Two decades after making environmental protection an integral part of his presidential campaign, former Vice President Al Gore proclaimed in a recent interview that “we’re in the early stages of a global ‘sustainability revolution’” (Wired). But there’s a lot more work to be done. Today, the conversation around the human impact on climate is influencing consumers to use products more mindfully and putting pressure on organizations to employ more sustainable business approaches. In 2020 and beyond, we will see a greater push toward the development and implementation of planet-centric business models that confront wide-scale environmental challenges on a holistic, global level.
From sourcing ingredients to disposing of waste, a major focus will be on the food industry. While the industry currently makes up a huge amount of global carbon emissions, food production and consumption shows real opportunity for innovation. Food engineers are working to reduce reliance on conventional factory farming, while also seeking economically and environmentally suitable alternatives. For example, Impossible Foods, Inc., which develops plant-based substitutes for meat products, is currently valued at $2 billion. Its signature product, the “Impossible Burger,” is on the menu in 5,000 restaurants across all 50 states in the U.S. (Newsweek).
Countering the severely high greenhouse gas footprint derived from industrial farming and agriculture is not the only opportunity for more ethical food choices. How businesses manufacture, package and transport food is ripe for exploration, and so is how we consume it. As the world’s population rises to nearly 10 billion people over the coming decades (UN), the focus will need to be not only on eating better, but making quality food available to more people, while nurturing biodiversity, protecting the lands we manufacture food on, and supporting the local communities where it is harvested and produced in the process.
Messaging is often geared towards encouraging individuals to make the right choices (e.g., recycle waste, avoid plastic straws, don’t buy fast fashion), but to make lasting change, companies need to commit to these choices, too. Moving into a sustainable future, organizations worldwide need to reassess their business models to strategically position themselves in step with both human and environmental needs.
Planet-centric design will play a huge role in driving a sustainable economy in terms of the products we make, the processes we follow and the policies we influence. We will need to support our clients in this mission while still being mindful of their bottom line, brand perception and customer experience. The next revolution in innovation is upon us. Across all industries, designers can guide companies to strive for more service-centered business models that consumers will be willing to buy into, ones that avoid damage to the environment, but are also built to adapt as needed.
Design has the ability to advance human behavior through the products, services and entirely new businesses we help our clients bring to life. The way we work will also need to evolve to integrate new criteria for assessing quality, such as by measuring the carbon footprint of production, monitoring manufacturing practices and considering the ethics of source materials—as well as the effects on indirect users or disturbances generated by a project. Redefining design thinking methods to include both human and environmental needs will be the next big challenge.
We know businesses can succeed long-term without compromising the planet. By sharing visions for new, evolved business models that push for lasting value over immediate convenience, we can give rise to a more conscious capitalism and the sustainable, planet-centric economy of the future.