Closing the Loop is a new maker-led research group exploring gaps in current materials knowledge and application of sustainability tools and practices in the studio, in partnership with Creative Informatics.

The research group grew from a workshop of the same name which AAS delivered in March 2020, in association with the Think Plastic: Materials and Making exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; and exhibition of work resulting from the research and practice-based findings of the Smart Plastics group. Smart Plastics and Think Plastic are two key Applied Arts Scotland projects that specifically address sustainability and environmental responsibility in materials choice for makers.

The workshop’s title drew on the concept of circular economies, as described by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as looking ‘beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model’, to offer an alternative framework based on three principles:

  1. Design out waste and pollution
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems

The diagram below, from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, shows their vision of circular economies, and the right-hand blue side was the most relevant to the makers attending the workshop, offering prompts for considering how to close the loop in their practice and avoid leakage of energy, materials and resources outside their loop.

Circular economy systems diagram, (February 2019), source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Hosting the workshop, Fiona Pilgrim led participants to consider the lifecycle of materials and products they use and produce, taking into account five key stages: sourcing, manufacturing, transporting, using and recovering. She then introduced The ReSOLVE framework to support deeper and more specific assessment of what is required to successfully close the loop.

Feedback from workshop participants indicated that while the tools provided in the workshop were helpful, it was the discussion and sharing of ideas that proved to be most useful.  It was therefore decided that AAS would lead the formation of the new Closing the Loop research group to bring makers together to share ideas, tools and inspire one another to make changes in their practice. The group meets once a month to discuss and share their practical experience of using a variety of tools and methods for addressing sustainability and reducing carbon footprint.

Impacts
This research group formed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its work has so far taken place exclusively online. The main impacts have so far been for the twelve Scotland-based makers taking part, and include:

  • Knowledge acquisition and exchange
  • Peer to peer support
  • Accountability
  • Time saved by learning from one another
  • Development of case studies and ‘how to’ advice
  • Opportunities to share learning with one another and the wider sector
  • Exchange of good practice across making disciplines
  • Reassurance of working with like-minded practitioners

The potential exists for this group to extend their learning to wider making and creative communities, whether through creation of a website to document and share findings or delivery of training modules (in-person or remote/digital).

There are significant opportunities for AAS to provide further support and provide leadership for the sector. The urgent need for behavioural change in our society to address the climate emergency is something that makers feel particularly strongly about, but often feel frustrated by the lack of clear information and guidance to help their decision making. Influencing governmental policy and funding strategies related to this (including through membership of existing networks) is a key priority for AAS.

At the moment, the Closing the Loop research group is closed. If you want to know more please email hello@appliedartsscotland.org.uk