Battle of Greens: Different approach
Are designers, architects waging a lone battle when it comes to Green Products & Practices? With Paris agreement looming large, it is a good time to do a reality check on how businesses should approach the problem.
By ASHISH DESHPANDE
“Design, if it is to be ecologically responsible and socially responsive, must be revolutionary and radical - Victor Papanek
Victor Papanek, was rebel with a cause. An Austrian designer, he relentlessly campaigned for designers and product manufacturers to make their articles relevant, meaningful & sustainable. This father of responsible design was even critical of the design fraternity, beginning his seminal book, Design for the Real World with, "There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few… following up with ... by creating whole species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath, designers have become a dangerous breed."
Though designers are crucial to the creation of products & environments, they do not constitute the sizeable decision making machinery in corporate juggernauts. Whipped into being morally responsible many designers have fallen into line, however do they have control?
The Paris Agreement on climate change saw 195 nations give it a nod. However, notably 5000 businesses from 90 countries have agreed to align and support the global agenda towards a properly sustainable & low carbon world. This is a recognizable outcome of COP21 and will call for a fair bit of transparency framework and practices to be adopted. Against this backdrop where do producers of products and services stand today? What is the degree of practice shown by business concerns today that is environment friendly and sustainable? As designers, it is important to take a hard look at the playing field.
Who is thinking Green?
In my entire retail & product design experience & career across clients, across domains, I rarely encounter clients with genuine concern for sustainability. Mostly, it has been designers and architects, who bring the focus on sustainable development or Green Design into play. Corporate structure necessitates several point of views getting channelized into the decision making process. Designer’s concerns have a tendency to lose itself in a deluge of constrains from all stakeholders. MNC’s and large corporates take the cause of Green Design based on requirements of statutory regulations, audits & company law compliance reports. Others do it to satisfy & earn green point awards like Energy Star, Design for Environment, Watersense certifications by EPA, EPEAT, Greenguard-UL, GRIHA or LEED certification, more propelled by market driven competitive spirit than any genuine concerns. Green concerns have always been secondary. Most producers are motivated by long term monetary savings, or operational benefits that green products bring to their business.
The “green & good for environment” part is a by-product of fiscal decisions. So, the priorities today can be stated as;
· Operational expense savings
· Company law regulations, environment policy mandates
· Competitive advantage
First is the prime mover for “Green decisions” in corporates. The second is a legal necessity and the third is the story. However, all require a Design Thinking approach to make the impact stick with people, deliver monetary & habit change and be good enough to bear the “green edge”.
Design is one such asset capable of enabling a “green edge” within a production setup, provided Design teams start dropping their blinkers and business leaders open their minds.
Stepping beyond singularity
Design teams tend to stick around creative ideation as their strength. A large part of this creative energy goes towards focusing on the Product or Service, form, function & experience. A product or services are interaction cores of a larger engine that makes solutions happen. Design needs to enlarge focus beyond the fuzzy elements of product solutions. Rarely do Designers concern themselves with manufacturing processes, materials with reference to its impact on our environment. Most follow the producers set up as an overriding constraint to design. It is interesting to bear in mind that a product or service is not alone. It comes heavily loaded at one end with manufacturing systems and on the other end with logistics of market access, retail & consumption. A sum total of this value chain is the impact of a “Design” on environment.
This value change can no longer afford to be linear in thought process and remain in isolated silos of excellence, rather play like a football team with a unified objective.
Creators & producers need to proactively look beyond ideas into product optimization, cleaner production, life cycle assessment, cradle to cradle, extended responsibility and environmental impact assessment as part of their design process & tools, both in development & route to markets.
Existing development process leading to incremental impact
Avoiding white Elephants
Green Innovation will happen, provided the thought is holistic and across the value chain. Newer practices will add up to the expenses, however, eliminating waste, sharing resources may be light weight methods of lowering costs and offsetting any new“green” expenses without business disruption.
It is sad to see that most “green energy” transport solutions today, are the most “expensive” transport solutions. Herein lies an opportunity for “creative” approach towards ensuring both “green” (environ & monetary) returns on investment made.
Many a times policies can be binding, like take the case of restrictions on use of thin plastic grocery bags. Prior to the bags coming in market through grocery chains and standalone shops, cloth & paper bags were prevalent. Years after restrictions were executed, the industry has not been able to promote alternatives. Paper bags are laborious to manufacture, not sturdy & have their own issues, cloth bags have not become re-popular. The industry has invested huge into plant, materials, machinery & markets that prevent it to see a linear solution in sight. Solutions at present are incremental or too expensive and need a creative thought from a different viewpoint. This calls for a mind & process shift by creating a new development process based on Design Thinking.
So, Industry focus must shift and businesses can start investing in co-creative development teams to make the future greener. New areas of focus for redevelopment can be one or all of the ones stated;
· Power & Energy (Reduce consumption, Green source, increase efficiency)
· Resource consumption and waste (localize, Reduce, Share, Reuse)
· Production materials (low carbon rating, low pollutants)
New development process based on Design Thinking leading to Radical impact within Resource limits
Mahindra Reva’s e2o is a good example. The design team went beyond the traditional indulgence of vehicle design into adapting efficient green production process, unconventional materials, solar charging and regenerative braking technologies and even new ownership programs to make buying affordable. The effort resonates of all round contribution at various levels & verticals. However, the car still leans on government policies & subsidies and has not yet managed to make the end price attractive for making box office hits. Reva since inception has been a green focused business and so it is not surprising. It will be interesting to see the learning from recent projects making their way into the diesel guzzling SUV platforms from the Mahindra stable (recent diesel SUV ban in Delhi, NCR area). That will be a remarkable example of “green impact”.
The way to do this is to work with cross-functional teams as a start point with Design Thinking as a primary enabling tool & framework for development. This presents a new challenge for designers as well as an opportunity to create more relevant, holistic & eco-friendly solutions. Moving focus away from traditional playgrounds for design development teams to new areas for innovation is a route with guaranteed success in the “Battle for the Greens”. Though, Design Thinking may “no longer be a competitive advantage” for companies, as questioned by Tim Brown, CEO, IDEO (HBR Post), design & design thinking are still good enough to ensure a “greener” tomorrow.
No better time to start the change, than now!
ASHISH DESHPANDE is an Industrial Designer, Co-founder & Director at Elephant. An alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, he is a keen Design Thinker, a member of India Design Council & Jury for India Design Mark. He has worked on several design programs, notably, Titan Eye+, Ceat Tyres, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, Symphony, Paperboat and works on medical & healthcare devices amongst others.