People, governments and corporations around the world are waking up to the realities of Climate Change. Yet the harmful systems we have perpetuated are complex and intertwined, with lengthy legacies and deep roots. Driving change at various levels requires a thorough understanding of the systems in place, as well as an interdisciplinary approach. Design researchers are notoriously T-shaped people, able to connect dots and combine relevant expert knowledge, while visualising and addressing the bigger picture. These skills are particularly relevant in understanding ‘wicked problems’ such as climate change. Reach partners around the world are using their skills in various projects to both understand the complex problems under the umbrella of climate change and to contribute to impactful new solutions.
Compiling global and local design briefs for the WDCD No Waste Challenge
What Design Can Do launched the No Waste Challenge in 2021 in 6 cities around the world: Mexico City, São Paulo, Nairobi, Amsterdam, New Delhi and Tokyo. Several partners from the Reach Network were involved in scoping and facilitating local challenges that all fed into the overall global challenges. As a co-creative effort we have been building a roadmap towards a just and circular economy for all, together with What Design Can Do, global funding partner IKEA Foundation, Reach Network partners and a range of stakeholders in five different countries.
STBY, delaO design studio, Quicksand and Flutter conducted research on the impact of waste and consumerism on climate change and compiled a global design briefing and five local city perspectives to address locally urgent topics. The design research in preparation for the challenge was an effort of one and a half years with many steps and breakthroughs. A key principle in doing foundational research on global complex issues is constantly alternating between the local and global throughout the entire research process. This global+local approach is needed, because the global and local are intrinsically connected. Therefore it is important to take into account any relevant local resources, possibilities and barriers while researching a global problem. Only then designers can create a bespoke response to a global emergency, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all solution with less impact.
Changing the role of plastic in daily live in the UK
There is a strong demand for disruptive solutions and ideas that will help society to tackle one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time: single-use plastics. Our Reach partner STBY carried out several design research projects that explored how people deal with the daily use of plastic in their lives – with the aim to identify opportunities to minimise single-use plastics.
In the UK STBY was commissioned by SAP and Design Thinkers Academy UK to do research that explored the gap between people’s aspirations towards reducing their use of plastic and what they actually do in their daily life, in order to identify opportunities for improvement. To explore and understand the motivations, routines and emotions that drive people’s behaviours at these ‘moments of truth’ STBY used auto- ethnography methods to capture daily experiences with single-use plastics. For a similar project in Germany STBY looked into issues around improperly disposed plastics, together with another industry client and in partnership with Work Experience Play. Together they hosted an ‘Ocean Plastic Ideation Lab’ where a large team of internal experts used a co-creative research and design approach to come up with new solutions for this wicked problem. This resulted in the recently launched industry collaboration: Alliance to end plastic waste.
Participatory and sustainable leadership by local pioneering community on Danish Island
The Danish island Samsø has worked on its sustainable transition since 1997 and aims to be completely fossil fuel-free by 2030. Our Reach partner in Denmark Antropologerne has been an active contributor to this process. They developed a leadership compass to show how the island has managed its transition in order to call itself a pioneer community today. Based on conversations and co-creative exercises with citizens, as well as visits and interviews with islanders, Antropologerne carried out an anthropological study of leadership and participation on Samsø. The results fed into the development of the compass, to help members of pioneering communities to zoom in on how and why people assume responsibility, take on leadership and manage to engage people and determine the direction of the development of a local community.
Challenging designers to tackle climate change around the world
How can designers tackle a problem as complex as climate change? That is a question STBY has been putting forward in the last two years, as the research partner of What Design Can Do. Based on extensive desk research and primary research with key stakeholders, STBY has developed a wide range of briefs with detailed background information and challenging starting points for the Clean Energy Challenge (2018-2019) and the Climate Action Challenge (2017-2018).
Both challenges called on creatives to come up with innovative and creative ideas to tackle climate change and climate adaptation. The challenges are open to students, start-ups and professionals who can win funding and access to an acceleration programme to realise their ideas. In STBY’s research process to develop the briefs for the two challenges, the key principle at all times was to put people and planet at the centre. Whether interviewing designers, reading official reports, or iterating the the brief matrix, the central question is always: What is the impact on people and their environment, and what difference can they make?
Global challenges, local actions
The local relevancy of a design challenge is very important. That is why several local partners of the Reach network played a key role in the research of the Clean Energy Challenge. This challenge is focussed on five globally influential cities. From the initial desk research, STBY identified five key topics that seemed to be relevant to most cities. For each city specific local briefings were then crafted together with our local partners – informed by locally relevant themes and momentum, and also local design capacities. Several co-creative workshops were organised, with the objective to gather insights on local energy issues from experts in the field. The resulting local focus points are:
Waste in Mexico City
Studio José de la O, based in México City, did design research in this enormous sprawling city that has struggled with waste for many years. They found that with the closure of its largest landfill, and new initiatives to promote recycling and waste-to-energy solutions, México City is now in a position to be an example for the region. But behaviours and mindsets still have a long way to go. And there is lots that design can do here. Building on political momentum, we are calling on designers to use their creative problem-solving skills to imagine new narratives, services, products, spaces and systems to encourage cleaner and greener waste handling behaviours across México City.
Moving around in São Paulo
São Paulo based Flutter Innovation hosted co-creative workshops in their city and concluded that São Paulo’s infrastructure was not built to accommodate large numbers of private vehicles and trucks, and plans that cater to them will quite literally pave the way for further increases in car ownership, congestion, wasted fuel and emissions. Not to even mention more wasted hours sitting in traffic. Initiatives to extend and upgrade São Paulo’s public transport and freight network move slowly. That’s why we are calling on designers to find creative and radical solutions for more sustainable flows of people and goods through the city.
Building in Delhi
In order to craft a locally relevant briefing for the Clean Energy Challenge, Quicksand collected real and local stories about building in Delhi. In Delhi the need to build fast to serve rapidly swelling populations results in haphazard urban planning, with both commercial buildings and informal settlements mushrooming without much consideration for sustainability. Commercial and residential buildings account for most of Indian cities’ energy consumption, through heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, hot water heating, interior and exterior lighting, electrical power and appliances. But in the rush to build affordable housing — much needed in a city where millions live in poverty in informal settlements with no access to electricity or sanitation — the sustainability of homes is low on the agenda.
Eating in Nairobi
To save energy across the food supply chain, food waste should be prevented. Food waste can be addressed with more efficient refrigeration, transport networks and connections between producers and consumers. While urban farms are not an unusual sight in Nairobi, further innovations in city farming would foster the urban market and boost local food yields. In turn, this could save energy expended on food transportation and distribution while encouraging local supply and demand for healthy and sustainable food across income levels. To gain insight in the local food supply STBY hosted a workshop together with Kenyan organisation WiBO Cultures.
Cityscapes of Amsterdam
In Amsterdam’s city centre, packed with monuments and protected buildings, there is little space for clean energy infrastructure. Solar panels and other visible interventions are not permitted on historic buildings. Other infrastructure necessary for the transition, such as electricity substations and transformers, are too big to fit in the narrow and dense urban plan. Amsterdam based STBY researched Amsterdam’s energy problem and concluded that aesthetic concerns play a role in much of the wider metropolitan area, too. The IJmeer lake and on-land ‘buffer’ zones, are used for recreation or transport. Many feel that current visions of clean energy infrastructure development in these areas will make them less attractive or useful for other needs of urban dwellers.
Designing a community climate data hub for Australians
Data being developed by leading scientists at the Bureau of Meteorology is set to become a key component of how organisations manage and deal with the pressure of climate change by bringing together global climate change models, forecasts and observations to provide a nationally consistent set of spatial data for the landscape water balance from 100 years ago to 100 years into the future. Australia based Paper Giant partnered with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to help them bring their latest landscape water balance data product to market with a digital vision and validated prototypes.
Working in partnership with the User Centered Design team and scientists at the Bureau, Paper Giant ran an iterative research and design process across 4 states, 14 different organisations and a total of over 40 people. Outcomes were a strategic vision for a new data platform, design and develop a roadmap out to 2020 capability and processes to build on for future projects. There solution was a vision for a new digital experience that went far beyond providing data. Paper Giant designed a community data hub that encouraged adoption, and understanding by bringing together science, data visualisations, case studies, webinars, tutorial videos and experts in one place.
Changing behaviours towards green living in the US
In a collaboration across the US, UK and Japan, this exploratory project focused on people’s attitudes towards ‘green living’, and the opportunities for new services concepts that could be derived from that. Commissioned by a global electronics company, with the main client team based in Japan, the UK and US Reach partners STBY and Portigal Consulting closely collaborated on the design research among client’s US-based target audience, and also on subsequent the co-creation workshops with the client team.
The fieldwork and concept creation workshops were jointly done in California, with the interdisciplinary client team present. To communicate the observations from the field in a strong, empathic way, the approach Reach employed was to create short films on location, where participants interacted with probes that served as stimuli for speculative conversations. The results of the fieldwork were analysed and mapped onto a framework that described the process of behaviour change that people go through when trying to live a more green life. This detailed framework became valuable because it could also accommodate concepts that were in development; thus making a connection between the concepts and people’s everyday struggles with ‘going green.’
Charging Up around the globe
This global study took place in 11 countries, so a large part of the Reach network participated in it: Brazil (Feel the Future), China (Apogee), Denmark (Antropolorne), Germany (minds and makers), Hungary (fuelfor), India (Quicksand), Japan (Spur), Netherlands (STBY), France (IDSL), Spain (fuelfor) and USA (Portigal Consulting).
The focus of this study was on better understanding how people use electricity and how they think about their energy use, with a specific focus on charging devices. The data repository for this global study triggered a long list of insights, pointing towards several opportunity areas and ideas for industries related to energy use and sustainability. During the project we worked with an energy supplier based in Europe. Other companies and organizations have later also benefited from the research materials and consumer insights.
Helping peatland monitory and preservation in Indonesia
The World Resource Institute built an app that allows local citizens in Indonesia to monitor and report the restoration, revitalization and fire status of their surrounded peatland areas. Our Indonesian Reach partner Somia CX did field research in collaboration with Catalyze Communications in desa Bangsal and Belanti, two remote areas in South Sumatra. Their research gave insight in the needs, behaviors, constraints, motivations, and operating contexts of target users of the app. Future users of the app can contribute to peatland monitoring in their surroundings.
Inspiration from indigenous narratives in India for future technologies
Exploring local narratives around the themes of agriculture, water, tribal welfare and crafts, our Reach partner in India Quicksand is working with the University of Dundee to find inspiration for future technologies. What would the future of technology look like if it were inspired by decentralised and diverse contexts? This exploratory and pioneering project aims to find inspiration that helps envision decentralised and local technologies. The project is still in the early stages – they have recently begun with immersions in various decentralised contexts in India, like tribal coffee growers in the forests of South India as well as organic smallholding farmers in and around Bangalore. The project team aims to build familiarity with people and their lives living in decentralised and highly localised communities over time, which will allow them to explore technological narratives together with them.