Man with glasses and beard stood against a colourful graffiti wall

Sustainability Scope

Part 3: A big decade needs bigger thinking

It’s clear that the next decade holds the key in turning around the climate crisis and slowing irreversible damage to our planet. Many businesses acknowledge this and, having fought to hit previous sustainability targets by 2020, are now turning to renewed plans for what can and should be achieved by 2030. The pressure is further increasing, with the scientific community finding evidence that, on current trajectory, we are heading for a global temperature increase of 1.5˚C by 2030. We simply aren’t moving far enough, or fast enough. The level of ambition will need to increase and big ideas will need to be actioned.

We also now know that our battle for the planet’s health is also linked to people’s health. We’re starting to witness what effects extreme heat, bad air quality and stagnant flood water can have on human life. Suddenly there is one common goal – not just a message from environmentalists and eco-friendly businesses.

Speculating on the next 9 – 10 years, at KD we think the biggest impact will come from understanding a broader view of the total carbon footprint; what new opportunities will surface and how we can support business growth while having a symbiotic relationship with nature.

Nature’s balance

There needs to be a shift in how our institutions and businesses think about nature as our support system. It’s encouraging to hear GSK CEO, Emma Walmsley, recently speaking about nature loss, as well as climate change, because they ultimately affect each other.

Our natural world already possesses the best technology to counter climate change – trees. So, as well as striving for innovative ways to lower climate impact by reducing or capturing carbon, we need to figure out how best to keep our economies and societies moving forwards whilst partnering with our most precious natural allies.

Brewdog cans filled with soil and
BrewDog owners in a field with white signs

Companies such as BrewDog are already pledging how to give back to nature more than it has taken out by going carbon negative, rather than the less impactful promise of ‘carbon neutral’.

New financial models

The rainforest is considered the world’s lungs. However, mass deforestation results in a double whammy of releasing carbon trapped in the soil and removing a highly advanced carbon filtration system. Encouragingly we are starting to see the emergence of investment funds to economically incentivise rainforest communities in South America to reduce their deforestation rate. By funding quantifiable reduction in forest loss, the schemes generate carbon credits, which in turn can be sold to businesses and brands, which need to hit a carbon target. This insightful approach delivers success threefold and doesn’t leave anyone behind – local-low income communities, global shareholders and nature all benefit.

Strategies like these, alongside other burgeoning low-carbon economies, are just the start when it comes to monetising the welfare of nature. For example, impact investor and environmentalist, Eron Bloomgarden, strongly believes it’s possible to pursue both ‘economic growth and environmental protection’. This means we are entering an era where sustainable thinking and economic gain can go hand in hand, increasing demand and motivation, and resulting in the broadest playground for opportunity to date.

Eron Bloomgarden on the TED stage with red TED sign
Eron Bloomgarden on the TED Residency stage

Planning and infrastructure

From financial modelling to urban planning, Professor Carlos Moreno from Sorbonne University has developed the theory of the 15-minute city. This concept ensures that the population can find everything they need in terms of work, retail and leisure within 15 minutes of their home – significantly increasing walking, reducing traffic and transportation needs.

A drawing of the 15 minute city concept

The city of Paris had already voiced a desire to re-evaluate some districts based on Moreno’s ideas, but in a post-COVID world, with a significant increase in home working and reduction in car use, the ’15-minute city’ is gaining global traction as a reactive way of creating a ‘green recovery’ to the pandemic.

Another example of localising infrastructure is Arrival, the producer of cost effective, zero-emission vehicles for cities. In parallel with the vehicle design, they have developed what they refer to as Microfactories – small-footprint, low cost manufacturing hubs. By ensuring all of their vehicles are designed with the capabilities of their Microfactories in mind, their cell-based mini production hubs can be locally deployed anywhere in the world – reducing global shipping and encouraging the sourcing of materials locally. They’re also agile enough to manufacture different vehicles types when needed, based on local demand.

An image of the arrival micro car factory machinery

A perfect fit for design

What does this all mean for the next decade of innovation and design? Big questions need to be asked in this decade – are the products, formats and services that we currently engage in, and with, conducive to a content natural world? Will the way we make things and sell them need to evolve so much that it creates a seismic shift in the shape of traditional business models?

As a design business we’re good at understanding interconnected opportunities for business people and for nature. We can find clarity amongst the complexity and help define clear direction – a perfect position as we fight for the survival of the planet and communities.

So, what do we think is worth keeping an eye on in the early part of the decade to forge transformational change by the end of it?

Business versus government

We cannot rely on legislation and big multi-national summits alone because it’s a politically charged topic, that can slow progress at every level of government. Collectives of like-minded businesses are already manoeuvring  themselves to take on the mantel of creating change, meaning the sustainable products and services of the future will be driven by companies, not laws.

People X Planet

To paraphrase the ambition of Dr Tara Shine, we should be striving for ‘the pursuit of fairness between people and the planet.’ Whenever we are forming visions of the future, we should balance sustainable thinking, whilst respecting the rights and equality of those who call planet their home – being inclusive and fair to all.

It’s in the numbers

Mass adherence of any new experience by real people will be critical, and so bluntly forcing ‘sustainable’ ideas on them without considering real lives, cultures and backgrounds will be a thing of the past.

Nowhere to hide

Transparency from companies will reach an all-time high, certainly in developed nations, due mainly to smart phone technology that we all posses, to keep tabs on them. The population will demand a higher standard of carbon awareness from their corporations – especially if they are having the additional cost of carbon credits passed onto them. Therefore it’s crucial for the story to be credible and well aligned for that business or brand.

Manufacturing for the new century

The increase in smarter, more agile manufacturing models that have reduced carbon emissions will influence how we even conceive of new products and services in their earliest stages, let alone during their detailed development.

Nimble reaction time

Start-ups will have a nature-conscious attitude baked into their offer from the start. They won’t have to ‘move the tanker around’ and so the pressure will be greater than ever on the world’s largest businesses to figure out their strategy.

Interconnected thinking

Design delivery won’t be merely siloed into products, packaging, phone apps, spaces and services, as they will all need to interconnect to make the biggest impact. Lines will blur between industrial designers and urban planners, innovation consultants and supply chain experts, digital interface teams and transport engineers.

Sustainability is a complex topic and it needs to be broken down into bite-sized chunks, as our previous Sustainability Sprint article in the series demonstrates. But this is also a topic which is running out of time, and simultaneously gaining traction in global culture and economic circles – meaning now if the moment to not only unleash, but to finance bold and ambitious thinking.

If you’ve got an ambitious challenge for sustainability, please do talk to us to see how we can work together with you and your team.

Find out more?

Get in touch with Niall McRiner, Head of Design.