Our ecological crisis is becoming an increasingly essential topic, not just in the global media, but in schools and banks today. Internationally, our youth are striking for climate, the Extinction Rebellion are demonstrating across 33 countries, and the Governor of the Bank of England has warned of the “catastrophic impact” climate change could have on the financial system unless firms do more to disclose their vulnerabilities. It is clear that ecological consciousness is shifting from dormant to alert across the mainstream.
For many of us, there is a professional and personal desire to understand the facts and create a shift in our role of reducing our environmental impact. Professionally, I’m exploring the role Service Design or Design Thinking has in repairing and establishing a healthier climate and planet. Our practice, tools, and human-centred mindset can certainly add value as sectors and organisations align themselves to more sustainable futures. There is a need to establish more green briefs, encourage mainstream briefs to be more green, influence policy, design for the circular economy, and highlight success stories from regenerative innovations. We need to think beyond just the human factor and be a multi-species and ecosystems-centered designer.
As today’s children become more politically aware, they will be much more radical than their parents simply because there is no other choice for them. This emerging radicalism is already taking people by surprise as 10,000 kids around the world are protesting, showing you are never too small to make a difference! Their generation will inherit our dangerous legacy and they are well aware of it. At the World Economic Forum 2019 in Davos, Switzerland, 16 year old Greta Thunberg urged the attendants with a striking message: ‘Our house is on fire’. What she’s referring to is the continual outpouring of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Information about our planet and its climate has been collected on a global scale and according to NASA, shows signs of climate change, such as global surface temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, rising sea levels, declining Arctic sea ice, ocean acidification and extreme events such as wildfires and raging storms.
It’s overwhelming to consider how human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels are affecting our planet’s health. Instead of attributing blame to others and ourselves, how can we respond as organizations and individuals to this problem?
In order for climate solutions to work, the issue needs to be addressed on multiple levels. Governments, businesses, cultures, and individuals need a unified agreement working towards the same values. A strong anchor point are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which puts forth the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for everyone. And Gaia Education is a leading provider of education for sustainable development, providing students from all ages and cultural backgrounds with knowledge and skills to design a thriving society. There are some forward-thinking individuals from the fringes of radical culture change, such as Daniel Christain Whal, who advises on regenerative whole systems design (a process that restores, renews, or revitalizes their own sources of energy and materials), e.g. the Scottish company Biomatrix Water is pioneering biomimicry approaches to the regeneration of polluted waterways, rivers and lakes or Ecosystem Restoration Camps, who are restoring degraded lands back to ecological health and vitality. Here is a map of regenerative projects happening around the world, see if you can find one near you!
The Role of Service Designer
Design can enable sustainable behaviour by understanding everyday needs rather than treating people as the problem. At Harmonesse, we’re excited to apply human-centred design to challenges that support a more sustainable ecosystem, from the mission and business model to the detail of shifting human behaviour towards practices we can all put in place. So far this year, we are delighted to have a few clients who are responding to environmental changes that support human actions at the organizational and individual level:
- A client seeking to encourage citizens and industries to build in a more ‘sustainable manner’ by providing recommendations and rebates for those who do.
- Clients from a couple of different sectors planning their service experience around responding to scenarios from extreme weather events.
This is timely work as Ben Reason from Livework recently posed the question: ‘What is the role of green service design’? His thoughts included:
1. Aid adoption of low impact products and services. Service design can make it easier for people to choose and use low carbon products and services. This covers all the purchases we make: from food to industrial equipment, from financial services to waste disposal. Design to support what might be challenging or confusing choices and new ways of living.
2. Create more effective maintenance and use. Help people and businesses get more from the things they buy and keep them working for longer. We can reduce the waste by extending the useful life of products through more care and considerate use and repair.
3. Design a transition to a world of less stuff. Service models can enable us to do more with less. We have so much stuff that sits idle that a service could fulfill our needs only when we require it.
And as Hannah Thomas wrote in her article, Service Design: Can we design for sustainable consumption?, she suggests focusing on the circular economy:
A circular way of doing business can help us reduce waste and break the ‘make, use, toss’ cycle. Creating a circular economy in business enables us to cycle resources through industries, generating more opportunities for value extraction and reducing our reliance on brand new materials. For the consumer, consumption is possible without excessive waste, and for businesses, growth can be decoupled from the consumption of scarce natural resources — we don’t need to keep making brand new things from brand new materials to keep growing.
Personally, I ask myself the deeper question around sustainability. What do we actually want to sustain? As a species and individual, I am pro-sustaining sentient beings for all its wonders and enchantment. But creating a more ecologically sound planet and the preservation of all species is a major undertaking, and one that requires a collective arrangement. Can it really work in a capitalistic economy? My personal passion is considering:
- How can I help preserve the natural world through designing or supporting regenerative systems and services?
- How can I help raise human awareness to connect to the whole?
Lately, I’ve been practicing letting go of my thoughts and connecting to nature through my intuition. The daily vitality I feel when tending to my garden or walking my dog on the beach is a small reminder of Earth’s precious life force we are protecting. By connecting sensorily through my mantra, ‘Breath first, then heart, last head’, this helps to remind me of our purpose on Earth, and why we care.
Ecological Design as the new Green Service Design
The responsibility of our past actions should not only fall to Greta’s generation to make something happen; everyone, organisations included, need to make a unified effort.
Although the topic of sustainability may come and go, my sense tells me this planetary challenge has yet to bear the fruit of our strategic design community. Service Designers have the ethics and practical know-how to turn grand plans into usable action. So it is time for design thinkers and innovators to collaborate with sustainability advisors, scientists, business leaders, and ecological designers to grasp, question, and tackle sustainable development goals together.
We can use something similar to my mantra: ‘Breathe first, then heart, last head’ and turn our hunger for consumption into compassion for life, Earth could benefit greatly from such actions. And as Richard Attenborough said:
‘Our wonderful natural world, and the life of our grandchildren, depends upon us taking action now’.
If you are passionate about our planetary health and interested in joining a community of Ecological-Centred Designers or Green Service Designers, click here to sign up — we have a call once a month to discuss ideas and possible collaborative projects.