Now or never exhibition visualises carbon emissions of common materials
Swedish furniture designer Emma Olbers has created the Now or never – 1kg CO2e exhibition at Stockholm Furniture Fair to showcase the climate impact of materials commonly used in architecture and furniture design.
By physically displaying how much of a certain material needs to be produced to create one kilogram of carbon emissions, Olbers aims to better visualise the benefits of choosing sustainable materials.
“You can almost think of it like it’s money; it’s more value for the emission,” she told Dezeen. “If you’re doing a seat for a chair, you don’t really get a whole seat [for 1kg of CO2e emissions] if you choose leather. But if you choose woven rattan, you get six and a half metres, which is maybe 10 seats.”
“If you think of it like ‘this is how much you get for your money,’ then people really understand,” she added.
The exhibition is on show as part of Stockholm Furniture Fair, the world’s largest platform for Scandinavian design.
It places around forty materials side by side to investigate which provides the most value when considering their carbon emissions.
For example, while one kilogram of CO2e emissions will give you just a small square of concrete weighing in at 4.4 kilograms, you’ll get 7.7 kilograms of limestone tiles, which will cover a larger surface, or a large pine log weighing 9.1 kilograms.
“You can really tell, if you’re talking about buildings, the difference between concrete and massive pine – it’s a huge difference,” Olbers said.
She calculated the carbon emissions of the materials using Doconomy’s 2030 calculator, which shows the carbon footprint of products based on the emissions created from manufacturing and transport up until the point of sale.
Olbers, whose work includes the revamp of Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum library using sustainable materials, has long been interested in the subject.
“I’m a furniture designer since like 20 years back and I’ve always been interested in sustainability,” she said.
“I did the Old Library at the National Museum and at that time, I also did try to choose materials that were as sustainable as possible.”
Physically showing the materials in this exhibition really made her realise the differences between them.
“The big difference between the rattan and the leather surprised me,” she said.
“And the weight, when I lifted the materials onto the table. The limestone surprised me too; you got a lot more limestone than I thought [for the emissions.]”
Now or never – 1kg CO2e also showed the difference in emissions between recycled and virgin aluminium, and displays a number of innovative and newer materials that are better for the environment.
These include Penylon, a material made from recycled fishing nets that was developed to be used for 3D printing, and mycelium.
Olbers hopes that the exhibition will inspire the many architects and designers who visit Stockholm Furniture Fair to choose their project materials more wisely.
“Fifty per cent of the emissions for furniture, at least, comes from the materials,” Olbers said. “Transport stands for four or so per cent. So that’s why it’s a material exhibition, not a transport exhibition.”
The exhibition has also helped her decide what materials to prioritise in her own projects.
“Leather is really not good,” Olberts said. “I love leather, but we have to use it less – we might have to only use it on shoes.”
In contrast, other materials will become more important in her work. “I will try to use the fast-growing grasses a lot more,” she said.
The exhibition was created together with Sally, a future manifestation lab at design and innovation agency EY Doberman, and developed with support from EY, Polestar, Nrep, Ludvig Svensson and Tre Sekel.
Stockholm Furniture Fair 2023 takes place from 7 to 11 February 2023 at Stockholmsmässan, Mässvägen 1, 125 30 Älvsjö, Sweden. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.