Climate Change — making it tangible

Dave Dunlop
Nov 27 · 8 min read

An ELSE R&D initiative

​​At ELSE we relish a big challenge. We also try and ensure that the work we do delivers something good and something positive at the end.

​​The same goes for our R&D initiatives which focus on speculative design, new product development, and social causes. We’re taking on climate change — exploring how to make it more tangible for people. With such an immense and complex issue, it can feel too big to know where to start and how to make a difference. Using what we know about behavioural change principles, we’d like to change that.

​​​​Finding Focus

​​We believe it doesn’t have to be this way. If every day people could understand the small changes they could make, that impact climate change positively, we could start to make a shift. In order to understand the shift we want people to make, we first need to add context to what we mean by making climate change tangible. Climate change is widely understood as a very real and important challenge (well *most people think it is, anyway)

*​​Trump: I don’t believe government climate report | BT​​

​​It’s widely recognised that we’ve had our collective heads in the sand for too long. That government and big business have dragged their heels. That even now, despite more news coverage, and bigger rescue initiatives underway, what is being done isn’t good enough. People are angry, disappointed, fearful. Desperate. But the world keeps going round, days pass, and it seems impossible to know what to do. New stories break every day about new climate-related disasters happening all around the world, some on our doorstep and some, like the deforestation in Brazil, leave us feeling hopeless.

​​​​Movements have formed, the most high profile in the UK being Extinction Rebellion, with children taking a stand against our long-standing complacency. Causing disruption in order to wake us all up to the fact that the world their inheriting has some pretty big issues, and they aren’t getting better by themselves.

​​​​This year the world overshoot day was on July the 29th. That’s the day the world stops being sustainable for the year. And it gets earlier each year.

​​New innovations are popping up all the time, some of them amazing innovations, to try and combat and reverse the affect — from sucking CO out of the air, to The Ocean Cleanup Passive Clean Up System

​​​​As Barack Obama put it, back in 2014 —

“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it”

​​Principles of Change

​​We’ve been using our R&D time to explore how to apply our research skills and expertise to see how we can make a difference. When developing a new service, it often helps to ground it in a set of principles — something that can guide our decision making — particularly when the subject area is as wide as climate change. It’s a guiding path rather than a set of rules, which is difficult to get right, but essential for a successful outcome.

​​​​1. Make It Accessible

​​Our first principle is that in order to make climate change tangible means that we need to help make the change more accessible to people. There is little value in creating an echo chamber to what is already happening. Our focus is in ensuring that, at an individual level, people feel like they can take part. Accessible isn’t about just being able to step in, it’s about joining everything people hear about every day to an action they can take.

​​2. Make It Actionable

​​This then leads nicely to principle two; make it actionable. If we have switched people on, we now have to help them eat the elephant. We are here to create action out of information. If we don’t help people act, to reduce their demand then we’ve failed. No action means we’ll be a fad and climate change most certainly persistent.

​​3. Make It Measurable

​​Lastly, and probably the most difficult, is to make it measurable and demonstrable. We need to create an experience that hooks people back in and coming back for more — arguably the most difficult part to get right.

​​​​So, if we can help people take action, and they can clearly see the outcomes, then we could ground something that feels unbelievably big into something that feels accessible.

​​Picking Our Battles

​​Our challenge, we decided, wasn’t to wake people up to the idea that climate change was happening. The news does that. It’s not to lobby government and big business for systematic change. Extinction Rebellion does that. It’s not to educate people or to tell them off for doing the wrong thing.

​​​​We want to create something that can encourage as much change as an individual wants to make. We’re not joining communities together. We don’t want anyone to be put off. Our service will join up the big themes to small actions. We will help people lessen their demand on the earth. It’s democratic. It doesn’t matter who you are or how you live, your demand can always be reduced.​​

​​Imagine a service where you answer a few questions to determine lifestyle and interests. And you end up with some actions you can take across home living, food and transport. You may change one thing. You may change many. Both are successful outcomes, but there is always more to do.

Introducing ‘Sway’

As we start to explore what the service could be from a feature and proposition perspective, we also start to explore the language and visual expression of it. After a few different rounds of naming, we settled on Sway.

Exploring names that reflected the soft nature of the behaviour change

Its onomatopoeic and imitative image feels very natural when set against the human service we are trying to create. People sway back and forth, we’re influenced by what’s around us and if we can (metaphorically speaking) encourage people to sway toward the good then it feels like a very positive sentiment to greet people with.

We hope that Sway communicates the positivity and encouragement of the service.

The Verticals

There are three main areas where people can reduce their demand on an individual level. Of course, there are many other ways of getting involved, but the key areas where we can adjust our lives to better effect are:

Food — reducing meat, composting, reducing/using food waste, packaging reduction and re-use.

Home — reducing energy consumption, insulation, solar and renewable energy.

Transport — electric/hybrid vehicles, walk/cycle, reducing flights.

“We have less than two decades and plenty of hard work ahead to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid catastrophic consequences to the planet.”

— UN report on climate change

Setting the Challenge

At the heart of Sway is the idea of challenges. Mini programmes of activity that span different time frames and engage people around tangible ways to act.

7 Day Sway — A day-by-day set of tasks that can kick-start the behaviour change and are nudged/ motivated during that week. This is an entry point. A get-started, fun, not-too-onerous, set of things you can do day by day, for example, make your own lunch. It’s a simple idea, but one that contains financial benefits as well as an environmental one. Scale this up to make your team lunch and you have a simple act that brings others in and creates a social event at work.

30 Days — Now we can start to introduce ongoing measures. A bigger set of challenges that need longer to do and longer to see the effect from. We can use the on-boarding to personalise the activities that you are engaged around. This is important in order to recognise that the myriad of what you can do very much depends on your lifestyle and situation.

90 Days — A series of commitments that you sign up to. You may be able to carry with you the work that you have already done over the 7 / 30 days. We are looking at cementing behaviour change at this level, so it’s about living the change.

Ownable Moments

We have a phrase at ELSE that helps us think about how we differentiate services. Features that become the reason to use, the reason to come back, the shorthand in the conversation. We call these, Ownable Moments. For Sway, we are exploring a few different areas, two of which are:

  1. Overshoot Day — The world has a day where we collectively stop being sustainable. From there on, for the rest of the year, we take more than we give back. Imagine if this was set for the individual. If you can measure your impact, perhaps you can also show where you go over your average carbon emissions for the year. Think of it like a smart energy meter, but based on your demand.
  2. Meat Free Monday — Some of the best and most successful sustained engagement is created by setting aside the same time to repeat the task. Dedicated time to do a ‘something’ is a big driver to make that thing a success. A movement needs rhythm, so the crowd can move to beat. Our beat could be that for one day a week we look to promote one single thing that has a huge implication, a low-effort but high reward tribal move — the meat-free Monday.
    Reducing meat intake by 20% is a priority to feed a rapidly growing population. There is much written about meat consumption and the effect of livestock farming. So promoting a day where we campaign for change and support that change gives Sway a reason to be remembered. Think of it like Orange Wednesdays. You can just imagine the partnerships that could support it.
The service will encourage action and make participation measurable

What’s Next?

We’re continuing our work on developing out the Sway service and would love to hear from people who are able to offer partnership, either in the form of expertise or investment to get Sway into the market to start making a difference. Please do get in touch if this sounds like you: sway@elselondon.com

We’ll also be keeping you updated on our progress. The next post will be delving deeper into the challenges and measurement aspects of Sway.

Read more about our R&D initiatives here

Else

ELSE is an Experience Design Consultancy helping businesses create transformative product and service opportunities. We work with business leaders on innovation and digital transformation projects — from large multinationals to lean start-ups.

Dave Dunlop

Written by

Partner and Chief Design Officer at ELSE — my role is to lead multi-disciplinary design teams from concept through to finished product.

Else

Else

ELSE is an Experience Design Consultancy helping businesses create transformative product and service opportunities. We work with business leaders on innovation and digital transformation projects — from large multinationals to lean start-ups.

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