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Zero waste: our mission to make the world a little less trashy

Achieving zero waste might be somewhat beyond our skills as a strategy and design company. But surely we can use those skills to make a dent at least? We’ve decided to use this year to find out.

Lauren Coleman

Principal Consultant, Service Designer

Towards the end of last year, while researching something else entirely, we started to dig in to some of the facts about waste. We don’t need to tell anyone how much of a global catastrophe we’re engineering. Every one of us, every day.

Around the lunch table just before our Christmas break, we started discussing “what could we do to make the world less trashy?”. We all agreed to make this our new challenge and focus 2019 on trying to answer this question using the tools and techniques we know.

Now we’re not great at sticking to New Year’s resolutions (one of our team broke hers thirteen minutes into 2019) but we’re a couple of months into the year and we’ve certainly stuck to this one.

The key in the question we posed was the ‘we’ part. What can a bunch of strategists, researchers and designers bring to this mammoth topic? Could we use our skillset to make a difference? We basically set ourselves the unenviable brief to identify, investigate and design service concepts that could significantly reduce waste.

Bloggers and vloggers dominate any search, plugging and advocating their ‘how tos’ and ‘beginners guides’. If you scratch beneath the surface (and refine your search), you could spend months wading through government documents, annual reports and privately funded research from all over the world — and to be honest, the outlook is usually bleak. As we know, changing behaviours is hard, even when those behaviours are slowly killing us.

Our working hypothesis for almost everything is that people only really change their behaviour en-masse when there’s something in it for them directly. So our focus is to design out waste by designing in utility. That, we figured, is how we could best use our skills.

‘Waste’ as we know it today comes in all shapes and sizes from how you dispose of your household potato peelings (direct) to hazardous by-products from chemically dying denim (indirect). It’s an almost inconceivably enormous problem, so we had to start by narrowing down our areas of focus.

After some research and a technique we call ‘opportunity mapping’ we narrowed the vast topic down to plastic, food and fashion, then, after a second round, we decided to start with fashion. It’s an area we’d given some thought to for a project last year so we had a bit of a leg up on the topic already.

We’ve made some interesting progress over the last couple of months and we’ll be sharing the first service concept and some of the insights we generated shortly. Our plan is to share what we do through the year in the hope that some of it can be used to make real solutions possible, whether we continue with them or simply help others make progress.

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