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RISD joins effort started by King Charles to put climate, people at center of business

The Rhode Island School of Design has joined the Terra Carta Design Lab, which provides a practical roadmap toward a more sustainable future for people and the planet.

A collage of sustainable submissions to the first Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Terra Carta Design Lab in 2022.Sustainable Markets Initiative

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When he was still the Prince of Wales, King Charles III and designer Sir Jony Ive (who is best known for his work at Apple and holds more than 14,000 patents) launched the Terra Carta Design Lab in 2021.

The Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Terra Carta Design Lab derives its name from the Sustainable Markets Initiative’s guiding mandate: the Terra Carta. The Sustainable Markets Initiative convenes top organizations across industries — and alongside governments — to build prosperous economies and provide a practical roadmap toward a more sustainable future through innovation.


This year’s Design Lab partnered with four design schools across the globe, including the Rhode Island School of Design as the project’s only U.S.-based institution. Students and recent alumni at RISD — along with design schools in Dubai, India, and the United Kingdom — will be able to submit their own solutions for climate change, and how it impacts people.

In the second year of the Terra Carta Design Lab, Sustainable Markets Initiative CEO Jennifer Jordan-Saifi explained, the effort’s goal is to “inspire accelerated action on the world’s sustainability targets while illustrating a vision of what is possible.”

“Cross-disciplinary engagement, creativity, and design provide a unique opportunity to cocreate and discover new paths that can drive the sustainable transition we so urgently need,” said Jordan-Saifi.

For RISD president Crystal Williams, “Art and design are essential to realizing a sustainable future.”

The Globe spoke to Sarah Cunningham, the vice provost of strategic partnerships at the Rhode Island School of Design, who helped lead RISD through its earliest days launching the new initiative with the Terra Carta Design Lab.


Q. How did RISD get involved with this effort?

Cunningham: We were approached and asked to participate. We did some evaluation, and saw a great opportunity for the moment we’re in right now. We are already looking at deepening within sustainability conversations about including all voices, and how people are affected by these innovations, and how all people’s points of view are considered. This was a way for us to articulate our current research in a global landscape.

Q. What could people expect out of RISD’s submissions to this effort?

A. We have a practice of looking at biomaterials, and the development of new materials and finding new ways to create regenerative materials. We think about biomimicry, and doing bio-design with an understanding of systems in nature and structures — from insects, from animals, dynamics, natural physics, dynamics of how wind might work, and other features of the natural environment. We’ve had students develop new products and prototypes, but also question the systems that we already have in place.

King Charles III, previously the Prince of Wales, views exhibitions and meets the winners of the Sustainable Markets Initiative awards at the Royal College of Art in London in April 2022.Andrew Parsons/Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

Q. Are there any particular disciplines or industries that the submissions from RISD might focus on?

A. I don’t think it would be in our best interest to limit the industries. We don’t know all the different things our alumni are doing out in the world, and some of them activate very quickly and explore new opportunities beyond their own disciplines. We’re going to keep it entirely open.


Q. Who can get involved and when?

A. Student and recent alumni (who graduated within the last five years). We’ll be posting on our website Oct. 12, which will have a link to submit an entry. [A school panel will review its pool of submissions before submitting a top 10 shortlist to the Global Judging Panel]. The Global Judging Panel includes Sir Jony Ive. Eight winning designs will be announced in fall 2024.

Q. How is the King of England involved?

A. He is definitely been a friend of design in a lifelong conversation with sustainability issues. He’s been a benefactor to the Royal College of Art, and has engaged in these types of practices for a long time. In many ways, it’s not as strange as it might appear.

Q. What other projects is RISD working on that look at the planet in new ways?

A. There’s one project on the horizon funded by a Creative Capital grant led by professor Paula Gaetano Adi. It’s a robotic art project that will deploy the first robot to cross the Andes Mountains in South America to reenact José de San Martín’s expedition of 1817. [The Guanaquerx robot is an unmanned autonomous machine that will have to navigate peaks above 4,000 meters (13,000+ feet) while gathering environmental data, sounds, and stories to capture Andean life and biocultural diversity, according to Gaetano Adi’s project details.]

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.