If you were to start this article provocatively, you could well ask: is Design Thinking killing the planet?
Hopefully not – but putting the customer at the center of the value creation process has sure led to a whole lot of products whose impact is harming the planet in the long run.
Even if its underlying principles such as empathy, creativity, continuous learning and collaboration culture are all still sensible goals to get behind, consequences of production and logistics, short-sighted strategies, and profit-oriented supply chains often negatively coincide with unconscious consumer behavior along the process.
To sum it up, we‘ve started solving the wrong challenges really well. It’s time we realized there is opportunity in the overlap of people, business and planet. And it’s not going to be enough to just plant some trees as we fly by.
We need new, effective structures for cooperation, whereby the planet as a whole, the preservation and strengthening of ecosystems, and the reduction of harmful emissions must be at the forefront of all action.
Since at least the ongoing climate protests and initiatives within civil society, the pressure on companies has changed noticeably to forcefully initiate urgent changes. The sustainability goals adopted by the UN provide a framework for aligning focus and attention with corporate strategy and leadership.
For many companies, this development offers a significant opportunity to not only polish up their image, but also to actively become part of the solution and thereby be perceived as a responsible member of society, to strengthen trust and customer relationships and to cultivate a healthy and permanently motivated workforce.
The term ‘planet-centered innovation’, coined by Impossible CEO Kwame Ferreira at the LaFutura conference in Lisbon last September, refers to the evolution of the ‘Human-Centered Innovation’ approach that many associate with the term ‘Design Thinking’. The ‘Planet-Centered Innovation’ approach not only aims to define products, services and processes from the point of view of the consumer as the central addressee of value creation, but also understand the user as part of the planet’s ecosystem and society. From the outset, this means not only targeting customer needs and short-term profit maximization, but also design and production along the entire value chain based on circular and regenerative principles.
Talking to attendees of the last LaFutura X event hosted by Swarovski, J2C was able to gather a few examples and comments on how ‘Planet-Centered Design’ is already being implemented in today’s economy.
Adidas, for instance, has introduced initiatives such as the Futurecraft.loop, changing the principle of a linear process (from raw material to product to landfill) to a closed circular loop (one material that can be remade over and over again) or even a bionic loop (from raw organic material to compostable products) in tomorrow’s world. Their claim is ‘Made to be remade’.
Nils Leffler, Commissioner for Sustainability and Communication at Jägermeister, announced their innovation team would present a special project to the public this year, making use of “inevitable waste as a valuable resource in the future.”
And a Swarovski spokesperson added: “We use alternative materials [for our showrooms and outfits] like mushroom leather, lab-grown leather, new types of concrete, fringe materials… and we are designing for a fully functioning circular economy. We might provide jewelry as a service, not as a product anymore. Sustainability is not just about less damage. It’s actually about regenerative design, having a positive contribution on nature and people.”
It also has an economic appeal of course. “We want to cut material costs in half to create win-win-win. Market figures show that up-cycled markets are growing much more than the conventional markets (e.g. in fashion)…
…our role is to change the narrative of the luxury industry by making avoiding waste sexy.”
Dax Lovegrove, Global Vice President Corporate Sustainability & Social Responsibility at Swarovski, summarized his company’s efforts saying: “Innovation has evolved to minimize and recycle waste across our global operations and to increasingly collaborate with designers who promote responsible and upcycled fashion.”
Inspired by different examples of planet-centered business, workshop participants at LaFutura X tried out specific tools for design of products and services developed by Impossible and MakeSense. Exciting ideas came about, such as the idea of a cross-industry platform for upcycling projects in which the individual companies develop and finance products together with students, designers, and startups, and use industrial waste as raw materials. A first step into a possibly new, circular and regenerative future!
If you’d like to join this conversation, get in touch with us over at j2c.de.