Taking the Green lead

Climate change is upon us, but designers can do their
bit for the future of mankind by getting clients on board,
says Howard Sharman. There may still be time…

Climate change is here. It is largely man-made. It is almost certain to get worse. And you are reading about it in Design Week.

I’m not sure which of the above statements you might consider the most unlikely, but if you are lucky enough to have an audience with Jonathon Porritt, as I was two weeks ago, it will become clear why you are reading about climate change in Design Week.

Designers, you see, can make a difference on climate change. Not only ‘can’ make a difference, but ‘must’ make a difference through the influence that they can exercise over their clients. Porritt was preaching this doctrine at a seminar run by packaging design group Holmes & Marchant.

I’m not going to go through the technical stuff on climate change with you here, but if you are interested in the technical details, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its Fourth Assessment is a good place to start (visit www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ assessments-reports.htm).

Porritt is all about working with industrial and political leaders to achieve the changes needed to minimise the damage caused by climate change.

So I am sure that H&M was delighted to hear him say, ‘Packaging is not the enemy, the way that we use packaging is the enemy.’ He does not deny the need that consumers have for goods, or the need for these goods to be packaged to get them safely to market, but these goods have to be delivered in a more ecologically efficient manner.

Speaking to the designers in the room, Porritt said, ‘It will be part of your task to get your clients to understand what the future looks like. You have to tell them the truth.’

There are several parts to this truth about the future.

The marketing truth is that Greenness will become a competitive advantage. If your competitors can show they are Greener than you, and their products impose a lighter burden on the environment while still delivering physical and emotional benefits, you will lose out in the marketplace.

The status truth is that we have to up-end existing views about what is high-status behaviour. In London, you can see this happening already as high earners trade in Jaguars for Priuses – it is less socially acceptable to run a gas-guzzler.

The technical challenge is how to provide the same performance in packaging and the same emotional and sales messages, while using a fraction of the resources. Over to you, readers, on that one. The hard part of the sell to clients, of course, is that addressing climate change through more sustainable products and packaging won’t do a lot for their market share. But maybe you can afford to be bold – you may be pushing at an open door. Porritt cited a range of companies that are now taking sustainability very seriously – Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Ikea, BT and Marks & Spencer.

And two reports published this month go out of their way to show how being Green can also be good for business. The Carbon Trust has plugged squarely into fear and greed with ‘Climate change – a business revolution? How tackling climate change could create or destroy company value’. And Porritt’s own Forum for the Future has published Climate Futures, which sets out varying scenarios for 2030, depending on what actions we take now. Some of these scenarios are very scary, so have a read and go talk to your clients about what you and they, together, can do to make a difference.

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