Designing for the environment

The D&AD President’s Lecture last night was centred around the environment and billed partly as discussion asking, “What does it take to swing the moral compass and hard-wired ideologies of a profit-led industry? And how do we extend that to the rest of the big wide world?”

Mmm, yes, well, kind of. It more felt like a showcase for Greenpeace’s excellent work swinging public opinion regarding Shell’s ambitions to drill in the Arctic (coupled with a bit of odd prop performance involving a coffee-cup-as-metaphor which just felt a bit eye-rolling).

Truly admirable stuff, I felt, as an environmentalist myself. But it was maybe a bit unclear on direction for how this applies to creatives who might not work with a group like Greenpeace — which was the information I was hungry for.

I wanted to find out how my career could affect change. Most creatives similar to me work in a capitalist realm where environmental decisions are made elsewhere in a company and aren’t influenced by the designer. So how would I translate my creative abilities into something which will have lasting impact for society?

The two speakers touched on that by suggesting being part of a larger movement. In fact, the various campaigns by Greenpeace — scaling the Shard for publicity, getting Lego to drop their corporate partnerships with Shell after a fantastic viral video — all demonstrate huge change made from small financial resources but large creative ones.

But still, they’re Greenpeace. My questions walking away were:

  • How else do those of us who still work in corporate world make real change?
  • The title felt a little misleading. Can brands — who inherently want to make money in a capitalistic structure which requires constant production — really be that compatible with the planet or just lessen their production impact?
  • Do charities leverage the heartstrings of creative companies’ heartstrings to get free/cheap work? Is that good, bad, or a bit grey? I personally wouldn’t mind donating my time as a form of activism, but my designer friend thinks it’s morally dubious.

What do you think?