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Shifting Perspectives: Deborah Andrews on Sustainable Design and Innovation

Wed 15 May 2024

As we prepare for the upcoming Data Centre World taking place as part of Tech Show Frankfurt on 22-23 May, we had the privilege of engaging in a discussion with Deborah Andrews, Professor of Design and Sustainability and Circularity at London South Bank University.

Known for her profound insights into sustainable design, Deborah shared her perspectives on three inventions that have significantly impacted her life: bicycles, vision aids, and plastics.

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Bicycles: A Catalyst for Social Connectivity and Mobility

In transportation, bicycles stand out as a transformative invention, reshaping the way individuals navigate their surroundings and interact with their communities.

“In terms of social mobility, bicycles were incredibly influential. Before its introduction, many people only ever travelled as far as they could walk in a day so it would be their whole life,” said Andrews.

Andrews expressed her admiration for bicycles, emphasising their role in promoting sustainable mobility and fostering social connections.

Andrews underscored the importance of preserving and extending the lifespan of bicycles through initiatives focused on maintenance and recycling. She highlighted the need for communities to embrace cycling as a means of reducing carbon emissions and promoting healthier lifestyles.

However, Andrews also highlighted the complexity of assessing the overall sustainability of bicycles, stressing the need to consider environmental and social impacts comprehensively. While mountain bikes often prioritise robustness over weight, the proliferation of electric bikes introduces new challenges with battery disposal and recycling.

Andrews advocated for proactive maintenance practices to prolong the lifespan of bikes, stressing the importance of community resources and support in fostering a sustainable cycling culture. She points to initiatives like Santander bikes, Lime bikes, and Forest in London as examples of collective efforts toward promoting accessible and eco-friendly urban mobility solutions.

Vision Aids: Empowering Individuals Through Sight

Shifting her focus to vision aids, Deborah illuminated the profound impact of technologies designed to improve visual acuity. Drawing from her personal experience with corrective lenses, she highlighted the transformative nature of vision aids in facilitating access to education, enhancing productivity, and improving overall quality of life.

“Having improved vision, good vision is essential … it is an absolute bonus for everybody with slightly impaired vision,” said Andrews.

While acknowledging the undeniable benefits of vision aids, Deborah also highlighted environmental concerns associated with disposable contact lenses. She urged for greater awareness and responsible disposal practices to mitigate the environmental impact of these products.

Plastics: Comparing Utility to Environmental Impact

Lastly, Deborah explored the multifaceted nature of plastics, recognising their indispensable role in various industries while also acknowledging their significant environmental challenges.

She described plastics as both the ‘Yin and Yang’ of the materials world, symbolising both innovation and environmental degradation. Deborah stressed the importance of adopting a nuanced approach to plastics, considering factors such as material composition, end-of-life disposal, and geographical context.

“I think we need to think about the context for all of these things. An awful lot of people are actually kept alive by plastics … things like stents are made from some kind of plastic,” noted Andrews.

Andrews advocated for greater emphasis on sustainable design principles and circular economy models to minimise the environmental impact of plastics while maximising their utility.

Anticipated Session at Data Centre World

Looking ahead to her session at Data Centre World, Deborah teased an engaging discussion on the pros and cons of liquid versus air cooling in data centres. She highlighted the increasing demands placed on data centre infrastructure by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and emphasised the importance of context-specific solutions to address these challenges.

“Hopefully our conversation will really trigger thought. But maybe people will end up needing to learn more … As in the case with plastics, you know there is good and there is bad,” said Andrews.


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