What’s Next? The Next Chapter of IDEO’s Climate Commitments

Posted by Dean Malmgren

Over the past year, IDEO has been working toward meeting a series of wide-ranging climate commitments. In the first phase of our work, we tackled what some might consider “low hanging fruit” in the work toward Net Zero: we estimated our carbon footprint, offset our greenhouse gas emissions, switched to renewable energy, experimented with a modest carbon tax, and improved our responsible retirement investment options.

While these strides are significant, there is still so much more to do — and time is of the essence. There are countless ways forward, but we’re eager to share four next steps we have in mind.

  1. Track and manage emissions (Part 2)

Building on our previous exploration, we’re ready to tackle phase two of emissions accounting. At the top of our priority list is identifying a comprehensive emissions accounting solution to track and manage down our Scope 3 emissions. It’s difficult to imagine how we will empower IDEOers to make sustainable decisions without giving them access to data about the environmental impact of those choices. After all, what’s the point of managing down your emissions if you don’t get credit for working with Clean Co. over Dirty Co.? Investing in an emissions accounting platform will help get us one step closer to estimating IDEO’s carbon footprint and identifying viable climate-friendly alternatives at scale. From there, we hope to experiment with things like internal carbon taxes or incentives for individuals and teams to manage their carbon footprint.

2. Embed sustainability throughout the project cycle

Despite the increase in climate-forward projects IDEO has taken on, we are still not fully set up to account for the downstream implications of our work. With that in mind, we’re exploring what it would look like to introduce sustainability at every touch point of the project lifecycle — from initial client conversations to final deliverables. In practice, this might look like sustainability design reviews with external experts or developing design principles and toolkits like The Circular Design Guide to support climate-conscious work. Ultimately, we hope to foster a culture where teams feel equipped to explore and develop best practices around sustainable work. Regardless of what form this takes, we need to develop a way to track the downstream impact of our projects and deliverables. Ideally, that system would plug into our emissions accounting platform — neither of which we have today.

3. Balance what’s impactful with what’s visible

In order to meaningfully reduce IDEO’s global emissions, we prioritized action that tends to be impactful for our carbon footprint, but invisible to everyday IDEOers and our clients. For example, while switching to renewable energy did not trigger obvious changes to the everyday experience at IDEO, it reduced our global carbon footprint by 4%. These changes can seem at odds with changes that are highly visible yet are often less impactful (e.g., eliminating single use plastics across IDEO). In order to ensure our everyday experience at IDEO does not undermine the climate commitments we have made, we need to balance what is impactful and what is highly visible. This might look like developing frameworks to help project teams weigh the tradeoffs between client travel and environmental impact, holding inter-studio competitions to switch to sustainable food vendors, or identifying a broad set of replacement suppliers for more sustainable goods throughout our studios.

4. Reset industry norms

Let’s face it. If a competitor is willing to get on a plane, we almost certainly will do the same and vice versa. To create the conditions for IDEO to thrive while meeting its climate commitments, we need to reset industry norms and work alongside other creative consulting firms to reimagine the ways of doing business in the 2020s and beyond. This may look like joining or starting a creative climate pledge for companies operating in a climate-forward way, or inviting direct competitors to join our kyu climate action learning group.

As we make progress toward IDEO’s climate commitments, we will continue to experiment, iterate, and learn. Most importantly, we’re eager to learn alongside you. Time is precious and we all need to collectively accelerate toward our respective commitments. In the spirit of co-creating a more sustainable future, we invite you to continue the conversation with us by reaching out to Dean here. We’re eager to learn about the steps you are taking, the lessons you’ve learned, and what’s next.

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We are a global design consultancy. We create impact through design.

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