Green Talk is a blog series featuring interviews with people working in environmental science, circular design, sustainability and green business. We tell stories of kick ass people and their passion!
Elene Amato is a designer with a passion for circular design. Her graduate project Ponto Biodesign is a sustainable packaging solution made out of bacterial cellulose.
MP. In your own words who are you and what do you do?
Elena. I’m a designer currently living in Brazil. I’m passionate about circular design, developing materials using biofabrication and thinking about creative applications for them. I’m the founder of Ponto Biodesign, where I currently develop materials with bacterial cellulose. I can’t wait to see biofabricated materials being produced in a wider scale and available for everyone to use.
MP. What is Ponto and how did you come up with it?
Elena. For my graduation project, I designed a more sustainable packaging system for handmade personal care products, manufactured locally with natural ingredients. The aim was to create a packaging that enabled the materials to flow in integrated and regenerative loops. The material for the secondary packaging was developed using bacterial cellulose and natural pigments with characteristics between paper and plastic.
After I finished that project I just couldn’t stop testing new ideas, so I just naturally continued researching and creating new materials. I was in love with bacterial cellulose and its possibilities. At the same time I was very happy to see that a lot of people were interested in the materials and wanted to buy them for their products. It was then, in April 2019, that I decided to found Ponto Biodesign: a biofabrication lab and design studio based on the concept of “when biology and design meet”. It is still on its early stages but I have a lot of positive engagement from people, companies and potential partners. I decided to start by continuing researching and developing materials with bacterial cellulose, but some day I would like to include fungi biofabrication and grow different kinds of materials.
Even though people are interested in buying, we are still on a prototype stage and we still have a long way to go in order to get the materials to be commercially viable.
At first we started with a paper like material, made purely of cellulose and natural pigments, then we tested out biocomposites using food waste like orange peel, eggshell and coffee. Every material has its own characteristics, like for example, the biocomposite made with coffee resembles a little bit to cork and the one with eggshell is very rigid. In the future, we would like to use them for wallcovering, lampshades, toys, packaging, and a lot of other ideas. For me, thinking about their application is the most exciting part of the process.
MP. How have your surroundings influenced your circular design thinking
Elena. I have always been curious about things, wondered about the reason we do things the way we do it and if there would be a better way to do it. That mindset lined up with design led me to start reading about circular economy. I think that my circular design thinking was more influenced by information available from institutions like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation than my surroundings.
Even though it’s improving, my environment does not have many circular design initiatives yet. My surroundings are a great way to exercise my circular design thinking because they have a lot of things that could be improved in order to be more circular.
MP. What is your earliest memory interacting with the natural world?
Elena. My parents are both agronomists, they used to have a farm and I remember going there frequently when I was about 6 years old. I remember my dad singing “llaneras” (traditional songs from Venezuela) in the car while driving there with my mom and my sisters.
MP. What is your most useful piece of advice for people wanting to make small changes in their everyday life towards a more sustainable future for all?
Elena. Try to be thoughtful. When looking for things, shopping and making decisions, try thinking about the wider context. Who, how and where the objects surrounding you are made? Where does your waste go and is there an alternative? What are the objects made of? Are the materials healthy for you and the environment?
The more you do that the more it will become a natural thing, it is an exercise that will gradually reshape the way you and others think. Also, it’s more important to have a lot of people doing small changes than a few of us making big ones. Do what you can with what you have available and just start doing it now.
MP. Name some of your environmental heroes.
Elena. This is a hard question. I love Ellen MacArthur, Leyla Acaroglu and Suzanne Lee. But for me everyone who is working towards a more sustainable future, even if they are just starting or are small initiatives, everyone who is working relentlessly is a hero. Some of the companies and organizations that come to my mind are Massalas Projetos, BeGreen, Urban Farmcy, Huerto Chikach, The New Denim Project, Living Light, Make Grow Lab and Materiom. Furthermore, I always try to mention great Latin American initiatives working towards a more sustainable future through innovative biomaterials like Labva, Biology Studio, Karu, Silvio Tinello, Radial and Desintegame.
MP. What is the biggest misconception about circular design?
Elena. I see some people thinking that circular design is a utopic ideal, that only non-profit organizations work on it in order to save the planet. Actually, circular design is about financially sustainable solutions, it is not a noble cause. Circular design is necessary in order to continue living in this planet, we need to use the resources the best way we can, think about systems, material flows and energy in an integrated way.
MP. How does a perfect day look like to you?
Elena. I’m not very good at waking up early, but it feels great when I succeed. A perfect day would be waking up early, having a good breakfast and working on my projects and getting other people as excited about them as I am. Then having a walk with a friend around a park in the city, a great coffee and dinner with my family. Then watch something on Netflix with my husband while drinking wine and eating cheese.
MP. What role do you think designers will play in building a sustainable future?
Elena. It’s exciting to think the potential design has to reshape the future. According to research conducted by the Design Council, approximately 80% of a product's environmental impact is defined at the initial design stage. Design is very important because it has the ability to make changes from the internal business structure to the services and products that they offer users. Sometimes we blame the users for not taking action in building a sustainable future, but I think that if designers create thoughtful solutions, using healthy materials for the environment, building smart services, connecting stakeholders in a wider system, and thinking about the user experience, users would naturally build a more sustainable future because they would have easily available alternatives in their reach.
MP. Would you rather:
A) Crash on a tropical, isolated island with one loved one knowing that you would never be returning to civilization. You would be self-sufficient hunting and growing your own food.
B) Accept a 6 month walking solo mission to the South Pole with odds of surviving alive being 50/50.
C) Take a part in a new, revolutionary experiment combining human and machine intelligence. You would be one of the few lucky ones who were found to be compatible to take part in this experiment. If successful this would make you smarter than any other human on earth. The fatality rate of the experiment is 30%.
Elena. A) Crash on a tropical, isolated island with one loved one knowing that you would never be returning to civilization. You would be self-sufficient hunting and growing your own food.
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