How to weave sustainability into a design brief

Sustainability is often something people want but may not be willing to pay for. In answering a question posed by a listener, Tze shares how a designer can weave a sustainability angle into the project from both a user and a business standpoint.

Summary

  • Sustainability is but one of many considerations of an organisation, and differs in how high it is on the organisation’s priority list
  • There are two angles to weave sustainability back into the brief: from a user standpoint and a business standpoint
  • User standpoint: if the project is driven by user insights/research, you can try to tie the user needs found to a sustainable objective
  • Business standpoint: “the reality is businesses and consumers don’t really want to pay for sustainability”; look at the organisational objectives (and things related to profits, processes, or other parts that are actually organisational priorities) and try to align a sustainable outcome with those objectives
  • “If (a business) can find a way to monetise (recycling/sustainable practices) in a way that makes consumers feel good, also works with their… behaviours and their habits, then that starts to become a cohesive system.”
  • Another challenge to consider is when your organisational sustainable goals doesn’t align with what the municipality/neighbourhood/city can pull off

Full Transcript

Looking at what are organisational priorities, and then trying to tie it to a sustainable outcome, that will be an easier way.

DESIREE
So today we have actually a question from one of our followers on STUCK’s Instagram.

TZE
We have followers? Hahaha.

DESIREE
Yeah! Her name is Lauren. And she would actually like to know, how design can approach or contribute to sustainability, and how we as designers can weave sustainability into a design brief.

TZE
Hmm, I’d say if there’s no clear business indication that sustainability is an objective in your design brief, it doesn’t mean that it’s off the table. Rather, it’s just lower on the priorities for the particular organisation. And there are two things worth considering in this situation.

One is from a user standpoint, if the project is driven by user insights or by research, being able to place user needs within the brief, and then being able to tie those needs to a sustainable kind of prerogative or objective might be one way to get that back into the brief.

The second way to do that is from, I guess, more from a business lens, that if you look at it, the reality is businesses and consumers don’t really want to pay for sustainability. They’ll tell you, hey, we want it, but at the same time, they don’t want to pay for it or they’re not willing to pay for it yet. So, and that’s the reality of the current landscape in markets that are developing sensitivity towards sustainable issues or consumer sensitivity towards the sustainable options out there.

Then as a designer or as a program manager, or whoever’s planning the brief, looking at what are organisational objectives and looking at things which are related to profits or processes or other parts that are actually organisational priorities, and then trying to fit that into a brief to tie it to a sustainable outcome, that will be an easier way.

So, for example, to illustrate, if price point or profit is a big part of that particular project objective, being able to weave in how sustainability can link to price point or to reduce use of materials or efficiencies in shipping, those are all things which then would align well with organisational goals. And then you can kind of sneak in sustainability objectives into your brief.

DESIREE
Actually that is kind of related to a video that I just watched earlier today actually, that people were basically asking why recycling rates are so low. And the video’s main point was that recycling is a business and if it’s not a sustainable business, then it’s not gonna work out and you’re not going to have high recycling rates. And yeah, I think it just never, you know, dawned on me as a consumer that in order for there to actually be sustainable recycling, then it has to work as a business. And so I thought that was quite a nice parallel to what you mentioned.

TZE
Yeah no, same thing, I was just reading an article, like a really long article, about Nespresso and they were criticising the fact that they are not releasing data on its take back programs, how much aluminium pots they are recycling, because it has to go through in their own proprietary process.

And like you said, it is a business imperative. If Nestle can find a way to monetise that, and monetise that in a way that makes consumers feel good, also works with their, I think, importantly, work with their behaviours and their habits, then that starts to become a cohesive system.

The challenge is always, every locality is different. So your organisational sustainable goals versus what your municipality or your neighbourhood or your city can pull off, needs that kind of alignment. So it really is trying to thread the needle, the eye on the needle.

THE STUCK IN DESIGN TEAM
Desiree Lim, Kevin Yeo, Matthew Wong

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