a pen. And lots, and lots of stuff. Time to make some.. lists.

NOTE Although I endorse the idea of getting more value out of less stuff, it is also important to think of what you do with all the books, clothes, crockery and toolboxes you’re going to get rid of. Make sure they get a second life into someone else’s list of Beautiful things or Emotionally important things.

Share That Kitchen!

In the light of collaborative consumption, I stumbled upon something that I have wished to stumble upon for a long, long time. As a resident of Amsterdam, proud owner of a Very Small Kitchen without an oven, I can only dream of cooking in kitchens that would allow me to prepare meals for more people than  I can currently fit in my urban jungle, eh, balcony (four, and then you still eat seated on large cushions, at a very low table – what I call ‘gezellig‘, though).

On the website of Culinary Incubator they try to map all professional kitchens available, to allow start-up food businesses to cook their products in well-equipped and health department licensed commercial kitchens. This way you not only make optimal use of space and equipment, but you also allow foodie-entrepreneurs to benefit from a low threshold to produce and sell their goods.

I know of one Dutch example: the guys behind Brandt & Levie Worstmakers make their dry sausages at the facilities of the Lindenhoff, a large grocery and delicacies store as well as a professional kitchen facility to produce all kinds of artisan foods. Great to see how these collaborations lead to the rise of young people setting up food businesses.

So hereby I call upon all owners of large kitchens: share them!

Sleeping With The Devil?

The thing that really captures me lately, is how certain products bluntly fulfill a single, isolated need, whereas others manage to affect multiple needs that exist across people’s (often deeply embedded) habits or routines. In other words, some products just change our doing of things.

An example of the latest category is any soy-based product. The moment you purchase a soy-drink, soy-yoghurt or a soy-based protein substitute you actively disengage from consuming meat, fish and dairy. It might even affect your cooking practices, exploring the Asian kitchen (since it holds a longer history of using soy-based products compared to European cooking traditions) or putting vegetables instead of meat or fish at the centre of your meal (as do many master-chefs and cookbook-writers).

Source: Ecofys and University of Twente for Alpro Soya.

I never thought about soy like this, until I visited the main production plant of Alpro Soya in Wevelgem, Belgium, where I was actually stunned by how little steps the process from soy bean to soy milk or yoghurt actually entails. The majority of the plant is designed to add (natural) flavors, and package all the different milks, yoghurts, cooking creams and desserts. The key focus for Alpro Soya lies with: taste. As long as people do not perceive soy-based products as tasty, no cognitive environmental claim can serve as a trade-off for consumers to go soy. And no dietary changes are set in motion.

This is actually a pity, since Alpro Soya – as the first European company – recently joined the WWF’s  Climate Savers program. This turns them into a sustainability pioneer in the portfolio of Dean Foods (Alpro Soya was acquired in 2009). Forming a “hybrid” collaboration between a for-profit company and a NGO might sound hypocrite from a traditional activist point-of-view, but according to Peter Senge a “hybrid” is the only way forward.

WWF US’s chief operating officer Marcia Marsh explains why in Senge’s book The Necessary Revolution: 

“The simple fact is that we are failing relative to our larger goals. (…) Working alone, NGOs are simply unable to reverse the tide of global change. To do this, we will have to develop new partnerships with businesses and governments, partnerships whose scale of impact is commensurate with the problems we face” (p. 78).

Although there’s a small divorce rate with companies and Climate Savers (WWF is a very demanding spouse) –  I’m still up for more of these marriages.

Who’s Your Blogging Master?

This week I came across a very useful post on food blogging by Paris-based cook (and apparently ice-cream specialist) David Lebovitz. His post features straightforward tips on blogging about food, but they’re also applicable to whatever niche you’ve committed yourself to. His how-to-post is so densely packed with useful information I actually want to print it, and mark every advice I want to put to use.

But, you know what happens to handwritten to-do-lists. Their Post-It yellow fades into a desert sand color, and the scribblings soon lose their authority when stuffed under my smart-looking presse-papier. Bye, bye, to-dos.

That’s why I thought it to be more effective to jot my to-dos down in public, and assess Living Antenna according to David’s 10-great-blogging-tips here (they’re his creative offspring, not mine!):

1. Develop a personal style: My writing is supposed to be recognizable. I feel I’ve got this one covered. One down.
2. Let visuals complement your words: Oops. Need my sister to get her head around that classy Nikon D70 and ask her to feed my photo stocks. First to do.
3. Find creative ways to upgrade your blog: Current plan is to continue blogging with this basic Duster WordPress-theme until I’ve reached 50 posts (this is only my 25th). Then it’s time to celebrate. Unless someone’s eager to share some basic CSS with me.
4. Create quality content and think about questions you’re readers like answered: Okay, can’t answer this one. I do receive thoughtful comments, although I admit my dad’s a fervent commenter.
5. Align your blog titles with your blog character: Your writing style should be distinguishable by the choice of your titles. I still don’t know whether I should or should not use Capitals All The Time in my blog-titles. Feels un-Dutch, which is acceptable for an English blog.
6. Stop thinking about SEO: Never thought about it, actually. Do know what it means, and sometimes wonder how those spammers come to find Living Antenna. If you know what words they use, share with me so I can start some anti-SEO.
7. Find your niche: Food, design and ecology is my niche. A very broad niche, I know.
8. Take care of your blog’s usability: There’s not a lot to it, yet. So little choice makes navigating easy, right?
9. Be an enviable commenter: Yes, I should. Second to-do: visit my favorite blogs, and contribute more than I consume.
10. Social networks: The only means by which my posts enter the digital universe so far are Facebook, for friends, and Twitter, for fans. Making a separate Facebook-page could be a third to-do.

Additionally, David emphasizes it is best to stick with your own take on things, since that’s what makes your stories enjoyable to read. It’s alright when they sound as if you’re talking. Honestly, that comforts me.

To fulfill my first to-do, I’ve inserted a picture by my sister. It shows how funny the world looks through a glass. And that glass could be your blog. Off you go.

Leaves me no other thing than to ask: what do you think makes a blog?