Keepin’ it Simple: Embracing low impact designs to motivate environmental change

Posted on September 23, 2010 by Comments Off

The following originally ran on the Environmental Defense Fund Innovation Exchange blog

September 23, 2010 | Posted by Guest Author in Behavior, Education, Energy Efficiency, Events & Activities, Innovation, Solutions Labs, Tools

This is a guest post by Haley P. Drage, Account Manager, Social Innovation Practice, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide

“You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it” – French Proverb  

A few weeks ago I was driving home from the GIBN Solutions Lab event, taking one of my normal routes I use to escape the madness that is our Seattle evening commute and about 10 minutes into the drive, I noticed that the road was no longer a two lane stretch. In fact, at some point not only had it become one lane, but in the second lane’s place, there was now a bike lane. 

When did that happen?  

I will admit that the day’s events had filled my head with fantastic ideas about how the collective great minds of Seattle were going to help solve the complex sustainability issues of the world, but not notice a lane closure, how was that possible? 

Call it a moment of “solutions clarity” if you will, but in that instant I became convinced that it all comes down to smart, low-impact design.  

One of the real differentiators of the Solutions Lab, compared to other sustainability events, is that the attendees completely wade into a topic – supply chain, packaging, reporting, carbon footprints, energy efficiency, food systems – identifying the major problems and then discussing how to build towards the solution.  You can imagine the variety of opinions, ideas and feelings an exercise like this can elicit from representatives of some of the most influential companies in the world such as Amazon Green, REI, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser and Vulcan. In the end though, the day’s event did produce a collective understanding of how sustainability solutions are largely about behavior change.

To me, the root of behavior change is not about providing innovative materials or technologies, something that can take a lot of time and money, rather, it is a matter of how we interact with these services or goods.  In order to be deeply committed to addressing our environmental impact we must deal with consumption and the reality is very few people are willing to change their consumption behaviors.  Lessening consumption is akin to going on a diet.  It evokes feelings of being constrained and restricted.  All this ends up doing is motivating people to splurge and then the situation gets even worse.

So how do you address consumption behavior in order to create lasting behavior change?  Does fear become the new motivator?  Trust me, we talked through some astonishing “if, then” theories.  What about price?  But can you make things cheap enough without sacrificing quality?  Maybe it comes down to packaging and what the things come in versus what you get?

I would argue that is a matter of convenience and creating smart, low impact designs that make it easy to embrace change.  In fact, change that is designed so well that we barely notice not only has the opportunity to lessen consumption but, I would also argue, the ability to increase positive interactions. 

At the end of the day, let’s not make things harder than they need to be, let’s keep it simple. 

The Solutions Labs are organized by the Green Innovation in Business Network (GIBN), an online and offline community focused on creating a well-informed, well-connected, rapidly-learning network of innovators making business more sustainable and are  made possible by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in partnership with DIG IN,, Net Impact, Sony, Ashoka and many others.

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