The Importance of Design In The Sustainability Movement

This week we have a special guest blog written for us by Sofia Hadjiosif, Founder of Terra Movement. In this blog, Sofia discusses the importance of design in the sustainability movement.

The Importance of Design In The Sustainability Movement

Sustainability isn’t usually something that designers think when coming up with new ideas for a project. However, designers can play a big role in the sustainability and climate movement. Why, you ask? The answer is simple. Because they are creative. And if anything is going to get us out of the situation we are in, it will be creativity.

For a long time, companies and society in general have underestimated the power of creativity and its importance. Fortunately, slowly, slowly that is changing and in fact, creativity is becoming a very valuable skill for employers.

Design Is Problem Solving

Designers are not just creatives, they are problem-solvers. Normally they are used to solving smaller problems such as how to design a functional product or how to arrange different elements in a space in order to create a maximum impact. 

But now they can expand, and start problem-solving bigger issues in the world. Climate change for instance as well as other urgent environmental challenges the planet is facing.

What everyone must come to realize is that we have (most of) the answers. Researching new evidence is not going to help us reverse climate change or stop the rate of deforestation. In addition, we can’t wait for some new magical technology that will suddenly fix all our problems. It’s not how it works.

We know what we need to do, and it’s time we finally implement them. That’s where designers can play their part. Creatives can help redesign the world we will live in to reduce its negative environmental impact. 

Some ways in which they can do that is by designing highly-efficient products/ systems, making cities and our buildings biophilic and most importantly inspire the public to act and start caring about the future of the planet. 

The Role Of Designers

There are three main types of design that are helping the world. Sustainable design, ethical and social-impact design

While they are all about helping the world, they are slightly different. Nevertheless, a designer should consider all of them because they are equally important. 

Sustainable Design

The main focus of sustainable design is the planet. This type of design helps minimize the impact we have on the planet. There’s more to it though.

There are actually three aspects of sustainable design. The environment, social responsibility and the economy. The point where these intersect, that’s where true sustainability lies. You see, thinking about the environment is important but in order to continue helping the planet we must also consider its people and the economy. 

If a piece of design, whether it is a product or an entire city does not benefit the people and does not bring money to the community, it is doomed to fail. 

If a design doesn’t benefit the individual, why would they buy it? They wouldn’t. And it doesn’t just refer to products. Take a city for example. If a city is not safe, has few opportunities and doesn’t make people happy, no one would want to go there. And it wouldn’t help its economy either. That is what I mean when I say sustainability requires a balance. 

It needs to benefit everyone. That’s the only way sustainability will last.

Now, let’s take a step back and talk a bit more about how the design part can become more environmentally friendly and what every single designers needs to take into account:

  1. Materials: Materials should either be recycled, repurposed or renewable. Although recycled and reclaimed materials is the preferred option because it doesn’t further destroy ecosystems/ deplete natural resources.
  2. Manufacturing: In the near future, all factories must be powered by renewable energy to stop the increase of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. 
  3. Transport: The place of manufacturing should not be far from the place of sale. Currently, products are manufactured in less developing countries and then shipped halfway across the world by plane or ship. If we produced them closer to the country where they are intended to be sold, we could again reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
  4. Disposal: Products should not be designed to end up in landfill. Everything should either be designed to be recycled, repaired reused, composted or remanufactured. 
  5. Ethics: When it comes to sustainability, ethics also come into play as explained below.

Ethical Design

Ethics can relate to the way workers are treated. Are the farmers and factory workers paid a fair wage? Do they work in safe conditions? Or are they exploited at every opportunity? These are some of the obvious questions to ask but definitely not the only ones.

But ethical and sustainable design come in many forms. So, for example, if you have an e-commerce store, don’t showcase thousands of products which promote overconsumption and don’t use sales and cheap prices to make people buy more. Extremely cheap prices makes products seem disposable which is not the case.

Undoubtedly, ethical design has taken a bigger meaning recently with the invention of the internet. If a company truly wants to make a positive impact, it must consider this too. Businesses shouldn’t use manipulative techniques to get people to spend more time on their website or manipulate someone to click on something. It’s what companies like Netflix and Instagram are doing. They manipulate our brain’s psychology to make us waste our money or our time and make them richer. 

Don’t allow yourself to use unethical design strategies to increase profits. Try your best to be ethical and transparent. You will then start gaining more and better customers and clients.

Think about the impact every part of your brand has. Even the most seemingly insignificant details can make a difference. 

Social-Impact Design

This type of design revolves around helping people. This includes helping with humanitarian issues like with refugees, water shortages and struggling poor communities.

While this might seem unrelated to sustainability to some of you, it’s very much related. 

As I said before, helping and protecting people is part of a sustainable society. Helping our fellow people is just as important as helping the planet and its biodiversity. 

How can we use it to solve global problems?

If we wish to create a fairer and better world, we must start changing the way we think and the way we design. We must redesign society. And guess who can help with that? Designers and creatives. 

Saying this, designers alone will not solve every single global problem on their own, but along with other professions with the same goals and mindset, we will be able to stop this destruction that we are inflicting on the world. It’s not fair how people, wildlife and ecosystems are suffering because of our greed and bad consumer habits.

It will require a global effort. Each country and each person has a role to play in this crisis. Because it’s a crisis that no human has faced before. 

Want to learn more? 

Then head over to Terra Movement. A place for creatives who prioritize sustainable and ethical practices. I decided to start Terra Movement because after doing some research, I came to realize that there weren’t many places to learn about sustainable design. I feel like this is still quite a new concept to many but hopefully soon, not only will people know about what sustainable and ethical design is, it will be the norm. The bare minimum. As it should be.

If you want to learn more about sustainable design and how we can redesign society, Terra Movement is great for some inspiration.

Our creativity shouldn’t exploit the earth and its resources. It should do the opposite. Design should help the planet and inspire others to become better.  

If you are a designer, don’t let the money guide you. While it can be tempting, if you can refuse the job or project, reject it. Start supporting good causes and sustainable design business instead of money driven companies.

And even if you are not a content creator, it doesn't mean you can’t do anything to help. There are millions of ways for someone to help the planet. Big or small, it’s always appreciated.


Sofia Hadjiosi

Founder of Terra Movement

 "There are two things I love. The environment and design. So I decided to combine those two. I wanted to educate people on the role design has in creating a more sustainable future and the impact it has on the planet. Using creativity, it's possible to create a greener future." - Sofia 


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