IN TOUCH : Tipping into a sustainable mindset?

It’s perhaps inevitable that one of the questions to pop up during the panel session at last month’s Sustainability Series 6 seminar was – is the message finally getting through? Have we reached tipping point for the mainstream embrace of sustainable business?
Well not quite – but the consensus from overseas speakers is that pressures are building up, driven in part by rising energy costs and climate change problems. While China’s impact on global markets may have boosted competitive pressures and slowed sustainability progress, the precursors to tipping point are growing rapidly, according to United Kingdom founder of SustainAbility John Elkington.
David Stangis, Intel’s director of corporate responsibility, notes that it’s hard to break the habit of short-termism in business and financial markets. “But from my perspective this is definitely gaining momentum. From something that was fad which had grown out of environmental disciplines, it’s now something that companies in my sector compete on in terms of market and product and even people. People are moving to companies because they have sustainability culture.”
He reckons tipping point is not the right mental model.
“It’s like logarithmic curve that starts flat and then grows at logarithmic rate. We’re on that curve now and the rate of change is quicker. It’s like the stars are aligning in the marketplace in terms of costs and the way we live to make it good business for this to happen.”
Bob Adams from US-based design consultancy IDEO also talks about profound change in terms of awareness – in the media and from his company’s client base.
“If you have business based on petroleum as many of our clients do – regardless of what industry or even sector they’re in – and prices increase by half again during the year, that is an emergency. It’s having huge effect on the bottom line. So we now have people coming through our door every day saying ‘hey, we just have to think about doing things differently’.”
Because the pressures are global in nature it’s often the companies operating at that scale that are feeling it more intensely, he notes. Plus it is increasingly being incorporated into product design in such way that consumers don’t have to think about whether or not what they buy is sustainable. That is part of the designer’s responsibility.
“We have to face that we made American people really want to drive big gas-guzzling four-wheel drives. If we did that through design then imagine the potential for enabling many of those other shifts (using greener materials, designing for whole-of-life product cycles) toward more sustainable solutions. And I think as community, we’re really ready to take that on.”
Just thinking that way provides more design inspiration and Adams would kinda like the ‘s’ word to just go away.
“We talk about design for brand or design for sustainability but they’re the same thing. It should just be about better design – and we need to be thinking more broadly about the things that frame our process of design. Really, it’s just new way of understanding what ‘better’ is.”

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