On a day spent between Lake Lucerne and the emblematic Kunsthaus Zürich, Jeffrey Ibañez and Sven Erni discuss their love of nature, the underrated power of acoustics, and what it takes to build a company with a circular approach to design.
In recent years, the link between ambiance and workplace well-being has received growing attention from creatives and business leaders alike. By now, it’s clear that interior design can have positive effects on our creative processes and ability to focus and collaborate, however, little is known about the role of acoustics in shaping these experiences and what the ideal workplace sounds like. With an eye to these fascinating questions, and a sensitivity that goes far beyond aesthetics, Impact Acoustic founders Jeffrey Ibañez and Sven Erni are pushing the conversation forward with a range of acoustic solutions made from post-consumer waste.
This interview was produced in collaboration with Swiss manufacturing company and sustainable design lab Impact Acoustic. It is part of an educational series that charts the evolution of Impact Acoustic and the creative possibilities of working with waste through the eyes of its founders and creative collaborators.
I’m curious about your creative partnership. How did the two of you meet?
Sven — Well, we met 16 years ago. Jeff had recently graduated from architecture and I was working in the Philippines. We actually met on an island. Soon after, we moved to Shanghai together to work in architecture. Four years later, we moved to Kuala Lumpur, where Jeff worked for another architectural practice and I got a job in business development for a competitor of Jeffey’s company.
Jeffrey — Yes, we would always meet in bars to talk about the projects that we were competing for. And that’s how the creative part of our relationship started.
Sven — Around 2009-2010, our first products started to be really sustainable. We found out about a material made of post-consumer plastic bottle content that is similar to Impact Acoustic’s ARCHISONIC® Felt. Eventually, over the course of one of those other projects, we had an idea. It was 2018. The workplace was starting to change, you know, from single offices to larger, open workspaces, and office pods started to really come up and become more popular.
Jeffrey —So we had the “over a beer idea” that I should design my own ‘Chatpod®’ made of sustainable materials. After a week, we sat down again, looked at the specifications of the design, and decided to do a mock-up out of our own pockets.
Is that how Impact Acoustic was born?
Jeffrey —Yes. When we exhibited it [the Chatpod® mock-up] at Orgatec, one of the largest office furniture fairs, it ended up getting a lot of traction. We met one of our most important clients there—Amazon—and that’s how we knew we had to quit [our other jobs] and push for it.
So, in a way, soundproofing inspired the project. Could you tell me a little bit about your personal relationship with sound?
Sven — We met at a party on this island [in the Philippines]. We love electronic music, but in business we absorb sound. And I think this has something to do with wanting to have a good influence on the workplace. And what kind of influence does sound have on well-being? Sounds can increase your blood pressure, and get you annoyed or distracted very easily.
Jeffrey — And this is often neglected. When designers are working on a workspace, the sound is always the last part.
Sven — Did you know that acoustics influence taste? For example, eating chocolate while you listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and eating chocolate while you listen to hardcore techno are two very different experiences. This is very noticeable in restaurants. I mean, most restaurants have bad acoustics actually, or don’t spend on acoustics. And they probably really should, but the impact of acoustics is not common knowledge. I had this experience myself and it is really incredible how the taste of the food changes depending on the energy of the people around me. Their emotions and experiences. It really affects the ambiance, and so do the acoustics. On a sensory level, it has a huge impact on our wellbeing.
Do you have any preferences when it comes to acoustic environments?
Jeffrey — I don’t like complete silence. Here in our office, I sit next to the main hall where I hear people talking. For me, that provides comfort. It keeps me awake and gives me a very good focus.
Sven — To me, the ideal acoustic environment in a space is one that isn’t “edgy”. For example, when sitting against a hard wall, if you had acoustic treatment on the back, the wall would hug you and you would definitely feel better—there would be a warmth to it.
“Did you know that acoustics influence taste? For example, eating chocolate while you listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and eating chocolate while you listen to hardcore techno are two very different experiences.”
Nature holds a special place in both of your lives. How has your relationship with nature influenced your idea of sustainability?
Jeffrey — Nature is definitely at the core of how we do things. And we try and communicate that to the entire organization and to our employees as well. Every little thing we do matters, you know, like, buying stuff with less packaging and trying not to fly all the time. These are things that we cannot control. But we always promote sustainable living and being in nature, whatever we are doing.
Sven —Nature is also connected to the future of Impact Acoustic. When we founded the company, we knew that the next big thing in the fight against climate change would be the oceans, so we want to sell the company at some point, and then basically go sailing. We are in contact with an organization that is called Goes. They collect water samples around the world; there are currently over 6060 boats that do water sampling. The acidification of the oceans kills the plankton and plankton is responsible for about seventy to eighty percent of the oxygen in our air. Plankton also moves double the amount of water that the moon moves, and it does that twice a day, not just once. So it’s really, really crazy. Like, What is the health of our oceans? What is the role the oceans have on our climate?
“If you had acoustic treatment on the back, the wall would hug you, you would definitely feel better. There would be a warmth to it.”
Sven and Jeffrey often collaborate with their longtime friend—designer Ina Rinderknecht.
How do you make sure that your vision reaches other people within the creative industry?
Jeffrey — I think it’s continuous education because there are a lot of things, for example, the plankton, that not a lot of people know.
Sven — Our products highlight potential solutions rather than quick fixes. They show how businesses can thrive with a truly circular product model and a commitment to sustainability. We want to inspire designers for change and we want to increase the appeal of sustainable materials.
Jeffrey — The latest demonstration of this is the launch of ARCHISONIC® Cotton—the first fully circular acoustic material on the market. We are so proud of the dedication and innovation that has brought this material to life, demonstrating that 100% circularity is achievable in our industry. We’re setting a new benchmark, for our future projects, but also as a challenge to our industry.
Are there any other places in your everyday surroundings that you go to for inspiration, or places that are particularly significant for the project?
Sven — Sometimes, we go to this little place in Weggis, it’s like a floating platform on the lake of Lucerne. We drink a draft beer there and look at the lake.
Jeffrey — And then there’s a dock, right? That’s where we hang out when we want to get inspired.
Sven — We call them “the beer ideas”, and they’re mostly in nature. We also love to go hiking. You know, we like to look back at what we achieved, and in our day-to-day, that is not so simple. Very often, we run in a hamster wheel and we feel like we don’t get anywhere.
Lastly, what are your hopes for the future of circular design?
Jeffrey — The most important thing is belief. That’s also our tagline, when you enter our office, “If you believe, you achieve.” The second part is “If you doubt, you’re out.” We don’t mean this in an aggressive way. It’s just a reminder that if you doubt what you’re doing, it’s harder to get up every morning and make an impact.
“We call it ‘the beer ideas’, and they’re mostly in nature. We also love to go hiking. We like to look back at what we achieved- and in our day-to-day, that is not so simple.”
Jeffrey Ibañez and Sven Erni are the founders of Swiss manufacturing company and sustainable design lab Impact Acoustic. Jeffrey has a background in architecture and is responsible for the look and feel of Impact Acoustic’s products. Sven has a background in Business Development and oversees the operational side of the company. With material innovation at the heart, Jeffrey and Sven launched Impact Acoustic in 2019 to show that building a company with a circular approach to design is possible.
Interview and Text: Amelie Varzi
Photography: Yves Bachmann