West Coast Green: IDEO’s Approach to the Demand Side of Sustainability

Where does innovation take us now that words like green, organic, recyclable, locally-sourced are flying around? Is it enough for businesses to simply cut costs to improve efficiency?
IDEO says it’s not enough and companies need to look at how to improve demand for innovative products by looking at individuals to understand their needs better and to tell stories that help consumers understand what it is that they are buying.
Transforming Green Hype into Sustainable Demand
IDEO is a creative design firm headquartered in Palo Alto that looks at opportunities to change products, services, and other offerings. Yesterday, IDEO hosted a workshop called “The Demand Side of Sustainability” to answer questions about how to get consumers attracted to sustainable products. With all the hype around “green” and some companies claiming they are green, more eco-conscious customers are more likely to be dubious about how sustainable a product really is.

IDEO’s premise for business is to identify how products and services that people consume regularly can be designed differently in ways that have not been conceived of before. The challenge is to understand how industrial design, sustainability and usability can merge to create more effective products.
The Creative Process to Problem Solving
During the seminar, attendees experienced what it’s like to go through the creative process as if they were associates at IDEO. In the first part, attendees identified ways to improve an existing product and cited challenges such as being so “close to it” that they had difficulties seeing anything wrong with it or they weren’t sure if their solutions were practical.
Sometimes innovation can have a bad day, such as was the case with a square milk carton which could save the producing company money by reducing costs in transportation and packaging. This doesn’t mean it will be beneficial to the consumer. In other words, customers should not have to make a sacrifice to live sustainably.
Participants also worked together to identify the character of an individual through a series of photos the individual had taken. This is the key to insight, Steve Bishop, global lead for Sustainability Design explained. “Everybody makes sense to themself and our goal is to empathize with their position.”
The exercise yielded some humorous and very human results where very personal stories appeared. One character admitted to being “a mama’s boy” who didn’t own a TV but watched videos on YouTube on his computer. The point is to get people to understand how products can be designed to fit the lifestyle of this single character.
Why B2B Does Not Exist
This approach isn’t limited to the consumer side model, even though Steve says IDEO does not believe that there is such thing as B2B.
Steve later explained to 3P, “There is a person behind every story somewhere, even if there are two businesses interacting with each other.”
Safeway and Kraft once consulted with IDEO to find out why Capri Sun wasn’t selling on the shelves. After identifying several insights from suppliers, packagers and people on the store floor, they discovered that the pallets made the juice too difficult to access, and the associates at Safeway gave up on restocking them. After a total redesign of the pallet, sales improved drastically by millions of dollars.
Bobby Hughes, an IDEO designer said, “I don’t think we can be 100% sustainable as long as we create and produce things, but we can make an effort to reduce by creating things that work well and look cool.”
Steve Bishop says this this is exactly why companies need IDEO. Someone has to take an outsider’s view to take charge of the creative process to solve those complex problems for the present and future, so that businesses can focus on the analytical, every day business operations of the company.

Clara lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and considers herself an international citizen. She has an MBA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and currently works in San Francisco as a marketing analyst. You can find her tweeting, blogging or simply continue an existing 3P conversation by commenting on a post.

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