Design for planet and purse: Cat Drew on reaching net zero equitably

In response to the prime minister’s U-turn on net zero targets, Design Council chief design officer Cat Drew discusses how design can help us move faster rather than slower.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s announcements on the relaxation of net zero targets and regulations are real cause for concern. In his speech last Thursday, he communicated a delay to the ban of new petrol or diesel cars from 2030 to 2035 and delays to replace gas boilers and removal of energy efficiency targets for landlords.

This is especially alarming in the year that saw near record-breaking temperatures in Death Valley in California, and new research published that initiating two thirds of Earth’s nine planetary boundaries are being crossed. This is backed by the Government’s own climate change advisor, Lord Deben, and the Climate Change Committee – whose warnings that climate targets are already being missed only add to this concern.

The Design Council, like many others, are arguing that we have to move faster rather than slower, and do so in a just and equitable way. It’s a big ask. We believe design is a powerful tool to create products, services and places that are both good for the planet, and for the public, business and household purse.

Design Council chief design officer Cat Drew

Investment is needed in innovation that is good for both people and planet. Low-carbon, insulated homes will be cheaper to run, warmer, better for people’s health and will provide a whole range of new green jobs. Sustainable mobility schemes that encourage walking, cycling and car-sharing are cheaper than individual ownership, quieter and produce less air pollution. Shifting to circular consumption models with more recycling and repair will lead to less waste within the supply chain and cheaper prices.

“Design can help support and promote sustainable living”

Design can help to support and promote the health benefits of sustainable living, which increases the adoption of green principles, creates economies of scale and further drives down cost. We already know that design helps with productivity and profits – £1 invested in design provides £20 in return. We also know from our most recent Design Economy data, that businesses that invest in design are also more successful in achieving their net zero targets, and one third of businesses anticipate using design to achieve zero carbon impact.

Designers and business across the sector are working together innovatively to drive change towards a net zero future. Examples include award-winning social housing initiatives Goldsmith Street in Norwich and Marmalade Street in Cambridgeshire, which demonstrate that energy efficient construction does not have to be expensive; Octopus Energy’s design-led partnership with Power in Walthamstow, East London saw them build solar panels along one street to help the local community generate clean energy for their homes.

Car-sharing service, Liftshare, reduces the overall miles travelled and carbon emitted on singular journeys – and shows you how much money you save by travelling together. Olio, the food-waste sharing app that helps communities share unwanted food with their neighbours, has partnered with Tesco to save 30 million meals from going in the bin over the last three years.

What is needed is less about delaying taxes that will force people to switch to electric cars, renewable heating and plant-based food; and more about investing in the technology necessary to get to net zero. Most importantly, we need investment in the design that turns this technology into things that people desire and can use, increasing the speed of adoption to green principles, leading to economies of scale and price reductions.

“There are clear benefits for budgets”

These are clear benefits for household budgets, as well as growing markets for sustainable business. But there are wider benefits for the public purse. Renewable energy, circular fashion, regenerative agriculture and low-carbon housing are providing new, green jobs, employment and taxes. And many of the health benefits of sustainable living – warmer homes, less air pollution, more exercise – will prevent costly illness that burdens the NHS. There will be a return on investment, if the Government can imagine that far into the future.

We need to keep politicians focused on what the climate data is telling us: that we need action now; before 2030, not before 2050.

We need to build an economy that is fuelled by green design-led innovation, where designers work with people to make sustainable living the affordable and desirable choice.

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