Sustainable Futures: Inspired Designs for Life

How CEOs and the like can unlock the hearts, hands an imaginations of their employees

With sustainability, we need to use design to create positive legacies and experiences with sticking power – not sticking points. Our increasingly conscience-driven culture means that sustainability is
inevitably high on everyone’s agenda, driven by both necessity and by choice. But there are still some sticking points. And this is largely down to how we perceive the issue of sustainability. Sustainability shouldn’t be intimidating or complex and neither does it have to look earnest, dry or worthy. It needs to be enriching, inspiring and desirable. And it can be. Consumers are expecting brands to help lead the way and address moral, social, political and ethical agendas and, when it comes to sustainability, we need to use design to create positive legacies and experiences with sticking power – not sticking points.

We now expect our brands to be good and do good, to be transparent but not necessarily to preach to us. But we also want them to look good. Essentially, we want them to show us the way through the outward expression of the brand: the design. Today’s challenge is to express sustainability in a way that is truly desirable, enabling sustainable design to gain traction and change perceptions around sustainable aesthetics for both brands and consumers.

Social media is enabling us to campaign, showcase and disseminate sustainable messaging on a global scale but the starting point needs to be the product innovation and the brand design. Coca-Cola’s inspiring new initiative – the ‘2nd Lives caps kit – focuses on packaging structure. The idea is to show that used plastic bottles can do better than being another piece of trash and that with a simple twist they can be turned into useful items – from paintbrushes to pepper mills and pencil sharpeners. The brand has decided to focus on the Asian markets as it both addresses the problem of plastic
pollution in the region and the mentality of its population to not throw things away but rather re-use.

Coke’s DIY upcycling initiative is clever, inspiring and a brilliant example of user-centered design. It showcases how design thinking has the potential to revolutionize future global innovation but also offers an understanding of how we now use and interact with our products on a daily lifestyle and cultural level. And, ultimately, giving us something to feel good about, and not restricted by or forced into.

New movements such as the UK’s recently launched not for profit ‘UK Dream’ is rethinking all aspects of the UK lifestyle and culture, with a challenge to make a sustainable lifestyle sexy and aspirational  It is this type of thinking we all need to champion but we also need to champion the power of design in making it a reality.

By understanding desire as a powerful ingredient in the design process for environmentally conscious brands, we have more potential to create impactful and inspiring brands with sticking power. The future of sustainability lies with brands that use design to transform and realize a successful, desirable and environmentally responsible future for brands, consumers and ultimately, our collective global community.

Mike Branson
Founding Managing Partner & CEO, Pearlfisher
New York

Principled and pragmatic, Mike’s levelheaded approach to business has helped keep Pearlfisher on an even keel for the past 20 years. As one of our 3 founding partners, he has seen the company grow from fledgling startup to international design leader; his tenacity and conscientiousness have played a vital role in that transformation. In 2009, Mike crossed the Atlantic to take on the role of CEO of Pearlfisher New York and works to continue our active leadership in U.S. brand design with our clients. He also sits on the board of trustees for Amantani, a charity that helps educate children in the remote area of Cuzco, Peru. A positive thinker, calm mediator and good listener, he has helped create a compassionate, open atmosphere at Pearlfisher for talented people to thrive.

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