New exhibition highlights greenwashing in Czech design

On the occasion of the Czech EU Presidency, the European network of Czech Centres has prepared a wide range of events. Most of them will take place abroad, but the new project Laboratory of the Future is also intended for a Czech audience. From 11 to 31 July 2022, Mariánské náměstí in Prague 1 will host an unusual installation with the goal of opening a broader critical debate about what sustainability actually means.

Photo: Prague City Hall

Sustainability and greenwashing are two of the buzzwords of our time. But Veronika Pařízková, the curator of a new exhibition now open in Prague’s Mariánské náměstí with the title “ECO? Czech sustainable design”, says that in Czechia these issues are often not discussed.

“We wanted to present Czech ecological design for the first time, but then we realized that in Czechia this topic is not so developed. Of course, abroad there are ecological exhibitions, but here it is still not a very widely-discussed topic.”

Photo: Prague City Hall

As a result, the exhibition is not just simply a showcase of Czech sustainable design, but a critical and almost confrontational view of what is really environmentally friendly and what is mere marketing. To this end, the exhibition’s creators enlisted the help of a team from Prague’s University of Chemistry and Technology to make a scientific analysis of everything showcased in the exhibition to find out how ecological each of these supposedly sustainable products really is.

Each of the exhibited products was examined not only in terms of the materials used, but also in terms of, for example, the water consumption and CO2 output during production or the use of toxic substances. Professor Vladimír Kočí, who heads the team, explains what the thinking behind it was and how this ties in with the current Czech EU presidency.

Vladimír Kočí | Photo: Tereza Kunderová,  Czech Radio

“Currently one of the most discussed topics in the EU is sustainability and the application of the Green Deal. The Green Deal states that greenwashing should not be supported as an approach, so we wanted to support sustainability communication, even in creative spheres like design, with a scientifically-grounded evaluation system. We wanted to show that even the material background of these products can be part of our thinking about sustainability, because not only fashion and the design but also the material and the energy consumption during the production stage is important.”

The exhibition showcases a diverse range of Czech designed products, including vases, chairs, and even menstrual cups. It is comprised of three parts: the first showing commercially available products made by Czech companies such as TON, MMCITÉ, or Egoé; the second exhibiting products like glass or T-shirts by small Czech designers and studios; and the final part being concepts which are not (yet) commercially available or products only produced in small quantities, for example, ceramics made from recyclable materials or compostable coffee capsules.

The installation is intended not only for the general public, but also for designers who are looking for ways to change consumption habits, or experts who look at the topic of sustainability through the lens of science. Veronika Pařízková says the exhibition should be truly unique.

“To be honest, I’ve never seen any other exhibition where the products are not shown only in a positive light – in our exhibition you can see some of the products don’t have the best reviews. Not so many factories and designers understand how to improve their products to make them more ecological and sustainable. When you choose bad materials and bad components, it’s not ecological in the end. So we tried to show that you must think from the beginning how to make the products ecological and not just use the sustainability sticker for marketing.”

After its stint in Prague, the unusual installation will travel to other European cities where it will be presented, among other places, in a subway station in Berlin's Schöneberg, a gallery on the bank of the river Vistula in Warsaw, and the famous community centre Blivande in Stockholm. Further launches are also planned for Bucharest and Milan.