I recall a conversation I had at the IDSA conference last September in Phoenix, Arizona. I don't remember the man's name, but he had attended the presentation that I gave, and complemented me when he saw me later that day. He said something to the effect that he sensed that I had good energy and was sure I would go places. He went on to say that he used to be really into designing nautical-inspired furniture pieces, and showed me many examples of his work on his iPhone. Then he proceeded to tell me that he now designed battery holding components for car alarm systems. He told me that he felt like crap that he designed container loads of tiny plastic parts shipped from China that would never be recycled, he then shook his head and said, "Yeah well. What can you do?" At the time, I looked at him with empathy and shrugged my shoulders to avoid a straight answer--but I really should have just told him the straight answer, which is, "Stop what you're doing."
There's no black and white in the world and design is no different. But if any of the work that you do makes you feel like scum, isn't that a sure sign that it isn't the type of work you should be doing? "Eureka! I've got it! I'm going to do something that I will despise myself for, for years to come!" It amazes me how people go on their whole lives doing things against their grain, coveting their passion on their cellphones.
These days there is plenty to read about the triple bottom line, becoming an ecopreneur, or a social entrepreneur, almost every major corporation has statement of their views on sustainability. The green wave is here to stay, but don't do it because of the trend, do it because it makes sense and is good for your business.
Here are a few green-up tips:
#1 Save Money with Innovation
It's a no-brainer: energy savings means cost savings, resource savings means cost savings. But you can go beyond switching your light bulbs--you can look at your entire product lifecycle and with a little creativity you can optimize your production. Sam's Club Case-Less Milk Container
For example, Sam's Clubs' re-designed square milk jugs (above), introduced last year, do not require crates or racks for shipping and storage. This design allows for a shipping efficiency gain of 9 percent more milk--or 4,704 gallons per truck, and an estimated cost-savings of 10 to 20 cents per jug.
#2 Avoid Greenwashing: Build Brand Loyalty with Authenticity
As a general rule-of-thumb, to avoid any mess with greenwashing, the best thing to do is just tell it like it is.
Don't fall into the trap of claiming things that you don't do. There are a lot of companies that claim that their product is "Wind-Powered," when in fact the company is offsetting their carbon by buying wind energy credits. That's entirely different from having your factory powered by wind energy.
Do communicate the efforts that you do make. Levi's did not inform the media of their efforts to integrate organic cotton into their jeans until they had a 100 percent organic cotton line. They created this obscure advertising campaign, but fail to have any page on their website that talks about the details of why a consumer should pick organic over traditional. They actually spend quite a bit of effort on sustainability issues, but by not communicating these efforts, they are missing an opportunity to build positive brand image.
Don't make it too theatrical. Don't hype up your efforts to the point where it seems like you're just masking up all the harm that you do.
#3 Stand out by Telling A Unique Story
In the sea of products and services, being green is one way to differentiate yourself. Your unique green story can set you apart from your competition. Take these two examples of corporate transitions.
Shawn Askinosie is a criminal-defense-lawyer-turned-chocolatier with a vertical sustainability strategy. He works directly with his cocoa suppliers in a profit-sharing system, Askinosie's chocolate factory was renovated with green guidelines, and even the packaging is compostable. His company, Askinosie Chocolate, is based in Missouri. (He is standing second from the left in this photo with his cocoa farmers.) Jeff Delkin and Rachel Speth worked in the design and advertising industries prior to taking the leap to start their company Bambu in Shanghai. According to Jeff, "Our company's values are our values. We try to lead our business in a responsible manner, by putting a focus on product, people and planet. We believe that if you do the right things right, the money takes care of itself." Read the full interview at Green America.
There are a lot of opportunities to do things right when starting a new business, the examples above should just get you started drumming up ideas.
Going back to the guy making the tiny car alarm battery components... There are plenty of ways the plastic parts could be designed to be more sustainable than they are now--with different materials, with different packaging and shipping methods, with a closed-loop return system, etc. etc. These design improvements can be incremental and could be implemented over time. By acquiescing to the status quo, it meant that he had ceased to be creative or care--and it's no wonder he felt guilty. For an entrepreneur, the triple bottom line always filters down to the journey you make, if you don't absolutely believe in what you're doing, that journey is not going to be one you want to remember.
The Eureka Moment isn't a one time occurrence, it can be rediscovered many times over. Just take this very moment--stop and ask yourself if you are doing exactly what you want to be doing in your life--you may experience an instance right away. "You have to question what the point of your life is....I only travel when I have to, I only work on what I have to, and I only work with clients I feel good about." – Jaime Hayon from an interview with ID Mag.
Ivy Chuang is the founder and design director of Knoend, a San Francisco-based studio with sustainability and innovation at its core. She is a nomad, surfer, cook and occasional artist.