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our core concepts: socially responsible

May 8, 2010

This is the final of a five-part blog series, illustrating the core concepts that have become the foundation of residents:understood. Part five illustrates the core concept of: SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE.

Two summers ago, the three of us traveled to Denmark to attend a study abroad program in Copenhagen. We enrolled in a course called “Sustainability in Scandinavia” where we would learn how Scandinavia became a global leader in sustainability efforts…or so we thought. Little did we know, we were about to spend a good part of our summer traveling to large corporations and local shops throughout Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, asking questions like: “Do you know where the products you have for sale were made?”  or “Do you know about the working conditions for those who made them?” and “What is your company doing to improve the lives of citizens in your surrounding community?” Many rehearsed answers and a few blank stares later, we had completed a course that taught the three of us about the ins and outs of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and how companies are performing environmentally, socially, and ethically in response to stakeholder demands.

Beautiful Copenhagen!

Throughout our education we had been enlightened to topics in sustainable design. We knew that interior designers had a responsibility to the wellbeing of the environment, but we had never considered sustainability in its social sense. There is so much that designers can do to impact the lives of others, and r:u aims to do just that. I place full responsibility on that summer in Scandinavia (…and maybe also our awesome parents who shaped us into the decent people we are today!) for the passion and awareness that is fueling our new company’s commitment to being socially responsible. I also feel it is important to mention that we see our commitment to social responsibility not as simply fulfilling industry standards or trends, or demands from socially conscious consumers, but as holding true to the vision we built our company upon.  Simply put, we are just a group of three young designers that want our work to make a difference in the world and here’s how we plan to do it:

1 – Think local.

2 – Consider supply chain/product origins.

3 – Give back.

Think local.

In our last blog we talked about the environmental benefits to sourcing local products for our projects – it’s clearly an energy saver. But there are also loads of social benefits to shopping locally. First and foremost, as a small local business ourselves, it just makes sense to support other local businesses.  And then there are the benefits that shopping locally can bring to our community. Local First DC says that for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 goes back into the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures.  If one instead goes to spend that $100 at a chain store, only $14 comes back. Not to mention, one-of-a-kind shops are what make up the culture of a community. We should all aim to support new and old independent businesses in the Washington DC metro area. We do understand that there are circumstances when making purchases locally is not possible, hence we are committing to always think locally before moving forward with other options.

Consider supply chain/product origins.

One of the lessons we learned in Copenhagen was the importance of knowing where the products you’re consuming are coming from – not just from an environmental standpoint, but also from a human rights standpoint. Even a shop owner with the best intentions could unknowingly be selling a product that was made by a child laborer or adult under inhumane working conditions or unfair wages. While it’s often very difficult to determine the origins of a product, we feel that promoting awareness in consumer choices can make a big difference. We will make every effort to use products from sources that have strong CSR principles in place – those that are knowledgeable of their product supply chain AND transparent about it. Fair Trade products are always a good option to ensure that a purchase is contributing to a fair wage for the producer, helping to improve the lives of the people who make the goods. Although a little more difficult to find, there are some beautiful products for homes made under a Fair Trade agreement, below are some of our favorites from a Fair Trade shop in Washington DC, The Culture Shop. For locals wanting to know more about Fair Trade in Washington DC,  The DC Fair Trade Network newsfeed is a great resource!

Mirrors made from Styrax wood, a highly renewable natural resource found in warm climates and commonly used to produce chopsticks in Vietnam.

Recyled Monkey Pod Twist Stool. Handcarved in Vietnam

Give back.

One of r:u’s missions is to give back to our local and global community. Design has such great potential to improve the lives of so many people and we are anxious to embrace any opportunity where our skills can be used for the greater good. We recently became involved with the DC chapter of Architecture for Humanity and are looking forward to working with them more in the future. We also wanted to share some movements/projects that have inspired us – we hope to be a part of something like these one day:

Above: Interior designers in LA collaborated on this project to transform dark and dreary motel rooms into bright and uplifting spaces for homeless families in need, read the full story and see more awesome rooms by clicking the photo. Below: A film trailer for architect Samuel Mockbee's "The Rural Studio" project, a concept that encourages design education to stray from the lavish and extreme buildings for the wealthy, and to start designing for the 90% of the population who just need simple, well-built homes.

If you have any ideas for “giving back” through design, or are yourself involved in some great projects like those shown above, please share with us!

This wraps up our five-part blog series illustrating the core concepts that have become the foundation of residents:understood. Check back shortly for a new blog series illustrating our design process for a studio apartment that will be featured in the House Calls section of the Washington Post!

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