Crop it like it's hot: how to boost your environmental impact through great design

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Crop it like it's hot: how to boost your environmental impact through great design

By Alex Robinson 20th September, 2023

“Design should be simple and it should be easy to understand. And that's incredibly hard to do.” – Carol Feeley, innocent drinks

Last week we kicked off a new series of insight-led events to help people working on sustainability challenges engage the public and change behaviours. The first topic was one close to our hearts: the role of great design. Whether it’s inspiring people to embrace reuse, repair more or waste less food, design plays a critical role in making sustainable behaviours feel possible and appealing.

So, we gathered a panel of experts to discuss what great design looks like and the difference it makes, and to share some practical tips on making the most of it in your own work. Here are four top takeaways and a bonus recommendation from a trio who live and breathe the art of making a difference through design:

1) Make the solution desirable

Tom reminded us that traditionally “the best design has been reserved for businesses and brands who are driving hyper-consumption” while “the environmental sector has been synonymous with bad design for good causes”. This contrast has had predictably unhelpful results, but the solution is obvious: take the tools and techniques that have been so effective at driving consumption, and repurpose them. In short: make the ‘good’ option cool as well. Nice & Serious’ Useless London is a great example of this, a contemporary directory of the capital’s zero waste shops that makes the sustainable option stylish.

2) Get specific

Eric has a warning for you: if you smooth off all the edges of your design to try to appeal to the widest possible audience, guess what? It won’t appeal to anyone. Zero in on your niche to give yourself the best chance of inspiring behaviour change. And then look out for the unexpected benefits. Carol offered an example from Herbal Essences: when they found out that people with visual impairments were using DIY hacks like adding tape or elastic bands to shampoo and conditioner to differentiate the packaging, they added different textures to their bottles. Better for their blind and visually impaired customers, yes, but also popular with kids, elderly people and, well, everyone with soap in their eyes!

3) Surprise your audience

Carol highlighted that serious topics don’t always need a serious treatment. If you bombard people with science, you earn credibility but also a very small audience. Innocent’s collaboration with Hubbub, ‘Recycling’s Most Wanted’, offers inspiration: grabbing people’s attention with a surprising (and joyfully silly) Western theme, but using it to deliver a clear, specific and targeted message focused on changing behaviours.

4) Lead with secondary benefits

Our mission at Hubbub is to inspire action that’s good for the environment, and for everyone. This means we’re always trying to reach beyond the converted and bring new people into the conversation. We’ve learned that one of the best ways to do it is to appeal to things that people already care about, such as saving money or spending time with friends and family. That might mean environmental messaging becomes secondary, and that’s okay. Our designers are looking for hooks that will help them come up with a creative approach that will draw people in; the green messages can come later. Off The Hanger, our new fashion campaign, shows this approach in action. The insight is that 80% of young people shop for clothes every month but still feel they have nothing to wear. Our response is to help them shop their wardrobe – and understand its impact along the way.

5) Dig deeper

These events are practical sessions: we aim to leave attendees feeling better equipped and more motivated to make a difference in their lives and businesses. For those who wanted to go deeper after the event, we asked our speakers to recommend their top picks to inspire people working in this space to adapt better to the challenges ahead. A literate bunch, they all picked out a book that had impacted their approach to sustainable design. We had:

  • Carol’s pick: The Future Normal by Rohit Bhargava and Henry Coutinho-Mason. A handbook to help you think about how we’ll live, work and thrive in next decade.
  • Tom’s pick: Greener Marketing by John Grant. A practical guide to having positive impact through marketing (and the best book of its kind).
  • Eric’s pick: The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. How to generate insights from your audience that tell you more than just what you want to hear.
There was much more besides, including a Q&A that covered everything from designing for circularity to impact measurement. If you’d like to check it out, we’ve hosted the video online here

Our next one is all about behaviour change: watch this space for more info. And if you have a topic you think we should cover in a future event, please do let me know.

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