Dodds&Shute - Photo © Amy Heycock
Dodds&Shute - Photo © Amy Heycock

A method that has attracted collaborators and clients in tune with the studio’s philosophy, and above all other design firms that rely on Dodds & Shute for consulting services in the field of concrete sustainability, which calls for specific specialization. The courage to believe in a direction, even when it doesn’t even seem to suggest survival: this is the attribute behind Stefan Dodds and Nick Shute, who thanks to inner energy and a healthy sense of social responsibility, decided to take a path no other design practice had ever hypothesized: the path of sustainability in this field. No dogma, no absolute thinking, no walls: instead, a balanced, cheerful trail blazed by two young men, through realism and a taste for solving problems.

From 2015 to the present, how has the perception of the project market (ownership, developers, designers) changed (if indeed it has changed) with respect to sustainability?
When we started Dodds & Shute sustainability was not a topic of conversation with our clients, but over time this became of increasing importance to us. For example, in 2017 we launched our climate positive initiative and in 2018 we released our supplier sustainability audit. Around this time there was still very little appetite or interest from our clients on sustainability. Today this has changed. Dodds & Shute have become known as a leader in this space and is a key driver for many clients choosing to work with us.

Your practice is atypical: was it difficult for you to get beyond prejudices or fears regarding a hybrid role, and one that is also paradoxically against the trend?
I wouldn’t say that we play a countercultural role but both of us were passionate about bringing about change to our industry and setting a positive example for others to hopefully follow. We had concerns that focussing on sustainability may not be commercially viable, but we both felt guilty about the role we played in the industry’s consumerism. For example, we launched a new website during Covid which showcased only the innovative work being done by the most sustainable suppliers in our supply chain. In that economic climate, this was a huge risk, however we are delighted that an increasing number of clients share our values.

The boundary that divides business and sustainability is almost imperceptible – what is your position regarding possible compromises?
We are all on a journey. It’s not about changing everything about your business overnight – that’s impractical. We support our clients to make as many positive steps forward as possible. Each project involves some degree of compromise, but we set targets to ensure we are moving in the right direction year on year.

You have selected certain brands with which you work; how does the procedure work, to bring a company into your roster of suppliers? Do you seek them out, or do they come to you?
We have a supplier audit that gathers data on our suppliers on 5 sustainability pillars; this is our way of quantifying and comparing the practices of our suppliers. When new brands approach us, we evaluate them closely before deciding on whether they are the right fit. The companies we are looking for are the ones truly innovating in their field, we view it as our role to champion companies doing things the right way.

How are you able to mediate between the request for a big trademark on the part of clients,you’re your own solutions?
At the end of the day, we are a service provider; the projects and budgets are not ours. We are doing our best to positively influence our clients’ decisions and show how sustainable choices are just as beautiful and commercially viable as the top-end designer brands that aren’t focused on sustainability.

Among the selected brands there are a number of Italians (Pedrali, Lapalma, Bolzan Letti). How did this relationship get started? Are you talking with other Italian companies at present?
We are interested in companies from any part of the world that can demonstrate to us that sustainability is fundamental to their business. The above mentioned companies, as well as others such as Magis, Flos and Passoni, are all examples of companies that have performed extremely well in our audit. Some of these relationships are historic but others, Bolzan Letti and Passoni, are companies that we have recently learnt about due to their strong environmental credentials.

In your profile you write: “The undertaking of significant research into the environmental impact of different furniture types, companies or materials is an unrealistic luxury”: this is a statement that might put many players in the value chain into crisis, and so you offer them “an honorable way out.” Is that the case?
We meant that statement towards interior designers and architects who have so much to do in very little time. A lot of our clients acknowledge the work we have done is extensive and they partner with us so our knowledge can be shared. Some other supply chain players should not see our statement as an honorable way out. It is their duty to be more transparent and diligent with their supply chain.

Over the last 7 years of activity, has there been a project that makes you feel particularly proud, or one that has made you clearly understand that you were moving on the right path?
We can’t talk of specific projects or clients I’m afraid but one of our clients, a private real estate investment firm here in the UK, uses the sustainable ratings we devised as a way of helping them to choose furniture. When we hear of clients like this that are taking our research seriously and using it to help determine their decisions, it is music to our ears.

What projects do you have for the future? Where is your next success going to come from?
We want to propel our industry to a sustainable and responsible future and continue to positively influence our clients’ buying behaviour. For too long decisions in our industry have been made purely based on aesthetics and cost. We want to introduce new metrics around sustainability but to do this we need to get tangible data into our clients’ hands. For the last few years, we have been collecting all kinds of fascinating data about sustainable innovation and best manufacturing practices and our next goal is to report on this data in order to show clients the impacts their decisions have. We want the design sector to be beautiful both inside and out.

Photo © Amy Heycock