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Idealog's Most Innovative in Design/Engineering: David Trubridge

The winner of Idealog's Most Innovative Companies in Design/Engineering is design company David Trubridge. This is because to describe David Trubridge as an environmentally conscious outfit might be to understating things, ever so slightly. In fact, you’d likely be hard pressed to find a company that strives to be as sustainable as the internationally successful Hastings-based design company.  

And that makes sense. Long before winning international acclaim for his innovative lighting and furniture designs, founder and company namesake David Trubridge was a forester and lover of nature, spending a lot of his time tramping and sailing.

He caught the eco-bug early, and while operating as a one-man furniture maker in the eighties and nineties, Trubridge began speaking about environmental issues, urging people to take action and presenting talks at universities and museums. 

A “reluctant business owner” well aware of the production issues facing manufacturing companies, Trubridge made it his mission early on to leave as small a footprint on the environment as possible  while still keeping the lights on.

It was sustainability, before sustainability was a thing.

Trubridge’s work first came to international prominence in 2001 when the Italian design house Cappellini bought the rights for Body Raft, an elegant, sculptural recliner that would go on to become a furniture design classic.

The purchased signaled the transformation of the business from a small-scale operation to one that has a considerable presence on the international lighting and furniture market. And the rest, as they say, is history. Trubridge’s designs have now been featured in countless international publications and have seen him celebrated as one of the top 15 designers in the world.

The Coral light ­ an intricate form is made from just one single component repeated 60 times – as released in 2004, established the company’s blueprint for producing high-end products in kit-set formats that minimise their environmental footprint, especially shipping volumes.

And that’s more than just PR lip service. The company has engaged ‘cradle-to-cradle’ researchers to identify where improvements in sustainability and waste management can be achieved.

Surprisingly, it was freighting specifically that was identified as a major contributor to the company’s carbon emissions, comparatively dwarfing the actual production of their assembled lights. Seeing the benefits of shipping smaller boxes was startling for the company and led to a complete redesign all their main sellers to mimic the Coral Light’s environmentally friendly form factor. 

The kitset model now influences every aspect of the business, from concept and design all the way through to manufacture and packaging. Items come flat packed and ready for the customer to assemble, with larger, more complex kitsets are also shipped as flat packs, distributors assembling them at their final destination in preparation for the market.

Wherever possible, all timber is from sustainably managed plantations in New Zealand or the United States. Wood is left natural where appropriate, with natural non-toxic oils being used in place of harmful solvents. From a design point of view, the products use only the minimal amount of materials and are generated with a focus on longevity, rather than mimicking quick-moving trends.

Of course, none of this comes at the cost of good design, but that’s still a message that needs to be explicitly communicated to the end consumer, says the company.  

“We have to begin by telling the potential customer the reason behind the kitset model – reduced cost, the fun we hope they have putting it together and reduced environmental impacts – through our website and marketing materials,” says Ben Pearce, head of marketing at David Trubridge.

“This still remains our biggest messaging focus. Most other designer lights only require minimal assembly, so it's paramount we constantly communicate this to our distributors, agents and customers to ensure buy-in, engagement and collaboration.”

The company now has either distribution or representation in all major markets, but Pearce says there are real benefits to making sure there are Kiwis on the ground, wherever deals are being done.  

“This has a two-fold advantage,” he says. “As we always prefer to have someone in-market to represent us, and almost always a fellow Kiwi understands the culture and story that we are projecting – nature based, green, made-in-New Zealand products.

“This allows them to start from a relative position of strength in regards to the story behind the products and the reason our products differ from others.”

It’s a clean-green commitment the design outfit intends to stick to. The company is now planning a radical revision of its offering, discontinuing products in the range that use plastic – other than the necessary nylon clips and wiring of course – by 2020.

View the full list of Idealog's Most Innovative Companies here

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