Whose role is it to design a more sustainable future?

February 20, 2019 | | View Comments

For the purpose of this article, any mention of sustainability or sustainable initiatives includes greenhouse gas emission reduction, increased use of recycled materials, and implementation of alternative energy sources or production materials.


The 1980s were a significant decade for sustainability and the environmental challenges we face today – the trend of recycling at home became popular for the first time. The rise of this trend, coupled with increased corporate deregulation, shifted the burden of being environmentally conscious onto the individual.

However, some people are fighting back, saying that companies are the real culprits when it comes to emissions, plastics, and sustainable practices. According to a study published by the Climate Accountability Institute, about 70% of all emissions in the world are generated by about 100 companies worldwide. Just 100 companies are responsible for more environmental damage than the entire human population combined. On the other hand, individuals are the ones actually consuming and using some of the resources harming the environment. Is it one person’s or one corporation’s responsibility? How can design help to hold individuals and corporations accountable?


To learn more on how design can play into collective sustainability, sign up for our UNITE panel on April 11. Hear from industry leaders on what you can do to design a more sustainable future.

Realistically, it is the collective responsibility of individuals, corporations, and elected officials to tackle this issue. 2018 marked a significant push for sustainable initiatives on a personal level. From purchasing products with less packaging to the metal straw movement aimed at eradicating plastic straws from the plastics chain, sustainability has penetrated the public conscience. Individuals have the power to design their choices.

Everyone can find their own way to participate and work towards a more sustainable future. At the same time, a lot of corporations are beginning to implement more sustainability initiatives. For example, adidas has committed to removing virgin plastics from its production chain by 2024. Beth Porter, the Climate & Recycling Director at Green America, recently spoke on a recent episode of Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness about the question of collective sustainability and illustrated how the individual-corporate relationship can generate positive impact.

When an individual is at the store, he/she/they ideally has the responsibility to choose products with the lowest impact levels. “Oh, this is 60% recycled content, this is the one that I want. [But we also have to] demand that producers make those responsible decisions, too.” If the producer isn’t using recycled content in their products, then consumers can’t make that choice. It’s all about voting with your wallet.

We understand that voting with your wallet isn’t always possible – not all communities in the U.S.A. have access to these products with 60% recycled content. Additionally, it can be more expensive to buy the product made from more sustainable practices. All the more reason why corporations can and should lead the charge.

Another great way to be involved is to work at the community level. We can shift some of the burdens to implement sustainable initiatives onto our elected officials. Attending town hall meetings and asking questions about recycling programs, composting programs, or even just clearly outlining how community members can better sort their recyclables can make a huge difference in getting everyone on track.

At the end of the day, everyone has a role to play in the future of our planet. It’s going to require everyone to pitch in and help shape a more sustainable future for everyone.


To learn more on how design can play into collective sustainability, sign up for our UNITE panel on April 11. Hear from industry leaders on what you can do to design a more sustainable future.