Dec 17, 2020
A reflection on the potential impact of Zero Emission Design as a tool to solve the greatest challenges of our time.
All great design is formed in efforts to solve great problems. Alas, here we are in 2020 faced with some of the world’s largest challenges to date. Covid-19, climate change, loss of biodiversity, increasingly divided societies to name a few… but that begs the question: How are we going to solve this? What are we going to do? Could design be the solution to the new age?
Before we paint ourselves as superheroes and strap on our capes, let’s dive a bit deeper into (a few) of the value propositions design can (and does) add to our current climate:
To change a behavior, there must be a change in mindset. To change a mindset, there must be a learning. To learn something, there must be a trigger. The way we interact with anything, whether that be a product, app, or physical space, is determined by the way the brain responds to a stimulus.
This can be an incredible tool, especially when design is intentionally used for good. Patagonia is a great example of this, as the brand is making great efforts to use design for good. Of course, their products are built to last and sourced with responsible materials, that’s their more obvious contribution. However, they’ve also leveraged their brand following with bold marketing campaigns, calling on the consumers to change – this perhaps having an even larger impact.
Unfortunately, it is more frequent we see large brands taking a less mindful approach. We’ve seen this often with one of the most valuable companies in the world: Apple. Besides their sustainability efforts on the usage of resources and the CO2 emissions along the product life cycle, they’ve had a short sided (or strategic) approach to their product development for years now. Creating a drive for the next best thing every two or so years, making repairability undesirable or expensive and a lack of compatibility with other technologies are just a few of the shortcomings of the design. Historically this has worked out great for Apple’s bottom line.
But as we share the burdens of climate change globally, what’s great for them isn’t great for all… and that’s a huge issue. This short-term approach to design not sustainable, nor is it relevant when the world is on fire.
Regardless, if reaching planetary goals requires a shift in mindset, perhaps we need to look a bit more systemically at our approach to solving problems. People’s minds are only as good as the stimulus they are exposed to, so we need to consider this carefully. Let’s rethink accessibility to impact, let’s consider behavioral design.
Another favorable trait of the design process is the front end. And no, I don’t mean the face of it. I mean the stuff that goes on before the design has been executed. The research and strategy of the design process play an incredibly important role on the result. Unfortunately, the value of this part of the process is often overlooked. However, sometimes the opportunity to create the most impact isn’t actually in the most obvious place, and the entire life cycle of something must be considered to choose the best route. By the way, this impact analysis is relevant for all components of the Triple Bottom Line: people, planet and profit.
For example, the largest CO2 emission in the production of a water bottle could actually be from the transportation of the raw material to the manufacturing plant. While re-designing the packaging could also create great impact (especially when you consider small changes at a large scale), the logistics of its fruition could also be reassessed, and thus redesigned. The business of design has the potential to be just as beautiful as the things it produces.
This brings me to my next point:
Who is to say design needs to stop at just the product, or even at the organization? As the famous saying goes, “Power in numbers” – the greatest opportunity for impact is to influence and shift an entire system towards a more beautiful future. While it may be less obvious to think in systems with other suppliers, collaborators, clients and even competitors, this thinking can have huge impact (as well as great economic advantages).
We at INDEED Innovation do believe business is a force for good. And we also believe every great business is capable of building a great ecosystem. But, of course, this needs the support of well-designed opportunities, powered by individuals with the right mindset. All these elements of change are interlinked and must be considered. If it is not considered, how will it be manifested?
The approach and methodology of design can be used at many different scales in many different contexts. This provides great optimism (as well as great opportunity) for Zero Emission Design. In fact, as policy begins to shift and penalize CO2 consumption at great cost, it will be the well-designed, circular products, organizations and ecosystems that will fare the challenges of our future.
What is now seen as a choice (and investment) to consider, must become a necessity. What was once considered high startup cost, will now be seen as long-term investment.
People are changing. Societies are changing. Organizations are changing. Ecosystems are changing. Regardless of where you intersect with this change, the time for change is now. It is time for Zero Emission Design.