Design can save the world

A change in legislation to combat our harmful waste will have a huge impact. But frankly, this is designs time to shine. 


For the past two years the world has experienced political and economic uncertainty. 'Doomsday' scenarios, some have said.

We are only two weeks into 2018 and we’ve already had the first big headline that affects us all, and the planet. A real Doomsday moment. Our oceans are full of plastic. A shocking 12.7 million tonnes reportedly arrive in them each year, and after many decades of activist campaigning the UK government has given their response - they will address the matter. But in the right way?

A change in legislation and action from local governments to recover and reuse materials will have a huge impact in reducing our global plastic footprint, but frankly, this is Design's time to shine. With a deeper impact than any government policy, design and innovation can offer solutions with broader opportunities and can engage consumers in a way that doesn’t seem like they are on the naughty step. Shifts in habits and behaviour come about when there is a compelling experience to be had – more exciting, more convenient, more bespoke, more profitable. Oh, and also good for the oceans too. That’s everyone winning.

It’s easy to be introspective as a consumer and think you’re responsible for the problem – you buy the everyday objects that contribute to the growing crisis. But at the moment consumers have little to no choice in the matter. It’s up to brands and designers to give them a better choice.

Whether these solutions come from designing new services or highly considered products, or both, they still need start from the brand and behave in a brand like way to be successful. The more successful, the more impactful it will be. One size does fit all with legislation, but it doesn’t when it comes to relevant brand design, and the global businesses who own most of our beloved brands need to think smart about how to implement the right macro decisions across their business and the smart micro decisions with their individual brands.

At Echo, we’re a big fan of clever, sustainable materials, including the compostable paper and starch based substrates appearing on our news screens. This is certainly a good start. However, they are not the unicorn solution – even they come with pitfalls. Certain chemicals are needed to accelerate the composting process and not all plastic packaging can necessarily be replaced with these materials – it is only the tip of the iceberg.

The remainder of the challenge, which lies out of sight beneath the water, will be addressed through a systematic culture change. By investment by big business. By small businesses. And by the ideas created by the design industry. Designers and brand teams need to form partnerships to shape the future products and interactions, which in turn leads to entirely re-imagined manufacturing and global supply chains and ultimately evolved consumer expectations. Then finally our ocean may breathe a sign of relief.

Sometimes, Design really can save the world.

Echo has worked on solutions to plastic and packaging waste, through a brand and consumer focus, for 15 years. If your brand, big or small needs to address this issue this year, give us a ring for a chat.