The importance of being environmentally earnest

It was fascinating to hear the opinions of many of the old designersaurs in the audience at a recent industry talk by Dr Dominic Hogg of Eunomia on the subject of sustainability.

For most designers involved with brands and, in particular, products and packaging there are genuine concerns for our environment and the notion of sustainability.

To create compliance with environmental objectives requires either commercial consensus or political agitation. Designers who think that large manufacturing companies have no concern for the environment and only with the bottom line are wrong. To suggest that designers have the ethical high ground and brand owners are happy to pollute seems naive.

All major companies realise that there is a commercial benefit in reducing waste and minimising the consumption of natural resources. The heart of the problem is how to create a critical mass for initiatives that will then provide this commercial benefit.

Few people, not even The Body Shop, have sustained a genuinely pioneering spirit. What happened to those in-store re-cycling bins?

Henrik Ibsen had the answer, he said, ‘Never wear your best trousers when setting out to do battle for truth and beauty’.

There are only two solutions to introducing change. One is to create a concensus of like-minded businesses to organise collection systems that pool resources for the common good. However, this requires the support in a consistent way from local authorities and retailers and consumers. It is hugely complicated to gain an effective critical mass. I’m sick of hearing about pilot schemes that bite the dust.

The second, and only realistic solution, is to use political pressure to legislate and drive compliance through incentives and taxation. Environmental economics need to illustrate how an effective commercial model can be achieved that provides both a financial and social benefit. This then needs to be backed by tough legislation. First the carrot and then the stick.

We all wear seat belts now because of this kind of forceful intervention.

Perversely, there seems to be a huge amount of common ground between the long-term aspirations of Greenpeace and brand owners like Procter & Gamble. The dilemma seems to be who makes the first move.

Our politicians need to act, rather than just being sympathetic and earnest about change. Or are they just worried about sustaining their popularity?

Ian Webb

Managing director

Webb Scarlett

London W2

Latest articles