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Sustainable Student Spotlight | Nicky Hope | BA Graphic Design

'It’s up to us to make people realise that you aren’t free from this responsibility, especially as artists and designers!

We sat down with 2nd year Graphic Design student Nicky Hope to discuss his INCA Sustainable Chocolate project. Nicky’s passion for sustainability and genuine insight into the world got us excited, so read on!

Students' Union [SU]: Nicky, what is your definition of sustainability?

Nicky Hope [NH]: I think there is quite a broad definition of the word. I guess people tend to think of it from a purely environmental point of view, but really, I think sustainability is just about making sure that the things we have now, are there, maybe in an even better form, for our kids and their kids. It’s about continuing things that are good in the world, not using them all up, not destroying them, but keeping them... you know?

SU: Do you think it’s important for sustainability to be a part of the conversation here at Leeds College of Art or for art and design students in general?

NH: Definitely! I think we are probably one of the biggest priorities for sustainability education, or at least we should be, primarily because we are creators, and usually of something physical. Ironically not in my case because I’m a digital designer, but in most cases we physically create something. So the example with this project, it’s packaging, so it’s up to packaging designers to launch a trend into materials that are more easily renewed, replaced, recycled and created. They should be asking, ‘why is this made out of plastic if we can make it out of something else that is ten times easier and cheaper to make and even more importantly, a hundred times easier to recycle?’

It’s up to us to make people realise that you aren’t free from this responsibility, especially as artists and designers! The whole point of what we do is that it’s there for someone else. It’s extremely rare, as much as we would probably love it, that we get to do something just for us, and even then it’s for a lot of people. So if we can prove to a lot of people that sustainable goods, sustainable packaging and sustainable products can be not even just as good, because that really doesn’t cut it, but can be much better than a standard product or standard packaging, then the impact of that is huge, it’s massive!

SU: So speaking of packaging and your project, would you tell us a bit about your project, how it started and where it came from?

NH: I actually did it entirely while sat in the car. It was a self-initiated project. I’d basically been on a tour of a bunch of different luxury chocolate shops and the one thing they all had in common was that the packaging was amazing. However, a lot of it used foil, and obviously non-recyclable plastic and card admittedly, but it was aggregated card which you would have to separate before recycling.

I thought, this packaging is beautiful, it fulfils everything the packaging has to, but why can’t it do that and also be sustainable? Which is why I decided that I am just going to try and do that. To make sure this was noticed, I thought that being tied to an environmental organisation would help spearhead this sustainable luxury chocolate movement, and the NRDC (National Resources Defence Council) fit perfectly. I don’t want to say that they are kind of aggressive in their position, but they have a focus and they have power, they have influence, they have millions of members, and people would generally recognise them.

So then, I made a partnership proposal for, and from an aesthetic view and an ideological view, it also kind of had Aztec roots, which is why I chose INCA. As you can see on the logo, it’s mostly based in type, but there is kind of a small circle, and that’s to represent Earth. The reason for it being so small is because I guess it’s extremely hard, probably impossible for us, to really understand how small and fragile Earth is because, in relation to it, we are tiny. When an astronaut returns from space, and this is every single one of them it’s like a phenomenon, it’s weird, but every single one of them has become quite an advocate of environmentalism because they’ve atmosphere, it’s just this tiny little thin crisp layer over Earth, so of course, we can influence that! It’s tiny! So that’s why the planet is so small. With the name, from an aesthetic view and an ideological view, it also kind of had Aztec roots, which is why I chose INCA.

I decided on two quite basic designs as I thought it would make sense to keep it to quite a limited run. I did white and milk chocolate, and there would probably be a dark one as well. It’s not so much that I’m into any kind of minimalist lifestyle, I think that choice is great, we need it, we need a huge variety of everything because why not? But sometimes I think, things can just be simplified, especially with packaging.

There is no reason why you can’t just use strong cardboard, rather than cardboard aggregated with chemicals and other kinds of materials that has to be ripped apart to be recycled. It’s like with plant-based milk's, you know, it’s great that it’s plant-based milk because then we haven’t got, or at least we have a lessened, impact on the extreme methane emissions from agriculture. But all of the packagings are tetra packs, which are a nightmare to recycle. It’s like, why have you done this? All you are doing now is offsetting it, or it's tipping the scale to a balance. That’s just not good enough, we need something to really drastic to tip it the other way. The only way we can do it, and Tesla is proof of this, is to kind of trick people into it. You can’t just make things that are a little bit better than what exists and then say, ‘Oh, but it’s sustainable, so you should buy this one,’ it has to be way better. You have to make the best thing you possibly can, that’s leagues better than what already exists and then people have no reason not to buy it. So if you could make the best chocolate, the most beautiful chocolate…sustainable, well they don’t care, because they've already bought it by that point, because it’s the best!

SU: So do you think designers and artists have a responsibility to do that? To create something that is not necessarily, buy this sustainable product, but hey look at this amazing project, by the way, it’s also more sustainable.

NH: I think, yeah. I guess people would think that I would think that designers should be really vocal about it, when that’s not necessary really the case, we just need to think about it. For designers and artists, sustainability has become a huge trend at the forefront of our industry. It would be great if we could spread that to other industries, because we’ve almost done it, we’ve almost cracked it, to a point where it’s a norm in the process! In the past, it would be an afterthought, it would be ‘ oh we made it, this is beautiful! Is it sustainable? I guess so, it ticks some boxes, you can recycle it somewhere, 100 miles away. No…like research, it just has to be a part of the development process.

SU: Final thing, and you have sort of touched on some of this, but as you were working on this project, was there anything that you learned, or that gave you new insight into working with a sustainable topic or sustainable materials.

Well, what surprised me, and this is the opposite of what should be the case, is that quite often, the most sustainable materials are the most expensive. For instance, foil, and a lot of packaging materials are a lot less sustainable, a lot less environmentally and economically friendly in every way, but they are way cheaper due to mass production, and that’s wrong. That’s the opposite of what should be the case. I guess you can compare this situation to a carbon tax, we need that economic balance otherwise it’s an upward battle. To be a truly sustainable civilisation, everything has to tip in that balance, because then nobody’s given the excuse. So you can have a start-up company that really wants to be sustainable, but I guess, they need to make hundreds of thousands of these things. So if you’re going to make by hand that’s fine, you can source that, it’s okay, but if you are going to make a million of them, and the manufacturing company is saying ‘ well why don’t you just make it out of this’ or with food, for example, there are a lot of hygiene standards you have to abide by, which is why foil is so used, it’s one of the cleanest, safest things you can store something in. The industry needs a little reboot like there was with the car industry at Tesla or the rocket Industry and SpaceX. When something works at the beginning, industries think, ‘okay brilliant, I’ll guess we’ll slightly improve this, now and again’ but really, we can’t progress as fast as we want to, sure it takes a lot of work, but people just assume that progression is automatic, it’s not! For something to get better, you have to have a lot of smart people, working really hard on it, for a long time!

SU: That’s an amazing thing to say, ‘people assume progression is automatic,’ because it’s true, people think things progress with time, but it’s not just time that progresses things.

NH: Yeah, exactly, it’s up to us! It’s not up to anyone else… we created time! People are really surprised when I show them what the inside of a space shuttle looks like because I guess you assume that because of films it would look great, with screens everywhere, but no! It’s a complete mess of buttons and switches; you wouldn’t have a clue. After all, it’s the same tech we used in the ’60s because ‘it works’. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’ but there’s more to it than that. We can do better than that, especially as designers and artists.

SU: If you want people to take one thing away from this project, one important thing or you personally want them to know, what would it be?

NH: Quite simply, that making something sustainable shouldn’t limit it, and it shouldn’t make it worse. It should make it much better, and then we’ve got what we want, and what we need more importantly.

Thank you so much Nicky!


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