How can design thinking be the driver for sustainability?
By working with four companies the team of Bæredygtige Forstyrrelser (Sustainable Disruption), developed a set of tools, that helps companies gain awareness of the financial, social and environmental values and impacts they create.
The project ran over a full year, and was mainly focused on empowering management and employees to take active part of promoting responsible business. A deep design research and use of participatory design methods made it possible to involve the companies in every step of the process. This involvement created a shared ownership that in the long run raises the odds for sustainability to be in fact implemented in the daily business of the companies.
By discarding the conventional and ‘empty’ definition of sustainability the project headed out to rediscover a more close-to-living definition and approach to sustainability. Inspired by the term invented by John R. Ehrenfeld, we were looking for sustainable ways of living and during business with the aim of flourishing for economy, humans and planet.
The final results and the knowledge gained about design thinking and sustainability can be found at this address: www.baeredygtigeforstyrrelser.dk (in Danish)
The Final Tools
Four tools were developed during the process of the project.
- A tool making it easy to gain an overview of the value chain of the company.
- A tool for dividing and differentiate the product portfolio of a company.
- A tool for systemizing, and involving all departments of the enterprise in the process of product development.
- A tool for identifying and communicating the stories and values of a company.
(The videos are in Danish)
Sustainability has become a bush word with little meaning to most people. We looked for a different and more pragmatic vocabulary to approach sustainable living.
During the project a blog was creating in order to invite ordinary people with different backgrounds and professions to talk about sustainability through their life experiences. Every month the bloggers were provided with a keyword that in a practical way relates to sustainability. The bloggers was encouraged to talk about everyday life just as much as about sustainability.
Placing the blog posts side by side, a pattern and vocabulary of how to address and approach sustainability emerged. These insights might very well be the beginning of a new way of approaching sustainable living.
The results of the entire project, and some insights and inspirational material on how to use design thinking in business, is captured in a long series of articles available for reading and download at www.baeredygtigeforstyrrelser.dk (in Danish)
Initial insights and theories
The first task of the project was to identify the barriers of starting working with sustainability. What we found was a general confusion and lack of overview of the term and vocabulary around sustainability.
By drawing a new and more dynamic construction of a company-structure, we discussed with our partners how we might slowly shift the actions of the companies towards a mindset focusing not just on their financial bottom-line, but also their social- and environmental bottom-lines.
We lay out a roadmap describing each step necessary to be taken by a smaller enterprise in order to be able to shift their conventional business to a more sustainable one. The most important thing to notice in this regard is to be realistic about the pace of this shift. Some companies need a whole new way of thinking approaching business, before even starting on the journey. It is better to do it slowly and make sure integrity and support of all employees are present at each step of the process.
Understanding companies by interviewing and working with employees and management
In order to understand the underlying motivations and values of each of the four companies, the design team did in total 75 individual interviews with managers, employees and stakeholders. By using a, for the purpose developed, interview tool the team managed to get very to a very intimate level with the employees, and gained by this an unique impression and understanding of the relations within the companies.
Furthermore the team did workshops with each company. These workshops were based on dialogue instead of traditional co-creation workshops based on ideation. The informal dialogue gave space to the more subtle and quiet voices of the companies, which provided all participants and the design team with a more truthful impression of the daily life as a simple employee.
Analyzing data from interviews
The transcription of all 75 interviews resulted in a massive among of data to map and sort. Interesting sentences was taken out of the transcripts and mapped on several thematic boards. By re-mapping up to four times, patterns started emerging, and finally word clouds, relation maps and potential design-spaces were identified.
Concept development in dialogue with companies
The management and employees of each of the four companies were involved several times during the concept-developing phase of the project. The tools needed to fit the needs and it was important that the companies took ownership of the tools, so they eventually would get implemented.
By working on the same concept sketches in all companies we could work on adapting the balance between customization and universality of the tools. The objective was to make tools that would work in all four companies, and by that also work in an array of other companies.