In this essay I will focus on the role of the graphic designers and concentrate on how to make a sustainable future. I am going to make clear what aspects the visual communicator gets affected by and how they change the way things are done, basically determine the role the communicator have in averting a potential ecological disaster. By defining the rhetoric of the current age I will be able to see how we can design the communications for the 21st century in order to save the planet and make it habitual for our children’s grandchildren. To define my task into a question I will answer to ‘what needs to be done in order for us designers to guide the world into a sustainable future?’
Chris McKnett says in his TED-talk from November 2013 “I worry that investors aren’t paying enough attention to some of the biggest drivers of change, especially when it comes to sustainability.”1 when McKnett elaborates he finds it to be reckless to ignore the environmental, social issues and corporate governance. He continues to clarify his statement by saying “The balance of power to really influence sustainability rests with institutional investors, the large investors like pension funds, foundations and endowments. I believe that sustainable investing is less complicated than you think, better-performing than you believe, and more important than we can imagine.”2
Chris McKnett raises the question if investment rules of today are fit for purpose tomorrow. McKnett wants investors to look at more than just cash flow, market share, valuation etc. He tells us “Investors should also look at performance metrics in what we call ESG: environment, social and governance. Environment includes energy consumption, water availability, waste and pollution, just making efficient uses of resources. Social includes human capital, things like employee engagement and innovation capacity, as well as supply chain management and labor rights and human rights. And governance relates to the oversight of companies by their boards and investors.”3 Basically what McKnett is saying is that ESG is a measure of sustainability.
Where the money goes, business follows, where business goes, employees follow. In order for graphic designers to help minimize the futures potential catastrophe businesses have to invest in incorporating the ESG factors with the financial factors and make it a part of their process.
Where the money goes, business follows, where business goes, employees follow.
Michael Porter carry out in his TED-talk Why business can be good at solving social problems his point of view on business being a problem or solution, Porter share his thoughts by telling us “Now, I think many have seen business as the problem, or at least one of the problems, in many of the social challenges we face. You know, think of the fast food industry, the drug industry, the banking industry. You know, this is a low point in the respect for business. Business is not seen as the solution. It’s seen as the problem now, for most people. And rightly so, in many cases. There’s a lot of bad actors out there that have done the wrong thing, that actually have made the problem worse. So this perspective is perhaps justified.”4 Porter indicates in his speech that negative information weights more than positive. For the public and amongst them designers, will most likely receive the negative information contributing to an attitude not needed for designing a more sustainable future. A human’s brain is lazy and jumps quickly to conclusions, which will have an effect on our mindset.
Porter mentions that he is a business school professor; he has first hand seen and experienced when interest turned into awareness of a societal problem then forming a non-profit in order to deal with the issues. He explains the problem with the non-profits “If we cut all the complexity away, we have the problem of scale. We can’t scale. We can make progress. We can show benefits. We can show results. We can make things better. We’re helping. We’re doing better. We’re doing good. We can’t scale. We can’t make a large-scale impact on these problems. Why is that? Because we don’t have the resources. And that’s really clear now. And that’s clearer now than it’s been for decades. There’s simply not enough money to deal with any of these problems at scale using the current model. There’s not enough tax revenue, there’s not enough philanthropic donations to deal with these problems the way we’re dealing with them now. We’ve got to confront that reality. And the scarcity of resources for dealing with these problems is only growing, certainly in the advanced world today, with all the fiscal problems we face.”5
Michael Porter states and argument that we need the resources which business have, considering we need to make a large-scale impact for designing a sustainable future for our children’s grandchildren.
In July 2009 Gordon Brown talked about global ethic vs. national interest. Brown debates several aspects that could match up with a designer’s role to guide the world into a sustainable future. “I think it is about global citizenship. It’s about recognizing our responsibilities to others. There is so much to do over the next few years that is obvious to so many of us to build a better world. And there is so much shared sense of what we need to do, that it is vital that we all come together. But we don’t necessarily have the means to do so.
“I think it is about global citizenship. It’s about recognizing our responsibilities to others.”
So there are challenges to be met. I believe the concept of global citizenship will simply grow out of people talking to each other across continents. But then, of course, the task is to create the institutions that make that global society work.”6
When ESG meets global citizenship the designer will be able to guide people in the right direction when business opens the opportunity and the means to do so. Designers have the power to guide people in different directions, either healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, up or down. If we look realistically on a designer’s role in building a sustainable future they also need to be directed. Directed by the feeding hand, business. Designers need money to survive and maintain a good and healthy lifestyle. They cannot chop of the hand that feeds them in order to make the world a better place, if one designer says no to a business which is unhealthy to the environment but good money another one takes over and we are back at square one. That is how the world works. Survival of the fittest, in a capitalistic world that would means the one that get the resources to succeed are most likely to do so.
In a global community, the sense of a responsibility to others might be a realistic route to pursue. Designers can help geniuses, inspire or make awareness about people like Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, who is genuinely interested to make the world greener with their visionary projects. Designers can help inspire other potential super minds to go down a similar route has Musk, visual communicators are not a solution but a part of the puzzle.
Thomas Matthews is a London based graphic design firm who similar to Elon Musk tweak design problems into something more positive and sustainable, one project at a time. They practice sustainable design. Creativebloq got an article about how you can use sustainable design and possible save the world, shown in 8 simple steps with examples. Step one is to design backwards, it is crucial in the conceptual stage that a designer look at the design problem from different angles and consider if the product could be smaller, lighter, made from fewer materials and designed to minimize waste. Sophie Thomas of Thomas Matthews says; “waste is a design flaw”. One of the better examples of step one is the Puma shoe packaging by Yves Benar. Step two is to make the design long-lasting, longevity is the keyword. If it is of aesthetic value so it will be kept instead of tossed it will in the longer run be healthier for the environment.
Step three is about making the design so it is made and sold locally in order to drastically cut down on shipping and the environmental side-effects that has, but just as important is step four which tells us that we should make our product renewable or a designer could repurpose products or materials in a new way like in step five so you could eliminate waste and give it a new life. If the previous steps do not work the designer could make sure that the product recyclable. In the first step they mentioned to design backwards and reduce waste, in the newest step they wrote that it is possible to make the product or packaging biodegradable. In the last step Creativebloq write that the designer could try and make the design upgradeable, as they explain it; “We need to create products that are easily and more cheaply repairable and upgradeable rather than forcing consumers to buy new again when the product has reached its shelf life”.7
If there is made more awareness about these methods, designers will have the opportunity to make their projects a little greener even if the client is conducting polluting business. According to the UN, designs need to meet “the economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of the planet to provide for the needs of future generations”. Philippe Intraligi, an illustrator, graphic designer and art director based in New York says it’s “much more than just sticking a ‘green’ label on existing products. It involves function, material and packaging choices.”8
Due to the technological wonders that brought the world together making it smaller gave the modern world more opportunities, it opened doors for designers who now easily could work across borders. It is inevitable that the globalization will continue, because of the business going on across the borders we will get more and more of the sense of a global citizenship. Design is a collaborate business and using the sustainable design approach like e.g. Thomas Matthews it is possible to achieve a more efficient use of todays resources. In a collaborative business you will be communicating over shorter and longer distances, talking to people with more or less influence, power and motivation to follow and being a part of your design process. In this case form follows function like the example mentioned earlier of the Puma packaging by Yves Behar. The influence of clever design could be remarkable, just because of that design the amount of waste and CO2 emission got reduced by impressively amounts. Creativebloq wrote it was estimated that 8,500 tons less paper would be used, 20 million megajoules of electricity would be saved, 1 million litres of less fuel oil would be used, 1 million litres of water would be saved, 500,000 litres of diesel during transport would be saved and 275 tons of plastic would be saved.9
It is hard to change a human beings and a societies opinion and lifestyle completely without using a brutal method of persuasion, we as designers should use Thomas Matthews as an example and aim to make brilliant, sustainable design while we at the same time push for an accelerated globalization which will help spread the sustainable approach towards design. Basically what needs to be done is that business and politics does more in order to involve the ESG in their process, while designers do what they can in order to reduce waste, in the words of Sophie Thomas “Waste is a design flaw”. Both big businesses and politics have the potential and the ability to affect individuals and visual communicators, they play a great factor in what involves in a consumer culture which if designers like to admit or not are a part of. Sustainable design is the key for designers to make the world greener, at the same time clever design could be cost-effective for businesses taking the Puma packaging as an example. The method could be applied to several areas like architecture, fashion and even farming. Ideas within each field could and is being shared over the Internet and across borders, this is happening more and more and it is a must do for an increasing amount of people.
What I think needs to be done from a designers perspective is that sustainable design should become and play a bigger part in the education. Universities are building the future by starting to sculpt the basics of an individuals opinions and skills which will have an effect on the industry. Collaboration is the key and we need more openness about the opportunities within sustainable design, we already work across borders and by planting the idea of sustainability in the up-coming design generation it will spread the idea throughout borders, firms and even different industries. When that has been done the chance for an investor to become interested in using it in his business will grow, and their attention and time will be invested more into sustainability. When that has happened the idea of ESG will naturally pursue the business that the enlightened individual is a part of, in other words form follows function in the sense of applying the correct information into the right source.