In another part of my working life we are tackling a multi-million pound overhaul of a 25,000 sq. ft. public building. Naturally, we have been focused on the mechanics of ‘what’ will happen, ‘when’ and ‘how’. But after a short session to reflect on ‘why’, it became apparent that despite the urgency of a leaking roof. It is our vision which must drive how we fix the building and furthermore, anything that goes into improving the building – including a new roof – must reflect the vision. Perhaps that is stating the obvious, but it’s a good way of thinking about how to design your approach to improving your environmental credentials – through a Sustainability Vision.
Ask yourself, “What is it I want to achieve?” Is it to be quietly carbon neutral or is this an initiative that could be key for your marketing? Being sustainable can add new channels to your marketing – for example: www.ecobnb.com
However, whatever your vision for your environmental credentials, reality will quickly set in; most of us are stuck with ageing buildings largely unsuited to modern environmental technology. Sadly, it’s probably true that the simplest and most effective thing to do is to insulate/re-insulate the loft – as my father did in 1972!
Latest technology to one side, sustainability generally means doing lots of small things that add up to something more meaningful. Designing how these go together and how they are communicated to your guests and clients is increasingly important. In fact, we are not far off the day when an effective Sustainability Vision and evidence of your work in that area will be a dealbreaker for potential guests.
Self-evidently, you need to go beyond the building and include energy, food, consumables, composting, recycling, commercial partnerships and more. Again having a clear Sustainability Vision will help you to make decisions and help prioritise what you do first.
Design can also make a difference on the ground – up-cycling old furniture, re-using building materials, only using carbon-neutral furniture, products and consumables and so on. Think too about how your operations dovetail with that – again, simple things make a difference.
But whatever you do, your sustainability commitment is a valuable part of your brand story – and getting that story across is also where design comes in. A good designer will help you work through the Sustainable Vision you have set for yourself. They will interrogate your ability to deliver it, help you prioritise the messages and help shape the story that your guests will read, understand and buy into.
Your story doesn’t have to be about being the best in class either, it’s more important to make a commitment to improving your environmental credentials and to set a date – perhaps every six months – where you formally review and improve what you are doing. This is a journey, not a race.
David is a life-long designer, chairman of an international brand consultancy and trustee of various cultural organisations. Outside of design his main interest is boats – a theme you may see creeping into future columns!