On this episode of the Design Mind frogcast, our guest Idun Aune, Head of Sustainability for frog Norway, shares the five essential building blocks of a planet-centric mindset to future-proof innovation and improve outcomes for people and planet.
Design Mind frogcast
Episode 41: 5 Foundations of Planet-Centric Innovation
Guest: Idun Aune, Head of Sustainability, frog Norway
[00:09] Elizabeth Wood: Welcome to the Design Mind frogcast. Each episode, we go behind the scenes to meet the people designing what’s next in the world of products, services and experiences, both here at frog and far, far outside the pond. I’m Elizabeth Wood.
[00:26] Elizabeth Wood: Today on our show, we’re talking about creating with sustainability in mind. Historically, the world of innovation has emphasized the human experience, which, in most contexts, translates into being zeroed in on the needs of the end user of a product or the customer of an organization. Of course, this remains mission-critical to making things people love. But today, creating with intention requires a much broader remit. It requires expanding to include decision-making that considers societal and environmental factors. To discuss how to shift toward a more “planet-centric mindset,” we’re joined by Idun Aune, designer and Head of Sustainability in frog Norway. Idun shares what it takes to break the mental models that put products and services in a vacuum outside of planetary impact, the challenges to overcome in this new school of thinking and ways to stay sane amidst an ongoing climate crisis. Here’s Idun now.
[01:24] Idun Aune: A year ago, I did a leadership training that was focusing on transformational leadership for sustainable change. We focused a lot on identifying our core values, or what they call the “universal values.” And this is something that I brought with me a lot in my projects now. In my teams, I make people in our check-ins state their values and what they stand for. It’s connected to being very focused on what’s deeply important to us. So I would say, “My name is Idun. I stand for equity, curiosity and passion for myself and others.” And by stating that these are things that are really important to me, I’m setting the scene of building bridges. Whatever discussion we’re having, we can find some commonalities between people. So that’s one of the things that I’ve been practicing. And it really makes meetings so much more meaningful to have that focus and really set that stage in a different way.
[02:28] Idun Aune: Hi, I’m Idun Aune. I’m the Head of Sustainability in frog Norway. And I’m also heading our CSR initiative in Capgemini Norway.
[02:41] Elizabeth Wood: Like many designers, Idun didn’t start her academic and professional journey on a linear path toward creative consulting. Instead, she followed her disparate passions before finding the right fit.
[02:52] Idun Aune: My career pathway towards design wasn’t really very clear from the beginning. On one hand, I would say, I’ve always been working very creatively. I went to art school when I was young so I always had that desire to create. My career path was a bit different. I started more from a theoretical perspective. So my master’s is actually in media sociology. I always believed that either I had to choose theory or I had to choose practice and design. And those were two parts of my life that I just couldn’t combine. And then I discovered service design and I had this epiphany. It just made everything come together really perfectly. Because I’m not just analytical and I’m not just creative. I’m a mix of those two disciplines. And that’s really well captured in service design. So it kind of came together at the end, in a sense.
[03:49] Idun Aune: Service design is one of the main disciplines in Norway. And within the design space, we have a quite mature market for service design. So a service designer is really responsible for the entire user experience across different touch points. So we traditionally work in early stages of projects. But a lot of the times, we’re part of the project until the end as well. The main focus is really unpacking the problem area. We are responsible for really understanding the entire user journey of whatever product or service that we are working with, and really unpacking the problem from different perspectives. And even before we know, like, we have to make an app or we have to make, like, whatever it is we have to actually fix, we’re really taking a step back and looking at the entire user journey, the different touch points and finding the pain points that are deserving of really focusing on finding a different solution.
[04:48] Idun Aune: In 2019, I went to training in Portugal on circular systems design. And in that training, we were tasked to make our theory of change. And my theory of change was I wanted to build a planet-centric mindset in our company. And that has been my mission ever since. And little by little, I think something has changed in that regard. It’s still something that I’m working on, really building this way of working and way of thinking, that is putting the entire ecosystem, not just the end users, but also society and planet in our mindset all the time. That’s been something that I’m really still trying to do step by step for us and for our clients.
[05:39] Elizabeth Wood: As Head of Sustainability in frog Norway, Idun has been encouraged to see how passionate the creative community there is about using their specific skill sets to drive lasting impact. During our conversation, she cautioned that this sort of change can’t happen overnight–it’s a continuous, passion-driven effort that takes a willingness to grow, learn and collaborate.
[06:00] Idun Aune: frog Oslo is just a really international bunch of people that are really mission driven. So we speak English in our studio, I think at least one-third of our people are from everywhere. And that’s really one of the main reasons that I joined as well—that we have a really international crowd of people, which is really cool. Because we get a lot of really cool perspectives. People haven’t like everybody gone to the same school, we really get some really good, varied perspective into the way we think. But I think one thing that combines us is that a lot of people really deeply care about making a difference, and wants to use design as that way of really changing the world to a small and big degree. People care about different things. And we have a lot of fun. There’s really, a lot of I feel like there is a level of playfulness here as well.
[07:01] Idun Aune: We have a planet-centric taskforce in Oslo. And we meet bi-weekly doing our check-ins. We focus on what we can do in our projects or in our initiatives that we’re working on to really embed this mindset in everything we do. We also share inspiration that we’ve gotten—the last week’s being a podcast on degrowth, or a new framework or a conference we went to or trying to just share the sparks of good things that we meet. And that’s also really important to kind of keep our spirits up.
[07:39] Idun Aune: Growing up in Norway, obviously, it’s a welfare state, a strong welfare state in Norway. So in a sense, taking care of others, or the feeling of that there is a role of the state to take care of everyone, is really embedded in our society. It also means that our clients are a lot in public sector. We work heavily in public sector and we are working a lot on the societal topics from scratch. Even though it might not be so much on environmental sustainability, that social responsibility and the role in society has always been a big part of a lot of our clients’ mandates basically. So I think in that sense, it’s already something that people are thinking about. And then it’s been a bit of a shift of thinking about that as sustainability. And then, sometimes, meeting with clients, they are a bit like, “We’ve always done this. Don’t bring this new buzzword around sustainability, like, of course, we always, like take care of our citizens.” Or, “That’s, like, the core of our being.” But of course, it hasn’t always been there on all the dimensions that we need to focus on right now.
[08:49] Idun Aune: Since this is a French company, we say, like, “drink our own champagne,” right? So practicing what we preach, basically trying to make sure that we have the same mindset that we are telling our clients to build. So we are working on the same foundations as well. We’ve had an extensive learning program for all our consultants in business and design. During the last year, we’ve had 300 people going through this three week course really unpacking what it means to be a planet-centric designer or consultant, really, going into these five foundations trying to see how to really embed sustainability in projects, how to challenge clients, because we’re focusing a lot on our handprint.
[09:36] Idun Aune: How do you make everybody feel like they’re a part of this transition? How do you identify the things that people need to do in their different roles? What are the core competencies that this company needs to be able to live up to their ambitions? Those are kind of the topics. And internally, we’ve had a lot of different things. In addition to this learning program, we have our impact talks where we bring up different topics trying to prolong the learning.
[10:06] Idun Aune: When we’re working on culture shifts, it’s not gonna be something that changes overnight. So focusing on lifelong learning or really giving people different ways of learning, things you can introduce in your projects, inspiration, workshop, testing different tools. All these things that make people learn in different ways has been something we’ve been focusing on a lot.
[10:30] Idun Aune: Even though we’re trying to find more projects that are within the sustainability space, or we’re interested in working more on sustainable innovation, talking to clients that have specific sustainability problems that they come to us with. That’s really great. But we also want to make sure that every project that we do has sustainability embedded. So the way that we deliver design is always with sustainability in mind. It’s not like you can get frog with or without sustainability—regardless of your context, regardless of the scope or the brief that you come to us with, we want to make sure that we are having sustainability in mind and having this mindset with us solving that problem.
[11:15] Elizabeth Wood: Instilling a planet-centric mindset is key to ensuring sustainability is embedded into every creative conversation. To build this mindset within your own organization, Idun shares the five essential foundations of planet-centricity. The first of these foundations is called the “Language of Impact.”
[11:34] Idun Aune: When I use the term planet centric mindset, it’s really putting humanity and the planets needs in the center of everything we do. So some people might misunderstand planet-centric as focusing only on environment. But to me, it’s really the whole zooming out from just a certain consumer group to actually thinking about all humans, all of society and the planet. So we’re trying to really take into account the entire ecosystem and the way we design and that we are addressing the unintended consequences of design, which are many, and that we’re also looking for opportunities to create positive impact in those areas that we work.
[12:20] Idun Aune: We have defined five foundations of the planet-centric mindset. And this is something that we worked with over years refining. It’s a combination of what we’ve learned from research on what is needed to work with sustainable innovation. But it’s also our own learnings working with clients over time, what is actually needed for this shift to happen from our current status quo mindset that is having these unintended consequences towards this planet-centric one.
[12:54] Idun Aune: So the first one is the “Language of Impact.” When it comes to a planet-centric mindset, we are trying to break a couple of these mental models that we have in our current mindset. Because what’s wrong with the way we’re thinking, right? We need to kind of address that and showcase what’s the problem with just continuing with how we’ve always done it? So one of the dimensions is the way that we see a separation between nature and humans. This is very embedded in specifically the Western way of looking at the world and it’s also based on our the stories that we told ourselves growing up or in history—even back to Adam and Eve being the two humans who create the entire world and everything is below them and the humans are in the center.
[13:47] Idun Aune: And then you can compare it to a lot of these indigenous stories, where you actually see that in indigenous stories of being that humans and nature are more interconnected. They are actually playing side by side and creating the world together. And this is really connected to something that we call “Language of Impact.” So these stories have shaped us and the way we think about the world and how we see humans as something separate. And the way we see that nature is sometimes just consider things for humans to use or then consume. And this has contributed to our consumerism kind of mindset today as well. We are looking at nature as just our resources. So we need to go from thinking of humans in nature as separate to really seeing human and nature as interconnected.
[14:43] Elizabeth Wood: The second foundation emphasizes “Systems Thinking”—an approach that broadens perspectives to explore the interconnectedness of all components of a system.
[14:53] Idun Aune: Systems thinking is really, really core to building a planet-centric mindset. Because it’s building upon, really not only the interconnectedness between humans and nature, but also between different humans and an entire ecosystem and how we need to really understand the cause and effects of ecosystems and how things are dependent on each other. And especially when it comes to all the global challenges.
[15:18] Idun Aune: Systems thinking to me is really understanding the interconnectedness of different actors or even parts of something. So an organization can be viewed as a system. The human body is a system in a sense. If you take that as an example, a human is a combination of a lot of different parts, right? You can’t like take out the eyes and the hands and the feet without losing something essential. And it’s only a system if you have all the parts. But a system is also something that is dynamic, and changeable. And it’s not hierarchical necessarily. So the different parts are connected, and they influence each other both good and bad.
[16:05] Idun Aune: One of the things that really frustrates me in this space is that we focus so much on carbon. And we’re thinking about net zero, and it’s really, really just tackling one of the problems. But we’re not really seeing it holistically. And we know that carbon and energy problems are really linked to inequality as well. It’s linked to so many of the other major issues that we need to tackle. So, systems thinking is helping us really see the interconnectedness of the problems that we’re trying to solve. And sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s so important to be able to zoom out to find the right leverage points. To find the right places, we need to actually zoom in again and interact and try to intervene. So if we don’t zoom out, initially, we might be solving the wrong problem, or we might create some other unintended consequences along the way.
[16:55] Elizabeth Wood: We’re going to take a short break. When we return, Idun will share the three remaining foundations of a planet-centric mindset.
[17:04] Sesh Vedachalam: Hi, I’m Sesh Vedachalam, Strategy Director in frog’s London studio. With the climate crisis worsening, business have a crucial role to play—not just in reducing harm but going further to create better outcomes for people, planet and the future of the business. We believe that now’s the time to move beyond sustainability and into regeneration. frog’s new downloadable tool, The Regenerative Compass, draws on a powerful and holistic mindset to bring users closer to more meaningful, dynamic and adaptive products, services and experiences. Check this episode’s show notes to find a link to download the Regenerative Compass today. Find out how to ask the big questions in order to shift mindsets and arrive at radical, hopeful and equitable visions for the future.
[17:48] Elizabeth Wood: Now back to our conversation with Idun Aune, Head of Sustainability for frog Norway. Idun has already shared the first two foundations of a planet-centric mindset, including the language of impact and systems thinking. Next up is what she and her team call “Power Literacy.”
[18:06] Idun Aune: One other really core foundation is “Power Literacy.” So Power Literacy is the knowledge of really understanding power dimensions, being able to identify them and then also influencing them and trying to see what you can do to redistribute. So it has different layers to it. And it’s about seeing power structures in society, understanding what kind of role we play when we come into different contexts and we’re asked to fix a problem for someone. A lot of the times we’re not really booked by the people who are in the midst of dealing with this problem, it’s someone that is in a power position that is asking us to come fix a problem on behalf of another group. And if we are not aware of these power dynamics and what kind of role we are playing in, also, including the people that are not necessarily having a voice in the project, or that are not being seen in the project, that can be a problem. We’re adding to the power asymmetry in that sense.
[19:14] Idun Aune: So, for us, as consultants, designers, creators, going into projects, knowing how to identify power structures, and doing what we can to redistribute that power, being rethinking a design brief and who we’re interviewing, making sure all voices are being heard, including people in workshops that maybe weren’t really planned to be part of it, those are concrete things that we can do to kind of address that area.
[19:44] Idun Aune: Another part of Power Literacy is connected to understanding your own agency. And this is a huge one for me. And it’s really, really core to a lot of the things that I’ve been working on in the learning space, and really building a planet-centric culture. People don’t see themselves as someone that can make a difference. And that’s maybe one of the main things to really address is that we need to make people feel like that what they do matter, and that they can have a role in actually making the world a better place or addressing the topics in their workplace, or whatever it is building that agency is really important. And it comes back to believing that you have a voice or power. So finding ways to make people see that what they do matter. And that also means that it’s important that everybody contributes. That’s also core to the Power Literacy dimension.
[20:40] Elizabeth Wood: The fourth foundation is also focused on a type of literacy. She and her team call it “Futures Literacy.”
[20:48] Idun Aune: So “Futures Literacy” is connected to really being proactive about navigating the future. It’s not just something that’s gonna hit you in the back of the head and you need to learn about all the drivers and you have to kind of dodge the future. But it’s about leaning forward and actually seeing yourself or your company as someone that can actually shape the future. And that’s a kind of different way of looking at the future. So there’s a lot of different, of course, methodologies and ways of approaching that. But I think the core thing here is really thinking about future as a verb and putting yourself in the driver’s seat. So what can you do about really being a part of shaping the future do you want to happen and not just navigating some different scenarios that could happen to you. Right now there’s so many really dark and very dystopian views of the future. It’s really easy to imagine that the world is going under. We can all see that really clearly in our heads, the different ways the world can go under.
[21:53] Idun Aune: But we need to start imagining what if we succeed? How would the world look if we actually create a better world? What concretely do we have to do? And how does that look like? If we don’t have that vision in our head, it’s really hard to really work towards it. So it’s about allowing ourselves to kind of explore and imagine some positive outcomes as well. Because there’s so many negative ones and if that’s the only thing we’re gonna…yeah, it’s really hard to create a positive future if you can’t imagine it.
[22:25] Elizabeth Wood: The last of the five foundations is all about “Interpersonal Connections.”
[22:31] Idun Aune: One other area that might seem a bit obvious but also not is the “Interpersonal Connections.” And there’s, again, there’s some different dimensions to this one. Interpersonal Connections is really addressing the need for us to collaborate going forwards. In industries and sectors, there’s been so much competition. and connected to the systems thinking and really seeing the interconnectedness of these really wicked problems, we need to build up our capacity to collaborate with different actors, different people. And if we’re not able to collaborate and bring into this different capabilities, and different partners and share more about our learnings, we will not really succeed on addressing this big topic. So really, being inclusive and building room for people to build bridges across disciplines, across sectors, across even competing companies is really also a core part of it.
[23:31] Idun Aune: And the other side to Interpersonal Connections is really, like, understanding the humanness of change, both on a personal level and on an organizational level. It’s really hard to be in a change position, and the only thing we know is that we are going to continue continuously change a lot going forward more and more. And really understanding just the behavioral psychology on what’s the blockers? What’s keeping people from changing? These leaves that we’re trying to make people do and the shifts we’re trying to do in organizations and in behavior.
[24:07] Idun Aune: You need to have a deep understanding of how humans work to navigate and identify like, how do you find these blockers? How do you really work on those blockers? It doesn’t matter if we design a really new sustainable product if nobody uses it, right? So what’s going to actually make people use these new things or change those habits into a more sustainable one? You need to really understand humans to do that, which luckily designers are really good at.
[24:37] Elizabeth Wood: Across industries, geographies, departmental silos, the urgency of the climate crisis has become a massive impetus for change. Idun shared what it takes to take on these challenges and overcome the complexity that comes with it.
[24:52] Idun Aune: So obviously, the sense of urgency has increased a lot the last years. When I started around five years ago, that was when I joined this company. And that was a clear reason why I joined as well. Like, I wanted to really focus on this topic and I hoped at least that this will be a space where I could actually explore that. And in the beginning, there was a lot of convincing on the why. It was still like this in the storytelling meeting clients. We had to use a lot of time really saying why is this important, explaining the problem area. And then as the years have gone, it’s less and less about the why and more and more about the how, which is a good development, of course. And I think it says something about the sense of urgency that it has definitely happened both internally, but also in the meeting with our clients. It’s not something that we have to explain why is this important anymore. Everybody understands that sustainability is something they have to address. Now, it’s more like, tell us how.
[25:49] Idun Aune: I think feeling stuck or feeling overwhelmed with complexity is a really relevant and important question. And we can see that a lot of times when we start talking about systems thinking or exploring, like, ecosystem maps, we see people seeing all the connections. And it’s very overwhelming, right? Like, how are we going to even solve this when everything’s connected and everything is just tied to everything? But I think then, especially for designers, we need to then bring out our creative and experimental perspective. It’s really about not finding one perfect solution, it’s about finding a leverage point, having some hypothesis, daring to start an experiment and test and then learning along the way and then adjusting. Because most likely, when we’re dealing with complexity, we will not find one solution. There’s quite a lot of things we need to do to kind of nudge the system in a certain direction. So being very open to experimenting and allowing that yeah, trial and error basically, and not really searching for one solution that will fix everything, I think is really important.
[27:01] Idun Aune: And I think it’s important to see also where do we have influence? It’s back to the Power Literacy area. Having the awareness of what we can and cannot influence from the perspective of our project or our company or whatever scope that you have connected to a solution. A lot of the times when we’ve had these workshops and like mapping ecosystems and trying to find leverage points, people end up just pointing to policy, like policy needs to change. Of course, in a lot of cases, policy also needs to change. But there are still a lot of ways that we can nudge the system. Not everything has to come from politics. There’s also creating different standards from an industry or just starting to be that disrupter on different levels are ways to attack it. So, yeah, being very experimental, I would say is a key point there.
[27:54] Elizabeth Wood: During our conversation, Idun shared how she built the confidence to become a leader in this conversation around sustainability within frog and Capgemini Invent and why creative people are uniquely suited for this challenge–as well as the unlikely creature comfort that helps her cope with the existential crises that come with battling climate change.
[28:14] Idun Aune: People are always surprised when I say that I watch a lot of reality TV. Because I’m quite an academic designer. I really care about societal topics, that, for some reason, is a big conflict. Because you cannot care about society and like to watch trash TV at the same time. But to me, it’s something that really I need because I’m dealing with these big, also heavy topics my entire day, so being able to come home and just put on some Love Island UK or something really helps me relax and give my brain a bit of a break from having this cloud of climate change and inequality over my head all the time. So I think it keeps me sane.
[29:03] Idun Aune: I don’t know if there was a certain moment. I think to me, it was a bit maturity in and safety and feeling like I was mastering my profession. And that made it easier to actually use design as the superpower to actually do that change and bring that change. I had to be confident in what I knew as a designer before it was easier to actually start challenging on those things. I think I’ve always been kind of a rebel. So in any project, I always try to bring that perspective, but doing it more in a structured way and more in a systematic way—trying to make that our by default way of working with design—I had that shift when I felt confident enough in my own discipline and my approach to actually add that layer or add that perspective to it.
[29:51] Idun Aune: Traditionally, design has focused a lot on really, really understanding the user needs, right? So we are diving deeply, we’re being empathically connected and invested in really understanding our users. But what we see is that if we’re only focusing on the users, what happens is that there might be other humans involved, that are either excluded of the service or that are having negative experiences connected to it. It could be the employees in that organization you’re shifting, it could be certain groups that are not in a target audience.
[30:29] Idun Aune: It could be also on a societal level. When we’re working with disruption and innovation, you might not think about the consequences of succeeding. So there’s a lot of examples in the industry, even like Airbnb and Uber and those kinds of things where it’s really, really good user experiences, but there are some dimensions that have led to some unintended consequences for society. And it could also be nature, that we are creating products and we’re not thinking about the use of materials, or the kind of energy use or material use that is coming out of the way that we design. So it’s not necessarily intentional. And that’s the whole thing—that it’s not people doing it because they want to be cruel, or want to like create negative effects. Really, the main thing is to be more intentional, really take a look at all the different areas so we can look at it and ask ourselves who is this impacting, positively and negatively on people, society and planet? And it’s as simple and hard as that.
[31:37] Elizabeth Wood: That’s our show. The Design Mind frogcast was brought to you by frog, a leading global creative consultancy that is part of Capgemini Invent. Check today’s show notes for transcripts and more from our conversation.
[31:49] Elizabeth Wood: We really want to thank Idun Aune, Head of Sustainability for frog Norway and leader of Capgemini’s CSR initiative in the country for sharing her perspective on a planet-centric mindset. If you’re interested in subjects like power literacy and systems thinking, do be sure to download frog’s Regenerative Compass, a guide to help you and your team ask the big questions and drive lasting, sustainable change. You can find a link in today’s show notes.
[31:15] Elizabeth Wood: We also want to thank you, dear listener. If you like what you heard, tell your friends. Rate and review to help others find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify . And be sure to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Find lots more to think about from our global frog team at frog.co/designmind. That’s frog.co. Follow frog on Twitter at @frogdesign and @frog_design on Instagram. And if you have any thoughts about the show, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at frog.co/contact. Thanks for listening. Now go make your mark.