Today’s consumers are more focused on sustainability than ever. They want built-to-last products and solutions that are good for them and the planet, and they’re putting their purchasing power behind organizations that align with their values.
In recent consumer surveys from PwC, 80% of respondents said they’re more likely to buy from or work for a company that values sustainability, and 52% said they are more eco-friendly than they were before the pandemic.
In response to this uptick in consumer demand—as well as an explicit need to limit waste and consumption of finite resources—forward-thinking businesses are stepping up their sustainability practices.
Over 2,000 companies are working to reduce their emissions and have set targets for themselves aligned with climate science. And 96% of the world’s 250 largest companies now publicly report on their sustainability efforts. Leadership is getting behind these endeavors as well: More than a dozen top companies now link executive pay to sustainability.
Enter: design. Whether it’s workflows, packaging, products, physical spaces or other areas, sustainable design aims to reduce a company’s negative impact on the environment. That can mean more recyclable materials used in packaging, products that last longer or that use less gas or water, or workflows that reduce transportation miles.
Sustainable from the Start
Some companies have long been focused on sustainability. For example, Patagonia has always placed sustainability at the core of its brand. Its mission statement is “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
The global retailer relies on designers who understand sustainability to create products that align with the desire of outdoor enthusiasts to be good stewards of the earth, and the company’s Worn Wear program encourages customers to buy used gear and trade in and fix their existing products.
Moving Toward Sustainability
Companies that at first glance may not seem like natural candidates for sustainable practices are also beginning to get the message. While these businesses certainly may be reacting to the market more than altruism, they do understand it’s a permanent shift.
As a result, sustainable practices are spurring innovation—and putting designers at the forefront of a movement that’s poised to generate greater economic, social and environmental outcomes. Here are a few well-known companies taking steps toward sustainable practices:
- Uber: While a ride-sharing company whose vehicles are mostly powered by fossil fuels may not be considered a paragon of environmentalism, Uber is upping its sustainability efforts with a goal of having electric vehicles (EVs) used for 100% of rides in U.S., Canadian and European cities by 2030. To this end, the company is expanding Uber Green to increase access to hybrids or EVs for riders to choose in more than 65 cities around the world. Designers reimagined Uber’s touchless ticketing feature to make it easier for transit partners to integrate it in their respective cities.
- IKEA: Long perceived as an affordable but not necessarily sustainable furniture retailer, the company is striving to increase its use of renewable and recycled materials—eliminating operational waste and changing design practices to extend the life of its products. With product designers looking at the supply chain and considering how the company sources and uses raw materials, they can design furniture that is more long-lasting. Plus, designers are creating products that help consumers be more sustainable in their homes—as the company touts LED lamps to conserve energy, water-saving faucets to reduce water usage and good food storage products to help prevent waste.
- Apple: is indisputably an industry leader in innovative design, and the company is applying that expertise to its sustainability initiatives, which have been driven by both consumer and shareholder demand. Customers have long complained about the inability to repair Apple products on their own. To address that consumer pain point, Apple’s new Self Service Repair program empowers iPhone owners with recent models to order authorized Apple parts and tools and do basic repairs at home, including screen and battery replacements. The company’s designers are also making headway in sustainable packaging, with a redesign that will jettison the outer wrapping and eliminate the need for 600 metric tons of plastic by 2025, Apple says.
Sustainability isn’t a business fad that will fade. It’s here to stay, and designers with the knowledge and skills to help lead the way to a more sustainable future will find ample opportunities to make an impact.
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Interested in integrating design into the future vision of your organization? Enroll in (or register your design team for) Business Strategy & Design from Pragmatic Institute.