On April 16, 2014 I was honoured to be asked to present at the University of The Fraser Valley’s inaugural Graphic and Digital Design Portfolio Show. For those that attended, here are links to some of the resources I mentioned in my talk. For the other 6,999,999,850 or so of you who missed it, the approximate text of the speech follows. (Minus my ukulele version of Monty Python’s The Universe Song. Instead I leave you with a link to the real thing)
Sustainability Literacy Links:
You Are Here – The Talk: April 14, 2014 – Heritage Park Center, Mission, BC
Welcome. Thank you for having me, here, and congratulations to the University of The Fraser Valley Graphic & Digital Design Class of 2014.
You are here. And you are, indeed, green. But that’s not a bad thing.
I was once green, too. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Thirty years ago, in Calgary. I rummaged through old boxes of photos and found my original promo shot. I think I saw too many Tom Cruise movies… Yeah, I was green all right. Green as grass.
I graduated from the Alberta College of Art in 1984. George Orwell had predicted constant surveillance, a perpetual and undefined state of war, doublespeak and fascism dressed as strong government. (That wouldn’t really come until 30 years later)
Michael Jackson gave us Thriller, Eddie Van Halen told us to Jump. Prince sang about Purple Rain and acid rain was the environmental scare of the day.
The Macintosh launched. With a Superbowl TV ad that made history. When I graduated, we still pasted our layouts on to boards with beeswax. Auto correct was done with an exacto knife. But through it all, there was always someone we could call. The Ghostbusters. (RIP Harold Ramis)
But in 1984 another team of people was setting out to save the world. The United Nations asked the Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, to create an independent organization, to focus on environmental and developmental problems and solutions. Three years later, this Brundtland Commission published a report called “Our Common Future”, giving us one of the key definitions of sustainable development, still being used and abused today.
“Sustainable development is the kind of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
At the time, when I graduated, I had no clue about any of it.
So now I have to make an environmental confession, if you will permit. Forgive me David Suzuki, for I have sinned.
What’s the worst environmentally damaging thing you have done? For me, it was this. A 1972 Oldsmobile Delta 88 i bought for $100. It had a 455 cubic inch V-8 engine. It moved me from Calgary to Vancouver in 1985, probably emitting as much carbon as a loaded 747 at take-off.
You see I used to change the oil in that car… And what do you think I did with the old stuff? Take it to the garage for recycling? Nope. I dumped it right in the alley. At our house, a block from the Bow River. I’d call a cop if I saw someone doing that today.
Somewhere out there is a 2-headed trout calling me ‘grandpa’.
I share this story not merely to cleanse my soul, but to illustrate why It’s so important that as designers and businesses we embrace the concept of Sustainability Literacy.
Even if you don’t think we’re all going to hell on a hockey stick graph, these days you need to understand the concepts of sustainability. Not knowing enough about sustainability can put your design practice your clients or your business at risk. And when we are ignorant, we are dangerous.
Sustainability is a technology. You can think of it as an upgraded operating system for the economy. And like any technological innovation, its adoption can be graphed. The standard technology adoption curve is basically the same for any new idea or invention. From the leading edge early adopters to the laggards. It can also be illustrated with cartoons. (A picture tells a thousand words)
So even if that is you, at the far end of the curve, driving your Hummer, and you don’t care about sustainability, the people on the other end of the scale do. These are the letter writers. The protesters. The leaders of shareholder activism.
And besides the pressure from these groups, there is increased scrutiny on environmental regulation and claims. Are you a label reader? Do you look at ingredients? How about where a product is made? What about certifications?
All certifications are not created equal.
For businesses selling packaged goods, or designers out there wanting to do packaging design work, theres a riveting document out there called Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers. This is a treatise put out by the good people at the Office of Consumer Affairs Canada. Among other things, it outlines three basic levels of certification.
Type I Eco Labels – are Independently verified by a third party through a testing process, usually around components of a life cycle
Examples: Canada Ecologo, USDA Organic, Canada Organic, Energy Star
Type II Eco Labels – are self-declared claims made by manufacturers, distributors or others who stand to gain by an improved environmental perception of the brand. Usually on a single product attribute. Credibility of these claims can be strengthened if manufacturers provide the supporting information in a clear, accurate and easily accessible way.
Examples include ‘Biodegradable’, ‘Non Toxic’ and ‘Recycled’
Type III Eco Labels – A comprehensive Data list based on performance of a product throughout its life cycle. Similar to nutritional labeling.
So what about a label promoting a CFC Free product? It’s none of the above. Because CFCs have been banned for over 10 years, this is a completely irrelevant claim. This is what we call Greenwashing:
Green-wash (green’wash’, -wôsh’) – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.
It’s one of the biggest risks to a company or brand. As designers, you’ll have to really watch out for this.
The 7 deadly sins of Greenwashing were written by our friends at UL, (which used to be Terrachoice), a Canadian firm that helped create the EcoLogo program.
The Sin of the Hidden Trade Off
A claim suggesting that a product is ‘green’ based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
An example of this would be a Japanese whaling company that proudly boasts about their recycled photocopy paper.
The Sin of No Proof
An environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.
One example would be the term ‘Recycled’. Is it 50% recycled? What is the percentage? Is it per-consumer waste, or post consumer?
Just saying ‘recycled’ is like going to an online dating site and not posting a photo. Danger!!
The Sin of Vagueness
A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. ‘All-natural’ is an example. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring, and poisonous. ‘All natural’ isn’t necessarily ‘green’.
The Sin of Irrelevance
An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. ‘CFC-free’ is a common example, since it is a frequent claim despite the fact that CFCs are banned by law.
The Sin of Worshipping False Labels
A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists; fake labels, in other words. Designers have to be really careful about this, because it looks like fun to design these! You get to use little leaves and planets and stuff… Maybe an earthworm… But if a client asks you to do this, they are leading you down the path of sin!
The Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole. Biodegradable single serving coffee brewer cups is one example.
The Sin of Fibbing
Environmental claims that are simply false. The most common examples were products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified or registered. But here’s a more relevant one.
The image on the left is part of a promotional video that Enbridge produced in 2012 to help encourage British Columbians to support the shipping of bitumen through Douglas Channel from Kitimat. Unfortunately they missed a few things. like about 1000 square kilometers of islands. Whether you support Northern Gateway or not, its obvious that blatant Greenwash is not the way to convince people you can be trusted.
Oh, and who first spotted these missing islands? A Vancouver Islander named Lori Walters, Graphic Designer.
So with all these rules and regulations and potential pitfalls of green marketing, is it even possible to do good design and, God forbid, maybe even have a little fun?? Sure!
In 2008, London Drugs asked me what they should do to brand their sustainability initiatives. After looking at their business, their programs and their customers, we came up with one big question: What’s the Green Deal? This program does not preach. It does not judge. It simply offers credible information for shoppers looking to live and buy a little greener.
So is What’s the Green Deal a type I II or III label? It has elements of all three. In describing products, we refer to certifications whenever we can and we tell people the difference. We also do research on self declared product claims and share them. And, with our recycling programs, we track and share our waste diversion rates with the detail of a type III label.
Part of the London Drugs strategy is not to blow our own horn, but rather thank the customers who helps recycle over 11 million lbs of packaging, electronics, batteries, cell phones and more every year.
For our Earth Month 2014 campaign, we went into stores, surprising customers who were recycling or buying green products and giving them a $100 gift card. We also have an online contest, where people who bring recycling to their local stores can enter to win an energy efficient electronics bundle worth $1500. Customers can also enter on Facebook and Twitter.
More importantly, What’s the Green Deal tells the world that London Drugs will always be asking the question, and moving forward.
Because sustainability is a journey, not a destination.
And, as with any journey, the best part is the stories you gather along the way.
Here is a fun web video I produced for Left Coast Naturals. It does a really good job of describing the basics of sustainability, but also reveals a surprising discovery about their supply chain.
After all that organic love, would it surprise you to know I did work for a coal fired power plant?
Drax, one of Britain’s largest coal power facilities, was working on a plan to commingle biomass with the coal. I was asked to design a report to help explain why that might be a good idea. Working with Terrachoice, we branded it Field to Furnace .
Right up front we transparently addressed the challenges of coal, even clearly stating its impact on climate change. Then we explained where biomass comes from and what sources might be available. Finally, the key point was explained in this info graphic. Showing that biomass is part of our current C02 cycle, while fossil fuels like coal are adding carbon dioxide from our planets past.
So where is it all going? Like coal and biomass, How can sustainability coexist with the current world we live in? Here’s a look at how traditional economists see environmental sustainability…
The economy must grow, more sales, more profits, more GDP. And within all that is e public sector, government programs and the like, some of which are supposed to be in charge of protecting the environment. If the economy keeps growing, so the current thinking goes, we can grow our support for public and natural systems.
BUT there is a growing school of thought that says is is actually inside out.
It’s a field called Ecological Economics, and it was actually started in the 1920’s. In the briefest terms, the idea is that nature is a closed system, with hard limits. Within this system the market economy must exist. And coexist with public services, each providing to their strengths.
As you will quickly surmise, this implies a net zero growth state. Is it possible to provide for human welfare with an economy that does not grow?
More importantly, is it possible to exist on the planet with an economy that does not stop growing?
Obviously worthy of more debate than we can give it here. Look up a book called The End of Growth, by Richard Heinberg, or The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.
So by now your minds are melting… You just wanted to get a job doing something creative and now you have to save the whole frickin’ world??
Well maybe it’s time to get a little perspective.
Let’s go back to the 80’s, where a little movie from Britain promised to give us all The Meaning of Life
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