Business 2.0, Sustainability

The social side of sustainability

I’ve been thinking about how the techniques we use at Zumio suit organisations looking to become more sustainable. Sustainability, of course, is a social challenge as much as a technical one – while eco-efficiency (making products using more sustainable materials and processes) is a critical aspect, many of the barriers to more sustainable practice have social aspects.

Today I’ve been thinking about two areas in particular that can benefit from research and social design methods – they are Product Service Systems (PSS) and organisational capabilities building and communication.

PSS

While PSS in and of itself is not a panacea, the concept will no doubt play an important role in our shift towards a sustainable economy.

Qualitative research methods are very well suited to understanding the broader context of user needs and motivations, an essential component of defining and identifying opportunities for PSS.

Many of the benefits from service design principles (including prototyping and user testing) can then be applied to the development of the PSS to help increase uptake, among other things. An example of this can be seen in live|work’s work with Streetcar.

Organisational capacity building and communications

BSR and IDEO’s Aligned for Sustainability (PDF) report outlines a number of factors required for building sustainable thinking within an organisation. The report suggests that cross-functional communications, sharing learnings, and collaborative problem solving with people throughout an organisation are all important facets of building such capacity.

Social technologies, or “Enterprise 2.0” approaches, can clearly play an important role here. But design approaches such as stakeholder workshops, personas, customer journey mapping, prototyping – especially when collaboratively generated – can all help with both building capacity (through better sharing of learnings and incorporating more diverse input in the design process) and communicating concepts and learning.

So it seems to me that the same tools that we can apply to generate opportunities for innovation can also be applied to achieve sustainable outcomes. In this model, far from sustainability being an “added cost” over an above standard operations, we can instead frame sustainability thinking as a lever for innovation. To me, this is a very exciting prospect, and something I’m looking forward to exploring further…