Tag Archive | sustainability

Pushing the boundaries of innovation

I participated on 10.9.2020 in an online event hosted by Design Club, a business community within Design Museum Helsinki, and Aalto University. The topic of the event was “System Innovations for Business Sustainability” and featured a presentation by Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy, an Assistant Professor in Aalto University and a panel discussion with Dr. Heli Antila, the Vice President of Biobased solutions in Fortum.

The event tackled interesting, necessary topics regarding sustainability challenges and the need for large transformations in the field of innovation and business. The urgency of the changes cannot be overstated as we are already very late in the game. Businesses need to be on the forefront of the change and be able to radically adapt their views and ways.

Transformation zones

Gaziulusoy discussed the three transformation zones that we need to understand and explore in order to fully embrace sustainability innovation.

Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy’s presentation slide “Three Spheres of Transformations”

The inner circle is the practical zone that consists of mostly technical solutions and the usual product innovation. Gaziulusoy stated that in this area most focus is put today but the innovation process needs to be extended further.

The second layer shows organisational aspects such as systems and structures and while it gives more depth than the practical sphere, it is not enough for an overall, radical change.

The last layer is the socio-cultural level which includes beliefs, values and existing worldview of all societal factors. According to Gaziulusoy, this level has the least attention from businesses and policy makers. She called this area the “zone of difficult questions” due to the importance of challenging existing, deep-seated views and beliefs.

From operational to visionary

As the old saying goes: “easier said than done”, so how do we actually start the change? How can companies realistically transform their “business as usual” without compromising their position? The question is not simple nor is there an easy answer, but there are methods available.

Gaziulusoy suggested that companies implement a shadow-track strategy, a transition strategy where they simultaneously operate in their usual area of business but also invest time and money for new innovation areas. Gaziulusoy urged companies to boldly step away from their reactive role and reach for a more profound transformation.

Dr. Idil Gaziulusoy’s presentation slide “Strategic and Creative Foresight”

Panelists were asked for examples of companies that were engaging in truly sustainable innovation. In general, micro-enterprises were mentioned to be the leaders in the field as they have the ability to find their niche and ask the question: “How can we do business differently“. A local Helsinki zero-waste-restaurant Nolla, was mentioned as an example of this.

Needless to say, more established companies have a different strategy than micro-enterprises. Antila mentioned that the burden of old traditions might be a reason for older, more established companies to be held back. Change is happening, but still slowly.

Collaboration is key

Gaziulusoy encouraged companies to push the boundaries of doing business by engaging policy makers and collaborating with researchers, stakeholders and even competitors.

Antila emphasized the role of universities in making change happen as they commonly have the resources for basic research in different topics and by working together with companies, they could reach even more concrete ideas.

The key is the change in mindset and values, and the overall signal to the public should be “We don’t cater to mindless consumption”. Showing that more determined businesses are ready for the challenge, is both a competitive advantage but also the only way forward.

For more inspiration:

  • Story of Nolla, a Helsinki-based zero waste restaurant
  • Design Club’s next event on 23.9.2020: Creative practices for transformational Futures
  • B-corps, list of businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance
  • Designs for a Cooler Planet Exhibition by Aalto University video:

From ego to eco

I participated on 27.8.2020 in an online event hosted by Reach Network. The online webinar focused on the importance of life centered design, sustainability and ecosystem. The panel discussion consisted of Reach Network’s four design research experts: Bas Raijmakers from STBY in UK, José de la O from delaO Design Studio in Mexico, Rikke Ulk from Antropologerne in Denmark and Babitha George from Quicksand in India.

Photo from Unsplash

The resources of the planet aren’t endless and crises like climate change have changed design thinking from individual to ecosystem. It’s a shift in thinking: from not only focusing on how people can benefit to how the entire ecosystem can.

The event focused on the importance of looking beyond having the human in the middle of design and focusing more on the ecosystems that we largely depend on.

Shifting between the levels

The panelists discussed the complexity of the issue and the multiple levels that must be taken into consideration with life centered design. Rikke Ulk talked about shifting through individual levels, social levels and organizational levels, and understanding everything in between.

“The way we have been thinking about sustainability has been rather limited by not acknowledging all these levels. Especially in industrial design it’s been really focused on optimizing things and making everything more efficient but what we have forgotten is to look at how it all adds up.” – Bas Raijmakers from STBY

The designer mindset should be switched from “we have a problem that needs solving” to “how can we make better decisions for a sustainable future”.

Photo from Unsplash

The challenges

With the added dimensions, the challenges involved are also more complex. José De la O talked about the core challenges of life centered design and the expectations that people have from design researchers in general.

“Sometimes when people ask your help as a design researcher, they always want to have tangible solutions that has to work on the get-go. You have to be aware of the consequences of the solutions that you propose.” – José de la O from delaO Design Studio

The work may seem endless, but in order to be successful you need embrace the complexities, and to be always learning, observing and sharing knowledge. De la O emphasized that it’s not so much as theory learning but interactive learning.

The panelists discussed a lot about finding an overall balance, that sweet spot of all involved levels. You need to be more humble but also embrace much more complex thinking, for example in terms of biodiversity.

Community support

Photo from VisitSamsoe

Rikke Ulk talked about a life-centered project she has been a part of in a Samsø, Denmark. Samsø is an island that is completely self-sufficient in green energy after the building of 21 wind turbines that were mostly funded by the island’s inhabitants. Now all of the island’s electricity comes from the wind turbines and any excess is exported to mainland Denmark.

Samsø has become a pioneer community, being part of green energy counseling in a global scale. Ulk talked about a new project she’s involved in which is another community based project in Samsø, where they want to move one of their two schools into a forest area where the school would have more ability to experiment. The idea of being in the woods and having new kinds of teaching facilities is not just about teaching the children about sustainability but more so installing them the ideology of it and offering them better learning opportunities.

“We think children have the ability of being sustainable. It’s natural to children to be curious and know that they are a part of everything.” – Rikke Ulk from Antropologerne

Ulk emphasized the importance of community support and how Samsø residents have embraced all the new changes. The citizens had the option to buy a part of a windmill which is how the island was able to become energy-positive in the first place. Additionally Samsø is striving to be fossil fuel-free by 2030.

For more inspiration:

Circle is the new black

Photo from Unsplash

I participated on 19.5.2020 in an online event “Accelerating the shift to circular” hosted by Livework studio, a global service design company, and Metabolic, a Dutch consulting company focused on sustainability and circular economy. The topic of the event was exploring the synergies between service design and industrial ecology, and the importance of moving towards a circular economy.

As we are going through a global pandemic, we are starting to see the long-term impact it has on business. Add to that the environmental crisis that carries even more severe and more long-term impact, and it’s clear that there is an immense urgency for a change to happen.

Companies need to reconfigure their value proposition. In the end, it’s organisations that manage to do so in a sustainable way that will thrive.

From linear to circular

“There is no such thing as a sustainable product. There can only be sustainable product-service systems.”

– Pieter van Exter, 2020

Pieter van Exter from Metabolic talked about the current linear system and the importance of moving to a circular economy or “circularity”.

Linear system is “take – make – dispose”. It’s about taking the raw material, making the product and in the end disposing of it as waste. Circular economy aims to eliminate waste and the constant use of new resources, hence making the life cycle circle.

Van Exter explained the simplified four-step-process of moving from linear economic system to a circular one. The four-step-process starts with analyzing the current state and identifying root causes throughout the whole product life cycle. In step two you set goals and think about the overall vision, not just the financial gain you can get from the product but all the key elements such as social impact, biodiversity, materials, etc. The third step is about identifying interventions and leverage, and figuring out how to get to your goal. Last step is implementation which includes developing business cases and engaging stakeholders.

4 steps of moving to circular economy. Slide from Pieter van Exter’s presentation.

Van Exter highlighted that throughout the whole linear to circular -process, you should constantly iterate and re-think your solutions. The key question you should always ask from yourself in every step is: “do we actually need this?” In short, should we try to make a bamboo version of a plastic straw, or should we rethink the need to even have straws in the first place?

From “can we make it” to “should we make it”

Sanne Pelgröm from service design company Livework studio talked about the evolution of service design and how to design with circular change in mind.

It is important to move from designing for individual needs to designing for the collective. The question in mind should move from “can we make it” to “should we make it” and “can the ecosystem handle it”.

In his work as a service designer, Pelgröm explained that when designing with circularity in mind, you take three aspects into consideration: customer, organisation and the chain collaboration, while simultaneously moving towards a new behavior in all three areas. The key is not just designing a service, but a service process.

Pelgröm also introduced an outline of the journey change in all three sections:

Slide from Sanne Pelgröm’s presentation

In customer segment, the goal is for the customer to evolve from detached consumption to engaged relation with the company.

In organisation level the design is about the general transformation from product oriented approach to more service oriented, essentially moving from cost driven to value driven. In order to do that, it’s important to understand the organizational dynamics: the culture, strategy, processes, etc.

The chain collaboration aspect brings a new layer of dimensions. The goal should be to move from efficiency oriented system into a collaboration oriented. Collaboration could be for example between sectors: two industries sharing cycles can unlock solutions and have a major impact in the overall chain.

Customer in mind

Van Exter reminded that throughout the whole process, you should never forget about the actual end user: the customer. He gave an example of Pepsi’s new type of bioplastic they developed for the packaging of a bag of chips. The product ended up being banned due to being too loud, over 95 decibels.

Pelgröm was asked in the event how to keep circular thinking through the design process, and whether there are specific tools that help you come up with sustainable solutions. Pelgröm recommended that instead of looking for specific tools, you should reach to specialists and involve them in the process and let them contribute. Balancing all aspects early on before it becomes too technical and complicated is key.

The event tackled interesting points about service design, its future and circular economy. There are still a great number of challenges in this area, for instance the majority of companies haven’t stopped thinking in terms of indefinite economic growth, and most targets they have are very much growth-related. Change is never easy and it can’t happen in only one area, but cohesively all around.

Photo from Unsplash

Food for thought:

Kate Raworth’s TED Talk about healthy economy

Tina Arrowood’s TED Talk about circularity

New values, who dis

I had the pleasure of participating in an online event on 20.5.2020 hosted by Design Forum Finland and Arctic Factory. The topic of the event was design and new values, with the focus on sustainability and the role of companies in creating new value. The topic is especially current now during an ongoing, global pandemic, which has only increased the need for a change.

Slide from the presentation of Design Forum Finland CEO: Petteri Kolinen

The idea of new value is not just about creating financial value to company stakeholders, but a new type of added value to employees, society, and environment as a whole. We’re in a new era where customers demand more from companies.

Design thinking has a big role in creating new value. Design thinking is essentially about understanding the needs of people, being innovative and solving challenges in an agile way. Companies can find business opportunities and create new value through design thinking, for example by utilizing sustainable products and involving ecological thinking.

Megatrends 2020

One important aspect of design thinking is understanding what is happening in the world, what kind of trends are taking place and how they are affecting people. By understanding your surroundings, can you be strategic and proactive.

Photo from Unsplash

Katri Vataja from Sitra talked about the future and the increasing need for having foresight. She discussed in detail the five megatrends of 2020 set by Sitra:

  • ecological sustainability crisis and the urgency of its reconstruction
  • strengthening of relational power
  • ageing and diversifying of population
  • technology being embedded in everything
  • the redefinition of economy

Vataja emphasized the importance of ecological reconstruction and stated that the key factor influencing the future is climate change and other ecological issues, and how we respond to them.

“The decisions we make in the next 10 years will impact the next 100 years.” – Katri Vataja, 2020

Vataja ended the segment with a great question to think: what kind of a future would you like to help build?

The bees of the business world

Sonja Lahtinen from University of Tampere discussed the new values and the changing culture. Her main focus was the importance of sustainability transition: a cohesive, long term change towards sustainable modes in society’s foundation, culture and practices.

Innovative companies are like the bees of the business world: they are the vital pollinators of the society without which sustainability transition would not be possible. Lahtinen stated that companies have the needed capabilities for this important change in resources and innovation.

Lahtinen highlighted the importance of companies’ role in the transition and more importantly why they should strive towards this.

“We’re now entering into an era of the unknown, the unclear, and the unfolding. Being in tune with what is emerging around, we can seize immense, but not instantly obvious, opportunities to better the world.” – Sonja Lahtinen, 2020

Photo from Unsplash

Those who adapt, thrive

The event couldn’t have had a more inspirational end than Kyrö Distillery’s segment.

Mikko Koskinen from Kyrö Distillery’s brand marketing talked about the evolution of the company from the first brainstorming session in sauna, to adapting to corona times by switching from rye whisky to hand sanitizer. Koskinen emphasized the importance of strategy and values in their company and how they are not just a slogan on their website but a tool in their daily work.

All in all, the event raised great points about new values and the role of companies in this change. It was perhaps Kyrö Distillery’s last slide that best described not only the inspirational message of the event but also Finnish “sisu” at its core:

Kyrö Distillery’s presentation slide

For more inspiration on the subject:

Ikea’s chief sustainability officer Steve Howard’s Ted talk