PHOTO 2021 11 02 13 10 539472

Look good, do good: how upcycling got a designer makeover

Pentatonic

11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action 17. Partnerships for the Goals

Overview

In 2018, 812 million tons of waste (excluding major mineral waste) were generated in the European Union alone, corresponding to 1,818 kilograms of waste per inhabitant (cf. Eurostat, 2021). Within this amount, according to Eurostat about 7.9% were hazardous to our health or the environment.

If all this waste is not managed sustainably, it can have a huge impact on the environment, leading to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as significant material losses.

The need to limit global pollution has become a major task among the world and as a result, we are faced with the urgent need to move to a more sustainable development approach, which requires the commitment of everyone.

Pentatonic is a UK-based company whose business strategy is precisely designed to ensure this. The company was founded in 2016 by Johann Boedecker and Jamie Hall, and its core specialty is creating consumer products developed from waste materials. With a formula of making products from products, they are a design and technology company that aims to transform the world into a circular economy.

Authors

Sophie Schattenmann

Sophie Schattenmann

Grégoire HUE

Grégoire HUE

Lancelot TAMET

Lancelot TAMET

Valentina Hintz

Valentina Hintz

Anne Breidenbach

Anne Breidenbach

School

Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore)

Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore)

Professor

Riccardo Torelli

Riccardo Torelli

Innovation

While economic growth improves people's well-being, it has been linked to increasing resource and energy consumption for a while now. The ever-increasing consumption of finite resources harms the environment and contributes significantly to climate change (cf. European Commission, 2010). For that reason, Pentatonic believes that waste should be considered a resource, and that more recycling puts materials back into the economic cycle ensuring that they circulate to preserve the value that they contain. The company strives for a circular economy in which materials and resources remain in the economic cycle for as long as possible and therefore minimizing the waste. Its business is therefore to manufacture products from waste in the spirit of a circular economy.

To this end, Pentatonic has developed a wide range of products, tools, and services the company designs itself and sells directly to the public. It transforms yesterday's packaging into tomorrow's hip consumer goods, a broken smartphone screen into high-end glassware, and bottles into luxurious couture fabrics.

When it comes to minimizing waste, however, the company doesn't just focus on making products from waste that can be fully recycled. A big part of its day-to-day business consists in helping major brands and organizations to do the same. With many companies asking Pentatonic to help them transition to a circular economy, the company holds numerous collaborations and joint ventures with leading global consumer brands including Nike, Starbucks, and Red Bull, as well as influential cultural icons such as the Science Museum, Pharrell Williams and Snarkitecture.

Therefore, every cooperation and every manufacturing process of a product is unique. Among the 30-40 projects that are running simultaneously, not one follows the exact same procedure. This is mainly due to the fact that the sourcing of the waste itself is always different. Sometimes Pentatonic receives the waste materials for its products from companies directly. For example, in retail stores, in production or warehouses, where the companies approach Pentatonic directly, in order to support them with the disposal of their waste materials.

As an example, Pentatonic serves many clients in the fashion industry, whose companies often have warehouses with dead stock due to overproduction, unsold, damaged, or discontinued products.

In many cases, however, Pentatonic works with local disposal companies that are specialized in specific materials like polycarbonate for example. Consequently, Pentatonic does not have large warehouses storing tons of waste itself, but rather fits into the systems and utilizes a large network of suppliers.

Thus, the sourcing of materials for its products is all about the brief, the customer, the product, and the performance. In this process, Pentatonic also pays attention to the ecological footprint of the product by trying to source waste locally rather than from countries on the other side of the world.

When it comes to designing a new product, Pentatonic is moving away from traditional design, where the focus is mainly on how a product should look, to contemporary design culture. This means that the company puts an emphasis on the system of design and rather than just the aesthetic aspect of design. In other words, when creating new products, one must approach this in a very systematic way. Pentatonic starts off by asking themselves if this product really needs to exist in the first place. When they decided that it is a valuable product that will better the environment, they start the process by picturing the entire lifespan of the product. This means they think about all the different factors and conditions that the product will face after being made, up to the point where the product gets recycled and back again, before ever starting the creating process of the product. It is very important to think systematically about the lifecycle of the product and to make it as realistic and as user-friendly as possible for the material to stay in the loop and thus aiding the circular economy.

According to co-founder Jamie Hall, it's always easy to make new products, but one should always consider whether they are truly necessary and therefore solve a problem, replace something that would otherwise be wasted, allow people to live more sustainably, or a company to be less wasteful.

A product Pentatonic has brought to market that, according to co-founder Jamie Hall, adds real value to people and the environment is the "Pebbles" cutlery set, made from discarded food packaging and disposed CDs. Other products that Pentatonic designed out of waste are their smoke rings, that were made from old cigarette butts or the recycled water bottle wallets.

One of Pentatonic’s first projects was the Airtool chair. This chair was made from 96 plastic bottles and 28.4 aluminium cans. Within the same collection, the Airtool fold table, was made from 1436 aluminium cans and 190 CDs.

Look good, do good: how upcycling got a designer makeover

Inspiration

Before establishing Pentatonic, the founders Jamie Hall and Johann Boedecker both worked for very prestigious and successful companies such as Levi’s, Puma and Nike. Hall in fact stated that he has always been very satisfied with his job, especially since he has had brilliant people around and above him from which he could learn. However, he explained that he always felt that he could do more, do something that would really matter. Going forward, he wanted to take what he had learned over the years and put it into something that could really help better the world.

Even though Hall would consider himself as a positive and optimistic person, the co-founder says that he has always been pessimistic about the damages we have done to the world. We cannot undo what we have done but we must do all we can to improve, according to him. This recognition of the urgent need for drastic change was shared by the two founders, Jamie Hall and Johann Boedecker when they first got to know each other.

They met when Johann Boedecker set up stores for Hall while he was employed in marketing at Nike in Portland, Oregon. By working together, the two found many similarities, most notably in their belief that the consumer goods industry must move to a circular economy in order to prevent the earth from facing even more problems.

Both agreed that there was a better way for consumer businesses to be more sustainable, which led them to combine their experiences in circular supply chains and launching products with mass consumer appeal to build the world´s first circular economy business.

Today, five years after the founding of Pentatonic, Hall is still excited about his work and proud to be doing something that will advance the next generations. "That is the most beautiful kind of reward," he says.

During our interview with him, he also encouraged us to take risks, step out of our comfort zone, try things out and find what fulfils us. "Be bold, believe that career can be something that drives goals, morals and beliefs. If any generation has the ability to make a difference, it's yours,", an eye-opening statement he directed at us that left a memorable impression.

Everyone can contribute to minimise pollution because if everyone does something about it, even if it is just a little thing, we can make a big difference.

Overall impact

Pentatonic has been inventing high-performance materials and beautiful products from the world's most abundant and hazardous resources for almost five years now, breathing new life into the discarded without compromising on design, performance or function.

The corporation employs approximately 50 people, including engineers and designers with more than 15 years of experience in developing revolutionary material solutions and planet-friendly, design-oriented alternatives to virgin materials.

Located in Berlin and London, the company focuses on Design, Recycling, Material Dis- and Recovery, Circular Systems Design, Long-Term Behaviour Change Strategies and Bespoke Circular Economy Workshops.

Business benefit

Since its foundation, Pentatonic has been able to ensure that thousands of tons of plastic waste have been reused. This has been achieved either by the company using it for new products or by ensuring that it is recycled.

With its seven own, and several products created in collaboration with well-known companies such as Burger King, Starbucks or the Pharrell Williams creative organization, the company was able to register a turnover of 5.6 million US dollars already in 2019.

Presumably the best thing about the company's operations is that they have a positive impact not only on Pentatonic itself, both economically and ecologically, but also on the activities and therefore on the outcome and performance of the companies with whom Pentatonic cooperates.


Social and environmental benefit

As this goal basically embodies Pentatonic's core business model, the company's business contributes to goal number twelve of the United Nation sustainability goals, the sustainable consumption.

However, through its efforts to establish a circular economy in the world, the company also promotes the goal of creating sustainable cities and communities, represented by goal number eleven.

Since the company, according to Hall, follows the mindset "1+1=3" and thus believes that “collaboration is the only way to get out of this mess”, the company counts on many collaborations to help support the dream of a circular economy that works all over the world. Thus, the company also implements goal number seventeen.

However, when it comes to collaborations with large, established companies, it seems to be less about the fact that it is simply cool to work with such companies, but rather that with their help, bigger steps can be taken thanks to their scale and significant influence.

One thing that particularly emerged from the conversation with co-founder Jamie Hall is that he tries to encourage his employees not to talk about things for a long time, but to simply try things out.

“Let´s not try to be storytellers, but storydoers”, Jamie Hall - Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer at Pentatonic

This is why there is a lot of experimentation and piloting at Pentatonic. Everything the company produces has had hundreds of hours of team meetings, time, energy and emotion going into it.

The same attitude of simply doing rather than discussing at length is also reflected in Hall's response to the question of whether he would like his company to address more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the future.

In fact, the company simply focuses on what it does and doesn't spend time thinking about frameworks or goals set by external parties/institutions. In general, Hall is concerned about how much the word "sustainability" is being used and abused. He believes it needs to be reclaimed and that people should simply focus on the small things they can do to contribute for a better future in which future generations will be able to live carefree.

If we all use our voices and act as role models for everyone around us, we each contribute our part, which can lead to something great. This is the best way to prevent the pollution from getting worse and we can all be part of this evolution.

Interview

Jamie Hall, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer

Photo of interviewee

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Pentatonic

Pentatonic

London, GB

Business Website: https://www.pentatonic.com/

Year Founded: 2016

Number of Employees: 11 to 50

Pentatonic is a design and technology company that uses waste materials for their products.